Top Audio Interfaces for Streaming: A Comprehensive Review

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Last updatedLast updated: January 28, 2024
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In the digital age, streaming has rapidly become an indispensable medium for content creation, connecting entertainers, educators, and influencers with global audiences.

For those aiming to create professional-grade content, sound quality is paramount. Whether you’re podcasting, live streaming, or recording music, the heart of your setup is the audio interface. It’s the crucial bridge between your microphone, instruments, and computer. A poor-quality interface can turn even the best mics into muffled messes. In this guide, we dive deep into the world of the best audio interface for streaming. Join us as we compare the top products on the market, helping you find the one that best meets your needs.

1.

Rode Rodecaster ProEditor’s Choice

Features

Specifications:

  • Inputs: 4 x XLR, 1 x 3.5mm TRS
  • Outputs: 4 x headphones, 2 x 1/4″ TRS
  • Sample Rate: Up to 48kHz
  • Bit Depth: 24-bit
  • Preamps: 4 Class-A Servo Biased preamps
  • Phantom Power: Yes (for all XLR inputs)
  • USB Type: USB-C

The Rode Rodecaster Pro, a streamlined audio interface specifically designed for the podcasting universe, is not just another piece of tech; it’s a game-changer. At first glance, its sleek design, coupled with large tactile buttons and faders, beckons users to a seamless audio experience. With a niche focus on podcasters, this powerhouse goes beyond traditional interfaces. Think of it as the Swiss army knife for podcast production.

Dive deeper into its performance; you’ll find it excels in virtually every area. The sound quality is impeccable, crisp, and clear, offering an undistorted audio experience that’s paramount for streamers and podcasters. With four high-grade mic channels, the Rodecaster Pro ensures every voice, no matter how soft or loud, is captured in its purest form. Furthermore, the built-in Bluetooth integration brings a new layer of connectivity, allowing streamers to easily incorporate phone calls or external audio sources.

So, who exactly is the Rode Rodecaster Pro tailored for? If you’re a podcaster or a radio show host who leans heavily towards live shows or wishes to cut down post-production time, this should be your go-to. The built-in sound pads offer a quick way to enhance broadcasts with jingles, ads, or sound effects, delivering a professional touch to live sessions. Moreover, its design allows for ease of use, making real-time adjustments an absolute breeze.

Comparatively, while many audio interfaces offer a broad spectrum of features, the Rode Rodecaster is a maestro in its domain. Its dedicated focus on podcasting ensures users aren’t swamped with unnecessary features. Instead, it provides tools that podcasters truly need – like the Bluetooth integration for phone interviews or the multiple input channels for round-table discussions.

Yet, no product is without its potential downsides. The Rodecaster Pro, with all its brilliance, is tailored predominantly for voice and podcast formats. Musicians or those seeking a more multi-dimensional recording experience might find it a bit restrictive. While it’s versatile in its own right, it doesn’t cater comprehensively to musical intricacies.

What stands out?

  • Specifically tailored for podcasters
  • Intuitive, user-friendly design
  • Multiple input channels and Bluetooth connectivity

What cons did we manage to find?

  • On the pricier side
  • Might be overkill for simple, singular setups

2.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen)Best for Vocals

Features

Specifications:

  • Inputs: 2 x combo (XLR/TRS)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ TRS, 1 x headphones
  • Sample Rate: Up to 192kHz
  • Bit Depth: 24-bit
  • Preamps: 2 Scarlett mic preamps
  • Phantom Power: Yes (for both channels)
  • USB Type: USB-C

Heralded as one of the best-selling audio interfaces globally, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen) holds its ground with prestige. Its compact, brushed red metallic finish embodies elegance and durability, making it both an aesthetic and functional addition to any streaming setup.

The Scarlett 2i2 punches well above its weight in performance metrics. Armed with two of the best performing Scarlett mic preamps the range has ever heard, it guarantees professional sound quality. Its high headroom allows users to capture various vocal dynamics, from soft whispers to exuberant shouts, all without distortion. Its impressive latency metrics also ensure a synchronized streaming experience, with audio that’s in real-time sync with the video.

For those dabbling in vocals, be it podcasting, singing, or voiceovers, the Scarlett 2i2 is a match made in heaven. Its pristine preamps lend warmth and richness to the voice, ensuring it stands out in a mix or a live stream. With its easy plug-and-play setup, even tech novices can kickstart their streaming journey without hitches.

