If you’re looking to record vocals, live instruments, or if you want a proper monitoring setup, then there is no way around an audio interface. Most modern interfaces today work with all sorts of DAW software, so you can be using Ableton, FL Studio, Garageband, Logic Pro, Pro Tools or any other. They’re not DAW specific. However, you do want to establish a use case. What do you really need the interface for? This will help narrow down choices and you’ll be able to find something that will get the job done within your budget.
If you’re only looking to improve your headphones/monitors sound quality, then something with 1 or 2 channels will do just fine. On the other hand, if you plan on recording external instruments, then go for one with a better I/O configuration, depending on how many instruments you’d like to hook up at once you may even consider a Rackmount interface (big space saver if you plan on getting a rack).
Generally, it’s always good idea to your go for as many inputs/outputs as you can afford. We recommend going for more I/Os than what you initially think you need. Over time you’re going to want to do more, so you’ll appreciate this advice in the long run!
You should make absolutely no compromise on sound quality! choose an interface that has transparent preamps, something that gives you quite a bit of headroom. Another consideration is having good converters. Fast ADC/DAC are both very important, which is why you should choose an interface that has a 192kHz sample rate with a bit depth in the 24 or 32 range.
While an entry level interface will give you the required sample rate and bit depth, if you have some extra bucks to spare, go for an interface that features Thunderbolt or USB-C ports. You will not only get a more modern configuration but also something that will work with recent machines. However, keep in mind your computer’s connectivity options. For example, you’ll find a USB port on every computer/laptop but a TB port is usually found on modern macs. It is not a feature you commonly see on Windows machines.
So that’s about it, pretty much all audio interfaces in the market can handle Ableton. As a matter of fact, you’ll find that a lot of them include Ableton Live as part of their software package however this is not a requirement. Do not limit yourself to what software comes with the interface, instead look at the specs and review other product details before you make a purchase and find one that suits your needs the best while giving you the best sound quality!
Best Audio Interfaces for Ableton Reviews
Solid State Logic has never failed to deliver professional audio gear! We’ve always had an excellent experience with SSL products, their design and manufacture quality has always been topnotch. Their first line of USB powered interfaces were very well done! And while most of their interfaces in the past have come at a much higher price, the SSL2+ is a unique offering. It is the first affordable interface that the company has put out. This doesn’t mean that they’ve made any compromises in terms of quality, and they’ve certainly not cut any corners.
The SSL2+ is a USB-powered audio interface that features a 192kHz sample rate and a 24-bit depth. It’s a medium-range interface that is relatively compact and well-designed. On its back panel, you’ll find 2 Combo XLR/TRS inputs, an MIDI I/O connector, 2 RCA output jacks, 2 headphone outputs, two ¼’’ monitor outputs, and a USB-C input socket.
The main panel features a huge monitor dial knob which sits next to 3 smaller knobs. 2 of which are used to control your separate headphone outputs, and 1 monitor mix knob that enables you to cycle through your audio monitoring source (your 2 input channels or your PC’s USB stream output). The unit also features 2 gain control knobs for your channel 1 and 2 inputs each of which has its own 5-level LED meter, phantom power toggle, legacy 4k mode button, Line switch, and HI-Z switch. You can also use the Stereo switch next to the monitor mix knob if you want to hear what you’re recording (from channels 1 and 2) in stereo.
We tested the SSL2+ for a few weeks and experimented with most of its features, the sound quality on this thing was pretty solid! The SSL2+ contains great preamps that provide you with a 130.5 dB EIN( Equivalent input noise) and a huge 62 dB of gain which really is unprecedented for an interface at this price range. These analog preamps can also process line level, instrument level, and mic signals.
The unit contains incredible D/A and A/D converters that sound extremely clean and granular while adding almost zero latency. Also, we really appreciate that the interface is USB-powered which means that we don’t need an external power supply to power it.
