When choosing an audio interface, you want to first define your use case so you can go for the features you need and avoid overpaying for any unnecessary ones that you’re unlikely to use. 2 channel audio interfaces are generally cheaper because of their limited I/Os. They’re by far the most popular, so you’re going to have a lot of options to choose from even with a tight budget.
2 channel audio interfaces are perfect if you’re planning on recording solo tracks where you’ll only need 2 inputs (1 for instruments and 1 for mics). They can also be used for podcasting/live streaming purposes if they have certain features like talkback connectivity. However, 2 channels can be pretty limiting and are more catered towards beginners. You won’t be able to record a full live band, hook up a full drum set, or use more than 2 inputs at once.
The market for 2 channel audio interfaces is extremely competitive because of the huge demand for affordable interfaces. That’s why you should select an interface based on what features it offers and on how well it performs while making sure that you’re getting your money’s worth
Your main criteria when choosing an audio interface should be its sound quality. Transparent preamps and powerful converters are what constitutes a great unit. You should try and find preamps that offer a lot of headroom while also producing transparent output. Similarly, good converters are ones capable of retaining a lot of details in your recordings while adding as little noise as possible.
Another important factor you should keep in mind during the selection process is connectivity. A lot of audio interfaces offer a basic USB 2.0 connection which can sometimes negatively impact performance because of the latency it imposes. That’s why you should try and find an interface that features USB 3.0 connectivity or an even superior TB3 connection which dramatically improves latency.
What ultimately differentiates an expensive 2 channel interface from a cheap one is the build quality and additional features. For instance, some audio interfaces feature built-in DSP which allows you to run plugins with no latency on the unit itself. High-end units also usually have more elaborate control software which provide you with extra controls and much more detailed meters. You might also want to look for interfaces with built in emulators (like the AIR mode on the Focusrite’s Scarlett models) if you value certain effects.
Overall, when selecting a 2 channel audio interface, you should focus on getting an inexpensive unit that has great sound quality while also making sure that it has all the features you need. You might also want to look into the unit’s build quality if you’re planning on using the device for a few years. Nevertheless, don’t get overwhelmed by the options you have, instead focus on getting a unit that can accommodate your needs without overly exceeding your budget.
Best 2 Channel Audio Interface Reviews
Apogee Duet 3
The Apogee Duet 3 is a robust 2×4 USB 3.0 audio interface that features a maximum sample rate of 192kHz and a 24 bit depth. It’s an extremely compact and light unit which makes it great for portability purposes.
All of the Duet 3’s I/Os can be accessed through a breakout cable whose socket can be found on the backside panel of the unit. This breakout cable allows for 2 XLR type inputs and 4 TRS line outputs. On this same panel, you’ll find 2 USB-C sockets for the PC connection which are also used to bus-power the Duet 3.
On the main panel, you’ll find a huge knob that can be used to control channels 1-2 gain levels, speaker volume, and headphone volume whose socket can be found on the front side panel . You can cycle through those options by clicking on the same dial. You can also monitor all those levels through the Apogee Control 2 software which even lets you track through the Apogee plugins.
Physically speaking, the Apogee Duet 3 is fully enclosed in aluminum and topped with black gorilla glass so it’s fairly durable. It also has a very slick design which emphasizes its minimalism and its knob is very satisfying to use.
As for its performance, we believe that the Duet 3 offers premium sound quality considering its price point. It is equipped with incredibly powerful preamps that are extremely transparent and offer a lot of headroom. Even with its default settings, our Duet 3 was producing impeccable audio that can compete with high-end units. We even tried maxing out the gain levels during our testing, but the Duet 3 kept on reliably producing noise-free and pristine output.
The Duet 3 is also equipped with the same world class converters that are used in some of Apogee’s high-end units. To test them out, we tried recording with different buffer speeds and sample rates up to 192kHz. As expected, our Duet 3 was able to handle any setting without producing any major noise. Even at a 192kHz sample rate, our Duet 3 produced incredibly clean audio with zero artifacts. Usually, most of the interfaces that we tested which cost under 1000$ will show unstable behavior like producing random pops and cracks once we exceed a 96kHz sample rate, so it’s really remarkable that the Duet 3 was able to process audio at 192kHz with no issues.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the Duet 3 comes with the ECS channel strip which is a powerful plugin that provides Compression, EQ, Drive control, etc. As indicated before, you can access this plugin or any other through the Control 2 software which allows you to easily track through them. However, what really stands out with the Duet 3 is its incredibly low latency which isn’t affected by plugins. We had around 3 plugins running simultaneously with no noticeable delay mainly because of the unit’s built-in DSP.
