When choosing an audio interface for live performance, you want to be exactly sure of your use case, so you can decide what interface will fit your needs best. Start by addressing what exactly it is you are looking to do. Are you recording others? Are you performing? Or are you simply looking for live playback? Regardless of your answer, having an audio interface is essential.
An audio interface acts as a hub for different instruments. It can also have several features such as gain control, metering, latency reduction, etc. When you’re looking for an interface, you really want to find a balance between quality, latency, and features. You shouldn’t sacrifice any of those aspects. You probably won’t have a sound technician when you’re just starting out, so it would be a good idea to get an interface that allows you to monitor your audio without dramatically affecting the sound quality.
You are presented with a lot of options when choosing an interface. For example, there are audio interfaces that have 4 channels, 8 channels, 16 channels, 20 channels, etc. Usually, audio interfaces that have 8 channels or more are rack mountable. They also mostly have an ADAT connection which enables you to link several interfaces together. The majority of interfaces offer either USB or Thunderbolt connectivity. Some also have a DSP (Digital signal processor), but those are often high-end interfaces.
You should understand that going for a cheap 2 channel interface isn’t a good idea for live performance. If you want to perform live, then a very basic setup would include at least 3-4 inputs. For example, you could have a mic, an instrument, and 2 synths along with several outputs that you want to process individually. While not extremely fancy, this setup does get the job done.
However, it’s always a good idea to go for something with more outputs, even if you don’t initially need them. You also would want to have control over some of your inputs such as bass, and percussion. This is why you should go for an interface with at least 8 I/O. That way, you have enough I/O to accommodate any of your current instruments, with further expansion options.
For live performance, you should choose an interface that features phantom power(48V) capability through its XLR inputs. Phantom power allows you to connect condenser mics which are quite sensitive, along with DIs and some other components.
You should also take into consideration the size of your interface. Are you looking for something portable that is easy to move around with or do you want to add an interface to your studio setup? If you’re aiming for the latter, then go for something that has a rack form. Otherwise, there are a lot of portable interfaces in the market that will get the job done.
As a general buying guideline, we recommend that you go for as many outputs as you can afford. Still, if there is a certain feature that you really need, don’t hesitate to pay the extra buck for it.
Best Audio Interface for Live Performance Reviews
RME Babyface Pro FS
Babyface Pro FS is a 2.0 USB High-end audio interface. It features 2 ¼’’ TS analog line/instrument level inputs, 2 balanced XLR inputs, and 4 analog outputs. 2 of these outputs are balanced XLR outputs, while the other 2 are low impedance and high impedance headphone outs.
The Babyface Pro FS operates at a 44.1-192 kHz sample rate and a 24-bit depth. It has a total of 12 I/O. Its digital I/O can manage 4 ADAT channels at 94 kHz/24-bit or 8 channels at 48 kHz/24-bit. You can also use these ports as SPDIF sockets. Other than the I/O mentioned, you’ll find a USB 2.0 socket, a 12V optional power supply jack, and a MIDI I/O socket which you can use with the breakout cable. You can also Bus-power your unit, but RME recommends you avoid using hubs or USB extensions.
On its main panel, you’ll find an LED display, 6 push buttons, and a volume encoder which controls the output level. There are also 4 LEDs which indicate phantom power status, I/O levels, preamp gain settings, and the current selected channel. You can select inputs using the Select and IN buttons.
The out key allows you to cycle through Phones, the main XLR, and the first 2 optical output channels. The “Dim” button is mainly used to decrease the volume of the main outputs, however, you can reprogram it into a talkback toggle or a switch to cycle through your different sets of speakers. You’ll also find 2 buttons namely: Set(A) and Mix(B) which can also be reprogrammed to perform different tasks.
You can operate the Babyface Pro FS in 3 separate modes: Class-complaint mode (commonly used with iPads), standalone mixer, and driver-based USB2. However, if you’re opting for either the class-complaint or the standalone mixer modes, you’ll need to use an external power supply.
