If you’re looking for an interconnective technology, you should look for Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt has been developed by Intel with the cooperation of Apple. Thunderbolt mixes DisplayPort and PCI Express into a single connection that allows for up to 6 peripherals to be daisy-chained in a linear series. Using Thunderbolt, you can also connect FireWire and USB peripherals if you have the proper adapter.
You may be wary of the fact that, with the introduction of Thunderbolt, your USB, FireWire, eSATA, and other interface-dependent devices would become irrelevant. Well, it is not the case for all these interface-dependent devices can work well with Thunderbolt.
You can easily buy Thunderbolt-to-PCIe card boxes, for example, that could readily accommodate whole PCIe cards. You can also purchase a Thunderbolt-to-FireWire adapter at $30 each as well as a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter cable. Hence, even if Thunderbolt has its sight on the future, it still considers the present and past devices.
If you intend to purchase a Thunderbolt audio interface, you need to consider these important points. First, ask yourself what types of output and input connections come with the interface. These connections could be a line, MIDI, or mic. You should also consider the digital I/O like those of S/PDIF, ADAT, DB25, and SMUX. This is to ensure that what you get match well with each other.
At present, Apple Mac computers are the only compatible computers with Thunderbolt. So, you need to bear this in mind before buying one. You should also consider the audio quality, which clearly indicates the playback and recording quality. Check the Bitrate and resolution likewise. Of course, you should remember that 24 bit/96 kHz is slower than 24 bit/192 kHz.
Advantages of Using Thunderbolt for Audio Interfaces
The use of Thunderbolt comes with remarkable benefits. Since today’s world requires quickness of transfer of data and hard drives are usually rated in Terabytes, pro audio recording is moving toward high resolutions. Even video recording is trending toward high-definition recording. Moreover, video and audio streams should flow smoothly and steadily, without any snag.
Thus, there is a need for easy transfer of any huge amount of data among peripherals and computers. Given this insatiable appetite for data, Intel has conceived of the Thunderbolt protocol. Here are some of the succinct benefits of using Thunderbolt:
Since the creation of the Thunderbolt connectivity, Apple and Intel have closely guarded the development of the protocol for the creation and implementation of these devices. Hence, incompatibility is no big issue, knowing that each Thunderbolt device will be readily compatible with your PC. As long as your computer accepts Thunderbolt connectivity, any thunderbolt-ready audio interface will surely be compatible with your PC that has Thunderbolt connectivity. You are also assured that you’ll get super speed signal transmission with the use of Thunderbolt.
2) Low Latency
Compared to other external connections, the Thunderbolt provides the fastest external connection, which means it carries the lowest latency. This implies that it has very low or no delay, especially during playback and recording. In general, you may be impressed with the speed by which signals travel via USB connection. It would take 4.5 milliseconds for a signal to move through a USB connection roundtrip. However, if you compare this speed with that of the Thunderbolt, it pales in comparison with Thunderbolt, it would only take one millisecond.
Recommended Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces
1) Presonus Quantum 26x32 Thunderbolt 2 Low-Latency Audio Interface
The Presonus Quantum 26×32 Thunderbolt 2 Low-Latency Audio Interface is produced by a popular brand known for producing great audio interfaces. It belongs to the best three brands in the market today. Others say that this popularity of the Presonus Quantum 26×32 Thunderbolt comes from its lower-end models. But it is undeniable that its PreSonus Quantum 26×32 is great.
The definitive factor that makes this interface substantially is its many inputs and outputs. It is a perfect choice, especially for those who must connect many instruments and mics to their interface. It offers 24-bit/192 kHz, which is one of the best rack-mounted models in the market at present. It is also very intuitive and easy to use.
The Presonus Quantum 26×32 Thunderbolt Audio Interface provides 2 combo mic/instrument/line inputs along with 6 mic/line inputs. It also features recallable XMAX preamps/ SPDIF, MIDI, Dual ADAT Optical, and BNC word clock I/O. It also comes with a studio One Artist DAW along with Studio Magic plug-in bundle.
2) Apogee ELEMENT 24
The Apogee ELEMENT 24 may seem simple externally, but it is genuinely an impressive package internally. As a brand, Apogee thrives in designing gear and interfaces that are optimized for use with Apple and Mac products. For this reason, Element 24 seems surprisingly different. But it does work well and does complement Macs.
The Apogee ELEMENT 24 features a 10″ x 12″ Out Thunderbolt Audio I/O box that is compatible with any MAC core audio application. It also features a single-port Thunderbolt connectivity to Mac that produces ultra-low latency performance with its 1.41-millisecond roundtrip at 96 kHz. Its element control software for Mac readily provides all control of its hardware parameters that include input gain, low-latency monitoring, and output level.
Furthermore, it offers a multi-unit Thunderbolt support that allows you to connect any 2-element audio I/O boxes to your computer’s Thunderbolt ports. The recommended apps for it include Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, main stage, GarageBand, Final Cut, Studio One, Digital Performer, Nuendo, and Cubase. Lastly, it features two analog inputs along with world-class mic preamps with its selectable 48V power for readily connecting to instruments, microphones, and line-level devices.
3) Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Solo (APLTWSII)
The Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Solo (APLTWSII) features a small design that is meant for use in small studio spaces and desktops. It has limited inputs with its smaller size. It only has one TRS jack at the front and 2 multifunction inputs at the back panel. This design is good enough for a not-so-elaborate setup using only one to two instruments.
It features a simulated analog tone that is designed to replicate the classic analog recording gadgets of the company. This simulated analog tone is possible using plug-ins. This provides you a real analog recording experience.
A lot of users are pleased with this feature, especially those fans of tube preamps, vintage recording gear, and vocal limiting gear. With the use of the Thunderbolt connection, there is no connection latency. You can also expand or cascade devices as your needs expand.
It also comes with Console 2.0 software that features channel strip presets, dynamically resizable windows, drag-and-drop functionality, Runs UAD, powered plug-ins through VST, AAX 64, and RTAS in most major DAWs.
4) Resident Audio T4 Thunderbolt Audio Interface
The Resident Audio T4 Thunderbolt Audio Interface offers something unique to consumers. It provides a 4-channel interface along with 4 dedicated mic inputs as well as analog preamps. The upside of buying Resident Audio T4 is that it is less expensive as compared to other brands. It may not be the most feature-packed interface out there, but it is affordable.
It features audio I/O plus MIDI I/O channels with near-zero latency for instantaneous playback and recording. It also features a dedicated headphone output as well as a secondary headphone output.
The system requirement for this interface is a Mac computer with a Thunderbolt-equipped system that runs OS x 10.9-10.11 and Windows Computers with a Thunderbolt-equipped system that runs Windows 8.0 USB port or internet connection. If you got the budget issue and you need something that works well, you should go for this brand.