The 9 Best USB Audio Interfaces
9. M Audio C-Series M-Track 2X2M
8. Peavey USB
7. Steinberg UR12
6. Tascam US-4x4
5. Native Instruments Komplete Audio Six
4. Mackie Onyx Producer
3. PreSonus Studio 192
2. Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD
1. Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
HIstory Of The Audio Interface
The history of recorded sound goes as far back as 1860, with the phonautograms created by Édouard-Léon Scott. The sounds created by these machines are generally unrecognizable; though the machines themselves lit a spark in the imaginations of many to follow.
In 1877, Thomas Edison's cylinder phonograph was invented. The original phonographs would play dictation which had been inscribed into a wax cylinder. Though once thought to replace the need for stenographers, this idea was met by immense opposition and quickly disregarded. Phonographs found their most prominent use in the realm of music. In 1878, the first music was put on a record. It was Jules Levy playing "Yankee Doodle". By 1901 the phonograph was being mass produced and garnering much interest throughout the world.
The phonograph gave way to the record player in 1913. Though the record player struggled to stay alive as the radio was invented, it remains a steadfast audio standard to this day.
The need for a personal audio interface really began with the boom in popular music played over the radio. Hearing artists like Elvis Presley and The Beatles played heavily on the radio inspired hopeful musicians across the world. In the 50s and 60s, the idea of creating a professional sound from anywhere but the recording studio was obscene. The best one could hope for was a tape recorder. These early tape recorders allowed users one take to record themselves onto a reel in low quality.
The first home studios came about in the 70s. Reel to reel technology had improved enough to offer multiple takes and slightly better sound quality. The first preamplifiers were introduced, expanding the horizons of home recording. The 80s brought an explosion of possibilities with the invention of MIDI. This expanded the capabilities of a band's keyboard player and was the first step in music going digital.
Audio interfaces have since been used in every professional recording created. They are a key component in digital recording; potentiating the audio capabilities of any computer they are plugged into.
When considering the purchase of a USB audio interface, one should pay attention to the benefits and functions of the options available.
The user's experience will be an important factor to consider. Is the person who will be using the interface relatively skilled in sound engineering, or are they a novice? Some models require more extensive knowledge of audio engineering than others.
Is the interface equipped with the proper inputs to handle the user's needs? Some audio interfaces excel at recording with condenser microphones, while others are incompatible. If the interface will be used for both microphones and instruments simultaneously, it is important that multiple XLR and 1/4 inch jacks are present. Also consider if the audio interface will be used for MIDI, tablet computers, or line level inputs. Some musicians rely on these inputs, and will need an audio interface which can handle them.
Will the interface be used to record multiple artists at once? Many personal audio interfaces are made to ideally record one instrument and one microphone at a time. If a band is to be recorded on a simple audio interface such as this, multiple takes of the same song must be played to properly record every member.
Another important factor to consider is how much control the user would like to have before the sound wave enters the computer. Some models offer control of input gain and EQ changes before the sound reaches the computer. This makes for a high quality input file, and less editing in post production.
How Audio Interfaces Influence Music
The invention of the long playing (LP) record created a large shift in music. It was possible to hear an entire album or performance without being present to the live show or recording. This took early big band crooners such as Frank Sinatra to new heights of popularity, effectively creating pop music.
Beginning in the 1950s, the music industry really became big business. Record giants such as RCA and Columbia began signing and preening talented musicians. By repeatedly playing their music on the radio and popularizing their personas, the companies could sell records at unbelievable rates. This is how the pop-star culture was born.
The pattern continued for decades, with the majority of radio play being dominated by a handful of large record companies. These companies drove the musical journey of the consumer; highly influencing the listening and purchasing habits of the world's population.
This trend began to change in the 21st century thanks in part to the audio interface. These personal interfaces allowed talented musicians from around the world to create professional music using their home computer. The artist could then distribute the music to listeners, without a record company, via the internet. This practice continues to this day; inspiring countless artists who remain relatively unknown on the radio waves, yet enjoy a large following on the internet.