We’ve had the Babyface Pro FS for a few months now and we have tested it with several different live instruments. We can confidently say that this thing is an incredible piece of work! It adds a very pleasant warmth to guitar, vocals, etc. Its preamps are also of superb quality, they sound amazing! You really won’t find any interface in this price range that comes even close to the cleanliness and power of this unit.
The audio it produces is so crystal clear and transparent that you can immediately jump into adding color and saturation. You really won’t have any issues setting the unit up and running it, plus it has almost zero latency. We have even noticed some improvements with basses and DI guitars, which is quite rare and remarkable!
The Babyface Pro FS sounds incredibly full-bodied and rich. Plus, it retains a lot of low frequencies. So, you won’t really have to make a lot of decisions while you’re mixing or mastering.
RME’s DACs, ADCs and USB 2.0 drivers are so incredibly fast that other products seem really slow. You won’t find any interface that comes any close to the speed of this Baby even if they’re equipped with Thunderbolt 3. This really shows that there’s no basis for the assumption that port determines speed. Plus, if you exceed like 3 plugins on other interfaces, you’ll start getting weird pops and cracks. You can have way more plugins on the BabyFace and not run into issues. Even if you crank up your buffer settings to 512 (which you’ll probably never have to), you’ll still be able to add FX to Mics and play a live VST without any noticeable delay.
The TotalMix FX DSP allows you to independently mix and route playback channels and inputs to all your physical outputs. You can boost, cut, loopback, EQ, reverb, etc. without using any CPU power from your PC. This really gives you extra speed and decreases latency if you’re monitoring or playing live. What’s truly remarkable about the DSP is that you can control it (sending and routing) remotely from another computer or IOS. Essentially, it acts like a middle man between your physical interface and software.
The headphone AMP on this thing is incredibly powerful! It really isn’t an understatement, if you’re not careful enough and crank up the amp to its max, it’ll really sting. It’s like getting hit with a flashbang! The majority of interfaces in the market rely on World Clock to remain in Sync. The Baby Pro has femtosecond (FS) which means that you can let the unit clock internally or use TOSLINK as SPDIF or ADAT. This way your interface will be extremely in sync and produce low jitter.
Compared to the Babyface Pro (its predecessor), the Pro FS contains a SteadyClock FS circuit which keeps your device extremely in sync and drastically reduces jitter (the time deviation from a reference signal). The jitter on this thing is so low that it’s measured in a quadrillionth of a second! There were also several major improvements like the increase in signal-to-noise ratio in line/instrument inputs from 114 dB to 116.3 dB and in mic preamps from 112.2 dB to 113.7 dB.
There was also an 8dB reduction in total harmonic distortion (THD). Also, the TRS phones outputs had an increase in output power to 90mW from 70mW. The Pro FS has a new +19/+4 dBu switch that enables you to effortlessly decrease the output level. This helps maintain your FX faders at the 0dB level, prevents any overloads/distortions, and improves the SNR in sensitive active monitors.
There are certainly some drawbacks to this thing. For example, the mixer app seems really outdated, it really feels like something out of the 90s. However, this doesn’t affect the performance a bit, it is just aesthetically unpleasant. Also, you don’t have a physical phantom power toggle, you can only enable it through the app, which isn’t very efficient.
In all, the FS provides crystal clear, transparent, and really detailed audio. It does seem less forgiving than other interfaces, but that’s because it’s much more powerful. We really think that this unit is a great buy in terms of price-to-performance ratio. It has incredibly powerful components, a fair amount of I/O, and great build quality!
RME Babyface Pro FS Benefits
The Preamps are incredibly powerful and crisp. You really won’t find any interface below 1k$ that comes even close to the cleanliness and power of this thing.
The Pro FS is super-fast. Even units equipped with thunderbolt 3 can’t compete with it.
You have the ability to independently mix and route inputs and playback channels to physical outputs through the TotalMix FX DSP.
The Headphones AMP is extremely powerful!