In a market flooded with audio interfaces, the Scarlett 2i2’s clarity stands out. Its Air mode adds a unique brightness and openness to the sound, a feature not common in this price range. Plus, it’s bundled with a suite of software tools, making it an all-in-one solution for streamers.

However, every rose has its thorns. While the Scarlett 2i2 is loaded with features, it might come off as limited for those seeking multiple I/O options. It’s perfect for solo performers or dual setups but might feel restrictive for larger ensemble recordings.

What are its best features?

  • Pristine preamps offering excellent sound quality
  • Air mode for added vocal brightness
  • Sturdy and elegant design

What could be improved?

  • Limited I/O options
  • Requires external power for some condenser mics

3.

GoXLR & GoXLR MiniBest Mobility

Features

Specifications:

  • Inputs: Combo (XLR/TRS), 3.5mm line-in, Optical-in
  • Outputs: XLR, 1/4″ TRS, headphones
  • Sample Rate: Up to 48kHz (GoXLR Mini), 96kHz (GoXLR)
  • Bit Depth: 24-bit
  • Preamps: 1 mic preamp
  • Phantom Power: Yes
  • USB Type: USB 2.0

Compact, versatile, and crafted with streamers in mind, the GoXLR and its sibling, the GoXLR Mini, are paradigms of modern audio interfaces. Its slim, RGB-lit design screams modernity, catering perfectly to gamers and contemporary streamers who wish to add flair to their setups.

Performance-wise, the GoXLR duo does not disappoint. Boasting MIDAS-designed mic preamps, users are guaranteed top-tier sound quality. The interfaces are designed to handle everything – be it microphones, consoles, or PCs. Additionally, with customizable voice effects, streamers can tailor their audio output to fit their unique brand or stream theme.

The GoXLR shines brightest for those on the move. Its compact design makes it the perfect companion for streamers who often switch locations or those with limited desk space. Its dedicated app lets users control and customize their audio in real time, ensuring streams always have dynamic and engaging sound.

While many interfaces cater to a broad user base, the GoXLR takes a more targeted approach. It’s evident that the designers had contemporary streamers in mind, especially gamers. It’s a haven for interactive streaming with features like the “cough” button (which mutes the mic momentarily) or the sampler that allows real-time recording and playback.

However, every product has room for improvement. The GoXLR, while impressive, lacks some advanced features that audio purists might seek. It’s a jack of all trades tailored for streamers but might not replace a dedicated music recording interface.

What stands out?

  • Compact design with customizable RGB lighting
  • MIDAS-designed preamps for superior sound
  • Sampler and voice effects for dynamic streaming

What cons did we manage to find?

  • Might lack advanced features for music recording
  • Requires some learning curve for full utilization

4.

Audient iD4Good For Streaming and Studio Applications

Features

Specifications:

  • Inputs: 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4″ TRS
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ TRS, 1 x headphones
  • Sample Rate: Up to 96kHz
  • Bit Depth: 24-bit
  • Preamps: 1 Class-A mic preamp
  • Phantom Power: Yes
  • USB Type: USB-C

The Audient iD4 is often hailed as a giant in a compact body. Exuding minimalist aesthetics, its sleek design with a silver top and black chassis speaks of understated elegance. Brush your fingers over its surface, and the precision rotary encoder knob feels premium.

Performance-wise, the iD4 stands tall. Its Class-A mic preamp is a derivative from the renowned Audient console range, promising top-notch audio clarity. Moreover, with the iD4’s high-quality AD/DA converters, users can expect pristine sound with every stream, ensuring every detail is captured to perfection.

The iD4 is a versatile beast catering to both streamers and musicians. Its JFET DI input allows direct connection of a guitar or bass, making it an ideal choice for musicians keen on streaming their sessions. The ScrollControl feature turns the main volume knob into a virtual scroll wheel, offering a touch of innovation to everyday tasks.

In the competitive world of audio interfaces, the iD4 sets itself apart with its sound quality. The console-grade preamps ensure that users get a professional audio experience at a fraction of the price of high-end interfaces. Additionally, the zero-latency monitoring feature ensures seamless streaming sessions.

Yet, while the Audient iD4 has a lot going for it, it isn’t without limitations. The single mic input might deter those looking for multi-mic setups. Additionally, its premium features come at a relatively steeper price in its category.

