There Are Tons of Audio Interface Options for Mac
For a lot of people, the Mac is synonymous with everything creative that is done on a computer. This includes things like photo editing, video editing, and especially, music production.
Since this is the case, there are tons of great interfaces for the Mac and OSX. In some cases, some manufacturers only manufactured audio interfaces for the Mac, leaving Windows users out in the cold. Companies like Universal Audio and Apogee are examples of these companies, having released flagship products that only work on Mac.
An added benefit of recording on a Mac is the availability of Thunderbolt. I have found that Thunderbolt is second to none when it comes to the stability of the interface. I have had almost no experience with glitches, audio dropping out, problems getting the device to be recognized by the computer, or any other sort of major problems.
USB 3 is a big improvement upon earlier versions of USb, but it’s still not up to par with Thunderbolt.
In this post we’re going to go through the five best audio interfaces for Mac users working in a home studio.
I Have Worked for Years With the Listed Mac Audio Interfaces
I’ve been recording with Mac for about 10 years now.During that time, I have recorded with or owned interfaces from Apogee, Steinberg, RME, Focusrite, and Universal Audio. I am extremely familiar with a number of different interfaces and their accompanying software. some arereally easy-to-use, some have very simple hardware but the software can be a bit of a pain, and others just seem to get everything right.
One thing that they all have in common is that they all sound great. Your concerns should not be about the audio quality; you should be more focused on making sure that you buy the unit with the right features.
All Of These Audio Interfaces Cost Under $1000
All the interfaces that I’m going to include in this list are under $1000. Most home studio owners do not have the cash to put out for a $4000 Orpheus interface or some other extremely high-end piece of equipment. Additionally, the quality of audio interfaces has gone up so much in the last 5 to 10 years that the average person is unable to tell the difference between a “prosumer” and ultra high-end professional audio interface.
Any one of these interfaces is going to get you professional sounding recordings. Period.
Your decision should be based more upon the features that each has that you are likely to actually use. For example, if you really think that you need a pad on each channel because you record a lot of extremely about instruments, then you should certainly take that into consideration when making your purchase.
It is also important to take into consideration the additional goodies that come along with a number of these audio interfaces. In the case of the entire of Apollo line, it comes with extremely high-quality plug-ins. If you are considering paying for additional third-party plug-ins from a company like Waves or Native Instruments, purchasing an Apollo could potentially save you from having to buy those third-party plug-ins.
The Top Audio Interfaces for Mac
The Apollo Twin is an amazing little box. Its D/A conversion is second to none and at under $1000, you can get a recording that sounds like it was done on equipment costed 5x its cost.
I used in Apollo twin for three years and at no point was I unhappy with it. It was solid as a rock performance wise and I was thrilled with the quality of the audio out it captured. The only reason I ever sold it was that I bought a few pieces of outboard gear and was limited in the number of output channels it allowed. If I were still mixing 100% in the box, I would own still this interface
Apollo Twin II Inputs and Outputs
There are 4 outputs on the Apollo Twin. I had two going to my monitors and the other two going to a headphone mixer. When I got some external outboard compressors Iran these lines through the compressors and back in through the TRS inputs to great effect. The problem was that I then lost the outputs TV headphone mixer and what’s constantly unplugging and plugging things into these channels.
It’s also important to note that there is an ADAT input. This makes the interface expandable to another eight inputs. I ran a pro Sapphire 40 as well as a Nuendo 8 I/O interface into this interface to record drum sets. Neither time did I have any sorts of issues and I have to say that it was incredibly easy to set up.
There is also a DI that you plug into on the front of the interface. I only used it a few times, mostly out of laziness, but I have to say that it sounded fine on a DI guitar.
Focusrite Clarett 8pre
This is the audio interface that I’ve used for the last 2 years.
Unlike the Apollo twin, it does not come with any plug-ins. The software for routing audio is a bit confusing as well, but other than that, I like it more then any other interface I’ve ever worked with.