We played around with the legacy 4k mode which is supposed to emulate the sound of the SSL 4000 series. At first, we had low expectations for this supposedly “gimmicky” feature. However, we were impressed with the way it sounded. It adds a very subtle boost to top-end frequencies along with a bit of harmonic distortion, adding some warmth and character to recordings and works especially well with vocals.
Both the SSL2 and the SSL2+ were released at the same time, but there is a slight difference in their I/O and pricing. While the SSL2 is slightly cheaper, the SSL2+ has a bunch of extra I/Os. The SSL2 only features a single headphone output while the 2+ offers two headphone outputs. You also won’t find a MIDI I/O connector on the SSL2 which might be an issue for some. However, the SSL2+ has a 5-pin MIDI I/O socket. Most importantly, the SSL2+ features 2 RCA outputs that aren’t present in the cheaper SSL2 model. Other than that, both units contain the same components and have similar performance. So it’s really up to you to determine if the extra I/Os are worth the extra buck.
The SSL2+ does fall behind in certain aspects. For example, you don’t get access to a lot of I/Os. Even if the SSL2+ has more inputs than the SSL2, they still don’t suffice for a lot of applications. You are limited to 2 inputs at a time, so you can’t record a full band for example. Additionally, all of these I/Os are placed on the back panel which makes it somewhat inconvenient if you want to frequently swap I/Os. Also, we noticed that the XLR sockets are slightly off measurements, so our cables always felt loosely connected.
The SSL2+ is a very compact and light audio interface which makes it perfect for on-the-go uses. Its top and bottom panels are enclosed in metal while the side panels are housed with plastic. So, it has a pretty hefty feel to it and is definitely sturdy. We also really enjoyed using the unit, the buttons and knobs have a very satisfying feel to them. Most importantly you get access to some SSL plugins along with your purchase.
Overall, for this price tag, you really are getting the best bang for your buck. You get a great-sounding interface that outclasses any other interfaces in the same price range while also being compact and extremely simple to use. Most importantly, it integrates incredibly well with your Ableton DAW.
The SSL2+ features Legacy 4K mode which emulates the SSL 4000 series sound. They add subtle warmth and character to recordings and work especially well with vocals.
The unit contains great analog preamps which provide very clean, warm, and natural sounding recordings.
The DAC and ADC of the SSL2+ are one of the best in the market at this price tag.
You don’t need an external power source to power your SSL2+, it’s USB-powered so you can power it through your laptop.
It is very light and compact which makes it perfect for on-the-go uses. Plus, it’s durable and feels rather hefty.
SSL SSL2+ Drawbacks
You don’t get access to a lot of I/O. You only get access to 2 input channels, but you can still make a lot out of those.
The XLR sockets are off measures, so your I/O might feel somewhat loose.
All of the sockets are on the rear panel of the interface which can be irritating if you frequently swap I/O. Otherwise, you won’t face any usability issues.
The MOTU M4 4X4 is a USB-powered medium-range audio interface that features 4 inputs and 4 outputs. It has a 192kHz sample rate and a 24 bit-depth. On its front panel, you’ll find 2 XLR/TRS combo inputs each with a separate gain control knob, phantom power(48V) switch, and MON button. On the rightmost part, you’ll find a ¼’’ headphone output which has its own volume encoder knob. This headphone output sits next to a large monitor control dial. There is also a small knob that allows you to adjust your monitor mix and a colored LCD screen that gives you accurate metering of your I/Os.
The back panel of the MOTU M4 features a 5-pin MIDI I/O socket, four ¼’’ balanced line outputs, 4 mirrored RCA outputs, and two ¼’’ balanced line inputs. It also features a power button and a USB-C input socket. The unit contains the ESS Sabre32 Ultra DAC which is one of the most powerful DACs on the market. This DAC feeds audio directly to the unit’s balanced outputs which have a dynamic range of 120 dB.
The MOTU M4 also features loopback connectivity which can be accessed through its driver. The loopback function works exclusively with channel 1 and 2 outputs. This enables you to return any audio being played through these outputs to your computer so that you could effortlessly live-stream your mixes. You can also use loopback mix channels to combine your interface’s live input signals with any signal you send to channel 1-2 outputs from your computer.
