In addition to being a private violin teacher, Alecia started writing music-related articles 3 years ago and has been enjoying this experience greatly. Loves quilting and scrapbooking in her free time.
Marcus has a vast experience in digital audio and sound design. Thanks to his knowledge, he actively helps musicians with technical problems, improving their audio quality and even promoting their tracks so that thousands of listeners could enjoy some really good music.
Last updated: May 01, 2021
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Are you just now figuring out how hard it is to select a portable audio interface? You are not alone. Other buyers like you have bought such devices and either liked them or felt they made a mistake. You no doubt want to add your name to the list of people who liked theirs. Luckily, with the information we are about to provide you, selecting the best portable audio interface would be relatively easy.
For any audio interface, you should look at the various devices it allows you to connect to. They may vary from microphones, MIDI controllers, guitar cables, and more. The more connectivity the device has, the better for the user. Additionally, top-notch sound quality is a plus. As such, checking audio resolution in potential audio interface purchases should be a priority. Lastly, for a product to rank as the best portable audio interface, its portability is paramount. This is where the weight and dimensions come in. On the list of portable audio interface devices below, these features have all been considered in the rankings.
People have been getting professional recording results from the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 since its debut, and there isn’t any reason you can’t get the same as well. Audio engineers will especially appreciate the resolution of 24-bit/192 kHz, which gives them more sound processing options.
Also, the two-line/mic/instrument inputs will probably be handy. Remember that you have two mic preamps with this purchase as well. As such, even if you use the microphones to record audio from your various instruments, you are still guaranteed excellent sound quality. Nevertheless, connecting your bass or guitar straight in isn’t out of the question either.
You have a similar number of output options, excluding the PC connection. Connecting the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 to a computer reveals additional benefits in terms of free music software. Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite’s Red Plug-in Suite, and others can be availed to you after purchase and registration. Compatibility with all major DAWs is a plus as well.
Remember that the type-C USB connection lets the device connect to PCs and Macs alike. A con is that if you have a MIDI controller, it may not be feasible to use Scarlett 2i2 with it since connections for the same have been exempted from the device.
The air mode also features on the list of pros for the 2i2. After all, it does do its job of improving sound recorded on microphones as well.
What stands out?
Buyers can use the device with most major DAWs
The product is both Mac and PC compatible
High audio resolution
Air mode leads to improved sound
What cons did we manage to find?
No MIDI in/out
Some users have issues with the availed software and drivers
As for the Tascam US-2×2 USB Audio/MIDI Interface, 24-bit/96 kHz audio resolution is what you get. Consequently, the product won’t be as taxing on your computer as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. For the most part, people can’t often tell the difference between the two, so it shouldn’t be a problem.
You get two line input slots that can be used with microphones or with your guitar and bass. As for your outputs, you get two balanced line options. This is in addition to a MIDI in/out option as well.
Noteworthy is the USB 2.0 connectivity of the device. This guarantees usability with both Macs and PCs. Further, if you use Apple’s camera connection kit, you can link this portable USB audio interface with iOS devices as well.
This music tool was also made to work with digital audio workstations, and as such, it’s compatibility with major DAW software is guaranteed. That being said, you are only provided two DAW software upon purchase of the product.
Furthermore, if you add headphones to the setup, you may appreciate having volume controls for both line outputs and the headphones as well. Finally, the mic preamp with a gain of 57 dB is nothing to scoff at.
What stands out?
57 dB gain
Compatible with most major DAWs
Offers MIDI in/out as well
Easily connects to PCs, Mac and iOS devices as well
High audio resolution
What cons did we manage to find?
Like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, drivers and software seem to be problematic for some
The Audient iD14 is a portable audio powerhouse that doesn’t disappoint as well. The backbone of the travel-friendly audio interface is a world-class converter that the manufacturer strives to put into all their devices. As such, you may never have to deal with crosstalk, distortion, and even poor clocking as you use the machine.
Additionally, with the 8-channel ADAT input, the sound is amplified via the device to acceptable levels hence guaranteeing high-quality recordings.
Remember that you get a JFET D.I input as well with this purchase. This allows you the option of plugging a guitar, keyboard, drum machine, or bass to the device directly.
