The 5 Best Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces in 2021 [Buyer’s Guide]

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If you’re a music producer or recording engineer, the best way to get the highest quality audio out of your equipment is with an audio interface. We all know how essential this piece of gear is in the studio. In this guide, I want to delve into the best Thunderbolt audio interfaces specifically for a number of reasons. Let’s get into that…

Thunderbolt connections have gained a lot of popularity over recent years due to their speed and simplicity.

Most audio interfaces feature numerous connectors like USB, Fireware, or PCIE.

First, USB typically offers the slowest data transfer out of the bunch.

Secondly, Fireware is much less common nowadays, but it has a very fast data transfer rate.

Lastly, PCIE is the standard connection for professional interfaces that boasts additional processing power, and extremely fast data transfer.

The reason I want to focus on an audio interface that feature a Thunderbolt connection is because of its universally practical applications. It’s a great middle-ground between all of the connection types.

Thunderbolt connection is faster than USB or Fireware while still staying in the semi-pro category of interfaces.

Simply put, you won’t break the bank and still have a reliable, near zero latency device at your fingertips. Next, I want to dive into what to look for when searching for the right Thunderbolt audio interface for your needs.

Quick Picks

ImageProductScorePrice
TOP PICK
Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII X DUO
Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII X DUO

Computer Connectivity: Thunderbolt 3 — Form Factor: Desktop — Simultaneous I/O: 10 x 6 — A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz — Number of Preamps: 2 x mic, 1 x instrument — Power Supply: 12V DC power supply (included)

9.8
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RUNNER-UP
PreSonus Quantum 2626
PreSonus Quantum 2626

Computer Connectivity: Thunderbolt 3 — Form Factor: Rackmount — Simultaneous I/O: 26 x 26 — Audio Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192 kHz — Number of Preamps: 8 x mic, 2 x instrument — Rack Spaces: 1U 

9.7
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GREAT VALUE
Solid State Logic SSL2+
Solid State Logic SSL2+

Computer Connectivity: USB-C (thunderbolt 3 & 4 compatible) — Form Factor: Desktop — Simultaneous I/O: 2 x 4 — Number of Preamps: 2 — A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz — Power Supply: USB bus powered 

9.6
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UPGRADE PICK
Apogee ELEMENT 88
Apogee ELEMENT 88

Computer Connectivity: Thunderbolt — Form Factor: Desktop, Rackmount — Simultaneous I/O: 16 x 16 — Audio Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz — Number of Preamps: 8 — Rack Spaces: 1U (with provided rack ears)

9.4
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HIGH-END PICK
Antelope Audio Discrete 4
Antelope Audio Discrete 4

Computer Connectivity: Thunderbolt 2/USB 2.0 — Simultaneous I/O: 4x10 — Form Factor: Desktop — Sample Rates: Up to 192 kHz — Power Requirement: 18 V power supply

9.3
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August 2021 Update Notes:

– The Motu 624 was removed from the list and replaced by the Solid State Logic SSL2+.
The SSL2+ was also moved up to the 3rd spot on the list, dropping the Apogee ELEMENT 88 to the 4th spot.
– The Focusrite Red 8Pre was removed and replaced by the Antelope Audio Discrete 4.
– The Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2 was removed from the “updated picks” section and replaced by the Steinberg UR22C.

What to consider when looking at Thunderbolt audio interfaces

There are plenty of factors to consider on this topic. To better understand them, we should start with the origins of Thunderbolt and why it’s gained such notoriety in the audio and audio interface field.

History of Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt is a digital interface developed by Intel and Apple, unsurprisingly. It allows the connection of external components to a computer, like a Thunderbolt audio interface for instance.

It was originally intended to be an optical interface, but inevitably became an electrical interface. In 2011, the Thunderbolt 1 (called Light Peak at the time) was released to the public.

Being an optical interface at its inception, Intel added copper to the mix, making things cheaper without sacrificing speed. Enter the Thunderbolt 2 with a data rate of 20 Gbit/s in total.

