A best xlr sound card is necessary whether you’re a musician, podcaster, or someone else who requires a simple, efficient means to get audio into and out of a computer—or potentially even a phone or tablet—so you can attach any microphone or electric instrument and record one or two tracks simultaneously. The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen offers the best overall compromise between functionality, build quality, user-friendliness, and cost for musicians, even though all the USB interfaces we evaluated can record and playback audio. Podcasters should check out the Focusrite Vocaster Two, both new and seasoned.
How we chose
We choose to concentrate on two-channel best xlr sound card because they allow you to record as complicated as you can conceive, barring situations when you need to simultaneously record three or more tracks, like when recording a group or an entire drum kit. However, most models we evaluated are also offered in single-channel versions (or variants with a single mic input and an instrument input) and versions with four, six, or more input channels, allowing you to record sizable ensembles performing live.
The two XLR microphone inputs on each interface we tested also serve as line inputs for connecting musical instruments or other electronic sources. They can all supply phantom power, allowing you to utilize condenser microphones, which are usually (but not always) superior for recording to dynamic ones. Since we first published this list, many off-brand models have appeared, but we stayed with tried-and-true brands with a solid reputation among audio professionals. When deciding on appropriate interfaces to test, the following qualities and features were taken into account:
We learned from reading internet reviews that many users value a USB interface’s sturdy construction. We immediately eliminated any interfaces that appeared incredibly cheap or weak and were unlikely to last up to a few months under heavy use. Even if it’s constructed of plastic, a well-crafted interface should last for many years of use. For my subwoofer measurements (all of which are performed outdoors), I’ve been using M-Audio’s plastic-bodied MobilePre for more than ten years, and it’s still in perfect working order.
The setup of the signal-level meters on different USB ports is one of the largest discrepancies. For determining gain, or record level, these meters are essential. Distortion—often called “clipping”—occurs when the volume is excessively high. Setting it too low can produce excessive noise and make it more challenging to mix a recording. The meters on many USB ports are small and difficult to read, even though it’s crucial to be able to see and read them readily.
Recording in high resolution, We deemed it a minimum requirement for our music-oriented options as most USB audio interfaces available today are capable of accurate, noise-free recording at 24-bit depth with a 96 kHz sampling rate or higher. According to research, the advantages of higher-resolution audio recording (such as 24/192) are “small and difficult to detect.” This post has more information on audio resolution. According to research, the advantages of higher-resolution audio recording (such as 24/192) are “small and difficult to detect.” All the interfaces we tested have a Type-B or Type-C USB connector, typically connected to a Type-A connection on a computer. While some users might prefer the more recent Type-C design, either works just well, and replacement cables are easily and affordably accessible.
All best xlr sound card should support macOS and Windows (as long as you download and install the appropriate driver). However, as iPads are now frequently used to record performances and other events without toting along a laptop, we thought iOS support was an important addition. Any iPad that doesn’t have a USB-C jack can use a USB audio interface, but you’ll need to buy additional adapters. This capability is less crucial if you only intend to use the audio interface with a PC in your home studio.
Every best xlr sound card we tested included a digital audio workstation (DAW) program, typically “lite” versions of professional applications like Ableton or Pro Tools. Most also come with various plug-ins—software that creates sound effects like reverb and guitar-amp emulation or instrument sounds that may be played on a keyboard or drum machine or sequenced in a DAW. Free software is always good, but we didn’t consider it when evaluating the products because you can already have the software you enjoy using. The appeal of the free software will depend on the type of music or other content you are creating.
You should generally choose a USB audio interface with five-pin MIDI connections if you utilize an older keyboard, sampler, or drum machine without a USB port. Although these instruments are becoming less common, you can always purchase a USB-to-MIDI adaptor if necessary.
Using the loopback recording feature, audio from other computer programs can be blended in with the audio that is being recorded. It can be used to bring audio from a Zoom or Skype call or add bumper music or other pre-recorded audio to a podcast in real time rather than editing it later.
