This is a listing of the 2 Input audio interfaces
You can safely say that 2 input audio interfaces are the most popular interfaces on the market. There are different reasons for this. The format was introduced at a time that USB2 didn’t exist yet. We were at USB1 at that time. The USB1 specs didn’t allow for more than 4 channels of audio (2 channels in- and 2 channels out for stereo) to be streamed at decent quality (44.1K and 16bit). So choosing that format was a no brainer.
Most newer interfaces are USB2 that allows for more simultaneous channels and higher bit rates and depths. Nevertheless the 2 input audio interface format survived. This is without a doubt because not everyone needs more inputs. Lower input count also means les expensive to manufacture, smaller footprint and less weight.
With the explosion of the number of electronic music producers and people diving into home recording it’s a no brainer why these interfaces became so popular. It could also be the other way around of course. With the increase of available toys at an affordable price more people get their feet wet. A chicken or the egg question :-).
Bundled DAW software
If you don’t have a DAW to record your masterpieces yet, you should definitely check what DAW software is bundled with your future audio interface. Most audio interfaces come with Cubase AI, Cakewalk Sonar LE, Ableton Live Lite or Presonus Studio One Artist. You can read more about Audio Interface bundled DAW’s here.
2 Input audio interfaces are of interest to you if
- You don’t intend to record more than 2 audio sources at a time (duh). I did see people buy a 2 input audio interface and afterwards finding out it’s not ideal to record whole band with it.
- You need portability. Most of these are rather small (some can be bigger than strictly needed) and not that heavy. They fit in most backpacks. I ended up with an audio interface for each purpose, one 1 input audio interface for “on the go” and maximum portability, one 2 input audio interface for general purposes at home on my desk and a multi-channel audio interface for recording a complete band.
- You don’t have much space on your desk. It’s bewildering how your desk gets too crowded. Computer + audio interface + midi keyboard + monitors (speakers) + headphones + all necessary cables. In no time you don’t know where to put your coffee mug (don’t put it near your laptop). Studio (home studio) ergonomics is a science on itself.
- You need an interface capable of fairly low latency (for use with guitar amp sims or for driving software synths with a midi keyboard) for personal use.
- You just want to get your feet wet with home recording or electronic music production. You can always add an interface with 4 or 8 inputs later on (if finances permit).
Walk on by if
- You need to record a whole band live using close miking. This speaks for itself, but I saw people make this mistake. In that case you need a multi input (4 inputs or more, eight is a standard).
- You own a Mac, you are beginning electronic music producer and you don’t intend to record any audio at all. Mac’s are perfectly capable of working “low latency” out of the box through the built-in audio. You don’t really NEED an external interface to enjoy using Ableton Live, Garageband or Logic (or any other DAW). You can drive soft synths with a midi keyboard just fine with the built-in audio. For this scenario latency will be even lower than with an external usb audio interface! An external audio interface WILL be a step up regarding audio quality from a listening perspective. It will also give you more professional output connections and levels to connect to audio systems (clubs, parties…). The audio interface DOES NOT have any influence on the quality of the rendered audio (the final mix you print on your hard drive). A good interface WILL make your mixing easier (you will hear what you produce with more fidelity).
A little warning regarding the manufacturers touting “zillion input audio interface”
Most brands blow up the number of inputs in their advertising by counting every possible hole on the interface as an input. They count the line inputs + the microphone inputs + the hi-z guitar/ bass inputs + the digital connection + the midi in and outs etc…as different inputs. They aren’t really different inputs. All these inputs sit on the same 2 channels. Not more than 2 channels/ sources can be recorded at the same time! The only exceptions are the midi input (and that’s no audio) AND possibly the digital connection permitting the interface to be expanded with more inputs (ADAT). For this you will need more outboard gear however (converters and preamps).
A 2 input audio interface is capable of recording (only) 2 audio sources at the same time. Period. No matter what the manufacturer claims in his copy!
The connection with your computer
The bulk of these interfaces are connected via usb. Using this type of connection permits low production costs and is adequate for streaming multiple audio channels at fairly low latencies. Usb is also widespread. Computers without usb ports simply don’t exist.
Some interfaces use Firewire. Firewire permits lower latencies. The problem is that not all firewire ports are created equally. More correctly: the electronic implementation is not the same for every firewire port. In short: to ensure uninterrupted audio streaming through firewire the chipset should be a Texas Instruments firewire chipset. If your computer is a desktop you can buy an addon firewire card with a Texas Instruments chipset. Most Windows laptops don’t come standard with a Firewire port. Older Mac’s offer firewire connectivity. Newer Mac’s feature a Thunderbolt port for which you can buy a Firewire to Thunderbolt adapter, so most Firewire audio interfaces are Mac compatible.
The newest breed of audio interfaces are interfaces with Thunderbolt. These are usually “Mac only”. The Thunderbolt connection is extremely fast, both on the level of throughput and reaction time. This means that insanely low latencies ar possible (below 2 and even 1 milliseconds). Very nice, but besides being mostly Mac only (which reduces the market share), they are also generally very expensive. That’s why I will cover Thunderbolt interfaces in a separate article.
The listing is in no particular order.
2 Input USB audio interfaces:
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6
I know this listing is not complete (yet). I will update when time permits. If you liked this article and want to stay informed, subscribe to my mailing list at the bottom of the page. If you have any observations or remarks, please comment below. Thanks for reading!
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