Me: Why this device is better than the other? MusicGearExpert: It simply is...

I have made a research through the last 3-4 days on Audio Interfaces. And because there is much pain involved in deciding which Audio Interface suits better your needs, I decided to share what were my findings on this topic and if you are searching for a similar thing, hopefully to give your quest a nice kick-start.

What turned out to be best for me?

While I started by primarily focusing on the affordable end, I slowly climbed the price-latter and ended up ordering a pretty expensive box - RME Babyface.

I haven't got the device, yet, so there probably will be a follow-up post about it (if not even more than 1) and review on its quality.

I want to save you guys some effort in searching, because there is a good change for the outcome to be either one of:

  1. You will make the same choice and will waste a lot of time;
  2. You will buy something that will not be as good as RME Babyface... and you will waste a lot of time.

Of course, there always is the possibility that you will find something I didn't. If you do, please, don't share it with me - I am totally crying, if I gave so much money for nothing. Just kidding - please, feel free to post a comment.

For what are you going to use this device?

Before reading through, you should know what I am intending to use this Audio Interface (AI) for - recording:

  • vocals;
  • guitar (amp&mic / DI);
  • bass (DI);
  • VSTi tracks.

What this basically mean is - I need:

  1. microphone preamps integrated in the AI (I don't need more than two);
  2. very good Analog-Digital, Digital-Analog convertors (who doesn't?);
  3. expansion capabilities;
  4. some raw DSP effects (Reverb, Compressor) and EQ integrated in the hardware;
  5. very low latency.

This is the order-by-importance of these factors, as well.

I picked the winner in the first 2 categories (preamps and convertors).

What is today's (1st of April, 2012) choice for AI in the 300-600€ price-range?

There are many devices, but I am going to mention only these that I think are worthy for such purpose (as stated above). All of them have at least 2 mic preamps and interface with USB 2.0.

Starting from the lowest price:

Propellerhead Balancepropellerhead's balance audio interface

This device is designed by software engineers (visually and functionally, but of course not electronically). It looks amazing and I have read and watched whatever I could find about it on the web.

The company that makes it, is responsible for the famous music production software Reason.

This of course means that the devices has some integration with it, which might be nice if that's what you are using.

It comes bundled with Reason Essentials software, which "essentially" is a skinnier version of Reason with less instruments and effects.

Very nice feature, but only available if used with Reason Essentials:

  • ClipSafe - recording audio track in 2 modes simultaneously - regular and 13 dB less. If your sound clips due to higher input for example, you can get the lowest volume track, where such clip doesn't exist, with a single click.

One big other benefit for owners of older version of Reason (3, 4, 5) is that they get a free upgrade to Reason 6.


  • Price at (at the time I am writing this): 349€
  • 24 bit, 96 kHz
  • It comes with Reason Essentials
  • The setup is known to be very easy
  • Very intuitive interface
  • High quality preamps and AD/DA convertors
  • No hardware DSP
  • No expansion
  • You loose ClipSafe if you use it with something different than Reason Essentials

Steinberg UR28M

Steinberg UR28M Audio InterfaceThis device also comes with software - Cubase AI6. This is very nice since you shouldn't worry about "yet another purchase" before you start recording your music.

It's 24 bit, 96 kHz, has Class-A preamps, high-end AD and DA convertors. It's expandable through a S/PDIF I/O and has more than enough outs (6 analogs).

Looks pretty good on the outside, has a lot of controls and state indicators, making it a bit nicer for people preferring knobs versus software.

It's relatively small, but it's not bus-powered (has an external power supply), therefore it's more of a desktop device which isn't as easily portable (not a bad thing for my needs).

The best feature it has is the hardware DSP with REV-X reverb and integration with some VST plugins which are executed within the box with near-zero latency monitoring. As much as I understood of the scattered information on the web, this type of monitoring works only for the specified effects.

With the dspMixFx technology integrated (I think it's both a software console and hardware) one has the flexibility of creating many different mixes, with option for example to apply DSP effects only for monitoring, only for recording or both.

There is a lot of superstition going on around Steinberg hardware, since it pretty much is Yamaha hardware. I have researched this device for quite some time, written in some forums and not a single guy, could say whether or not the preamps or the convertors are any worse than RME Babyface. It's like, because Steinberg is Yamaha, no one wants to risk and try the device. The only thing that I found as a comparison with such a high-end device were few words on a blog, in which the author compared it with Apogee Duet

According to few people the device isn't exactly shining as setup and very intuitive interface (I haven't tried it, so I can't be 100% sure).