Compared to the Duet 2 which was released more than 10 years prior, the Duet 3 underwent major improvements both designwise and in sound quality. To start off, the Duet 3 features better converters which provide an extra 5 dB range in AD conversion and 2 dB range in DA conversion. This directly translates to a more granular sound output. Moreover, the Duet 3 has a much more appealing modernistic design compared to the Duet 2 which has a dull rectangular-like form. However, unlike the Duet 3,the Duet 2 has an onboard LED display which lets you track your gain/audio levels. It also provides more gain range (75 dB compared to the Duet 3’s 65 dB) even though its preamps are of lesser quality and become unstable at high gain levels.
Even though we liked how the Duet 3 sounds, there were some aspects we thought needed some improvement. For instance, the Duet 3 isn’t class compliant which means that you’ll have to install mandatory drivers to use it and while we didn’t run into driver issues on Mac, the Windows drivers can be extremely unstable. The same goes for the Windows Apogee control 2 software which is plagued with glitches. Moreover, the Duet 3 simplistic design looks great aesthetically, but it cuts down on a lot of edges. We hate that we have to frequently click on the dial knob in order to cycle through our different parameters and a lot of features can only be accessed through the Control 2 software.
Overall, the Apogee Duet 3 is a great unit that produces impeccable sound quality. It has one of the best performances for an audio interface that costs under a 1000$. From its incredibly low latency, amazing design, and great sound quality, the Duet 3 has everything you’d need to produce great tracks.
Apogee Duet 3 Benefits
The Duet 3 looks great aesthetically.
It produces amazing sound quality.
You get access to the ECS channel strip.
You can run several plugins with no latency.
The unit is extremely compact and light. Perfect for traveling purposes.
Apogee Duet 3 Drawbacks
The minimalist design can be a bit irritating.
The Duet 3 isn’t class compliant.
You might face driver issues on Windows.
Audient iD4 MKII
The Audient iD4 MKII is an entry level USB 3.0 audio interface that features 2 inputs and 2 outputs. It provides a maximum sample rate of 96 kHz and a 24 bit depth.
On its back panel, you’ll find a XLR/TRS combo mic input, two ¼’’ monitor outputs, a 48V power switch and the USB-C port. The front panel contains a JFET Discrete input which is tailored towards instruments, and 2 headphone jacks: a ¼’’ jack, and a ⅛’’ jack.
The main panel of the iD4 contains all of its controls. On it you’ll find 4 knobs: 2 gain knobs for your 2 separate inputs, 1 direct monitoring knob that allows you to dial between different audio streams, and a large iD knob which can be used to control your headphone volume among other functions.
This same panel contains an iD button and a speaker button which indicate what function the iD knob is performing. You’ll also find 5 level LED meters on the top right of the panel which will help you gauge your input levels.
Among the functions that the iD knob can perform is its application as a virtual scroll wheel. By pressing the iD button, you’ll be able to use the iD knob as a physical controller within your DAW. This allows you to manipulate different parameters using the iD dial as a physical knob which can be extremely helpful. We had an overall pleasant experience using the iD feature especially during the mixing phase where a hands-on controller can be incredibly valuable.
As for its sound quality, the iD4 is packed with incredibly powerful components considering its price points. For starters, the unit features remarkable AD and DA converters which provide 121 dB and 126 dB of dynamic range respectively. This means that they’re capable of processing audio with impeccable detail while adding zero noise.
During our testing, the iD4 was accurately capturing the sounds in the room down to the smallest detail without adding any color or overbearing effect. We even tried recording using both a 44.1kHz sample rate and a 96Khz sample rate which the iD4 handled perfectly well. However, we couldn’t reach 192kHz sample rate, yet we appreciate Audient’s decision to not support that setting since most comparative audio interfaces that feature a 192kHz sample rate become extremely unreliable when recording above a 44.1kHz rate. Instead, the iD4 focused on getting the 44.1kHz-96KHz right.
In addition to its powerful converters, the iD4 contains 2 of Audient’s incredible class A preamps which are used in some of its high-grade products. To test them out, we tried recording using a AKG c636 mic while monitoring through a pair of high impedance DT 990 headphones which the iD4 handled perfectly well (because of its 250 ohm headphone amps). The iD4 was producing pristine and crisp audio to begin with, but it kept on doing so even as we started cranking up the gain levels. We were able to reach fairly high levels of gain on our iD before we eventually ran into clipping. Albeit, those preamps were super clean and incredibly quiet throughout.