From there, Intel really perfected it’s interface by the time the Thunderbolt 3 was introduced. At a data transfer rate of 40 Gbit/s, it’s among the fastest and cheapest interfaces you can find. T-3 shares USB-C connectors with USB, making it even more versatile.

In conclusion, Thunderbolt connection is reliable and greatly reduces latency in sound reproduction. You can expect latency as low as 1-2ms in an audio interface, if not lower, which is just unparalleled.

Related: Studio Equipment List: The Top 50 Essentials

Input/Output Count

A key factor to keep in mind is exactly how many Inputs and Outputs you need. This count can range from 1-2 on your basic audio interface, to 20 or more on a high-end, professional unit. Depending on your needs, this has a huge impact in the studio.

If you’re recording yourself or a solo musician, you’ll only need maybe 4 Ins and Outs (I/O). But, if you’re a full on recording engineer you’ll need as many as you can get. 

Honestly, this topic is pretty straightforward. Simply think about what you plan on doing with your recordings in the near future. As you expand, you can always invest in a Thunderbolt audio interface with a higher I/O count.

If you’re looking for a good baseline to start out with, I’d say 6 to 8 inputs and outputs is a good ratio to start out with.

Although, feel free to go crazy right at the start if you’re already ready to take on some big projects.

Input Types

Most Thunderbolt audio interfaces will have the 3 basic input channel types which are microphone, line and optical. Most folks don’t realize the fact that they need more than these channels. DI (guitars/bass) and MIDI (keyboards/controllers) inputs are very welcome features.

Keep in mind as well that mic line inputs require an outboard mic preamp to be used as a mic channel. Also, optical inputs require both a mic preamp and a digital convertor to be used as a mic channel. This means you might have less freedom with your I/O count in an audio interface than you think.

Say you have over 20 input channels, but only a few mic inputs, you need to make room for those pesky mic preamps. These things add up quickly, and you don’t want to mess yourself up here.

It’s wise to double check that you have enough channels for your needs prior to pulling the trigger on a Thunderbolt audio interface.

Related: Studio Microphones Guide

Size and Form Factor

There are generally two different types of audio interfaces: desktop and rack mounted. The “form factor” (size and shape) of your interface should suit your needs based on those two different styles.

If you’re a beginner, or just someone with a more modest studio, I would say you’d be fine starting out with a desktop interface. They are smaller in size, and can fit comfortably wherever you need it. This option will have less I/O’s obviously.

Rack mounted interfaces are regularly used in more professional studios. They have a lot more I/O’s and are more flexible. Again, this is simply based on your studio on what exactly you’re looking for.

The Importance Of High Quality Microphone Preamps

It goes without saying that if you plan on recording vocals of any sort, you need a good microphone preamplifier. In this case, instead of purchasing a separate, dedicated, high quality microphone preamps, we’re looking for one that’s built-in to an audio interface.

Essentially, a preamp has one main job: to boost the signal of a microphone to a level that’s suitable for recording. This is often referred to as “line level” among engineers.

Now it’s a known fact that preamps found in interfaces are usually not quite to the same standard as a standalone one. This is one of those issues that’s up to you and what you need.

If you’re planning on doing some massive recording jobs with your Thunderbolt audio 3 interface and you need the most out of a vocal mic, you might consider dropping the cash on a rack mounted preamp to meet the right line level.

In short, external preamps will give you a more vintage sound quality with some add color. Generally speaking, you don’t want a lot of coloring from your preamps, but those higher-end preamps do it in a desirable way.

That being said, most audio interface mic preamps have the ability to handle a lot more than you think. Moreover, this all also depends on the microphone itself.

Nowadays, companies are packing some good stuff in their built-in preamps in Thunderbolt audio interfaces. Take Focusrite for instance. Their 3rd Generation Scarlett line of interfaces have new, updated preamps that are fantastic for the price.

Lastly, some microphones require phantom power to even use them. That’s where a interface comes in handy.

My overall point here is that audio interfaces are a two-birds-with-one-stone type of utility. If you find one with good microphone preamps, then you’re set.

