Best Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces

Top 4 Best Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces On The Market (September 2020)

Updated - September 1, 2020

The best thunderbolt audio interfaces offer fantastic opportunities to record high quality audio from several sources with minimal latency. Thunderbolt connections offer substantially higher bandwidth than USB and therefore offer low latency.

Thunderbolt audio interfaces can support many inputs both analog inputs and digital inputs. They come in many different shapes and sizes ranging from small form factor through to mountable rack models.

Thunderbolt audio interfaces range from large ‘rack’ styled devices through to pocket sized incredibly compact and durable audio interfaces. Some come with full colour LED/LCD displays for input and output levels, others offer portability by being powered by batteries.

Whether you’re looking to record a keyboard, guitar or vocals, the best way to setup your recording station is to plug into your computer and make tracks via an audio interface. Low and zero latency models are considered to be the best thunderbolt audio interface options on the market.

What Is A Thunderbolt Audio Interface?

Thunderbolt audio interfaces are hugely popular at the moment. This popularity is growing however one issue is that thunderbolt ports are mostly found on Apple devices and don’t support Windows PCs.

Thunderbolt audio interface connections are much much faster than both usb and firewire alternatives. This makes then ideal for supporting 10’s if not 100’s of audio channels. This might be a little overkill for more modest setups at home studios etc but it will offer as some level of ‘future proofing’ especially as thunderbolt ports become more and more prolific on modern hardware devices.

Thunderbolt audio interfaces come with some fantastic benefits considering todays demand for speed and performance. Transfer of data is increased which is great considering the size of this data is growing due to the industries move towards high resolution audio recordings. With higher data transfer speeds you can expect thunderbolt audio interfaces to be low latency options. The sound quality is greatly improved if latency is low and bandwidth is high. Having a high bandwidth allows you to support higher sound quality modes.

Thunderbolt Audio Interface Price Range

The price of top quality audio interfaces has fallen dramatically in recent years. This is great news if you’re looking to get hold of a device that will give you a fantastic sound without costing the earth. This is because many brands have taken their previous generation audio interface models and repackaged them. Usually with some modern nuances to create a budget model of their current range. Don’t be put off by this, these audio interfaces are still great value. They might not have all the latest bells and whistles but they get the job done. Which means you don’t need to pay substantial amounts of money for them.

Depending on what you want to achieve, you’ll priorities different features when finding the best thunderbolt audio interfaces for your situation. If space is an issue you’ll look for a small to medium sized interface. One that provides you a great experience and end result while not taking up a large portion of your limited space. If you’re in need of a portable audio interface then you’ll probably rule out any rack mountable models. Instead you’ll be looking for small battery powered options.

Thunderbolt Audio Interface Inputs & Outputs

Audio interfaces come with a range of inputs and outputs. Some will have line inputs, mic preamps, headphone outputs, mic inputs & many other inputs and outputs. Make sure the model you consider has what you need. If you’re kitting out a home studio then you’ll be looking for the best thunderbolt audio interface which features (such as phantom power) the inputs and outputs you need at an affordable price range.

Some of the best thunderbolt audio interfaces come with software as part of the package. Pro tools is a popular editing software that we’ve seen offered as part of audio interface packages in the past. Purchasing an audio interface that comes with a reputable editing software is a great way to justify paying more for your audio interface. This is because you’re saving money elsewhere.

What is an Audio Interface?

In essence an audio interface allows you to take audio signals and pump them in and out of your computer. The decision on which one is right for you simply comes down to a combination of your budget and how you like to work. Simplistic models exist that simply convert analog audio signals to digital audio signals on the way to your computer. This is because your computer will have software such as pro tools that is able to understand digital audio signals. Allowing you to layer, manipulate and refine the sound and then pump out to a speaker or amplifier. The audio interface will convert your digital audio signals back to analog signals on the way out of your computer. This way the speaker is able to play the sound for you to hear. These types of audio interfaces are known as AD/DA (Analog to Digital/Digital to Analog) converters.

Audio interfaces have a variety of different ports, inputs and outputs. Headphone outputs are popular with interfaces allowing you to listen to the sounds without the need for an amp other outputs. Many inputs can exist on a single interface. They range from mic inputs, line inputs, analog inputs and digital inputs.

Overall we think thunderbolt is a great choice and offers a significant speed boost when compared with most USB & firewire models. We’ve collected a list of the best thunderbolt audio interfaces on the market to help you find the right one for you.

