Audio interfaces are a crucial part of any studio. That means you really have to do your research and make sure you are getting the optimal choice for you and your music needs. There are a lot of builds and brands to choose from, but one of the best builds is a Thunderbolt.
That is why in this article we are going to discuss some of the best thunderbolt audio interfaces as well as give you a little information on why they are so amazing. Let’s get to it, shall we?
In a rush? Click below to find out the winner!
Thunderbolt Audio Interface Reviews
1 – Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Solo Review
This unit is an upgraded version of a very popular interface that helps deliver quality audio.
To make sure that this unit offers ultimate performance, the team at Universal Audio pulled together their 60-year experience and innovative new technology to give us the Apollo Twin MKII.
This unit offers a versatile interface that gives the audio engineer a sound quality that is superior to many of its competitors.
Though where this unit really shines is the monitoring capabilities category. The Apollo Twin MKII can operate with cascaded Apollo systems, and the wide range of controls makes this an interface that enhances your sound crafting capabilities.
This unit is Thunderbolt capable but does not come with the cable, and that is challenging and too expensive for some. The only other issues are the lack of control of the preamps when operating in a cascaded Apollo system.
Even with these few drawbacks, the sound quality is so outstanding that if you are okay with the extra expenditure, you should definitely consider this unit.
The features this team opted to include to ensure their high-quality status are:
- Mac and Windows compatible
- 2×6 interface
- 24-bit/192 kHz audio
- UAD processing in real-time
- Dual mic/line preamps
- Dual-line outputs
- Front input for Hi-Z instrument
- Headphone output
- Dual digitally controlled monitor outputs (analog)
- 8 channel digital input (optical connection)
- Programmed with Console 2.0 software
2 – Zoom Resident Audio T4 Thunderbolt Audio Interface
This Thunderbolt audio interface from Zoom ids chock full of features that are designed to elevate your skill and performance.
One of the best things about this interface is the ease of use and set up. This is why I feel it is one of the best options on my list for beginning recording engineers. Even with the simplicity of the setup, it still offers excellent I/O options and a sound quality that rivals even the highest-end equipment.
Many experienced engineers may find an issue with the lack of flexibility in the monitor arrangement. It is once again for those just starting as this takes one more thing off their plate. There are also some issues with the lack of adjustability in relative balance. This may trouble many users.
If you are a new engineer or just setting up your studio, the features of this audio interface are perfect for you.
This audio interface comes with the following features:
- Built with a die-cast chassis
- x4 audio I/O channels + 1 MIDI I/O
- Hi-R10es audio (24-bit/96kHz)
- Multiple headphone jacks
- Stable phantom power
- Reliable MIDI clock
- compatible with both Mac & Windows
- Built-in custom analog preamps
3 – Apogee Element 24 Review
This is one of the Element line products and brings with a streamlined set of features and software control that has been elevated to new levels. The Apogee Element 24 uses the following features to bring superior sound quality and performance to all your recording needs.
So much about this model is designed to elevate your product quality; there was no way I could leave this off of this roundup.
This unit is easy to use, and with the addition of preset creation capability, you will find yourself prepared for just about anything the artists throw at you.
Because of the preset capability, Element 24 offers a level of versatility when it comes to the amazing sound. If you are a PC person, this model is not available to you as of yet. It is set to be singularly compatible with Mac OS’s. This of course also means that it is a bit pricier.
If, however, you are a Mac person, then this unit is well worth the consideration.
This audio interface comes with the following features:
- 10×12 audio interface
- Single port thunderbolt connection for Mac
- Element Control software
- 2 analog inputs w/ mic preamps & phantom power(48V)
- Built with high quality digital to analog converter (vice versa)
- Apogee Control hardware remote
4 -Focusrite Clarett OctoPre
Focusrite is one of the best names in peripheral hardware, and this unit is one of the reasons I feel this way. The construction and programming of the Clarett OctoPre include some of the industry’s top features.
The customization of this model stands out the most to me and many others in the industry. It is fitted not only with adjustable Air emulation but with several switchable insert points. With a wide range of I/O ports, you will have enough for even the largest projects, and you will be guaranteed stellar sound quality.
The Air emulation feature is a wonderful touch the only thing that I really wish that Focusrite would add to it the ability to adjust it. The set Air emulation may not be where you need it, and it is frustrating that you have no capability to change it up.
Despite the one minor design flaw, Clarett OctoPre is built to last and has every feature that you need to craft high-quality audio:
- 8 x optimized mic preamps
- 8 x line outputs
- 2 x front-panel instrument inputs
- Built-in switchable Air effect
- 24-bit A-D/D-A conversion (@192kHz)
- Fitted with multiple switchable insert points
5 – PreSonus Quantum 2
The last interface on our round-up is from PreSonus and is an audiophile’s dream when it comes to the conversion of digital signals. In fact, you can look at this model and see that it was created with them in mind.
This audio interface is built with comprehensive features and offers a lot of cool design aspects. The ability to couple it with multiple pieces of Quantum hardware gives this unit the ability to expand with your needs.
The system is easy to use and has an excellent level of control. This all adds up to deliver high-quality sound.
A few essential controls and the Thunderbolt cable are lacking; this is the only thing I feel detracts from the unit’s performance.
No built-in mixer makes it easier to use which also takes away some level of performance capability. Plus, you have to purchase the cable separately, and that means more money sent, and that may not fit into your budget.
Just look at all of the features that were included in the build:
- Low latency performance
- Easy to use
- Built with comprehensive features
- Mic preamps are digitally controlled
- Sound quality
- Multiple Quantum units can be used together as one system
So, which one sounds the best? Honestly, the choice is really up to you, but if you want my two cents … the Focusrite Clarett OctoPre.