  • Price at (at the time I am writing this): 385€
  • 24 bit, 96 kHz
  • Comes with Cubase AI6
  • High quality preamps and AD/DA convertors
  • Hardware DSP and near-zero latency on integrated effects (and some supported VST plugins)
  • S/PDIF I/O port
  • dspMixFx technology for advanced mix routing
  • Not very portable - pretty heavy and requires external power supply

MOTU UltraLiteMOTU UltraLite Audio Interface

...and we are going higher! Not only as price, but as quality, too.

MOTU UltraLite is exactly what I imagined as my dream Audio Interface - both as look and features.

To uneducated eye (like my own for example) it looks a bit like old car radio, where you need a degree in Electronics in order to check the news on channel 2. Yes, that's how I like it.

It's beautiful - with all the knobs and labels around, and the big display, with so many Ins and Outs - it's absolutely fabulous!

It's the first device we are looking in, that is 24 bit 192 kHz. Has 6 balanced inputs, separately from them 2 Class-A microphone preamps, high quality AD/DA convertors, 10 outputs, hardware DSP with Reverb, Compressor and EQ, S/PDIF I/O and supports both FireWire and USB 2.0.

As the UR28M it comes with software for advanced mix routing through the even bigger amount of outs it offers - CueMix FX.

One big feature is - this device is also a standalone mixer. You can use it on a live gig.

The powerful (and complete) DSP, the big amount of outputs, the mix flexibility, and the fact it works as standalone, makes it a pretty great device.

On the downside - the software it comes with, works only on Mac.


  • Price at (at the time I am writing this): 433€
  • 24 bit, 192 kHz
  • High quality preamps and AD/DA convertors
  • Hardware DSP with Reverb, Compressor and EQ (every vocalist's dream-set)
  • 10 Outs, 8 Ins
  • S/PDIF I/O port
  • CueMix FX for advanced mix routing
  • Supports both FireWire and USB
  • Works as standalone mixer
  • Bus-powered with optional PSW
  • Not too advanced software which is supported only on Mac

And finally The Winner - RME Babyface

RME Babyface Audio Interface.I found out about this AI about 5 minutes after I started searching. And until I closed that research, I did my best to go any other direction with similar quality and less of a price, but I couldn't...

It's like the whole world is in-loved in this little device and there was review upon review giving it 11 on a scale to 10 as a sound quality, so I gave up.

Like the MOTU, it's 24 bit, 192 kHz AI. It has a total of 22 channels. 

What makes it different from all the others (except the minimalistic look) is this passage of text that I found periphrased in many different articles and forum threads:

RME Babyface features the latest 192 kHz AD- and DA-converters, including two reference class microphone preamps.

The Babyface delivers two high end analog recording channels and four analog playback channels, plus ADAT and MIDI I/O. It combines excellent analog circuit design with AD/DA converter chips of the latest generation. RME’s efficient SteadyClock jitter suppression technology ensures an AD- and DA-conversion of the highest reference quality.


The extremely low THD+N values let these preamps surpass those of other devices that cost several times the price of the Babyface.

(Quote is from here:

Apparently RME placed their current best AD and DA convertors on the Babyface. This is why I bought this unit.

There are a couple of truly great features that are not available on any of the other devices.

Number one such feature for me is the OS-specific firmware - the device runs a different firmaware when an OS (Windows or Mac) is detected, so the performance is ... well "optimized" seems inappropriate to say here - "maximized". No matter how far did this approach took them, it truly shows a lot - they do the best they can to make a brilliant device.

Another thing that's worth to mention is the absolutely positive feedback on RME's support. There is like no one who said something against these guys on the forums. Everywhere I read, people are totally impressed with RME's customer service.

Finally, I found no evidence of issues with drivers in any setup of supported Windows and Mac versions.


  • Price at (at the time I am writing this): 539€
  • 24 bit, 192 kHz
  • Highest quality preamps and AD/DA convertors in the <1000€ price-range
  • Hardware DSP with Reverb, Echo and EQ
  • 22 channels (10 Ins - 12 Outs)
  • ADAT I/O capable of 192 kHz (usable as optical S/PDIF I/O port, as well)
  • OS-optimized Firmware (detecting when Windows or Mac - 2 separate firmwares included)
  • Bus-powered with optional PSW
  • TotalMix FX for advanced routing
  • Separate Headphones DA convertor with full 192 kHz sound
  • Not having Compressor in the DSP is something that I miss here

I hope this will help you

I am sure I missed a lot of features there or even got something wrong, but if you decide to use this subset of devices to choose from, then:

  • pick the winner;
  • validate my assumptions;
  • check for negative feedback on the web;
  • and if all checks out - that's it.

I hope my research will be helpful for you.

I wish you much inspiration and music!

  • Mon, Apr 02, 2012 7:04pm
    Good review, although I am far behind in my quality needs. I am anxiously waiting for the review of the real device.
  • Mon, Apr 02, 2012 10:04pm
    Thanks, Slavo! Once I get it, I will see what can I do.