I’ve done my best to include interfaces with, at minimum, decent mic preamps out of the box for adequate line level.

PC vs. Mac Compatibility

Thunderbolt audio interface software will differ depending on the device. Take the Apogee Element as an example. It’s only compatible with Mac, therefore if you’re a Logic user this won’t be an issue.

It’s fair to point out that most of these audio interfaces are compatible with both Windows and MacOS, but be sure to check before making your final decision. You won’t be able to use your interface without the software being fully integrated with your OS.

Word Clock & Sync Sources

Word clock is a topic that’s highly technical, so I’ll try and keep us out of the weeds here. Basically, every single digital device has it.

Word clock is a set of synchronized pulses that determine a sample rate. This value is commonly measured in kilohertz (kHz). This is then used by the digital device receiving end to lock that incoming signal.

Certain types of sync sources use word clock as the main method of processing and clocking audio samples. This is a simple way of explaining exactly what an audio interface is meant to do: to synchronize your devices.

Understanding all of these clocking process can help you know which audio interfaces and what sync source you’d prefer. Let’s take a look at the three most common types of sync sources:

S/PDIF

This signal is typically transmitted via coax, RCA, or optical TOSLINK. Commonly seen in surround sound home theater systems, this source is great for transmitting audio over relatively short distances. With an average bit depth at 24 bits at a maximum of 192kHz, this the middle of the road form of audio transmission.

ADAT

This is one of the most old school ways of clocking audio. Originally announced in 1991, this format used a magnetic tape to record up to 8 digital audio tracks. Nowadays, ADAT has had some overhauls to make them more digital. That being said, they have a ceiling of only 24 bits at 48kHz.

AES/EBU

Probably the most flexible standard. This source sees use in both BNC and XLR TRS inputs. This is also the most common alternative to the S/PDIF standard due to the fact that many microphones use XLR as their main source of connectivity.

The sync source/word clock factor has a big part to play in terms of jitter and sound quality. Simply put, the manner in which an interface clocks audio dictates disruptions in the signal. To be fair, most modern Thunderbolt audio interfaces does a pretty good job at keeping jitter out of the mix.

What Does All Of This Mean?

Combining all of these factors should get you to a pretty good place on your quest. A Thunderbolt audio interface is a must have in most home studio setups, and with such an important piece of equipment comes quite a bit of research.

  • Deduce what your I/O count should be.
  • Figure out if you want a rack mounted or desktop interface.
  • Fine-tune your sync source knowledge.
  • Lastly, find that device that has at least one high quality mic preamp that’s up to par.

Check all of those boxes and you’re off to the races. Now it’s time to dive into my list…

Related: What Is An Audio Interface?


Best Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces List


Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII X DUO

TOP PICK
9.8/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Computer Connectivity: Thunderbolt 3 — Form Factor: Desktop — Simultaneous I/O: 10 x 6 — A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz — Built In DSP/FX: UAD-2 Duo Core Processing, Realtime UAD Powered Plug-ins — Number of Preamps: 2 x mic, 1 x instrument — Phantom Power: Yes — Analog Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line), 1 x 1/4" (Hi-Z) — Analog Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (monitor), 2 x 1/4" (line out) — Digital Inputs: 1 x Optical Toslink (ADAT,S/PDIF) — Headphones: 1 x 1/4" TRS — Thunderbolt: 1 x USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) — Software: UAD Realtime Analog Classics plug-ins (VST, AU, AAX 64), 5 Heritage Edition plug-ins — OS Requirements - Mac: macOS 10.12 or later, Quad Core i7 Processor or higher — OS Requirements - PC: Windows 10 Anniversary update or later, Quad Core i7 Processor or higher — Power Supply: 12V DC power supply (included) — Height: 2.60" — Width: 6.31" — Depth: 6.20" — Weight: 2.35 lbs.

