USB audio interfaces group test


At one time, computer users had to rely on internal expansion cards to add extra audio capability to their machines. However, that wasn’t a solution for the majority of Mac fans. So, the growth in the market for USB audio interfaces in the past few years has been something of a boon for audio aficionados.

These tools connect to a USB port and help you to get audio into and out of your Mac, whether that’s voice, live music or a recorded source like an old vinyl record.

But just what and how do you choose? There are USB interfaces available for as little as £30 in the budget sector of the market. At the upper end, you can pay well over £300. We were looking for something in between – some middle ground combining quality, functionality and value for money to meet most needs.

Before you look at our results though, it’s important to get straight in your mind what kind of audio user you are. A budding musician who wants to harness the power of your Mac as a recording studio? A collector of tapes and vinyl who needs to digitise a collection? A gamer or movie fan who wants to route their Mac’s sound through their hi-fi? A combination of all of the above?

Some of the best audio interfaces, the ones that combine quality of results with value for money, may only fit one of these needs. Finding a good all-rounder is a tough job.

In this round-up we’ve included some of the most familiar names in Mac accessories and media. You might have heard of some brands like Griffin, Roland and Avid, however, we’ve also looked at some manufacturers you may not have encountered, like Line 6, which has a small slice of the specialist audio market.

The picks range from a simple, budget design that’s changed little in five years – the Griffin iMic 2 – through to cutting-edge breakout devices that offer multiple inputs and outputs. Our only rules were that the devices were compatible with Mac OS X and cost no more than £160.

We tested each unit by installing, configuring and testing each input on the device. We used the open source audio recording tool Audacity to capture samples and also tested the units with any bundled software provided.

The results, over the next few pages, should help you choose a USB audio interface that suits you and your needs.

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