What makes it stand out?

  • Class-A console-grade mic preamp
  • Innovative ScrollControl feature
  • Pristine sound quality with zero-latency monitoring

Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?

  • Limited to a single mic input
  • Priced slightly higher than some competitors in its category

5.

MOTU M4High-Performance Value

Features

Specifications:

  • Inputs: 2 x combo (XLR/TRS) for M2, 4 x combo for M4
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ TRS, 1 x headphones for M2; 4 x TRS, 1 x headphones for M4
  • Sample Rate: Up to 192kHz
  • Bit Depth: 24-bit
  • Preamps: 2 for M2, 4 for M4
  • Phantom Power: Yes
  • USB Type: USB-C

Last but not least, the MOTU M4 is a testament to high-quality engineering in a compact frame. Its transparent design, showcasing the internal circuits, is a nod to modern aesthetics and serves as a conversation starter.

Diving into its core, the M4 promises ultra-low latency, ensuring real-time audio feedback without any discernible delay. Its 24-bit/192 kHz audio quality ensures crisp and detailed sound, elevating the streaming experience to professional levels.

The M4 is not just another audio interface; it’s a solution for those seeking premium sound without the complications of bulky equipment. Its USB-C connectivity ensures fast data transfer rates, making it ideal for modern setups.

What sets the MOTU M4 apart is its commitment to quality. With ESS-driven headphone output and a full-color LCD, it offers features usually found in higher-end models. Its loopback feature is a boon for gamers and streamers, enabling them to easily merge game audio with voice.

However, even the best have areas of improvement. The M4, for all its merits, comes with a premium price tag. Moreover, some users might find the transparent design distracting or less durable.

Why are we impressed?

  • ESS-driven headphone output
  • Ultra-low latency with high-resolution audio
  • Full-color LCD and loopback feature

What negatives must you be aware of?

  • Premium pricing
  • Transparent design might not be to everyone’s taste.

6.

Presonus AudioBox USB 96Reliable Starter Kit

Features

Specifications:

  • Inputs: 2 x combo (XLR/TRS)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ TRS, 1 x headphones
  • Sample Rate: Up to 96kHz
  • Bit Depth: 24-bit
  • Preamps: 2 mic preamps
  • Phantom Power: Yes
  • USB Type: USB 2.0

Taking a significant spot in the budget-friendly yet efficient audio interfaces market, the Presonus AudioBox USB 96 encapsulates what many beginner to intermediate streamers and musicians desire. Its rugged build exudes resilience at a glance, and the signature blue hue gives it an identity in a sea of generic-looking interfaces.

Delving into its performance, the AudioBox USB 96 offers a consistent audio delivery. Its dual combo mic/instrument inputs allow users a degree of flexibility, catering to both vocalists and instrumentalists. The 24-bit resolution ensures that the audio remains clear and detailed, while its 96kHz sampling rate captures every nuance of sound.

This device is aptly suited for beginners and those on a budget. It provides the basic necessities for streaming without overwhelming the user with intricate features. Given its price point, the sound quality is commendable, making it a preferred choice for those venturing into the world of live streaming or podcasting.

Compared to its peers, the AudioBox USB 96 offers unrivaled durability. Built like a tank, it can withstand the occasional knocks and drops, a testament to Presonus’ commitment to quality. Furthermore, including the Studio One Artist software gives users a head start in audio production.

Nevertheless, perfection remains elusive. The AudioBox USB 96, with its many merits, does fall short in advanced features. Some users might find the absence of MIDI inputs limiting, and it’s not the most portable due to its hefty build.

What makes it special?

  • Durable and robust build quality
  • Offers great value for money
  • Comes bundled with Studio One Artist software

What cons did we find?

  • Lacks advanced features and MIDI inputs
  • Not the most compact design

7.

Behringer UMC22Budget-Friendly Option

Features

Specifications:

  • Inputs: 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/4″ TRS
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ TRS, 1 x headphones
  • Sample Rate: Up to 48kHz
  • Bit Depth: 16-bit/24-bit
  • Preamps: 1 MIDAS-designed preamp
  • Phantom Power: Yes
  • USB Type: USB 2.0

The Behringer UMC22 is often seen as the underdog in the realm of audio interfaces, but it holds its own. With its compact metal chassis, it’s built to last and ready to be a reliable companion for budding streamers.