Best Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces On The Market - Top 4
    1. Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Duo (APLTWDII) - Ultra high-quality, low latency audio interface
    2. Presonus Quantum 26x32 Thunderbolt 2 Low-Latency Audio Interface - Another excellent choice for professional studios
    3. MOTU 828es 28x32 Audio Interface - Lowest latency times (1.6ms roundtrip) and designed to perfection
    4. Antelope Audio Antelope Zen Tour - If you want a high-quality audio interface for studio, rehearsals and gigs you have to look at this.
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Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Duo (APLTWDII)

Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Duo (APLTWDII)

  • ✔ Handles processing, instead of overworking your PC/Mac
  • ✔ Built-in talkback microphone
  • ✔ Less than 2ms round-trip latency
  • ✔ Ultra high-quality audio interface
Ultra high-quality, low latency audio interface
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The Apollo Twin MKII Solo by Universal Audio can be accurately described as the creme-de-la-creme of audio interfaces when it comes to the quality of its components and its overall build. The unit provides 2 XLR/TRS combination inputs, an optical input, as well as 4 line outputs, making it decent for musicians who only need a few inputs for simultaneous recording.

Now, the main selling point of this audio interface lies in the unit’s internal circuitry and the connectivity type (being thunderbolt), which mean that it can provide sub-2ms round-trip latency, which is extremely low! The audio interface comes with a Universal Audio Plugin Bundle, which includes: Legacy versions of the LA-2A, 1176LN, Pultec EQP-1A, plus Softube Amp Room Essentials, Raw Distortion, 610-B Tube Preamp & EQ, and more

Additionally, the interface has some other useful features, such as a built-in talkback microphone, which is ideal for a professional studio environment.

The Apollo Twin is an EDM industry favorite. In fact, in a recent NGHTMRE Snapchat he can be seen using this great interface while teasing one of his newest releases. With a sturdy build and unique look, the Apollo Twin is also an excellent interface with the tone feel and flow of an analog controller. This interface differs from most of the others that we have covered as it requires a Thunderbolt connection to be used with your computer. If you’re looking for an industry leading interface for a professional sound, look no further than the Apollo Twin.

A scaled-down alternative to Universal Audio’s flagship Apollo 8 and 16, the original Apollo Twin has been giving ‘the rest of us’ access to those mythical Unison preamps, first-class I/O and swanky UAD plugins for three years now.

The new Apollo Twin MkII is essentially more of the same, but with a few minor improvements, and an optional DSP upgrade. Let’s start with what’s stayed the same.

The top panel centers on a satisfyingly oversized knob, controlling Monitor or Preamp input levels, as selected with the two buttons flanking it; and six Option buttons, contextualised by an LED icon strip, that again change function depending on whether the unit is in Monitor or Preamp mode. Input and output metering are provided by four five-segment LED ladders.

The back panel and front edge house two combi Mic/Line inputs. It also has a Hi-Z quarter-inch guitar input (overriding Mic/Line 1 when occupied), four quarter-inch output jacks (two Monitor, two Line). Not forgetting the stereo S/PDIF out, Headphones out and a TOSLINK port. This last port is for adding up to eight analogue inputs via ADAT.

Still a desktop-format 2-in/-6-out interface with 24-bit/192kHz capabilities, the Apollo Twin MkII would be almost indistinguishable from the original were it not now black rather than silver. It connects to your Mac or PC via Thunderbolt, but it has to be powered from the wall; and while the original Twin (still available) could be had in a USB 3 version, it’s not clear whether the MkII will follow suit.

Also a ‘DSP box’ for powering UAD plugin effects (VST/AU/AAX/RTAS), the Apollo Twin MkII features the same game-changing Unison preamps as its predecessor, fed by the Mic/Line and Hi-Z ins. These enable a gradually expanding subset of UA’s classic hardware emulation plugins to be inserted directly into each input path. Physically reconfiguring the preamp’s impedance and gain staging. As an alternative to the regular algorithmic modeling of valves, transistors, amps, EQ. This results in near-zero-latency monitoring and/or recording through them.

When we first reviewed the Twin, there were only three Unison plugins available – the UA 610-B (bundled), the UA 610-A and the API Vision. Since then, they’ve been joined by the Manley Voxbox, Neve 1073 and 88RS; eight guitar and bass amps by Ampeg, Fender and Marshall; and three distortion stompboxes, including the bundled Pro Co Rat emulation, Raw. All of them sound and feel great, and Unison remains a huge and unique selling point for the Apollo Twin MkII.

So, apart from the color change, what else is new? Well, UA has apparently beefed up the AD/DA converters, for even more dynamic range and less distortion, but the MkI was so outstanding in this department that you’ll be hard pushed to tell the difference – it’s still the cleanest, most transparent-sounding interface in its price range.

Other than that, the MkII sees a refinement of its studio workflow with the addition of a talkback mic and front panel access to a few of the monitoring functions of the Console software (see It’s not just the hardware).

