With some pretty significant recent upgrades in technology surrounding us, one of the biggest changes to most of our lives when looking at buying a new bit of gear is the widespread adoption of USB-C ports.
Here’s why producers are opting for USB-C:
USB-C is capable of 15w of power output and provides an overall improvement in connectivity.
Ease of use between devices (no more futile rotating of the USB connector to try and get it the right way up)
USB-C unifies ports across all machines and making devices available to people across all operating systems.
Having recently upgraded to a machine with ONLY USB-C ports myself, I realised it was time for me to shop around. I have created and shared this list to help you take the guesswork out when the time comes for you to upgrade.
Perfect for the singer-songwriter, Focusrite's Clarett 2Pre USB interface gives you two pristine mic/instrument/line preamps, state-of-the-art 192kHz/24-bit digital conversion, and ultra-low round-trip latency, so you can use your DAW plug-ins for monitoring.
The Clarett preamps are among one of the ‘crowning glories’ of Focusrite as a brand. They offer incredible clarity and fidelity with the added feature of an ‘air’ mode which adds a beautiful sheen and top-end to your vocals and recordings, something that can be hard to achieve when recording at home or in an acoustically-unsound environment (heaven forbid).
The Clarett 2Pre has a 24bit/192kHz converter coupled a 119dB dynamic range, to help you capture the all the emotion, subtle nuances and timbres of your performance with an ultra-low noise floor.
Combined with ADAT expandability, the Clarett 2Pre can be attached to additional Clarett hardware units such as the ‘Clarett OctoPre’ to allow extra Preamps to be routed through your interface and into your DAW.
The Clarett represents an overall understanding of what musicians and producers want out of a modern soundcard with a sleek design and a stack of features.
The Clarett comes with a range of free software(s) that are worth taking advantage of whether you’re a beginner or a pro, there’s a stack of free stuff and discounted services including the ‘Focusrite Control’ app for iOS and macOS devices, free plugins from Brainworx, XLN Audio, Softube, a copy of Ableton Live Lite, the full Red 2 and Red 3 plugin suites, and a subscription to the Focusrite Plugin Collective, which is a great service in itself, offering free stuff and heavy discounts across a range of industry-standard software.
The SSL2+ comes stocked with a set of pro-grade preamps, stunning 24-bit/192 kHz converters, and a host of helpful I/O options, including four line outputs, two headphone jacks and 5-pin DIN MIDI in and out.
This new device from SSL labelled the ‘SSL 2+’ is a compact and functional little soundcard with a focus on collaboration and the understanding of recording workflows.
The SSL 2+ has a simple front-facing panel with all standard inclusions of an audio interface with two rock-solid exceptions. The first exception is that this device has SSL built preamps, boasting low-noise transistors and isolated circuits, these preamps carry a level of clarity that is well above the standard of many other devices in its price range.
With additional unbalanced RCA outputs for easy connection to DJ Mixers, this device puts itself in the accessibility range for most people who would have previously only been able to dream of owning a set of SSL mic pres. SSL has turned that dream into a reality.
The ‘Legacy 4K’ button on the interface is designed to emulate the analogue circuitry of the classic SSL 4000 series consoles, using a two-stage approach to signal processing. This adds a high-frequency EQ boost and subtle harmonic distortion to the signal, giving punch and life to what might otherwise be a flat or boring sound.
All the pots, buttons and parts on the SSL 2+ are the exact same parts used on all SSL consoles and include high-quality headphone preamps, Neutrik XLR and jack connectors and a super high-quality AKM AD/DA analogue to digital converter, the same kind used in SSL’s ‘Alpha-Link IO’ products.
This console manages to deliver a recording experience at home that i personally would not have expected to see in my lifetime. With a new and improved focus on the smaller studio, SSL has really smashed it out of the park with this simple but striking little bit of kit.
The SSL 2+ comes with the ‘SSL Production pack’ which consists of the SSL Vocalstrip and Drumstrip plugins, Native instruments Hybrid Keys, ProTools Lite, Ableton Live Lite, and a 1.5GB sample pack from LoopCloud. This pack gives you enough to get started making music straight away and with the inclusion of TWO of the industry-leading DAW’s its a great option for anyone looking to dip their toes into some new software and get a ridiculously good interface.
The latest ‘M’ range of devices sees Motu returning to the playing field with something that stands out not only in cost vs. feature benefits but also ease of use and tight USB-C integration.
The M2 and M4 both boast a HUGE full colour LED screen with highly detailed visual feedback, helping you identify problems and manage your levels at a glance, making it easy to make quick and necessary adjustments to your gain on the fly which is especially useful when monitoring or recording a larger group of sound sources or instruments.
Motu has engineered their device to function at a much higher capacity when connecting via USB-C, with the improvement in technology allowing Motu to achieve 2.5ms of ‘round-trip latency’ when recording at 96kHz with a buffer size of 32 samples.