Reasons To Buy:

+ Ultra low latency

+ Compact design

+ Great selection of Universal Audio plugins

Reasons To Avoid:

- Requires external power supply

- Software can have issues with OS (both Win and Mac)

9.8out of 10

Build Quality9.6
Sound Quality9.9
Features10

The Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII X Duo is a handy little desktop Thunderbolt 3 audio interface that sports 2 inputs and 6 outputs. There are 2x mic line inputs, and Optical or S/PIDF inputs. Also, there are 2x line outputs, 2 monitor outputs, and 2 mic preamp outputs. All I/O’s are balanced between the front panel and back panel.

It is compatible with Mac and Windows. The Apollo Twin MKII X comes in three variations, Solo, Duo, and Quad referring to the number of DSP power cores it has to process software plugins.

The included UA plugin bundle is fantastic and plentiful.

The plugins mainly consist of analog emulations of all sorts of compressors and classic amps, to name a few. It’s an awesome addition and the plugins are great quality. There is also the LUNA recording software, but this is exclusive to macOS.

The Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII X Duo audio interface is a compact little device allowing for portability and a small footprint on your desk. Between the DSP cores and T-3 compatibility, the ultra low latency is a plus. That’s the main reason I’ve included the Duo version.

It’s the happy medium between the other two alternatives. If you’re thinking you’re going to keep the workload smaller on this thing, then I’d opt for the Solo.

Conversely, if you’re going to hammer it with plugins, DAW integration, or whatever else, then I’d go for the Quad.

The Universal Audio Apollo Twin X Duo Thunderbolt audio interfaces get the job done comfortably in most cases though, and it simply has a good sound quality to it.

Unfortunately, a 12V external power supply is required for all Twin X audio interface variations to operate. It would’ve been nice for this device to rely on power from a computer given it’s smaller size. It’s not a huge deal though.

It’s very necessary to point out that the included software for the Twin X from UA can have issues with operating systems of both Mac and Windows. On Mac you sometimes have to install a kernel extension, which is not ideal.

On Windows, the drivers have a tendency to crash and the software can have compatibility issues with 32bit applications. These aren’t super common issues, but they have happened. 

The Universal Audio Apollo Twin X Duo audio interface is an unbeatable value for all it has it it’s disposal. The plugin bundle, the surprising the I/O count for such a small device, the powerful DSP cores. It’s easy for me to recommend this interface as one of the best for all potential uses.


PreSonus Quantum 2626

RUNNER-UP
9.7/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Computer Connectivity: Thunderbolt 3 — Form Factor: Rackmount — Simultaneous I/O: 26 x 26 — Audio Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192 kHz — Number of Preamps: 8 x mic, 2 x instrument — Phantom Power: Channels 1-4, 5-8 — Analog Inputs: 2 x XLR TRS inputs-1/4" combo (mic/Hi-Z), 6 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line), 2 x 1/4" (return) — Analog Outputs: 8 x 1/4" TRS (DC coupled), 2 x 1/4" (main L/R), 2 x 1/4" (preamp out) — Digital Inputs: 2 x Optical Toslink (ADAT/SMUX), 1 x Coax (S/PDIF) — Digital Outputs: 2 x Optical Toslink (ADAT/SMUX), 1 x Coax (S/PDIF) — Headphone Outputs: 2 x 1/4" — Thunderbolt: 1 x USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) — MIDI I/O: In/Out — Clock I/O: In/Out — Software: Studio One Artist, Studio Magic Plug-in Suite — OS Requirements - Mac: OS X 10.11.6 or later, 64-bit — OS Requirements - PC: Windows 10 or later, 64-bit — Rack Spaces: 1U 

Reasons To Buy:

+ <1 ms round-trip latency

+ Solid Build Quality

+ Up to 26in/26out I/O with daisy chain

Reasons To Avoid:

- External power supply

- No DSP Capabilities

9.7out of 10

Build Quality9.6
Sound Quality9.8
Features9.7

The PreSonus Quantum 26×26 Thunderbolt 3 audio interface is a rack mounted interface. It’s the youngest brother in the Quantum series. It’s siblings are the 26×32 and the 48×48. Most of the inputs reside on the front panel.

These numbers refer to the I/O count when expanded via dual ADAT Optical. When daisy chained together by this method, you get an unprecedented I/O count seldom found in other audio interfaces at this price point. 