The Talk button activates the talkback mic (the tiny hole below the knob), which can be sent to the outputs of your choice for control room communication or quick recording of notes and cues. The Dim button lowers the monitor output level, the Mute switch kills it entirely, and the Mono button switches between stereo and mono output for playback system compatibility checking. Very nice.

In Monitor mode, four of the Option buttons – which weren’t used at all by MkI – now come into play, necessitating the addition of a new row of icons to the LED strip, which has been made a bit deeper to accommodate them.

Apollo’s creed Apart from the Quad Core option, the Apollo Twin MkII is the very definition of an iterative upgrade. If you’re already a happy owner of MkI, the talkback mic and extra monitoring control alone aren’t reasons enough to reinvest. If, however, you’ve been hankering for more DSP than your existing Twin affords you, your day has come – have at it. And, of course, newcomers to the world of Apollo and UAD now get even more for their money, which can only be a good thing.

Given how much we loved the original Apollo Twin, it’ll come as no surprise that the MkII again wins our highest possible recommendation. Far more than possibly the best audio interface ever made. This is a musically empowering hardware/software hybrid. Capable of elevating even the humblest of home and project studios to genuinely professional-quality heights.

Compatibility
  • Mac & PC
  • Supports all major DAWs
Features
  • 2 x 6 audio interface
  • Highly reputable brand
  • Rather compact, metal chassis
  • Near to zero-latency (2ms according to reports)
  • SHARC DSP for running UAD plug-ins without burdening the computer CPU
  • Unison technology providers classic tube and transformer-based preamp models
  • Talkback microphone
  • Warranty: 1-Year Manufacturers Warranty
Technical Specs
  • Thunderbolt connectivity
  • 2-in / 6-out
  • 2 XLR/TRS combination inputs
  • Optical In
  • 4 line outputs
  • Powered by a 12v power supply
  • 24-bit/96kHz resolution
  • 48v Phantom power
Pros
  • Ultra high-quality audio interface
  • Rather portable
  • Handles processing, instead of overworking your PC/Mac
  • Built-in talkback microphone
  • Less than 2ms round-trip latency
  • Comes with full UAD plug-in bundle
  • 1-year manufacturers warranty
Presonus Quantum 26x32 Thunderbolt 2 Low-Latency Audio Interface

Presonus Quantum 26x32 Thunderbolt 2 Low-Latency Audio Interface

  • ✔ Very good sound quality
  • ✔ Rack mountable
  • ✔ Control session using an iPad or Android tablet
  • ✔ Built-in talkback microphone
Another excellent choice for professional studios
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The Presonus Quantum audio interface is the most expensive unit featured on this list, and when taking into account exactly what it offers, it’s easy to see why.

Similarly to the MOTU 828es, the Quantum provides thunderbolt 2 (and thunderbolt 3 compatibility) connectivity, helping ensure low-latency times.

Additionally, it has a wide range of inputs/outputs and provides users with the ability to expand up to 96-in / 96-out through stacking up to 4 Quantum interfaces together.

Not to mention, it also provides that capability to remotely control the levels using the free UC Surface touch-control software for iPad and Android tablets

Overall, we think that Presonus have created a good quality interface here, but we see all of the same, if not more features in the MOTU 828es, which can also be expanded and even provides web-app remote control for all devices, not just Android and iPad tablets.

Compatibility
  • Mac & PC, iOS*, Android* & Linux*
  • Supports all major DAWs
Features
  • 26-in/32-out audio interface
  • Well-known audio interface brand
  • Rack mountable unit
  • Sturdy aluminum metal chassis
  • Expandable if you need more I/O (Up to 96-in / 96-out)
    • Stack up to 4 Quantum interfaces
  • Remote control from iPad & Android tablets
  • Talkback microphone
  • 10 LED display lights for inputs
  • Comes with software:
    • Studio One DAW, UC Surface touch-control, Studio Magic plugin-in suite
  • Warranty: 2-Year Manufacturers Warranty
Technical Specs
  • Thunderbolt 2 (Thunderbolt 3 compatible)
  • 26-in / 32-out (at 44.1 or 48 kHz)
  • 2 XLR/TRS combination inputs (on the front)
  • 6 XLR/TRS combination inputs (on the back)
  • 2 main Line outputs
  • 8 line outputs
  • MIDI input/output
  • 2 x ADAT optical input/output
  • S/PDIF input/output
  • Powered by a power supply
  • 24-bit/96kHz resolution
  • 48v Phantom power
Pros
  • Very good sound quality
  • Rack mountable
  • Expandable (up to 4 additional Quantum interfaces)
  • Remote session control using an iPad or Android tablet
  • Built-in talkback microphone
  • Low latency
  • 2-year manufacturers warranty
Cons
  • A very expensive unit ideal for professional studios
  • Doesn’t provide as many features as the MOTU 828es, which is more affordable
MOTU 828es 28x32 Audio Interface

MOTU 828es 28x32 Audio Interface

  • ✔ Incredibly sound quality
  • ✔ Rack mountable
  • ✔ Expandable (up to 5 additional MOTU devices)
  • ✔ Web-app control
Lowest latency times (1.6ms roundtrip) and designed to perfection

The MOTU 828es has to be our favourite audio interface featured on the list. Why? Well, it offers so much functionality and in-turn, ease of use, that we can’t not love it.