The icing on the cake is the inclusion of ESS Sabre32 Ultra™ DAC technology – One of the world leaders in Analogue/Digital conversion technology. Devices using Sabre32 Ultra A/D converters tend to cost upwards of the thousands of dollars.
The USB-C device also contains all of the staple requirements like +48v phantom power, direct input monitoring, and 44.1/192khz sample rates.
The Motu M2 and M4 also both include ‘loopback channels’ which allow for audio to be ‘looped back’ to the computer instead of the monitor outputs, making recording podcasts and other streaming or content media projects a breeze.
The legends over at Motu have included a few freebies in the purchase of this device including a copy of their own DAW software ‘MOTU Performer Lite’ which includes over 100 virtual instruments and sounds, PLUS 6GB of samples, loops and sounds from a range of well-known content providers and sound design companies.
Presonus has managed to stay ahead of the curve with a number of innovations and exciting products in the field of monitoring and recording hardware and software.
This rugged lil’ guy has an all-metal body and includes 4 XLR/jack inputs and four ¼” jack outputs, each with 24-bit resolution at 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192 kHz sampling rates.
It offers a multitude of options and allowing even the most subtle of nuances to be recorded in detail. The 68c comes with a special breakout cable for MIDI IO and S/PDIF IO connectivity for those interested in using this interface in their live solo or band setup.
The front-facing display panel uses 6 channel strips of bright LED’s to give the user an accurate visual representation their gain staging and overall track levels at a glance, which comes in handy when recording multiple sources at once.
Each input had a dedicated gain knob that corresponds to an input, making it easy and quick to fix any gain or mix issues you come across while recording.
PreSonus also offers the users access to the ‘MyPreSonus’ app for registration, customer support and a stack of other cool stuff including access to forums and educational resources that are unique to the service.
The 68c comes with USB-C to USB-C and USB-A to USB-C cable, meaning that if you are on an older machine, you won’t have to worry about your port configurations or upgrading your hardware. Note that the 68c is NOT bus-powered but comes with a PSU. It is worth noting that all models below this one in the same range ARE bus-powered, should you be looking for something more portable.
One of the most underrated features in the market of functionality is the A/B feature. This feature gives you the power to flip back and forth and reference your material in your headphones to ensure you’re hitting the mark with your sound, although this can be achieved in other ways, having the feature on the hardware itself makes it easy to access and use, and teaches users the valuable skill of referencing audio without them even knowing it.
The PreSonus 68c comes with PreSonus’ own DAW called Studio One Artist and their own Studio Magic plugin suite. Studio One Artist only works on 64 bit systems and offers a single-window workflow with a unique drag-and-drop approach to song making with included multi-touch functionality for use with tablets and touchscreens.
The AIR 192 | 14 has some stunning preamps from Crystal™ who are known for their pristine clarity and transparent sound, bringing out the natural colour and tone of your audio source without compromising on quality.
Using high-quality A/D converters, this interface can record at a quality of up to 24-bit/192kHz.
This device has a really distinct look, with a panel-like display which shows the four mic/line inputs, and the two instrument inputs, each with an individual isolated gain knob.
The ‘BIG KNOB’ right in the middle of the device (trust me, you cant miss it) gives the user super easy and efficient access to monitoring controls, in conjunction with easy ‘front-panel’ switch access to two different headphone mixes, and split phantom power options across channels ½ and ¾.
The AIR 192 | 14 features a DAW/Direct signal knob, allowing you to configure how much of the monitor signal is coming directly from the input vs how much of the DAW mix is being heard, which is a great feature, although almost unnecessary as this interface also has super-low latency averaging about 2.9ms, meaning you probably won’t need to spend too much time on the mix pot anyway.
Not forgetting the MIDI nuts out there, the AIR 192 | 14 comes with some pretty nifty 3.5mm jack to MIDI cables that allow you to incorporate and use this device as a fantastic little hub for live performances and jam sessions.
This interface comes with a special version of ProTools, designed in a collaboration between Avid and M-audio.
ProTools | First – M-Audio Edition is a Lite version of ProTools but has some premium features such as Offline Bounce, Unlimited Busses, Elastic Pitch and Elastic time, and a few other nifty features that aren’t available through the standard Lite editions of Protools.
Alongside ProTools M-Audio has included a copy of Ableton Live Lite, and there’s a selection of well-known plugins including the ‘Eleven Lite’ guitar amp modelling software, 20 Avid plugins, 28 ‘FX’ from AIR and a huge selection of VST’s (virtual instruments) from AIR including the infamous Vacuum, Mini Grand, Xpand2, Hybrid 3, Strike, Boom and a pretty decent selection of other instruments and tools to help you roll up the ol’ sleeves and plunge yourself elbow-deep into the world of music production and beatmaking.
The latest series of Steinberg interfaces is the ‘UR-C Series’ – offering a modernised and up-to-date take on their previous range of classic interfaces. The UR22C uses 32bit 192kHz A/D converters to continue to provide you with the highest possible quality when recording your source.