Its performance is more than just respectable for its price. Powered by MIDAS preamps, the UMC22 delivers clear and transparent sound. The 48V phantom power support ensures compatibility with a wide range of microphones, offering flexibility to its users.

Ideal for novices and those on a tight budget, the UMC22 provides the essential features required for straightforward streaming or recording. It’s simple, uncluttered, and does the job without fuss.

Standing amidst the titans, the Behringer UMC22 shines in its affordability. While it doesn’t boast high-end features, it ensures that users get a decent quality without burning a hole in their pockets. Given its budget-friendly tag, the solid build and MIDAS preamps are surprising additions.

However, the UMC22 does have its set of constraints. Its limited I/O might not appease those looking for a more extensive setup. Moreover, while the sound quality is good for its price, it might not satisfy audiophiles or professional streamers.

What makes it special?

  • Highly affordable
  • Robust build with MIDAS preamps
  • 48V phantom power support

What cons did we find?

  • Limited I/O options
  • Sound quality, while good, isn’t top-tier

Things to Consider

When diving into the world of streaming, one of the essential components you’ll need to consider is the audio interface. This buying guide has been meticulously curated to provide you with in-depth insights into everything you need to know about selecting the perfect audio interface for your streaming needs.

What is an Audio Interface?

An audio interface is a device that acts as an intermediary between your computer and your microphone or instrument. It translates the analog signals from your microphone or musical instrument into digital signals that your computer can understand and vice versa.

Why Do You Need an Audio Interface for Streaming?

You might wonder, “Why can’t I directly plug my microphone into my computer?” Most computers’ built-in sound cards cannot handle professional-grade audio recording or streaming. An audio interface provides:

  • High-Quality Sound: It ensures that the sound being streamed is of the highest quality, free from distortions and noises that can arise from low-quality sound cards.
  • Multiple Inputs and Outputs: It allows you to connect several devices simultaneously, which is beneficial if you’re streaming with multiple instruments or have guests on your podcast or show.
  • Phantom Power: Many professional microphones require phantom power to function, which is something a regular computer sound card cannot provide.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Audio Interface for Streaming

Number of Inputs and Outputs: Decide on the number of instruments or microphones you’ll connect simultaneously. A two-input interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 might suffice for solo streamers. But if you plan on having multiple guests or instruments, consider interfaces like the Rode Rodecaster Pro.

Compatibility with Your Computer: Ensure the interface you’re considering is compatible with your computer’s operating system and DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Also, check the type of connection – USB, Thunderbolt, etc.

Latency: Latency refers to the delay between the input (like speaking into the microphone) and the time it’s heard on the output. Low latency is crucial for streaming; otherwise, it can lead to audio-video sync issues.

Preamp Quality: The preamp boosts the signal from your microphone. A good quality preamp ensures the sound is clear, loud, and free of distortions.

Form Factor and Build: Portability might be crucial if you’re a mobile streamer or podcaster. Devices like the Audient iD4 are compact and easy to carry. However, robustness and build quality might be more critical if your setup is stationary.

Budget: As with most equipment, there’s a broad range in terms of pricing. It’s essential to find a balance between your needs and your budget.

Understanding Digital Audio Quality: Bit Depth and Sample Rate

Two primary factors determine digital audio quality:

  • Bit Depth: This refers to the number of bits of information in each sample, which directly relates to the resolution of each sample. Typical bit depths include 16-bit (CD quality) and 24-bit. Higher bit depths capture more detail in the audio but also require more storage space.
  • Sample Rate: This refers to the number of samples of audio taken per second. Typical sample rates include 44.1 kHz (CD quality), 48 kHz, 96 kHz, and even 192 kHz. A higher sample rate captures a broader range of frequencies and provides a more detailed sound.

A combination of 24-bit and 48 kHz is generally regarded as high-quality for streaming. However, it’s always a good idea to go slightly above the minimum requirements to ensure future-proofing.

The Importance of Software Integration

The hardware is just half the battle. How an audio interface integrates with your chosen software can significantly influence your streaming experience.

  • Drivers and Stability: Ensure that the audio interface has stable drivers for your operating system. Unstable drivers can lead to crashes, glitches, and other unwanted issues during live streams.
  • DAW Compatibility: If you’re into music streaming or podcasting, your interface should be compatible with popular DAWs like Ableton Live, Pro Tools, or FL Studio.
  • Real-time Audio Processing: Some interfaces, like the GoXLR range, offer real-time audio effects, which can be a significant advantage for streamers.