It contains a SteadyClock FS circuit which keeps your device extremely in sync and drastically reduces jitter. Jitter levels are so low on this thing that they’re measured in a quadrillionth of a second!
RME Babyface Pro FS Drawbacks
The mixer application seems really outdated, it doesn’t have a modern feel to it at all. However, this doesn’t affect the performance or usability, it’s just aesthetically unpleasing.
You can’t enable phantom power using a physical toggle. Instead, you can only enable it through the application.
The Tascam US-20X20 is a 20-in/20-out USB 3.0 audio interface. It has a sample rate of 192kHz and a 24-bit depth. It features on its front panel 8 TRS/XLR combo inputs each with its separate gain control and 2 phones out each with its level control. On its rear panel, you’ll find SPDIF, coaxial I/O, a USB 3.0 socket, MIDI I/O, 10 ¼’’ line-outs, and 2 ¼’’ line-ins. The unit also has Word clock BNC connections and a built-in FX/DSP.
You can set the US-20X20 in standalone mixer mode for live recordings. The unit also has its own software which gives you a lot of compressors, reverb, and EQ options to use. The US-20×20 works great as a patch bay. Especially because of the huge number of inputs and outputs it supports which can also be increased due to ADAT support.
We ran several tests on the US-20×20 and used it as a live sound mixer as well as multitracked an entire show. We used the Tascam mixer tool to mix the audio which we recorded using Reaper. To set things up, we routed the R/L out to the first and second outputs that went into the (1/2) Aux and FoH speakers which were in a similar fashion routed to the third and fourth outputs, to the mixer.
If you adjust mixer levels to suit the performance, you won’t really affect the recording volume. This is because input signals are forwarded to the DAW’s pre-fader. This is such a simple yet brilliant feature that is really useful. For instance, we wanted our vocals to be at least 12dB above other signals in our FoH speaker. And, we thought the recording levels will reveal that difference. But they don’t, since they’re all sent to the pre-fader.
RAs for how the unit sounds, it is really smooth, especially with vocals and acoustic instruments. The high frequencies also seem to be slightly warmer than the rest. At least that’s what appeared to us. The mic pres are incredibly powerful as well! They have a lot of headroom and produce extremely clear audio. Also, the inputs have incredibly soft clipping.
When we started testing, we really didn’t want to play around with the input gain knobs to avoid making significant changes. Apparently, you should set the gains so that they’re below the maximum input volume and the zero fader clipping level. This guarantees that you get the best possible signal from your recording. You should then use the fader on the mixer to set the live mix levels. We did get a lot of clipping initially because of this, but the recordings still sounded good.
The EQ and compressor are also incredibly great. They are recorded, yet they’re still very effective and really transparent. We didn’t use the reverb option, and you should know that the option is not included in the recording. This makes a lot of sense considering that reverb acts on one of the FX sends, while compression/ EQ acts on the inputs. And, pre-fader inputs are what get sent to the DAW.
You can operate the 20×20 in 3 modes: Interface, preamp, and mixer. The unit also comes with a software package that provides several options for routing and other functions. It also has several built-in effects that improve your audio. You can record with microphones, MIDI, etc., and then move it to the proper tracks. We did face some noticeable lag though when we ran the unit at 256 buffer or more. However, we had no issues running it at a 64 buffer.
The 20×20 definitely has latency issues compared to other interfaces. However, we used ASIO4ALL and got rid of the latency. We truly believe that TASCAM is using class-compliant drivers to avoid becoming dependent on chipset drivers. Plus, they have a bad reputation with non-class-compliant drivers (all their earlier interface drivers were incredibly terrible). Tascam also released the 4th version of their driver software. The new software offers 4 samples of latency, one of which is the ultra-low latency setting which works great if your computer is powerful enough.
If you only want to record live acoustics with several instruments, then you don’t have to worry about latency. Especially since you can use the interface’s mixer to null out the latency in the mix out. There is also a software mixer in your DAW. So, things can a bit confusing. Your 20×20 has its own mixer to control inputs and outputs along with sub-mixes. And your DAW also has a mixer that you can connect to your interface’s mixer or hardware I/O. There’s really some studying you should do to understand the routings.