It is versatile and offers both great digital and analog sound quality. The price is nice, and you get customizable insert points as well as Air emulation. This all combines together to give us a well built, high performing Thunderbolt audio interface that stands well above the rest.
- Eight Clarett mic pre amps, eight line outputs, and dual front-panel instrument inputs
- Switchable analogue 'Air' effect that imparts the sonic signature of the classic Focusrite ISA mic pre on each channel
- Focusrite precision 24-bit A-D and D-A conversion at standard sample rates all the way up to 192 kHz
- Dedicated switched insert points on every channel; Mic preamps optimized to handle extreme levels from sound sources like drums
- Includes Red 2 & Red 3 AAX, AU & VST Plug-in Suite, and Softube Time & Tone Bundle as a free download upon registration. Focusrite now offers a 3-Year Warranty on this and all other Focusrite products.
What is a Thunderbolt Audio Interface?
This hardware was designed in a collaboration between Intel and Apple. They put their heads together and crafted an I/O medium that could be used to link peripherals and devices to your computer.
This was initially an interface that solely worked with Mac’s and MacBooks, but it was soon evident that the hardware needed to be compatible with multiple hardware and operating systems.
That meant integrating the system to be compatible with Windows and other laptops.
Now every producer/audio engineer can take advantage of Thunderbolt, and that is a good thing. But how do you choose which Thunderbolt interface to go with?
Thunderbolt Audio Interface Buyers Guide
How to Choose a Thunderbolt Audio Interface
Like with all technology, there are several factors to consider when buying a Thunderbolt audio interface. I have listed some of them below:
First things first, you will want to look at the version of Thunderbolt you are dealing with. There is Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2.0 plus the newer Thunderbolt 3.0. The chief difference is the speed at which data is transferred.
With the original, you get 10Gbps, whereas, with 2.0, you get 20Gbps. The new 3.0 offers even higher rates at 40Gbps.
Another critical factor is the bit depth.
This is the bit amount of information that is in a sample.
The better the bit depth, the better the sound resolution will be of your sample.
Some units will have phantom power to only some inputs, but others will offer it to everyone.
This will ensure that the right power level will be sent to your mic through the XLR port and cable.
By having this feature, you will be making sure you have the proper amplification.
Thinking about the project size that you will be working on can help you determine how many I/O ports you need. Often it is best to err on the side of having too many rather than coming up short.
This is the number of samples that are recorded per second.
To get the best quality sound, you will want this to be as high as you can get it.
You will want to look at the software that the unit comes with and that it is compatibility with other software as well.
Should I Buy An Thunderbolt Interface?
There are a lot of great options out there on the market, and most of us want to know what advantages and disadvantages we will be dealing with before we invest our hard-earned money.
So, here are just some of the pros/cons that come with a Thunderbolt audio interface:
The Pros Of Using A Thunderbolt Interface
This interface allows you to use both PCI Express and DisplayPort as two data streams, plus you can use DC for power as well.
This gives you the ability to use multiple hardware peripherals with different power needs easily.
You can also use input and output for display and audio devices. This gives your computer expanded capabilities with fewer cables and no need for other hardware for interface abilities.
Thunderbolt audio interfaces have evolved to be some of the fastest at data transfer. With the newer model being able to transfer 40Gbps, you are looking at hardware that can process way faster than USB 3.0.
This will also give you more video and with which is a fantastic thing to have access to.
With faster data transfer you will be able to stream multiple sources of HD or even 4K video to several monitors. You will also get faster file transfer times for higher quality audio and video.
For years we have all wanted better graphics expansion capability with our interfaces.
This is especially helpful if you are using your audio interface for movie soundtracks or dubbing. USB is just not that great at this.
With the Thunderbolt, you get low latency and high bandwidth, which helps with the connectivity with your computer or laptop.
Daisy-chaining is when you hook multiple devices and hardware together in a circuit or line. Thunderbolt 3.0 will allow you to do this with six devices and peripherals.
The inclusion of USB-c into the 3.0 version of the Thunderbolt interface allows for even more versatility in connectivity.
The Cons Of Using A Thunderbolt Interface
The USB is both a blessing and a curse as many confuse the USB-c ports that come with the Thunderbolt 3.0 with standard USB ports.
These two models belong to the same category but have very different functionality.
Thunderbolt interfaces have limited compatibility with other hardware and peripherals. In fact, a good majority of the equipment that is compatible is quite pricey.
This is why many feel that Thunderbolt interfaces are really best used by professionals or semi-professionals.
Maybe one of the most significant disadvantages of a Thunderbolt audio interface is the expense of investing in it. The cable is quite expensive, and the computer and hardware you will have to purchase to use it is pricey as well.
It is, of course, pricey due to the patented technology from Intel and Apple. It is also expensive because of the limited compatibility. Fewer options mean to get their money back, they have to tack on that hefty price tag.
Like every other expansion bus, this hardware is vulnerable to data hacking. So, by using this system, you are opening yourself up to data breaching.
Since you are so vulnerable, the best thing to do if you want to take advantage of all the good stuff is to invest in a good antivirus and malware software.
What’s the Best Way to Use a Thunderbolt Audio Interface?
Thunderbolts offer you high data transfer levels, and that is a great tool to have in your arsenal. Though if you are a beginner or someone who just dabbles as a hobby, this investment may not be worth it to you.
If you are building a studio and need better audio quality while your record or you use peripheral software and hardware, then adding this piece of studio equipment to your gear is a fantastic idea.
The individual Thunderbolt audio interface will dictate the rest of the capabilities, but the options are so versatile I am sure you will find one that meets your specific needs.