Additional Features to Consider

  • Direct Monitoring: This allows you to hear yourself without any latency, which is essential for singers or instrumentalists.
  • Expandability: Some audio interfaces can be expanded with additional inputs and outputs, which can be a boon if you plan to grow your setup.
  • Bundled Software: Some audio interfaces come bundled with DAWs or plugins, providing added value for money.
  • Onboard DSP: Onboard Digital Signal Processing can provide real-time audio effects without taxing your computer’s CPU.

A Word on Connectivity

The type of connection your audio interface uses to connect to your computer can influence speed, latency, and overall performance. Standard connection types include:

  • USB: Most common and compatible with both PCs and Macs. Devices like the Presonus AudioBox USB 96 use this connection.
  • Thunderbolt: Offers faster data transfer rates than USB, leading to reduced latency. However, ensure your computer has a Thunderbolt port.
  • FireWire: Less common these days and being phased out in favor of USB and Thunderbolt.
  • PCIe: Used for internal sound cards, offering the fastest data transfer rates but requires installation inside your computer.

Consider Future Needs

While getting an audio interface that meets your current needs is crucial, it’s also wise to think ahead. If you foresee expanding your streaming setup, opting for a more advanced audio interface now might save you from having to upgrade too soon.

At its core, streaming is about connecting with your audience, and clear, high-quality audio is a crucial element of that connection. An audio interface is the backbone of your audio setup, ensuring that your voice, music, or any other sound reaches your audience in the best possible quality.

By considering the factors laid out in this guide and aligning them with your specific needs and budget, you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision. Remember, the “best” audio interface isn’t necessarily the most expensive or feature-packed; it’s the one that best serves your unique streaming requirements.

FAQ

 
 

Absolutely. An audio interface is highly recommended for live streaming because it ensures that the sound being streamed is of the highest quality. Most built-in computer sound cards aren’t optimized for professional-grade audio, leading to potential issues like noise, latency, or poor sound quality. An audio interface will provide a cleaner sound and allow multiple inputs, like mics and instruments, to be used simultaneously, enhancing your streaming setup.

When considering an audio interface for live performances, it’s essential to prioritize durability, low latency, and the number of inputs/outputs. For live performances, interfaces like the Rode Rodecaster Pro or the MOTU M4 stand out due to their robust build, multiple I/O options, and reliable performance. Another factor to consider is portability; a compact and rugged interface will serve you best if you’re constantly moving. Always align your choice with your specific live performance needs, whether it’s for music, speaking engagements, or any other live events.

Achieving top-tier streamer quality audio requires a combination of the right gear and optimal settings:

  1. Invest in a Quality Audio Interface: As discussed, an interface like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or the GoXLR range can significantly elevate your audio quality.
  2. High-Quality Microphone: A professional-grade microphone makes a considerable difference. Depending on your setup, you can choose between condenser mics (better for studio environments) or dynamic mics (better for noisier environments).
  3. Proper Acoustic Treatment: Reducing room noise and echo with acoustic panels, diffusers, and bass traps will ensure cleaner sound.
  4. Optimal Software Settings: Utilize software like OBS or Streamlabs and adjust audio settings for optimal quality. Consider using plugins or software like Voicemeeter for additional audio fine-tuning.
  5. Regular Maintenance: Regularly clean your gear regularly, check for firmware updates for your audio interface, and recalibrate your settings to ensure the best audio quality.

With the right equipment and setup, you can achieve professional streamer quality audio that captivates your audience and elevates your streaming experience.

Final Thoughts

In the world of streaming, where the quality of content can make or break one’s success, audio often emerges as the unsung hero. The Rode Rodecaster Pro stands out as our top pick, providing a seamless integration of functionality and professional-grade sound. It is an indispensable tool for streamers dedicated to offering top-tier content. Its intuitive interface and tailored streaming features render it a cut above the rest. Close on its heels, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen) offers remarkable clarity and reliability, ensuring that every word and nuance is captured precisely. Meanwhile, the GoXLR & GoXLR Mini caters to those seeking a blend of portability and performance, with a plethora of customizable options to elevate the streaming experience. Together, these three audio interfaces set the gold standard in the streaming world, ensuring that every broadcast is delivered with the utmost clarity, depth, and professionalism.

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