Firstly, this is a rack-mountable interface that has both USB and Thunderbolt connectivity, which is quite rare to see.

It comes with 28-inputs and 32-outputs ranging from the mass of available XLR/TRS, Line, MIDI, ADAT and S/PDIF ports.

Due to the quality of its internal circuitry, and the ESS Sabre32 Ultra DAC Technology, it can provide an impressive 1.6ms of round-trip latency, which is less than any other interface featured on this list.

And whilst we’re on the topic of the ESS Sabre32 Dac Technology, this is the same technology used in MOTU’s ultra-expensive 1248 model.

However, the really attractive part of using the MOTU 828es is the ability to remotely control the interface, using any device, via the web-app feature, which is ideal for recording/live situations where you want to see how something sounds from another physical location. As well as this, the MOTU 828es can be expanded, by adding up to 5 additional MOTU devices together, in case your home/professional studio needs to expand operations.

Additionally, the unit provides a talkback mic, A/B mix buttons, and even the ability to connect a footswitch to remotely control the talkback microphone, whilst you’re busy using your hands.

Overall, when taking into account all of the above, including the pros and (not so many) cons, it’s clear why we really like the MOTU 828es.

 

Compatibility
  • Mac & PC, iOS*, Android* & Linux*
  • Supports all major DAWs

 

Features
  • 28-in/32-out audio interface
  • A very well-known and reputable brand
  • Rackmountable
  • Sturdy aluminum metal chassis
  • Near to zero-latency (1.6ms according to their website)
  • Check mixes instantly with A/B buttons
  • Web app control from any device (iOS, Android, Linux, Mac, PC, etc)
  • Ability to expand network and connect up to 5 MOTU interfaces
  • Plenty of input/output types
  • Talkback mic
  • Warranty: 2-Year Manufacturers Warranty

 

Technical Specs
  • Thunderbolt 2 (Thunderbolt 3 compatible) & USB 2.0 connectivity (USB 3.0 compatible)
  • 28-in / 32-out
  • 2 XLR/TRS combination inputs
  • 8 Line inputs
  • 8 Line outputs
  • MIDI input/output
  • 2 x ADAT optical input/output
  • S/PDIF input/output
  • Powered by a power supply
  • 24-bit/96kHz resolution
  • 48v Phantom power

 

Pros
  • Built-in talkback microphone (and remote use using a footswitch)
  • A/B mix buttons
  • Less than 1.6ms round-trip latency
  • 2-year manufacturers warranty
Antelope Audio Antelope Zen Tour

Antelope Audio Antelope Zen Tour

  • ✔ 24-bit, 192 kHz audio and Antelope’s signature flawless conversion
  • ✔ Guitar amp modeling and effects processing with virtually 0 latency
  • ✔ Touchscreen control panel
  • ✔ 32 channels via Thunderbolt and 24 channels on USB
If you want a high-quality audio interface for studio, rehearsals and gigs you have to look at this.
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or Choose Your Preferred Region

Antelope doesn’t tend to scrimp on the quality of its products and the Zen Tour is no exception. It’s very compact given how much functionality it offers, and feels solid. It has a small but useful touchscreen which enables you access to all the basic functions of the unit, with the likes of input gains, headphone levels and talkback directly accessible using buttons on the front panel and the large ‘soft’ knob.

At the front are two headphone outs, two re-amping outs and four line/Hi Z inputs, all on 1/4-inch jacks. To the rear are four dual XLR/1/4-inch inputs, two pairs of monitor outs on 1/4-inch jacks, eight analogue outs on a DB25, two RCA sockets for S/PDIF in and out, a power connector and USB and Thunderbolt sockets. On the left-hand side are two pairs of ADAT ins and outs.

Once you have the software installed on your computer and connected you are ready to go. There are six amplifier emulations covering vintage to modern and clean to downright filthy. They sound great and, unlike some software emulations, have a great dynamic response. You also get a great range of EQs and a single compressor.

If you want a high-quality audio interface for studio, rehearsals and gigs you have to look at this. It sounds great and is supremely flexible. Certainly one of the best audio interfaces for guitarists you can buy.

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