Interface Preamp Comparison - 3 Companies, 3 Price Points

Often, when starting out in this long, winding and seemingly unending road in audio engineering, it’s hard to really know what the best investment of your money, time, and energy is going to be.

With a plethora of misinformation, ego’s trying to lead the way, and poor educational content in the name of ‘sales and marketing’, it’s my duty and the duty of my colleagues to make sure we give you the best possible advice, both when starting off and well into your career as an audio engineer..

With that in mind, it’s prudent to share the most important investment you’ll likely make, next to a dedicated preamp (Neve style, API style or similar as opposed to the interface preamps), and a good, workhorse microphone (such as quite literally the entire Vintage Series of JZ Mics - and I say that with as little bias as possible!). So today, I want to discuss the 3 interfaces I use, in varied capacities depending on time, travelling, space, and the needs of the artist.

You can listen to my findings and let me know which is your favorite here:

Audient ID14 (v2)

The Audient range is quite possibly the best priced low budget range you could possibly hope for. I personally have owned 2 of their interfaces, this one being the better new and improved version, but similar and reliable sound I’ve always known them for.

This interface in particular has a JFET DI input for instruments such as bass and guitar, which in my opinion is unrivalled in any DI box, interface, or similar.

Quite honestly, if they made a DI with just this in it, I’d use it on a daily basis without a doubt. However, there's a good reason why I don’t and that’s down to the limits on how many ins/outs the interface can handle - but it’s also because of this that I am able to take it on the road with me, and use it to write extensively without worrying about power cables as it’s powered by the USB C input, or space consumption due to the small footprint and size.

The preamps are incredibly natural as well, and with the JFET input, you’d struggle to go wrong with this interface if you’re starting out. Most new engineers won’t be recording extravagant 16 mic drum recordings straight away (at least I hope not - learn the basics first!), so with 2 inputs on the actual interface, but able to expand to 10 in and 16 out via ADAT, you’d be hard pressed to find something capable of the incredible ability I’ve come to know this interface for.

Arturia Audiofuse Mkii

This interface took me by complete surprise. I’ve been using the software Arturia created for a while now, as you will have seen in previous blog posts.

This interface, however, is somewhat new to me and before it arrived at my studio a few weeks ago, I was immediately impressed by the intuitive, well created layout, and compact design this interface has to offer. Not only does it boast a superior AD/DA conversion to the others in this list, but it has more inputs than the ID14 at 2 XLR/Line inputs with their own specifically designed preamps, 2 rear Line inputs, and is expandable with another 8 inputs via ADAT.

Most interfaces as we’ve spoken about previously, have 3 main manufacturers of the integrated chipset needed to operate; however, Arturia went to great lengths to avoid this and give themselves full control and flexibility over the design. And it shows…

The preamps on this interface are not only some of the cleanest I’ve heard, but they have a level of ‘depth’ I’ve personally never experienced - especially from such a modest priced interface! Out of the 3 I tested, this was by far my favourite and I only wish I had more of these preamps to use for my day to day. But this interface is ideal for location recording for me, or when I have to travel for the videos we bring to you from our many wonderful artists; and of course for my own projects that require me to travel to someone else's home for example to record vocal takes, reamp their guitar through their rig (for which this interface has an integrated re-amp loop built in!).

Between both the units mentioned so far, this is my go to for any small mic setups, and due to it having it’s over top lid cover - yes, that’s right, a lid cover - it’s more robust than anything else on the market and as a travel interface to use in nearly all recording scenario’s, I can’t foresee it ever letting me down.

Focusrite 18i20

This interface has been my work horse for the last 2 years and for good reason. Until recently I was solely using this interface and an X32 rack mounted digital desk for off site recording, however, now I only use this for all my needs.

The versatility of the 18i20 is what really lends itself to my everyday life, offering the largest amount of ins and outs allowing me full versatility in terms of mic set ups for drums especially (which I love an elaborate set up for to give me as many options in the mix). It also offers the use of separate sub mixes for the headphones outputs, inserts, loop functionality and much more.

But above all, the preamps are not only very clean, linear and full of dynamic range, but are extremely versatile for one reason: the Air function. The air function is a part of the 3rd generation design, which is implied for use when recording guitars, vocals and drums. The slight top end lift is extremely musical, and unique to only these interfaces and the expansion focusrite offers (the Octo-Pre and Octo-Pre Dynamic) and is extremely useful for ribbon mics, or darker dynamic mics that need the added lift.

Conclusion

In the middle of the range in terms of price, with the largest available ins and outs, it makes sense to use this as my daily interface; but this is just me. I’d love it if I’d had the larger version of the Audiofuse from Arturia and the expansion of preamps as in my honest opinion, they are the most superior without a doubt.

Merging the functions of all my favorite parts of each of these is unrealistic, but that's also why they all hold a place in my audio world. I’d love to hear what you think, and what you’re currently using. And if you’re looking for your first interface, I hope this helps you make an informed decision!