Side by Side: USB Audio Interfaces

April 1, 2012

It used to be that getting audio in and out of a computer was more magic and wizardry than computer science. Today, every device has some audio capability. The quality of the stock on-board hardware is not always the best, and it's limited to a single connection. For installed systems, a professional sound card can provide the needed quality and features. But for portable use, a peripheral device is the simplest way to enhance the audio I/O while still keeping the setup compact.

While investigating options, we found plenty of USB-capable devices. We found some Firewire devices as well, but given the proliferation of USB on portable computers, we stuck with that connection. We also looked for interfaces that had at least a mic and a line input. Most have more, including digital I/O. We also chose units that were powered by the USB connection without needing an external power supply.

While these interfaces have a natural use in field production, we also found them to be useful in small editing setups, such as new work stations and even some production setups.

ModelLexicon AlphaDigigram Cancun 222-MicAlesis iO2 ExpressM-Audio MobilePreRoland Tri-Capture
Mic1x XLR2x XLR*2x XLR2x Combo*1x XLR
Line2x 1/4" TRS2x XLR*2x 1/4" TRS2x 1/4" TRS2x RCA
Digital-1x AES3---
OtherHi-Z 1/4" TS-MIDI, InsertsHi-Z 2x Combo*Hi-Z 1/4" TS
Phantom PowerNYYYY
Line2x 1/4" TRS, 2x RCA2x XLR2x 1/4" TRS2x 1/4" TRS2x 1/4" TRS
Digital-1x AES3---
Sampling Rates (kHz)44.1, 4832, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 192up to 4844.1, 4844.1, 48, 96
Bit Depth248, 16, 20, 2416, 2416, 2416, 24
Level ControlsCh. 1/Inst, Ch. 2/Mic, Monitor Mix, Output LevelAssignable Level Control, Headphone LevelCh. 1 Gain, Ch. 2 Gain, Monitor Mix, Main Level, Headphone LevelCh. 1 Gain, Ch. 2 Gain, Headphone, Line OutCh. 1, Ch. 2, Ch. 3, Headphone
MeteringPeak LEDsLED Bar MetersLED Bar MeterLED Signal and ClipLED Signal and Peak, LED Bar
Power SourceUSB connection
OSWindows or Mac
Dimensions (in)6.75 x 6.5 x 1.610 x 3.8 x 16.2 x 5 x 29.5 x 7.7 x 2.26.75 x 5.3 x 1.6
Weight (oz)17.615.8512.828.812
ExtrasCubase LE 5 -Cubase LEPro Tools SECakewalk Sonar X1 LE
List Price$100 $790 $200 $179 $159

Receive regular news and technology updates. Sign up for our free newsletter here.