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Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is the most recent interface iteration that has long been our top pick and has established itself as a standard for home recording. The Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is small but substantial and bulky enough to remain stationary on a desktop, and all of the knobs and jacks are placed conveniently for easy use. The gain level indicators on the 2i2, in particular, are well-designed. The gain (also known as the input or record level) should be set to minimize noise while instrument or voice distortion is prevented. When the input level is safe, the LED rings around the gain knobs on the 2i2 will flash green. When the gain is too high, they will glow red. Simple and uncomplicated. Each channel now has an Air button in the 3rd Gen version, giving recordings a slight boost in zip.
Additionally, stereo-direct monitoring is added, which may be advantageous in some situations. However, the 2i2 3rd Gen interface only partially supports iOS devices. It needs a MIDI connection (which is only useful if you wish to utilize an extremely outdated keyboard, drum machine, or sampler).
Universal Audio Volt 2
Although the Universal Audio Volt 2 costs a little more than our top pick, it has features that some users might find appealing, such as a MIDI interface, iPhone compatibility, and a stronger headphone amplifier than most USB interfaces provide (which can be useful if your monitoring headphones need a lot of power to drive to satisfying volume levels). The level meters on Volt 2 function properly, although they are somewhat small, and we preferred the way the inputs and indication lights were arranged on our top pick. The Volt 2 has a Vintage setting that, like the Air mode on our top selection, slightly boosts the treble to give recordings a more lively sound.
Universal Audio Volt 276
A suitable step-up model for musicians that are more serious about recording is the Universal Audio Volt 276. It also contains an integrated compressor that may quickly and safely smooth out a recording’s highs and lows, making it a little simpler to adjust recording levels. It has all the capabilities and advantages of the UA Volt 2 in addition to this. Additionally, the Volt 276’s larger chassis means it takes up more room on a desktop. However, it has a more robust control surface, user-friendly knobs-on-top design, and substantial input and output level meters. Although it costs over 50% more than the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen and the Volt 2, pros and some aspirational amateurs will probably find the added expense justified.
Audient EVO 4
Due to its low cost and automatic gain-setting capability, the Audient Evo 4 is a great option for starting podcasters and music producers. The most challenging aspect of using a USB audio interface is appropriately setting input levels, but the Evo 4’s auto-gain feature makes it simple. Due to the box’s small size, low weight, and plastic chassis might shift slightly on a desktop. It also has a strange single-knob control setup, but we quickly got used to that.
Focusrite Vocaster Two
A few minutes with the Focusrite Vocaster Two will show individuals who make podcasts the significant benefits it provides for podcasting. With big, simple-to-use headphone level controls, it’s designed for host and guest situations. A voice-enhancement button that can be changed to one of four modes via the Vocaster Hub computer app is also included, in addition to mute buttons for each mic. Utilizing the loopback mixer on Vocaster Hub, you can easily add sound from other apps and background music or incoming calls from a phone through Bluetooth or a cable. Although expensive, Vocaster Two significantly improved the sound of podcasts.
The main purpose of best xlr sound card is to record sounds into your computer’s DAW and play it back. The main criteria for testing them are their ease of use and the audio quality they can produce. Setting up should be simple because many audio interfaces are “plug n play,” meaning that when you connect them for the first time, your computer and DAW will instantly detect them. The audio interface’s physical inputs and outputs should then be listed by your DAW, frequently as selectable options on its input and output channels.
The A-D/D-A converters, sample rates, and frequencies listed in an interface’s specifications (such as 24-bit/96 kHz, for example) influence the sound quality of the interface. We assess the sound quality by using the interface’s mic and line inputs to record various sources. We then compare the playback quality to what is predicted by the specifications. Additionally, we contrast the same material recorded using our daily reference audio interfaces.
Some audio interfaces also include specialized software that adds additional routing choices, effects, and the ability to customize input and output configurations. Another crucial aspect is how simple it is to use this additional program. When testing interfaces, we also take latency into account. It takes this long for audio to enter and exit your computer’s DAW through the audio interface. If this is slow, the high latency value could cause a delay between when you play a note and when you hear it. This is impossible if you are trying to be on time with your DAW playback while recording some playing.