Add a Little “AIR” to Your Records
The Clarett 8pre has an air function that gives the preamp a light EQ boost at the source. While I would never use it to record something like distorted guitars, it sounds quite nice on sources that can benefit from a bit of brightness such as high hats and acoustic guitars. I typically leave it engaged on one or two of the channels where I leave an SM 57 connected. It gives the mic a nice amount of high-end boost to the point where it almost sounds like a condenser mic.
8 to 16 Outputs
If you think that you may benefit from having eight outputs, this is the interface for you. Of all of the Thunderbolt Mac audio interfaces that I’ve used, this is the only one that has a full eight outputs that one can say sound professional. The Behringer ADA 8000 also has this high number of outputs, but you will be hard-pressed to convince anyone that it sounds anywhere nearly as good as the Clarett.
I have each one of these outputs routed to outboard compressors such as my WA 76 and Golden age LA free a clown. I also have a channel running to a golden age 1073 EQ clone that has come in handy if you times when I wanted to add a bit of color to a track.
Another feature on this interface that I love are the ADAT inputs and outputs. Although I am not currently using them, it’s nice to know that if I ever wanted to add yet another 8 channels to my interface, I could do so very easily through these optical connections.
Finally, I really love the fact that it doesn’t have a wall wart. The Apollo twin has an in-line wart on it power supply, which can be a pain to manage.
I owned the Steinberg UR824 for about a year and was very happy with it. I record using Cubase and I liked the idea of having the Steinberg as my interface. Both are Steinberg products and the UR824 is particularly well suited for recording into Cubase. The only reason that I ended up getting rid of it was that I wanted to use Thunderbolt. This is a USB interface.
It’s USB connectivity never caused me any problems, but just being familiar with the capabilities of Thunderbolt, I decided to switch over to the Apollo twin and run my Nuendo 8 i/o into it for the additional inputs.
This Interface Sounded Great
Before I owns this interface, I was using a Focusrite Pro Saffire 40. The person for 40 was a great Interface, but I did notice a slight improvement with the Steinberg. Since switching from this unit to the Clarett and the Apollo Twin, I haven’t really noticed any discernible differences in the quality of my recordings.
I think it’s safe to say that this sounds just as good as the other interfaces in this list. The only drawback for me was the fact that it runs over USB and not Thunderbolt. I also didn’t like that the phantom power ran two channels in pairs; for example if you turn on phantom power for channel 3, you will also turn it on for channel 4. This isn’t going to ever cause any problems unless you are using ribbon mics, but if you are, be careful or you might fry your mic.
Other Interfaces that I Considered But Didn’t Add to the List
Apogee Element 46
I considered adding the Apogee element 46 but decided against it. To start, I’ve never actually recorded with it. I have recorded with other Apogee interfaces and they are excellent but didn’t feel comfortable recommending something I’ve never worked with personally.
Additionally, it looks like it doesn’t have a ton of features. The other interfaces that are included on the list have features that the Apogee does not have and I can safely say that they sound just as good as anything that Apogee is going to put out.
MOTU 828x 28×30 Thunderbolt / USB 2.0
MOTU makes great equipment. Like The Apogee Element, I’ve never worked with this specific Interface, though I understand it is very similar to the rest of MOTU’s offerings.
The biggest selling point of this interface is the fact that it can run on both thunderbolt and USB two. If you are a musician that sometimes records on other peoples computers, it seems like a no-brainer that you should consider this interface. Another benefit to having the two interfaces is that if the unit ever has problems with one or the other, you’ll probably still be able to use it to record.
RME Babyface Pro
The Babyface pro is yet another interface that I’ve never used. I am extremely familiar with the Fireface line, and as I mentioned earlier in this article, the RME ADI-8, which is the same Interface as the Nuendo 8 I/O.
RME makes amazing sound equipment, though I am skeptical of the value delivered at the price point. The Fireface costs markedly more then all of the interfaces in this list, yet I don’t feel that it offers any additional stability or audio quality.
RME appears to me to be a company that has largely rested on its laurels and benefited from its early successes such as the Fireface 800, the first Firewire interface and recording staple of the mid 2000s. In other words, my reluctance to recommends this interface is more about the company and not the actual Babyface Pro.