Compared to the Tascam UH-7000, the US 20X20 does sound a bit harder and doesn’t really provide much depth. This is mostly because of its less powerful DAC. But you can still do really great work on the 20×20. There are certainly some interfaces that are more tailored toward delicacy and precision. However, the US 20X20 is perfect for day-to-day uses.The company has put in some work though and the unit has improved significantly from its predecessor (the 16×08) with sample rate of 192 vs 24 kHz, +11 dB of gain range on the Hi-Z and Line inputs, USB 3.0 vs 2.0, BNC Inputs Outputs and some improvements in frequency response as well.
There aren’t many drawbacks for the US 20X20. However, its interface really isn’t beginner friendly, so you might have some issues figuring it out at first. Also, TASCAM really isn’t big on product support and longevity. You really can’t tell when TASCAM cuts the line on a certain product. All Tascam has to do is keep the promise of long-term product support. It’ll drastically help their revenue.
Tascam has quite a bad reputation for its instrument support capabilities. However, you won’t find a better product that supports as many channels as TASCAM units do. They’re really multi-purpose tools that provide a plethora of features considering how inexpensive they are. They’re undoubtedly perfect for anything that has to do with live performances.
Tascam US-20×20 Benefits
The US 20×20 has 3 mixer operation modes: Interface, preamp, and mixer. Each is really handy and has its specific use case.
All of its inputs are rerouted to the DAW’s pre-fader. So, adjusting mixer levels won’t really affect the recording volume!
It provides really smooth and crystal clear audio. It does a great job flattering high frequencies by adding some warmth to them. Also, all its inputs have incredibly soft clippings.
Its EQ and compressor are extremely powerful! They’re incredibly effective and transparent.
It’s undoubtedly the cheapest audio interface out there in terms of the number of channels it supports.
Tascam US-20×20 Drawbacks
The US 20×20 does have some latency issues. However, you can use ASIO4ALL to get rid of such issues.
Its user interface isn’t beginner friendly at all. You’ll have to spend some time learning its features. However, this is expected with the number of features it supports.
Tascam doesn’t have a good reputation in terms of product support. They could essentially cut the line early on a product without notice.
PreSonus Quantum 2626
The PreSonus Quantum 2626 is a thunderbolt 3 audio interface that supports up to a 192kHz sample rate at a 24-bit depth. It features 8 TRS/XLR combo jacks on its front panel, each with its individual gain control. It also features 2 ¼’’ headphone outs, a monitor control knob, and 2 phantom power(48V) toggles. The 2 toggles are for the input channels 1 to 4 and 5 to 8.
Of the 8 combo inputs, the 2 leftmost ones are high impedance inputs tailored for instrument/mic inputs, while the rest of the inputs are line/mic jacks. You won’t find LED metering on the same panel, however, each gain knob has its own LED that indicates the input level. The XMAX preamps are fully analog. They contain class A input buffers which are followed by dual-servo gain stages capable of producing little noise and a huge gain range. It has a 60dB range and an EIN of >-131 dBu.
The rear panel is much busier than the front panel. You’ll find a ¼’’ stereo monitor outputs, 8 ¼’’ TRS line-outs, 5-pin MIDI I/O, SPDIF I/O, ¼’’ preamp outputs, BNC world clock, Optical ADAT I/O, and line returns for channels 1 and 2. You’ll also find the power switch, a 12V input socket, and the Thunderbolt 3 socket. The unit also features two ADAT connections that you can use to expand to another 16 channels.
When we tested the unit, we set a 64 buffer with an incredibly low latency (like 1ms). We didn’t get any random cracks or audio dropouts. The preamps on the unit are extremely clean and provide a lot of headroom. We would rather describe the sound as extremely open and clean. You get an insane amount of detail and air without negatively affecting the input signal. The headphone amps are also very powerful and crisp. You might as well end up using them for general listening because of how good they sound. You also won’t have any issues setting the unit up because there isn’t any sort of complicated software to deal with.