The MOTU M4 is an impressive interface. Its preamps are exceptionally good, especially for a mid-range interface. We tried pushing the gain setting to its limits and never once did we run into audio clipping or distortion. We even used a low output mic to see if the full-gain setting can boost such low signals and It handled it seamlessly. During our tests, we set a 32 buffer at a 96 kHz sample rate to examine the speed of the unit. The thing had an incredibly low 2.5ms round trip latency! This might as well be the fastest interface we’ve tested at this price range.
MOTU has only ever created high-end-level interfaces up until the release of the M4. And if you have used any of their interfaces before, you will definitely recognize their proprietary LCD metering displays. So when the M4 was set to include a similar display, we expected something with a very low resolution and sensitivity that mainly serves an aesthetic purpose. However, when we started operating the M4, we were genuinely amazed by the quality of this metering display. It indicates I/O levels with incredible accuracy in real time with almost zero latency.
Both the M2 and the M4 were released at the same time. Basically, the M2 is slightly cheaper than the M4, but also contains fewer features. Compared to the M2, the M4 has 2 additional line inputs and outputs on its back panel and an input monitor mix control that allows you to choose between software or direct output. These extra I/Os mean that the M4 is also a tad bigger than the M2. Other than that, we couldn’t find any noticeable differences in performance or usability. So it’s really up to you to determine if you want the extra I/Os. We would definitely recommend going for more I/Os.
Nevertheless, the MOTU M4 has some drawbacks. For instance, whenever we power up the device either by connecting it to our computer through USB or by toggling the power button, the MOTU M4 produces a very loud pop sound that is extremely annoying. Additionally, you can’t assign your outputs to independent inputs. This means that you can’t have several tracks play through your different outputs simultaneously. Also, the MOTU M4 has an amazing black-colored metal body that is very pleasing aesthetically. However, it is really prone to receive unwanted scratches if you are not careful enough.
Overall, the MOTU M4 is a remarkably well-built interface that can handle anything you throw at it. You get amazing sound quality, a lot of complementary features, and fast processing all while paying a comparably low price.
MOTU M4 Benefits
The MOTU M4 contains the ESS Sabre32 Ultra DAC which is one the best performing DACs even amongst top-tier audio equipment.
The MOTU M4/M2 is the only audio interface in this price range that features an incredibly accurate full-color LCD display for your I/O metering.
The preamps in this unit are exceptionally powerful compared to an interface of a similar degree.
You can maximize the gain on your inputs without running into any sort of distortion. This also means that you won’t have issues with low output mics.
The unit boasts a very low round trip latency of 2.5ms at a 32 buffer and 96kHZ sample rate
MOTU M4 Drawbacks
You might sometimes get a very loud pop noise when you power your M4 through your USB dongle or when pressing the power button. This really isn’t much of an issue, but MOTU could have easily patched it.
You can’t assign your outputs to separate inputs. So, you can’t run different mixes through your outputs simultaneously.
While the black color metal body of the MOTU M4 looks really pleasing, it is really prone to receive unwanted scratches if you’re not careful enough.
PreSonus Studio 24c
The PreSonus 24c is a 2×2 USB audio interface. It’s a small beautifully designed unit that is extremely simple to use. It features a 192kHz sample rate and a 24-bit depth. It has a well-labeled user interface, solid knobs and sockets, and a comprehensible metering display.
The front panel of the Presonus 24c features 2 TRS/XLR combo inputs. On the rightmost part of this panel, you’ll find the control section that contains 5 different knobs: 2 gain control knobs that indicate that gain on your channel 1 and 2 inputs, a headphone output volume encoder, a “main” knob which goes from -80 dB to 0 dB that controls the output level, and a mix knob which enables you to choose your output source.
The unit also features a 48V (phantom power) button which allows you to connect condenser mics. Plus, you can track your inputs and outputs through a 4-level LED metering display that’s in the middle of your front panel. On the back of the unit, you’ll find a MIDI type I/O, 1 monitor output, and 1 headphone output. There’s also a USB-C socket which you can use to power your interface and connect it to your computer.
