Up until recent years, a “portable audio interface” was an oxymoron. When you had to transport your rig in the past, you had to move around a large rack with different preamps, converters, etc.
Audio interface manufacturers understand that many producers these days are on the go, meaning it is necessary for them to create the most portable interfaces to stay afloat in the game.
From professionals to hobbyists, there are travel-friendly audio interfaces for just about everyone looking to record. Some can fit in your back pocket, some can work with your smartphone or tablet, and some even have built-in processing with zero-latency.
Essentially, these new, mini-rigs can help you to create and record music on the go without sacrificing quality.
In this article, we’re going to be discussing the best portable audio interfaces for professionals, as well as those who are music hobbyists, or are on a budget.
Let's dig in...
High-End Portable Audio Interfaces
Universal Audio has created a full-fledged, portable studio, that you can take with you on the go. Their Apollo Twin Duo has become a staple of professional home recordists who are looking for both incredible audio quality and onboard plugin processing.
Of all of the interfaces on this list, it’s certainly the biggest investment, though worth it if you’re going to be professionally recording, mixing, and mastering music.
The most prominent feature on the Apollo Twin Duo includes the Unison Mic Preamp Emulation Technology that is placed inside the duo XLR / ¼” combo inputs. You essentially get the sound of some of the most sought-after preamps in the world including Neve and API.
The face of the unit is what helps to give producers such a solid workflow. You have a variety of controls like mute, mono, Dim, speaker switching, and a talkback mic for those who decide to get a bit more serious. Besides that, you get the Hi-Z instrument input, great for guitar and bass, and a headphone output so you can record entirely remotely.
Bottom Line: When it comes to portable interfaces, the Universal Audio Apollo Twin duo is pretty much top-of-the-line. If you need the extra processing power alongside some high-fidelity preamps, look no further.
Both sleek and straightforward, the aluminum chassis on the Apogee Duet looks and feels just like the Apple products that it is made for. Unlike the Twin Duo (see above), the Apogee is entirely bus-powered, meaning you won’t need the AC Adaptor unless your system can’t supply enough power.
You get two combo XLR / ¼” inputs, as well as ¼” balanced outputs. Regarding the sound quality, it’s pretty close to UAD with the 24-bit / 192kHz specs, allowing you to record vocals, acoustic guitar, and an array of other instruments, cleanly and professionally.
On the face, you have a high-resolution OLED screen the gives you visual feedback for a variety of functions including input levels, output levels, grouping, phase, mute, phantom power, etc.
Instead of being controlled with multiple knobs and buttons, you control the interface using the large center knob, making it incredibly user-friendly. The best part about the Apogee Duet is that it is just over a pound and small enough to fit in your back pocket. You can even connect directly to iPad and other iOS devices, to make your setup even smaller.
Bottom Line: If you’re an Apple user and you’re looking for an interface that is both extremely portable and gives you industry standard audio quality, the Apogee Duet should be at the top of your list.
This mini interface, while much cheaper than those above, still gives you 24-bit /192kHz studio quality sound anywhere you record. The design of the interface is incredibly user-friendly and gives you complete control over the two input channels, including the XLR / ¼” combo input with phantom power and the ¼” instrument channel.
Because you get the gain staging on the device, you get much better control over your levels while recording to make sure you get the best.
This high-quality sound is paired with the slim and bus-powered design, allowing you to record anywhere from airports to hotel rooms. The pro level Crystal Preamps have plenty of juice to power your microphones so that you can get release-ready sound without much tweaking.
Bottom Line: The M-Audio M-Track 2x2 is probably the least expensive pro-level portable interface that you can get. While it doesn’t have as many features or I/O capabilities as the above interfaces, it is still one to be reckoned with.
Low-end (Budget) Portable Audio Interfaces
You don’t typically think audio interfaces when you hear the name Roland, although their Go Mixer is probably one of the best budget portable interfaces on the market right now. With the user-friendly design, musicians, podcasters, vloggers, and all, can record high-quality audio straight to their smartphones or tablets.
You can plug in both line level instruments and non-phantom powered microphones at the same time and adjust your levels with the simple knobs on top. This allows you to get ready-to-release audio without all the fuss of editing and overdubbing.
The USB Plug and Play design means that it is ready to go right as you take it out of the box and is powered without any external power or batteries, making it an excellent choice for the traveling recordist.
You can use it with your desktop as well as an array of iOs and Android devices. All of this is wrapped up in a sleek, lightweight chassis that can fit in the palm of your hand.
Bottom Line: This budget audio interface is excellent for burgeoning musicians and producers who want to be able to lay down and edit simple tracks while on the go without having to worry about sub-par audio quality.
The Focusrite iTrack One Pre is the smallest audio interface in the world for tablets and smartphones, making it the best portable option for solo artists and producers. With 24-bit, 96kHz recording specs and phantom power, you can get professional recordings from just about anywhere.
It works on all iOS devices beyond the iPhone 6s Plus and iPad Pro, meaning you can use it in GarageBand or other available DAWs.
On the unit, you get the world-renowned Focusrite preamps to help you get those smooth as butter recordings. You can either plug in a line level instrument like a guitar, or and XLR condenser microphone, as the one input is an XLR / ¼” combo.
It’s extremely user-friendly in that all you have to worry about is setting the correct recording level using the green halo atop the box. All of this can be done without utilizing any external power, making it a pretty big feat for audio interface manufacturers everywhere.
Bottom Line: The Focusrite iTrack One Pre is number 1 regarding portability. You can toss this in your bag and hit the road, all while getting pro recordings along the way.
Even for one of the cheapest audio interfaces around, this USB 2.0 U-Phoria UM2 still sounds pretty great. On the face of the unit, you get one XLR / ¼” combo input for recording both phantom powered microphones and line level instruments, as well as a separate line input.
The quality sound is thanks to the pro-level XENYX mic preamp that is actually up there with boutique preamps in terms of fidelity.
As it is a much cheaper interface, you only get up to 48kHz sample rate, though that is plenty enough to make solid demo recordings. You even have a Monitor A/B source select for that DJ-style cueing that everyone loves. The interface is compatible with both Mac and PC and is fully bus-powered for the portable experience. All in all, the sound is warm, clean, and smooth, perfect for all kinds of on-the-go recording applications.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a no-frills audio interface with a few solid preamps and a user-friendly layout, the Behringer U-Phoria gives other portable interfaces a run for their money.
As the future unfolds, we’ll no doubt see portability becoming a priority when it comes to purchasing an interface. With user-friendly controls, bus-powered designs, and high-quality preamps, many of which are compatible with smartphones and tablets, we are beginning to see a different era of portable audio interfaces.
When it comes to getting the best in professional sound, we recommend the UAD Apollo Twin Duo for the pro preamps and onboard processing.
If you’re thinking of going budget, we recommend the Roland Go Mixer for its easy-to-use interface and plug and play design.
We hope that we were able to help you find the best portable interface in this ever-shrinking world. Getting one of these can help so you never have to risk losing an idea or sacrificing inspiration, wherever you may be.