The output on this thing is incredibly powerful! It really is perfect if you want to record live! You can rotate the gain knob only 30 degrees and get a ton of gain for your monitors already. You can easily integrate other outboard units using the channels 1 – 2 sends and returns. Plus having an almost zero latency enables you to use your DAW for adding effects like reverb to your mix. The Dual ADAT I/O also allows you to incorporate several extra gears if you ever need to.
We did use the interface with Studio One. It really incorporates the mixer in a way that you don’t need to manage your internal mixer as a different item. The majority of other products view the internal mixer as a separate item. Instead, the internal mixer follows what we do in the app because it’s managed by Studio One.
The PreSonus 2626 features direct preamp outs and returns which you won’t find on any other PreSonus product. They enable you to connect external units that process the signal before going to your DAW. However, unlike the PreSonus Quantum 2(the more expensive cousin), the 2626 doesn’t have a built-in DSP. Yet, the PreSonus 2626 features Thunderbolt 3 which is certainly an upgrade from the Quantum 2’s Thunderbolt 2. Even then, a 2nd TB 3 socket on the 2626 would’ve been a good idea. The Quantum 2 has a tabletop form compared to the 2626’s rackmount form which is more adaptable. Most importantly, you’ll get more I/O with the 2626 than you would with the Quantum 2.
One important thing you should note is that the PreSonus 2626 doesn’t work as a stand-alone interface. Essentially, you can’t just turn it on and start jamming. You’ll have to connect it to a computer for sound and to a DAW if you want to listen to your inputs. Additionally, the preamp’s ins/outs are locked to channels 1 and 2, so you can’t really assign them to different channels. And since channels 1 and 2 are instrument inputs, you’ll probably have to use them up for instruments. However, there’s still a way to avoid this. You can use your board’s aux sends to go into those channels, or you could use your DAW to send the signal you want to the output channel you label as the EFX return out.
For its price range, it’s really impressive how the Quantum 2626 has this many features while also being able to produce incredibly powerful audio. It is, hands down, the best price-to-features unit in the market. PreSonus isn’t really known for its perfect products. We did have some issues, for example with their StudioLive 16 board. However, they undoubtedly nailed the Quantum 2626.
PreSonus Quantum 2626 Benefits
The unit has incredibly low latency, like 1ms. You also won’t get random cracks or audio dropouts.
Its preamps provide extreme audio clarity with a lot of headroom. It is really open sounding and provides a lot of air and detail without drastically affecting the shape of the input signal
You won’t have to deal with any complex control software. So, setting it up is very straightforward.
It features Thunderbolt 3, which is a huge step-up from the previous models.
The unit boasts one of the best price-to-features ratio among the interfaces in the market.
PreSonus Quantum 2626 Drawbacks
The Quantum 2626 can’t really work as a standalone unit. You have to connect it to a computer for sound and to DAW if you want to hear your inputs.
The preamp ins/outs are tied up to channel 1 and 2. So you can’t really assign them to other channels. However, its just a matter of less flexibility in channel assignment.
The unit doesn’t have a built-in DSP
Based on our scoring model, it is clear that the highest variance is the in the I/O, Sound quality, and Additional features categories. If you analyze the chart further, you’ll see that the Quantum and the Babyface go head to head winning individually in each category while the Tascam loses out every time but not by a significant margin. This tells you that all three Interfaces are actually worth looking into, while one may have performed better than the other, none of them had a bad average over all. The variance between a highest and the lowest scores was only a 0.4!
If you analyze the chart, you’ll see that the RME BabyFace Pro performs well in every category except for I/O and Connectivity. Compared to the other two, the Babyface has fewer channels however, unless you have a really elaborate live setup, you can do almost anything with the number of I/O on the BabyFace.