Also, an optical input connector is available as well. Consequently, you have the expandability option where you can get even ten inputs if you combine it with the 8-channel mic preamplifier.
Finally, the scroll wheel availed can be used for various functions. Among them is adjusting DAW hosts, controlling the iD14’s mixer app, and tweaking plug-in parameters. If you want to use it to scroll through your iTunes music library, you may do so as well.
What stands out?
Mac and PC compatible
You get a versatile scroll wheel
The audio interface features an impressive converter
Excellent dynamic range
Expandable to a 10-input configuration
What cons did we manage to find?
Getting the interface to work with some wired headphones is a problem
As for the Zoom U-44, you get four inputs and four outputs as well. These include two XLR/TRS combo in addition to S/PDIF optical inputs. The output options include two RCA and two TRS options. Again with the output, you can still use the S/PDIF optical or coaxial connections if you want.
Portability is enhanced in the interface by the fact that you can use AA batteries for power. Purchasing an optional AC adapter is acceptable as well. It is also refreshing seeing that you don’t have to use a computer if you don’t want to. With the iPad camera connection kit, using this machine with your iPhone or iPad is within reach.
Compatibility with the manufacturer’s capsules is also a plus. The capsules are optional accessories that can be used in various recording scenarios. This includes recording interviews, performances, and more.
Low noise mic preamps are also part of the reason the machine can achieve 24-bit/96 kHz, and this is impressive in itself. Finally, fans of Ableton DAWs will get the Ableton live 9 lite version for free.
What do we love it for?
Comes with Ableton Live 9 Lite
Compact and lightweight
Compatible with iPhone and iPad mobile devices
Can work with AA batteries enhancing portability
Optional accessories are available to expand the usability
Another portable USB audio interface that you can throw into your pocket as you head out of the house is the Apogee Jam Plus. Controls are minimal, and so are the inputs and outputs. As for the output, you might have to settle for either a powered speaker or headphones.
Also, with a direct connection, you still get 96kHz/ 24-bit high definition recording. Purchasers needn’t worry about batteries or looking for an external power source if the device is connected to a mobile device or computer.
Do not forget that you can connect guitars and bass with your computer, iPhone, or iPad through this device. If you include the microphone adapter in your purchase, you can connect even more musical equipment to this device.
Finally, you can achieve zero latency in your sound just by activating the blend feature.
What are our favorite features?
You can get zero latency with the push of a button
Features compatibility with mobile and computer platforms
What could be better?
An adapter is needed to unlock the full capabilities of the tool
Carrying the Shure Mvi in your pocket as well shouldn’t be a problem. After all, it is lightweight and small enough to fit. Further, it is one of the more affordable travel-friendly audio interface options available.
Noteworthy is how the Shure Mvi works just as well with iOS devices as it does with a computer. Also, to make the use of the machine more comfortable, you get five digital signal-processing presets.
Of course, the preset mode you pick will depend on what you are recording. The presets are also named according to the situations where they would prove most useful. They include “acoustic instrument,” “speech,” “loud,” “singing,” and “flat.” Also, for manual control, you can tweak settings on your iPhone if you want.
Furthermore, for superior audio, a mic preamplifier is necessary. This is a fact that the manufacturer seems well aware of hence its inclusion. Finally, for in-body control of headphone volume, gain, and mute, you have a touchpad available.
On this portable audio interface list, Android compatibility isn’t prominent. However, this option is ahead of the pack in that regard.
What do we love it for?
Compatible with iOS, Android, PC, and Mac
Lightweight and compact
Presets are availed for easier control of sound
What were we disappointed with?
When used with your iOS/Android phone, the interface doesn’t have multi-track capabilities
Minimal input and output options
Audio resolution is a notch below the rest
Things to Consider
With portable audio interfaces, it is understandable that some of you may get overwhelmed by some of the options you come across. After all, there are a few things you need to understand about these devices before you can make the right decision. They may include connection types, input/output options, audio resolution, and more. For that extra bit of understanding that will be crucial in your portable audio interface selection, read the section below.
What makes an audio interface portable?
Of the many audio interface options on Amazon and on the market in general, not all of them are portable. You can determine if the machine is portable or not by its size and weight. If it can fit in your bag and is light enough to carry, the tool is a portable audio interface.