The Presonus 24c contains 2 XMAX L mic preamps which we think are extremely powerful. They provide you with a decent amount of headroom while also being transparent. Additionally, you get to manage your interface through Presonus’s Universal Control which is a software that enables you to set language settings, sampling rate, buffer/block size, driver options, etc. We found this to be extremely helpful especially since most interfaces don’t usually give you access to such controls.
When we eventually started unboxing the thing, we were impressed by how light the interface felt. It definitely falls under the featherweight category for interfaces! Even then, it doesn’t feel cheap at all. On the contrary, its metallic build gives it a sort of proish feel while also being rather durable. Setting it up was also very simple, we just had to plugin our I/O and it handled the rest.
The quality of its preamps is right in line for that price. We got decent audio, fairly transparent and clean. we were impressed how the unit features loopback functionality considering how cheap it is. While it is only exclusive to Windows, you will certainly appreciate being able to record loopback audio through different applications.
Compared to the Presonus AudioBox iTwo (its predecessor), the 24c definitely underwent a major upgrade. While both products cost almost exactly the same, there are some major differences in their performances and features. For example, the 24c has a maximum sampling rate of 192kHz while the iTwo can only reach a 96kHz sample rate which, for many people, is a huge difference. The Audiobox also features a USB-B socket compared to the 24c’s more progressive USB-C socket. Additionally, while the iTwo does include some free software, the 24c gives you access to a wider and more recent collection. Other than that, both interfaces have the same number of I/Os and controls. This slight disparity in their performance can simply be attributed to their release date, considering that the Audiobox iTwo was released back in 2014.
In all honesty, the Presonus 24c has its fair share of drawbacks. For instance, even though we think that preamps on this thing are incredibly clear, we didn’t have a lot of gain to play with. You also won’t find a gain input pad on the interface. So, you won’t be able to properly monitor your recording, especially low-signal ones. However, you can still monitor through your DAW. Also, we can only monitor mono signals through our interface. So if we want to set panning to monitor a mix of inputs, we will have to rely on a DAW which adds a fair amount of latency.
Additionally, the knobs on the 24c are small and can be annoying to use, especially the lower set which can get really close to your tabletop. The placement of the headphone output on the back panel is also not optimal if you frequently swap I/Os.
Overall, the Presonus 24c is definitely one of the best performing audio interfaces at this price range. If you’re someone who is just getting into music production and want to land yourself a decent interface that is also budget friendly, then we strongly recommend the 24c. You get high-definition audio with a fair bit of features. The 24c is also extremely compact and durable so it’s built to last. We really think that you can’t go wrong with choosing the Presonus 24c. You undoubtedly get a lot more value than what you pay for.
PreSonus Studio 24c Benefits
The Presonus 24c is very user-friendly. It’s extremely easy to use and doesn’t require mandatory driver downloads. You only ever have to handle dialing your settings during the setup process.
You can find an MIDI connector type socket in the Presonus 24c that you can connect to your DAW which really is uncommon for such an inexpensive interface.
The 24c features a 4-level LED metered display which helps you visualize your I/Os and gain levels.
The unit is extremely compact and well-built. Everything about its build shouts quality
The sound quality of the 24c is great for its price. You get transparent and beautiful audio that contains almost zero noise.
PreSonus Studio 24c Drawbacks
You don’t have a lot of gain to play with. The gain range on its preamps is pretty limited.
The 24c’s input monitor isn’t very ideal for monitoring low-level inputs. However, you can still use your DAW to monitor your I/Os.
You can only monitor mono signals through your interface. While you can pipe audio to your DAW to set panning, this often adds a lot of latency in the process.
The knobs are small and can be annoying to use. Especially the ones which are close to the table top. The headphone output placement on the back panel is also inefficient for people who frequently swap I/Os.