It’s worth stating that the other two Quantum series versions are Thunderbolt 2. The 26×26 is the only one that’s T-3. 

There are plenty of other inputs and outputs onboard including 8 line outputs, MIDI in/outs, and SPDIF ins/outs just to name a few.

There are two high quality plugin suites included as well. These are the Studio One Artist bundle and the Studio Magic plug-in bundle. These plugins are bountiful and fun to use.  

PreSonus markets the Quantum line as their fastest audio interfaces. This is done without onboard DSP capabilities intentionally. The lack of DSP might be a downfall to some. They’ve done everything they give this interface near zero latency, and it’s worked.

Latency measurements of this interface are in the sub-milliseconds, which is very impressive. The build quality is excellent too with an all-metal chassis and metal knobs.


Solid State Logic SSL2+

GREAT VALUE
9.6/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Computer Connectivity: USB-C (thunderbolt 3 & 4 compatible) — Form Factor: Desktop — Simultaneous I/O: 2 x 4 — Number of Preamps: 2 — Phantom Power: Yes — A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz — Analog Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line/Hi-Z) — Analog Outputs: 2 x 1/4" TRS (L/R), 2 x Dual RCA Stereo (2 x paired out/1-4) — Headphones: 2 x 1/4" — MIDI I/O: In/Out — USB: 1 x USB-C — Software: SSL Production Pack, 3rd Party Bundled Software — OS Requirements - Mac: OS X 10.11 or later — OS Requirements - PC: Windows 8.1 or later — Bus Powered: Yes — Power Supply: USB bus powered — Height: 2.75" — Width: 9.21" — Depth: 6.18" — Weight: 1.98 lbs. 

Reasons To Buy:

+ Loaded with unique features

+ Incredible value

+ Superb flexibility

Reasons To Avoid:

- RCA outs might be frustrating to some

9.6out of 10

Build Quality9.5
Sound Quality9.6
Features9.8

Next up is an audio interface that has made waves in the industry with it’s amazing price-point and superior capabilities. The Solid State Logic SSL2+ is a compact, feature-rich USB-C interface that’s the older brother to the SSL2.

The main upgrade to this version is added I/O’s, and addition of two to be exact. That gives you a total I/O count of 2×4. With that this is an interface better suited for smaller jobs, not recording entire bands.

Some of you may be confused as to why I’ve included a USB audio interface on this list. Well, as stated by Solid State Logic themselves, the USB-C port on this interface is compatible with Thunderbolt 3 and 4. See the statement for yourself if you have any concerns.

Now, you get all of the necessary connectivity options in the SSL2+ interface. MIDI I/O, 2 1/4″ headphone outs, 2 XLR analog outs, you get the idea. Where this affordable interface really shines is it’s features!

You might have noticed the “4K” buttons on the face plate. While no one really knows what this button does, it actually adds a tinge of added “something” to the audio interfaces signal flow. Solid State Logic calls it “analog magic” but the more technical definition is an injection of high-frequency EQ boost and subtle harmonic distortion.

All in all, it’s a cool feature that’s not gimmicky. It really does add a subtle effect to all of the gear you have running through the interface that doesn’t ruin anything. On top of that, the two mic preamps sound awesome!

The Solid State Logic SSL2+ has become a phenom among audio interfaces since it’s announcement in January at NAMM in 2020. You get an ultra-powerful device that’s just all around cool, and it comes at a more than reasonable price. The best value on this list by far.


Apogee ELEMENT 88

UPGRADE PICK
9.4/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Computer Connectivity: Thunderbolt — Form Factor: Desktop, Rackmount — Simultaneous I/O: 16 x 16 — Audio Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz — Number of Preamps: 8 — Phantom Power: 8 channels — Analog Ins: 4 x XLR TRS inputs-1/4" combo, 4 x XLR — Analog Outputs: 2 x XLR (main out), 2 x 1/4" (alt out) — Digital Inputs: 2 x Optical (ADAT, SMUX, S/PDIF) — Digital Outputs: 2 x Optical (ADAT, SMUX, S/PDIF) — Headphone Outputs: 2 x 1/4" — Thunderbolt: 1 x Thunderbolt 2 — Clock I/O: In/Out — OS Requirements - Mac: OS X 10.10 or later (Element Control Software), iOS compatible (Element Control App) — Rack Spaces: 1U (with provided rack ears) — Height: 1.75" — Width: 13.5" — Depth: 5.5" — Weight: 3.5 lbs. 