It also loses points for connectivity since the unit features a USB 2.0. While that may seem like a big deal, we were surprised at how RME has built this unit, the USB 2.0 on this thing can actually compete with many Thunderbolt interfaces when it comes to latency! It may be hard to digest, but it is 100% true. The interface is rock solid! Compared to the other products, you also get the best sound quality and the most amount of extra features.
An interesting observation throughout this analysis is how the Presonus Quantum 2626, the cheapest of all three, ends up outperforming the rest in 3 out of 5 (Price to Performance, I/O and Connectivity) categories! The RME does cover itself even with a USB 2.0, but the fact that Presonus built such an affordable interface with a Thunderbolt port is really impressive! Regardless of it’s cost the Quantum scores a 7.8, defeating the Tascam and giving the Babyface a run for its money.
After a close competition the conclusion leads us to the Babyface Pro FS. Win by an inch or a mile, a winner is a winner! What you get in terms of sound quality is truly remarkable. The unit contains amazing preamps that produce incredibly clear and transparent audio. Add to that its incredible speed and extremely powerful headphone amp. Your proportions of how good an audio can be will simply be blown away.
Compared to its predecessor, the Babyface FS has remarkably low jitter due to its steady-clock FS. The jitter on this thing is so low that it is measured in a quadrillionth of a second! The BabyFace Pro FS also had major improvements in its signal-to-noise ratios. If you are serious about taking your production game to the next level, we really recommend you go for the Babyface Pro FS. You genuinely will not regret this purchase!
Frequently Answered Questions
Do I need an Audio Interface for Live Performance?
If you want to produce high quality audio, then you certainly do! If you are a hobbyist , then you can definitely set up a guitar, a mic and a small amp without needing an interface. However, if you’re aiming for High quality, complexity and a wider variety, you’ll have to use an audio interface. An audio interface allows you to have much more control over your I/O and sound, which is extremely useful for live performance purposes.
During live performances you need to be able to use all your instruments, while also having low latency. An audio interface allows you to plug in several mics/instruments into 1 hub. Plus, audio interfaces decrease the CPU load on your DAW. They are really easy to setup and produce far more superior results compared to other options
Can I get an Audio Interface with fewer I/O for Live Performance?
You really should have ATLEAST 8 I/O. If you go for 2 inputs, then you’ll be pretty limited with what you can do. For example, if you have a mic and 4 synths which include a drum machine, the number of inputs won’t suffice, plus you want to process your outputs separately. A good rule of thumb is to always buy more outputs than you think you need. It’s also really useful to have control over some of your instruments (like bass and percussion instruments).
How do I set up my Audio Interface for Live Performance?
First thing, update it to the latest firmware, and update/install your drivers if your interface requires it. Then power it up properly. Choose the right audio I/O from within your DAW, if you’re not using a mic, then you don’t have to be selective with your inputs, you can leave them all as the no device setting. For outputs, you want to choose the Audio Interface you have (mono/stereo whichever ones you want). Then you want to choose your sample rate, whatever is best for your situation, 44.1 is usually what most people use. Then you want to lower your buffer size to keep the latency at the minimum. Finally, make sure you’re using a good computer because all of these settings will require some power to back them up.
Can I use a Mixer instead of an Audio Interface for Live Performance?
Go for a mixer Only if you want to use it as an additional performance tool. A mixer allows you to modify the mix while performing, or mute/unmute your mix, or use returns/sends. Some mixers can do a stereo mix, while others output individual channels through USB.
An audio interfaces always outputs as many individual inputs as it has. For example, if you get a 10 input interface, 10 different channels will show up. Plus, audio interfaces allow you to receive the signal from each different input. On the other hand, mixers usually combine all the signals into one. There are definitely mixers that have a USB multitrack functionality, but they’re generally much more expensive. You’re really better off just buying a decent audio interface.
We really would recommend that you go for an interface with more inputs and outputs than you assume you need. Mixers are somewhat more difficult to use, especially if you’re new to performing and don’t want to deal with a lot of hardware. Once again- don’t try to cut corners by buying an interface with just enough I/O. You will eventually add inputs, so preserve some extra sockets for them.