While we enjoyed using iD4, we did run into some of its drawbacks. For instance, after operating the iD4 for a couple of hours, it would sometimes randomly start producing deafening static noise or extremely loud pops that would persist until we reset the device. Moreover, while we had no issues updating the unit’s firmware and installing the mandatory drivers on a Windows PC, we were always presented with an “Update Failed” error when trying to update its firmware on Mac. Additionally, our Mac fails to recognize the iD4 when it comes back from sleep mode, so you’ll have to unplug/replug your unit each time that happens.
Compared to the first gen ID4 (the MKI), the MKII is better in every single aspect. For starters, the MKII offers an extra 11 dB and 7 dB of dynamic range in DA and AD conversions respectively which is a huge step-up in terms of sound quality. Additionally, the MKII features a more progressive USB-C connection compared to the USB-B port found on the MKI. It also has a much lower latency which is something you can definitely pick up if you compare both units side by side. Most importantly, the preamps on the MKII are superior to the ones on the MKI in every sense. They provide a much cleaner and quieter output along with some extra headroom.
Overall, Audient has put remarkable effort towards refining the iD4. Their improved MKII version which has the same retail price as the MKI is a testimony of Audient’s dedication towards improving their products. WIth its excellent preamps, incredible converters, and amazing build, you really can’t go wrong with the iD4.
Audient iD4 MKII Benefits
It contains great converters.
You can use the iD knob as a virtual scroll wheel.
The iD4 has extremely transparent and clean preamps.
Its headphone amps are incredibly powerful.
You can hook up Hi-Z instruments through its DI sockets.
Audient iD4 MKII Drawbacks
The iD4 might start producing random noise.
You might have issues updating the device firmware on Mac.
You’ll have to unplug/replug the iD4 every time your Mac goes to sleep mode.
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
The Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2 is an entry-level USB-B audio interface that features 2 input channels. It is a relatively light and small unit that has a black design.
On its main panel, you’ll find a large dial that can be used to control output channels 1 and 2 levels along with a metering screen that indicates the input gain levels and phantom power state. Those output channels can be accessed through 2 different ¼’’ TRS sockets on the unit’s back panel which also features the USB-B port.
On the front panel of the Audio 2, you’ll find 2 combo XLR/TRS mic inputs each with a gain dial and an INST/LINE switch. You’ll also find a knob that lets you dial between different audio streams (The unit’s inputs or the host PC) and a 48V toggle. This panel also features a ¼’’ headphone output socket which sits below its corresponding volume encoder.
In terms of build quality, the Komplete Audio 2 is made of plastic, but it’s fairly durable and doesn’t feel cheap at all. It looks great aesthetically considering that it has a very compact form. We also like how its knobs feel, especially the master knob which is extremely buttery and has almost zero resistance.
As for its sound quality, the Audio 2 features good preamps which can provide a crystal clear and precise output. We hooked up different mics to test with those mic-pres including a Rode M5 condenser mic which the Audio 2 handled surprisingly well. It was reliably pumping artifact free and noiseless audio regardless of the gain settings. However, we should mention that the Audio 2 doesn’t offer a lot of headroom which can be an issue if you’re using a gain hungry dynamic mic. We could barely hear our Shure SM48 mic because of the limited gain, even though we effectively managed to boost those tracks post recording.
The converters within the Audio 2 are fairly powerful and can retain a lot of details. They provide a maximum sample rate of 192kHz at a 24 bit depth which is remarkable considering the unit’s price tag. Our Audio 2 was capturing the room with impeccable detail without adding any overbearing or superficial effect. However, we did get some unwanted pops and clicks when we set our sample rate at 192kHz, but it wasn’t occurring frequently enough as to render our tracks inaudible.
While the Audio 2 has a lot of strong suits, it does fall short in certain aspects. For instance, its headphone amp has a low voltage output and an underwhelming 33 ohms impedance, so you might lose a bit on quality if you hook up a high impedance headphone (like a 250 ohm Byerdynamics DT 770). Another thing we dislike about the Komplete audio 2 is its limited software control. While you get to select the sample rate and buffer speed, you won’t get any additional features like extra effects or routing options. Moreover, the top panel of the audio 2 looks great, but its glass part is a fingerprint magnet. You’ll have to avoid touching the segmented led screen, or spend your time constantly wiping fingerprints off.
The Komplete Audio series is Native Instruments’ first attempt at creating budget friendly USB audio interfaces. This release includes 3 different variants which are the Audio 1,2 and 6. As the name suggests, the main difference between those units is their number of I/Os. The Audio 1 only contains a single input channel and a single output channel, while the Audio 6 contains 6 inputs channel and 6 output channels 2 of which can be accessed through SPDIF. The Audio 6 also has an extra headphone output socket and a MIDI I/O compared to the Audio 2. Additionally, unlike both the Audio 1 and 2 models, NI released a 2nd version of the Audio 6 which has slightly better specifications. Otherwise, all models have relatively similar performances and are equipped with the same components.