Reasons To Buy:

+ 16x16 I/O count

+ Element Control software is great

+ Very high-quality components

Reasons To Avoid:

- No MIDI I/O

- Only compatible with Mac

9.4out of 10

Build Quality9.8
Sound Quality9.6
Features8.9

Apogee is a very renowned company in the audio world. Some folks regard them as the “Apple” of interfaces. They put out awesome gear that’s ultra high end and attractive. The Element 88 Thunderbolt audio interface is no exception.

There are multiple versions of this interface as well. The Apogee Element 24 is an example. The Element 24 and other options simply have different I/O counts

It’s a 16×16 I/O count interface with 8 inputs (mostly on the front panel) with high quality mic preamps built-in.

There are also 2 balanced L/R XLR TRS outputs, 2 ¼” outputs, 2 ¼” stereo headphone outputs, Optical ADAT I/O, and more! Element Thunderbolt audio interfaces are bursting at the seams with features put together in a sleek chassis. The Element series is only compatible with Mac and integrates seamlessly with Logic Pro.

The Element Control Software is fantastic giving you full virtual control parallel to your DAW. Interestingly, there’s a Control app for mobile as well which is perfect for drummers.

All of the circuitry and preamps in the Element 88 are top-notch. You’d be hard pressed to find a sound quality of this level in other devices. You should have no issues with line level here.

I know, the Mac only compatibility is a downside to some of you. Luckily, Apogee has plenty of Windows compatible interfaces that just didn’t quite make the cut on this list. One gripe I do have with the Element 88 is the lack of MIDI I/O.

It’s not the end of the world considering how well this audio interface integrates with your DAW. Nonetheless, it would have been nice to have.

There are some people out there who might frown upon the Thunderbolt 2 connection. At the end of the day, it’s still Thunderbolt connection. It will still be fast and the low latency on the Element 88 measures at around 1.41ms round-trip.

This Apogee audio interface is a premium-quality device with a vast amount of capabilities. It can handle 8 channels of XLR TRS simultaneously, with 4 of those channels being TRS. It’s a professional grade interface for those avid engineers and musicians.

It doesn’t come with all of this without a hefty price tag. However, the Element 88 is a stand out option for a number of users depending on your needs.


Antelope Audio Discrete 4

HIGH-END PICK
9.3/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Computer Connectivity: Thunderbolt 2/USB 2.0 — System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.9 or higher, Windows 7 or higher — Form Factor: Desktop — Simultaneous I/O: 4x10 — Inputs: 4 x XLR-1/4" combo jacks, 1 x ADAT optical, 1 x S/PDIF coaxial — Outputs: 4 x 1/4" TRS (headphone outputs), 4 x 1/4" TRS (line outputs), 2 x 1/4" TRS (monitor outputs), 1 x ADAT optical, 1 x S/PDIF coaxial — Clocking: 2 x BNC word clock outputs — Impedance: 75 Ohms, 3 Vp-p — Connectivity: 1 x USB 2.0 Type-B, 1 x Thunderbolt — Sample Rates: Up to 192 kHz — Equivalent Input Noise: -128 dBu A-weighted (microphone preamps) — Maximum Input Level: +18 dBu — Maximum Output Level: +20 dBu (line and monitor outputs) — Operating Temperature: 32 to 122°F / 0 to 50°C — Power Consumption: 15 W — Power Requirement: 18 V power supply — Dimensions: (W x H x D), 10.3 x 1.7 x 8.2" / 261 x 44 x 208 mm — Weight: 3.7 lb 

Reasons To Buy:

+ Great OLED display

+ Very powerful

+ 4 amazing mic preamps

Reasons To Avoid:

- Pricey

9.3out of 10

Build Quality9.2
Sound Quality9.6
Features9.1

Antelope Audio is a bit of an anomaly in the audio world. They’re well known enough, but aren’t as big as say Universal Audio. That being said, they put out some great products, and that is something that everyone who knows about them appreciates.