Based on our scoring model, we had a significant amount of variance (1.7) in the final scores between the highest and the lowest scoring interfaces, with the highest individual variances in the I/O, sound quality, and additional features categories. While both the SSL2+ and Motu M4 go head to head in all categories, the Presonus 24c falls behind in almost all of them. However, it does only cost about half as much as the Motu M4 and SSL2+.
Of the 3 units, the Motu M4 exceeds expectations and scores the highest (sometimes tied) in every single category! Leading with an overall average score of 8.8. With the M4, you to get the highest number of I/Os along with excellent additional features. The unit gives you a bang for your buck! An interesting observation is that even though all three units score the same in the connectivity category (because they all feature the same USB-C port), the Motu M4 delivers the lowest latency. This is an excellent example of how modern interfaces have come a long way and connectivity does not define performance.
If you analyze the chart, you’ll see that the SSL2+ goes head to head with the Motu M4 in every single category. It is a very strong contender and in terms of performance not too far away from the M4. If for some reason you do not want to get the M4, the SSL2+ is also a viable choice. The Presonus 24c, on the other hand, underperforms in every single category. This is attributed to its cheaper price. The unit is not bad if you are on a budget, however, investing in a better unit is a much better option.
Overall, after carefully testing and scoring all 3 units, we consider the Motu M4 as the best audio interface for Ableton. The powerful converters, crystal clear preamps and a great deal of extra features are what give the M4 an edge over the competition. The solid design and sturdy build quality also make the unit something worthwhile.
You will appreciate how good this thing sounds, especially considering how inexpensive it is. The LCD monitors are also a great touch. You will struggle to find an interface in the market within this price range that has such accurate metering capabilites. Every audio interface Motu has ever created has always been impressive, and when it comes to mid-level audio interfaces, the M4 is no exception. If you’re looking for a reliable audio interface, we strongly recommend the M4!
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need an Audio Interface for Ableton?
Generally, your computer’s built-in sound card isn’t really that powerful. In fact, it’s probably extremely ineffective for real-time audio processing. This means that you’re very likely to get random crackles, pops, and glitches if you are playing back audio. Plus, your built-in sound card puts a lot of strain on your CPU.
On the other hand, any entry level audio interface can surpass your average laptop’s sound card in terms of performance. You also get considerably better sound quality with any basic interface. Not to mention that all audio interfaces come with Input sockets and headphone amps which means that you can use them to record audio and monitor your tracks with almost zero noise.
We should note that some MAC devices can definitely be exempted from this. Apple has done a great job refining their OSX core Audio drivers which we think are extremely powerful to begin with. While an external interface can undoubtedly further improve your performance, we don’t think that it is as crucial as it is on Windows PCs.
What Audio driver should I use for Ableton with an Audio Interface?
Every audio interface has its own corresponding audio drivers. So each product requires that you install specific drivers which also vary depending on your PC’s operating system. Once you’ve installed these drivers, you’ll be able to see them in your DAW. Some drivers like ASIO4ALL can be used if you don’t have an audio interface to improve your audio quality. However, you might face some issues during the installation process, if that’s the case make sure to correctly set your buffer size. Keep increasing it if you face issues to stop any stuttering/jittering. If nothing works, then try uninstalling then reinstalling all audio drivers.
What version of Ableton should I use with an Audio Interface?
Your Ableton version won’t directly impact your interface itself. However, you should choose a version depending on your use-case. If you want access to a huge library of instruments, samples, and effects you should go for the “suite” version. You could also go for Max which gives you a good range of effects and instruments that you could then customize and build upon to make your own sounds, midi, instruments, etc.
If you’re just starting out with Ableton, we recommend that you go for the Live 11 version. Most of the people who create tutorials for Ableton have already upgraded to the Live 11 version. Plus, there is already a fairly decent amount of instructional content available for it. Additionally, there is a huge community of active users for this version who can help you answer your questions if you ever get stuck trying to figure something out.
How do I get help setting up my Audio Interface with Ableton?
Typically, you can find specific instructions for setting up any DAW on its official product page. If you want instruction for setting up your audio interface with Ableton, then you can visit the following link: