Best Audio Interface for Ableton Live 2023
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So you want to get the best audio interface for Ableton? But which one will suit your needs?
If you make music with Ableton either on a PC or Mac, getting your hands on one of the best audio interfaces will ensure you’re getting high-quality audio in and out of your DAW. You’ll also be able to connect other essential studio gear such as synths, drum machines and mics to vastly improve your music productions.
There are many audio interfaces for Abelton available, so how do you choose which is the best one? This guide covers everything you need to know about choosing an audio interface for Ableton, what you need and why you need it. There is a selection of audio interfaces chosen for beginner budgets, performing live with Ableton and for more professional music production setups.
If you want a quick summary of the best audio interfaces for Ableton read the summary below to see the top recommendations of the best audio interfaces you can buy right now. You can then do a deep dive by scrolling to the rest of the article to read more. We have options covering everything from multi-input options to great entry-level interfaces. Then we look in detail at each of the interfaces on our full list, including full reviews if you want to know more. Whatever your interfacing needs, there should be something here for you.
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The Universal Apollo Twin from Universal Audio features two Unison-enabled mic preamps, elite class a/D and D/A conversion, UAD plugin processing, LUNA recording system and switchable +48V phantom power. It also features two line outputs and a stereo headphone out, with a handy independent level control. The audio interface comes in two formats: Duo and Quad, named after the number of DSP processing chips installed.
On the back of the interface, there are two hybrid XLR/jack inputs and an instrument input on the front that overrides one of the back connections. While this is a similar design to other desktop-based interfaces, the clever part is how the Unison preamps are routed through the DSP processing. What this means is that you can load up onboard plugins that emulate classic compressors, EQs, tape recorders, microphone preamplifiers, and guitar amplifiers. These can all modify the behaviour and sound character of the analogue input to provide recreations of classic recording studio channels.
Alternative: RME Babyface
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The Audient iD4 MkII is widely considered one of the best audio interfaces for Ableton under £/$200. It boasts a simple two-input/two-output design with a microphone preamp (including phantom power for condenser mics) and an instrument-level DI for guitars or bass. Additionally, it includes a convenient scroll wheel for software settings, a main output for speakers, and dual headphone outputs.
The entire setup operates on USB-C and, when combined with Apple’s camera connection kit, it can even be utilized with an iPhone or iPad. What stands out with this audio interface is the exceptional level of care and attention Audient has poured into this product. Taking value and usability into account every step of the way, they have crafted a budget-friendly solution that feels anything but cheap. Undoubtedly, the Audient iD4 MkII stands out as the best USB audio interface for Ableton in this price range.
Alternative: Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD
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I own a Focusrite 4i4, specifically using it as part of my live setup for performing electronic music. Weighing in at just 600g (1.3lbs) and with a compact size (185mm x 119mm x 49mm) the 4i4 is perfect for throwing in the gig bag and plugging into the PA at gigs. I’ve also found it useful for setting up external recording sessions with my laptop when I can’t get something recorded in the studio.
The Focusrite Scarlett has a few options in their range which differ with the amount of ins/outs they have. The Scarlett 4i4 features 4 outs and 4 ins, two of which are XLR compatible. The XLR ins contain improved preamps up to 56dB gain), balanced connectivity throughout, and the inclusion of Focusrite’s ISA transformer preamp emulation option (Air Mode). You also get two mic/line/instrument inputs with gain, phantom power, two line-level TRS inputs and four TRS outputs.
The Air Mode feature, which can be activated on the XLR inputs, opens up and brightens the high end in a way that is intended to emulate classic ISA preamps. This gives you a “unique high-end detail for vocals and acoustic guitar”
Also features MIDI I/O ports, which are ideal for use with external hardware when performing live, or syncing up external instruments for recording audio.
The device provides a selection of software to get started making music, including the digital audio workstations (DAWs) Ableton Live Lite and ProTools Artist. You also get a three-month subscription to Splice Sounds and a decent software bundle, Focusrite’s Hitmaker Expansion software which includes:
- LANDR – AI-based mastering tool (two-month subscription)
- Softube Marshall Silver Jubilee 2555 – Amp Sim
- XLN Audio Addictive Keys – Virtual Keyboard Instruments
- XLN Audio Addictive Drums 2: Studio Rock – Virtual Drum Library
- Antares Auto-Tune Access – Vocal Tuning
- Brainworx Bx_console Focusrite SC – Channel Strip
- Focusrite Red 2 & 3 Plug-in Suite – EQ and Compressor
- Relab’s LX480 Essentials – Reverb
- Native Instruments MASSIVE, FAST Balancer
Alternative: Any of the audio interfaces from the Focusrite Scarlet range.
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After producing for a while you’ll want to make changes to your gear to improve the sound quality of your music production. If you regularly record audio, upgrading your audio interface is a great start.
Although more expensive than the other audio interfaces for Ableton, the RME Babyface delivers big audio quality. It features excellent AD/DA converters and quality mic preamps that provide formidable competition against other costly outboard preamps.
The audio interface boasts a stylish and sophisticated control panel, equipped with six push buttons, a rotary encoder, and a multifunction LED display. Additionally, four LED bands provide visual feedback on preamp gain settings, input and output levels, phantom power status, clipping, and the selected channel for adjustment.
While there are other desktop audio interfaces with similar I/O capabilities like the Babyface, most of them fall short in comparison. The RME Babyface Pro FS stands out as a premium audio interface, boasting high-quality preamps and converters. An expensive choice, but a great investment for music producers moving away from entry-level audio interfaces.
Alternative: Apogee Duet 3
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Solid State Logic’s SSL2+ is a beautifully compact audio interface packed with professional features and flexible connectivity. The SSL 2+ provides that ‘SSL sound’, letting you capture the SSL sound quality of countless recordings from high-end studios.
The SSL2+ is the advanced version of the standard SSL2, with a few notable differences; It features two additional outputs, MIDI In/Out, and an independent headphone out that allows monitoring of different mixes. The 4k button adds extra presence and high-end sparkle, adding the sheen that makes your recordings sound more professional.
The device features two combination mic/line inputs with Hi-Z (impedance) options, allowing for seamless switching between guitar and bass signals, as well as those from synths or drum machines. Additionally, there is a +48v option to connect both condenser and dynamic microphones.
The SSL 2+ is highly recommended for its excellent monitoring and incredible audio quality, as well as its flexible I/O configuration.
Alternative: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
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What is low latency recording?
Latency is the time it takes for an audio signal to be processed by the audio interface. This is often experienced as the time it takes to hear an input being played back on the speakers. Many modern audio interfaces provide a low-latency recording feature, allowing you to stay on time and keep your audio in sync with your project while adding more tracks. Some interfaces even offer low enough latency to use real-time effect plugins during recording, while others have their own built-in DSP processing capabilities.
It’s worth considering that human hearing can’t detect latencies lower than 8ms, any values lower than 8ms won’t make that much of a difference. Even latencies below 25ms are hard to detect. Most beginner audio interfaces have latencies as low as 13ms which will be suitable for the majority of Ableton producers.
Do you need an audio interface?
You could just monitor via your headphone output – but, if you’re a musician aiming for high-quality recordings and playback on decent speakers, an audio interface is a must-have. It allows you to capture audio from various sources such as guitars, vocals, drum machines, or even a full band and mix them into your productions in Ableton ( or another digital audio workstation).
How many inputs and outputs do I need?
When selecting the best audio interface for Ableton, the first step is determining the number and type of inputs and outputs you’ll need. If you primarily generate sounds within your computer and only require one microphone or instrument at a time, one or two inputs will suffice.
However, if you plan to record synths, drum machines, or a live band or require multiple headphone mixes for tasks like DJing, you’ll need to consider a more extensive setup. Additionally, multiple inputs and outputs can be beneficial when routing audio out for further processing and live performances.
What types of inputs and outputs do I need?