In terms of their audio interfaces, Antelope Audio has quite a reputation built upon from its Goliath and Orion line. The Discrete 4 thunderbolt audio interface is a more “high-end” option that comes with a few extra bells and whistles.

First among the great features is Synergy Core, which is an awesome FX processing platfom built-in. This adds a whole new level of functionality in your studio workflow, all of which is displayed on a helpful and gorgeous OLED display.

On top of that, you get a more than adequate amount of connectivity options. I mean, just look at the tech specs above and you’ll see what I’m talking about. This audio interface comes packed with all of the ports you could possibly need.

Now this is another audio interface that connects via Thunderbolt 2 and USB 2.0, so Thunderbolt 3 or 4 are sorely missed. Not the end of the world, but still.

The onboard FPGA engine can be regularly updated, which is obviously great. Also, this interface comes with a few legacy plug-ins that power Synergy Core. Thankfully, this software doesn’t hinder the interface one bit.

Overall, if you’re looking for a high-end audio interface that comes with all sorts of fancy features, then the Antelope Audio Discrete 4 is the thunderbolt audio interface to get. You’ll shell out a decent chunk of change for it, but this interface is sure to improve your quality of life in the studio.


Updated Picks for 2021:

Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd Gen)

WELL-ROUNDED
9.2/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Computer Connectivity: USB-C (Thunderbolt 3 & 4 compatible) — Form Factor: Desktop — Simultaneous I/O: 4 x 4 — Number of Preamps: 2 — Phantom Power: Yes — Audio Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192kHz — Analog Inputs: 2 x XLR TRS inputs-1/4" combo (mic/Hi-Z), 2 x 1/4" (line) — Analog Outputs: 4 x 1/4" (line outputs) — Headphone Outs: 1 x 1/4" — MIDI I/O: In/Out — USB: 1 x Type USB-C — Software: Ableton Live Lite, Focusrite Red Plug-in Suite, Pro Tools First Creative Pack (PT First does not support 3rd party plug-ins) — OS Requirements - Mac: macOS 10.12 or later — OS Requirements - PC: Windows 7 SP1 or later (Scarlett), Windows 10 v1809 or later (Pro Tools First) — Bus Powered: Yes — Power Supply: USB bus powered — Height: 1.87" — Width: 7.28" — Depth: 4.71" — Weight: 1.3 lbs. 

Reasons To Buy:

+ MIDI I/O Capable

+ Updated Preamps

+ Small Footprint

Reasons To Avoid:

- Some gimmicky features

9.2out of 10

Build Quality9.6
Sound Quality9.3
Features8.7

This is the newest generation of the popular Scarlett Series interfaces by Focusrite. It boasts a wider dynamic range, improved high quality mic preamps, and better overall input options. Also, they will ship out with updated USB C connectivity, which is compatible with Thunderbolt 3 and 4.

This is the only option I’ve included without Thunderbolt connectivity, but it’s just too good of a device not to mention. Plus, this is a more budget-friendly option than the Focusrite Clarett Series.

I’ve decided to update this list and include this audio interface for 2021 because it’s simply a great value. The 4i4 is not the only option in this series though.

The 2i2 and the 8i6 round out the other versions. As you probably have guessed, the model name indicates the I/O count of that particular device.

Now, the reason why the Scarlett Series audio interfaces have gained such a prominent following in the industry is due to their excellent flexibility at such an affordable price. They really are a perfect middle-of-the-road option for any sort of use.

The Focusrite Control app is included with all versions of the 3rd Gen Scarlett units and it’s a fantastic inclusion. Certain features are only accessible via this software. Some of those features, like the new Air option, are a bit gimmicky and I don’t see much in terms of real world use on these audio interfaces.

That being said, other features like low latency monitoring are really useful.

All in all, this new Scarlett generation is very much worth taking a look at. You’re getting Focusrite’s famously reliable drivers, their neutral sonic signature, their solid build quality, and neutral sound quality all at a respectable price range.

Again, if you’re looking for a version with even more features, the Focusrite Clarett audio interface is virtually the same thing.

The Focusrite Clarett Series Alternative

Similar to the Scarlett Series, the Focusrite Clarett Series is the slightly higher-end cousin. Check them out here.


Steinberg UR22C

BUDGET PICK
9/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Computer Connectivity: USB-C (Thunderbolt 3 & 4 compatible) — Form Factor: Desktop — Simultaneous I/O: 2 x 2 — Number of Preamps: 2 —Phantom Power: 2 channels — A/D Resolution: Up to 32-bit Integer/192kHz — Effects: dspMixFx: REV-X Reverb, Sweet Spot Morphing Channel Strip, Guitar Amp Classics — Analog Inputs: 1 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line), 1 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line/Hi-Z) — Analog Outputs: 2 x 1/4" TRS (main out) — Headphones: 1 x 1/4" — MIDI I/O: In/Out/USB — USB: 1 x USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 (audio/MIDI), 1 x Type Micro-B (power) — Software: Cubase AI, Cubasis LE (iOS) — OS Requirements - Mac: macOS 10.12 or later, 4GB RAM minimum, Intel Core i3 or higher, iOS 9 or later (select software) — OS Requirements - PC: Windows 7 SP1 64-bit or later, 4GB RAM minimum, Intel Core i3 or higher — Bus Powered: Yes — Power Supply: USB bus powered (USB-C) / 5V DC power adapter (sold separately) — Height: 1.85" — Width: 6.25" — Depth: 6.25" — Weight: 2.2 lbs. 

Reasons To Buy:

+ Great mic preamps from Yamaha

+ Good build quality

+ DSP capable

Reasons To Avoid:

- Not a lot of extra features

9out of 10

Build Quality9.5
Sound Quality9.4
Features8.2

Last, but not least, is the Steinberg UR22C. This is a great budget option that doesn’t sacrifice any sort of power or functionality. This audio interface comes with USB-C connectivity so you can easily use Thunderbolt 3 or 4 cables with it.

In recent years, Steinberg has upped its game with its UR line of interfaces, and the UR22C is the perfect middle-of-the-road in the line. This is a simple 2 in and 2 out audio interface with various control options for each port.

This is a 48v phantom power device with two very nice mic preamps. You also get MIDI I/O’s, 2 XLR’s, and 2 TRS analog outs. What’s really cool about this audio interface is the onboard FX. Refer to the spec list above to see what it has and you’ll be surprised at it’s offerings at this price-point.

Now, you don’t get some of the extra features you’d find in higher-end interfaces, but the UR22C still comes with everything you need in an early-stage home studio.

With that, the best part of this audio interface is its build quality. At such a modest price, this thing really feels sturdy with its durable metal casing. That in conjunction with its small footprint, makes it ultra-portable.

At the end of the day, the UR22C is one of the best budget thunderbolt audio interfaces out there and it’s made by a reputable company. There’s not a whole lot more you could ask from this device that it doesn’t already provide.


Conclusion

In my opinion, the Universal Audio Apollo Twin X DUO is the clear favorite on this list of the best Thunderbolt audio interfaces. This is mainly due to it’s versatility for all sorts of uses, whether you’re a beginner or avid engineer. The included plugin bundle gives it the edge as well.

That being said, all of the audio interfaces on this list are worth a look. They each have their own personalities, and can offer many different capabilities depending on what you need.

I hope this guide has proven helpful, and I hope it will help you find the right Thunderbolt audio interface for your studio.

Also, don’t forget to reach out to me with any questions or comments you might have. Good luck on your hunt!

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Jeremy Bongiorno
I have been a musician and producer for over 15 years. My goal is to provide reliable, honest information and hopefully help to improve the quality of life in your studio.

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