Some options, for example, the Apogee Jam Plus, take it a step further in that you can carry them in a jacket pocket as you go about your day.
Features to consider when buying an audio interface
The two defining features in a portable audio interface are that the tool is lightweight and compact. Almost everything else that you need to look at will have a bearing on the performance and usefulness of the tool. Nevertheless, it is imperative that you tick all the right boxes feature-wise if you are to end up purchasing a satisfactory product. To that end, you may reference the advice given below on what to look for in certain features mentioned.
Inputs/outputs and connectivity
The input/output configuration will dictate what can be connected to the audio interface. If the machine has a microphone preamp input like most options above, it can support a microphone connection with relatively high-quality sound recording.
Options with standard ADAT lightpipe I/O like the Audient iD14 support an expandable system that you can take advantage of with the ADAT-equipped 8-channel mic preamp. Additionally, if you plan to attach guitars, bass, and other music tools, make sure the device has the right input/output configuration to support that.
Remember that you can connect any number of devices, including headphone amps, studio monitors, and outboard processors if you have the right input/output connectivity. For this reason, attention to this section is essential in your selection.
Bitrate and audio resolution
Bit rate and audio resolution are crucial as well. The bitrate, for instance, affects dynamic range. With 16-bit audio, you get 96 dB dynamic range. This is because each “bit” consists of 6dB; hence the multiplication yields 96 dB.
24-bit audio is much more preferred by professionals. With it, you get 144 dB, which is enough dynamic range for professionals to use and come out with clean results. 16-bit audio may not yield clean results since the dynamic range is somewhat limited. As a result, the quieter sections of anything you record will be noisier, making processing difficult.
With the sample rate, you should be okay with 44.1 kHz for consumer audio. Higher sample rates lead to higher audio quality. As a result, it may be okay to use 44.1 kHz if you are barely using any instruments. However, with music genres such as jazz, you will be better off picking at least a 96 kHz device.
DAW and device compatibility
You may already have a digital audio workstation that you prefer working with. If you don’t want to change, ensure that the audio interface you pick supports it. An example is that you may use Ableton live with Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. You can also use the same software with the Zoom U-44. The Shure Mvi may not allow the use of similar software.
Also, device compatibility is vital. If you buy a portable audio interface for use with your android phone when the product only supports iOS, you will have wasted your money and time. Doing some homework on compatibility will help you a great deal. Also, we have provided compatibility information for most of the devices above.
If you could get warranty protection with your portable audio interface, you would be in an excellent position as well. After all, getting faulty devices seems to be more common by the day. However, warranties give you a bit of protection for your investment, which can be handy in these scenarios.
The Shure Mvi provides an example of extra features with the 5 DSP preset modes and the touch panel. With such features, you could realize additional usability or ease of use with your purchase.
If you plan on doing professional-level audio recordings with your computer or mobile device, then the audio interface is crucial. With such a device, plugging in instruments, pro microphones, and other music production essentials will be an easy matter. Also, if you add an audio interface, the sound quality is bound to be better than you would get by using the inbuilt sound recording devices.
Some examples of audio interface compatible instruments include the electric bass and the guitar that we have mentioned so many times above. Nevertheless, you can still connect keyboards, electric violins, electric drum sets, and most other electronic musical instruments.
A lot of the audio interface devices above feature a USB connection that you can plug directly to your computer.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a high-quality audio device that has been used by professionals and even hobbyists recording music in their garage. When looking through the features, the audio resolution, connectivity, compatibility with DAWs, and the air mode are all impressive.
Following behind the Scarlett 2i2 is the Tascam US-1×2. It may not have the audio resolution of its predecessor but it comes with a MIDI in/out port. Other than that, you get two free DAWs and impressive gain. You may also be excited by the compatibility with iOS devices.
We were all impressed by the Audient iD14 as well. More specifically, the expandability puts it a notch above others. It as well doesn’t feature badly where audio resolution and input/output configuration are concerned.
These three, as well as the other three listed above all have their shortcomings. What’s more, they may or may not be compatible with what you are looking for. As such, we cannot offer more guidance than we already have. Consequently, we leave the final selection for you.