Overall, the Komplete Audio 2 is a great audio interface that can be the perfect choice if you’re just starting out. It has a lot of strong suits from powerful converters to great build quality which makes it one of the best entry level audio interfaces. So if you’re an aspiring music producer or an amateur audiophile who wants to get a powerful budget-friendly audio interface then you should consider the Komplete Audio 2.
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2 Benefits
The Komplete Audio 2 is very beginner friendly.
It has great build quality considering its relatively inexpensive price.
Its preamps are extremely transparent and very quiet.
You get to process audio using a 192kHz sample rate because of its powerful converters.
Its small and light which is perfect if you’re a traveling artist/producer.
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2 Drawbacks
Its headphone amp is rated at a 33 ohm impedance which means that you
You can only perform basic functions with the NI drivers like selecting buffer speed and sample rate.
The glass part on Its top panel is a fingerprint magnet.
According to our scoring model, you’ll find that the highest variances are in the Price to Performance, Sound quality, and Additional features categories. As you can see,the NI Komplete Audio 2 has the highest score of the 3 units when it comes to Price to Performance, but it scores the lowest in the Sound quality and additional features categories. On the other hand, you’ll find that the Apogee Duet 3 excels in the categories the Audio 2 falls behind in, but it is inversely the least price-efficient of the bunch.
Nevertheless, you can see that the Duet 3 scores the highest in 4 out of the 5 categories. It outclasses the ID4 and the Duet in terms of I/Os capability because it features 6 output channels compared to the 2 channels of the other units. It also scores the highest (tied with the iD4) in the connectivity category due to its more progressive USB 3.0 connection. Additionally, you can see that it is superior in terms of sound quality leading with a score of 10. It does however score comparatively low in the Price to Performance category, but its only because it has a lot of features which usually translates to a pricier unit.
We should however mention that the iD4 scores are very close to those of the Duet 3. In fact, you can see that the score variance between both units in any given category doesn’t exceed 1 which means that the iD4 can be a great runner up for the Duet 3. Not only that, but the iD4 beats the Duet 3 in terms of price efficiency because it costs almost half as much and produces comparatively great audio. Therefore, the iD4 can be a great choice if you’re on a tight budget, but still want a powerful unit to complement your music skills.
Albeit, after testing each product individually and grading it relative to the other units, we can affirm that the Duet 3 takes the win when it comes to the best 2 channel audio interface. Leading with the overall highest score of 8.4, the Duet 3 has the most to offer out of any of the 3 units. Its an incredibly all-rounded unit that produces impeccable sound quality while also offering an abundance of additional features. With its built-in DSP, the Duet 3 allows you to process plugins with zero latency without putting any strain on your CPU. We recommend the Duet 3 if you’re an artist who wants to step-up his music making and production skills.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do 2 Channel Audio Interfaces have any limitations?
The channel count does impose certain limitations, but that is a given. The use case for interfaces with limited I/O configurations vary, so if you are looking to hook up a mic and an instrument then a two channel interface will get the job done perfectly. You won’t be able to record a full band, or hook up a ton of instruments at the same time. If that is something you prefer, then going for an interface with more channels is the only option.
What is the most important thing to consider when purchasing a 2 Channel Audio Interface?
Other than sound quality (preamps & converters), you should carefully study the additional features. Every interface is different and limited channel counts do impact the versatility of each interface. Before you make a purchase, you should know what it is that you are looking to do. Other than that, the I/O and connectivity are the hardware aspects to consider with sound quality being the primary aspect.
How do I know if I am overpaying for a 2 Channel Audio Interface?
An interface that is all fancy, and is built well with powerful preamps and converters is going to cost more. When you take into account additional features such as an onboard DSP or proprietary software, then you know the cost is going to go up. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for and audio interfaces are no different. Think of this as an investment into your journey as an audio engineer. You should buy the best quality audio interface that you can afford, since it directly impacts your sound.
What else will I need in addition to a 2 Channel Audio Interface?
You’re going to need a solid monitoring solution, so invest in some good studio monitors as well as some headphones. A DAW is how you record your music, but you have a lot of options here. You can get something more premium such as Pro Tools, but that is an additional cost. You can avoid this cost by going for cheaper/free versions such as Reaper. From there you can expand your studio setup by adding other equipment such as mics or instruments.