Featuring the ability to switch between USB-C or the included 12v PSU, this interface can easily be used when out-and-about, with portability added to by the tough steel outer shell and rock-solid build quality. It is worth noting that the UR22C is backwards-compatible with devices using USB 2.0 ports with the use of a socket adapter (not included).
The UR-C series is class compliant and works with Apple iOS devices using Steinberg’s Cubasis iOS app and a multitude of other DAW software(s) and app recording suites.
When combined with the ‘loopback’ function, this makes the UR22C an ideal choice for integrating into your podcasting, live-streaming or voiceover studio setup, by giving you the ability to monitor your signal in real-time as it is being recorded.
Thanks to the inclusion of Yamaha’s SSP3 DSP chip in the UR22C, this interface offers zero-latency direct monitoring and with the included dspMixFX application this interface can process REV-X reverb, and various channel strip and amp modelling software(s) all with direct monitoring and zero latency when used in conjunction with Cubase or Cubasis software.
Adding to the other features of the device is the addition of Yamaha’s high-quality D-PRE preamps which give a clean and transparent sound with little to no colour, making sure you get the cleanest and most natural-sounding recordings.
This is great for podcasting and voiceovers, but the portability, Bus-Powered option and form-factor of the UR22C lend itself to other professional audio applications outside the studio such as location recording or taking out to collect reverb impulses like some of us bigger nerds tend to do.
The Steinberg UR22C comes with a variety of software, namely Cubase AI (DAW) and Cubasis for iOS as well as the standalone dspMixFx application which can be used as a mixing console to mixdown and apply FX to your recordings.
When using Cubase, dspMixFX is fully integrated into the application’s GUI using True Integrated Monitoring technology, giving you the ability to choose whether you would like to control mixing and monitoring capabilities from either Cubase or the dspMixFx application.
The UR22C comes with four distinct classic guitar amp model plugins from Yamaha including Crunch, Clean, Drive and Lead; as well as a bundle of other software like REV-X, Steewspot Morphing Channel Strip, and the Yamaha ‘Guitar Amp Classics’ bundle.
Despite the intimidating price tag, it might be helpful to know that this is the most affordable ‘Symphony series’ device that Apogee has ever made, bringing a level of quality to the table (or desk) that wasn’t previously attainable for less than the price of a golden guitar.
The Symphony Desktop is a PSU powered device featuring USB 2.0 via USB-C connectivity. One of the most impressive things I noticed straight off the bat is the inclusion of an optional FET (field effect transistor) on the instrument input. It’s designed to deliver a sound that feels richer and more like that of a tube amplifier or reminiscent of a warm vintage tone, perfect for vocalists or guitarists who want to add a bit of ‘vintage authenticity’ to their sound.
The microphone preamps also have an optional ‘Apogee Alloy’ emulation which adds character, vibe and a pleasant ‘grittiness’.
The Symphony Desktop utilises a unique DSP hardware processor that allows for the use of high-quality Apogee Rack FX plugins as well as a plethora of other third-party plugins.
The DSP chip inside the Symphony Desktop processes the FX and helps carry the load of other aspects of your mix. Think of it as if your audio interface managing the workload for your computer so that your CPU doesnt have to.
The DSP hardware does the same for plugins, meaning they are processed and run by the soundcard, leaving your CPU free to focus on the main task at hand – making bangers.
The Symphony Desktop uses cutting-edge AD/DA conversion, providing you with a much cleaner and truthful recording and a much more engaging soundstage. This is the first time Apogee has incorporated Symphony series DAC performance into a portable device, with this sort of tech normally being reserved for use in more permanent rack-mounted processing units.
For headphone monitoring, Apogee has used ESS Sabre DAC technology in their pre’s (same DAC company used by the Motu M2 and M4) and has the ability to meet varying headphone power requirements. The front panel output can drive virtually any headphones, while the rear panel output is specifically tailored for high-efficiency headphones, this device is also iOS class compliant and can be connected to a range of iPad recording suites and audio programs.
The Symphony Desktop comes with some really amazing software including Bob Clearmountain’s Space Reverb, Symphony ECS Channel Strip (hardware and native versions; ECS means EQ, Compression, Saturation), along with ‘British Solid State’ and ‘50’s American Tube’ mic preamp models included as a bundle with the purchase of one of these units.
It is worth noting that a slightly costlier version (dubbed the Symphony Desktop FX Complete) comes with Pultec EQP-1A, Pultec MEQ-5, ModEQ 6, ModComp and Opto-3A plugins, ALL of which are renowned industry-standard plugins.
Some of the devices on this list are actually ‘bus-powered’ meaning they can be powered entirely by the USB-C port (as well as traditional power supply options), although not all machines will be able to provide the 15w necessary to power some of these devices, this is a super quick breakdown to let you know if your machine will meet the device power standards.
Mac – all Macs that have Type C ports will output 15W except for the one found on the 12” Macbook (this only outputs 7.5W)
PC – whilst the majority of type C ports will output 15W, the best way to tell is to check with your PC’s manufacturer and/or your USB-C hub manufacturer.