Most audio interfaces have XLR and 1/4-inch inputs, usually combined into one input (combo connectors) that allow you to connect microphones, drum machines, guitars, synths, and other instruments to the same input. Additionally, many audio interfaces provide phantom power, which is necessary for certain microphone types.
Certain audio interfaces feature built-in MIDI I/O, eliminating the need for a separate interface when using external MIDI equipment. However, if your intention is solely to use a MIDI keyboard, keep in mind that it can be connected directly to one of your computer’s available USB ports, making MIDI I/O not necessarily a crucial requirement. It is however very useful for syncing multiple external instruments such as drum machines and synths.
You may want to consider how many inputs you need for producing in Ableton by considering how many external instruments you might record at the same time, or how many external instruments you would run into Ableton at a live gig.
If you are not going to be making use of the XLR input signal then make sure you are not spending more money on pre-amps than necessary.
How do I connect my audio interface?
Audio interfaces typically connect to your computer via USB or Thunderbolt, or through a Lightning adaptor for iOS devices. While the cable needed for connectivity is usually included with the interface, it’s important to note that this may not always be the case for Thunderbolt 3 and Lightning connectivity. Be sure to check the contents of the package to confirm what you received.
Most external audio interfaces are class-compliant, meaning they work right away when you plug them in. However, some may require additional software to access advanced functions and routing options. Additionally, a lot of mobile interfaces are bus-powered, eliminating the need for a separate power supply.
Specifications always include the amount of audio inputs, which can be XLR, 1/4-inch jack, or a combination of both, as well as audio outputs. The number of inputs determines how many instruments or microphones you can simultaneously connect for recording. If you plan to use a condenser microphone that requires external power, make sure the interface has a phantom power option.
The number of outputs specified indicates the available connections for your studio speakers or other hardware devices, including outboard effects.
What should I expect to pay for an audio interface?
When it comes to choosing an audio interface for Ableton, price is going to play a significant role. Fortunately, the guide above covers a wide range of recommendations, catering to both beginners and professionals.
While audio interfaces are crucial for maintaining high-quality audio during the recording process, the good news is that you don’t have to break the bank to get a good entry-level audio interface.
If you’re an in-the-box Ableton producer, you may only need a single input for recording audio and a few outputs going to your speakers. Even a singer/guitarist can get by with just two audio inputs, and you can find a decent 1 or 2-input/2-output audio interface for as low as $/£50 up to $/£200. As you add more inputs and higher-quality preamps for better audio recording, the price range can increase to $/£200 to $/£700 for a medium-sized interface capable of recording a band’s outputs.
For professional-grade interfaces with fast connectivity, superior sound quality, software power (such as Universal Audio), and digital inputs and outputs, the price can reach into the four figures (sometimes up to $/£2,000). However, you may not necessarily need all the extras they offer. Many interfaces also support digital standards like ADAT, S/PDIF, and Thunderbolt, but these are only essential if you have other audio gear with corresponding inputs and outputs.
What are the most popular audio interface brands?
The following companies consistently create excellent audio interfaces in terms of build quality, audio quality, features, and value for money: Apogee, Audient, Focusrite, Native Instruments, Steinberg, SSL, and Universal Audio.
Many external audio interfaces are “plug and play,” meaning they are automatically detected by your computer and DAW when you connect them, which makes setting them up a breeze. Your DAW will then list all the physical inputs and outputs of the audio interface as selectable options on its input and output channels.
Sound quality is determined by an interface’s A-D/D-A converters, sample rates, and specified frequencies (such as 24-bit/96kHz).
Some audio interfaces come with additional software that allows you to configure input and output settings and may even provide routing options or effects. The ability to use this software is also an important consideration. If you are familiar with Abelton, the learning curve shouldn’t be too steep for you.
Latency is another factor to consider when buying an audio interface. It refers to the time it takes for audio to travel in and out of your computer DAW through the audio interface. Slow latency results in a high delay between playing a note and hearing it, which is impractical when recording and trying to stay in sync with Ableton playback. You can amend the track delay times in Ableton to compensate, but it is best to mitigate it in the first place by purchasing a low-latency audio interface.