Best Audio Interface with DSP [2022 Reviewed]

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ThumbnailDSP Audio InterfacesProRec ScorePrice
MOTU UltraLite mk5MOTU UltraLite mk5
8.3
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Apogee Symphony DesktopApogee Symphony Desktop
8.2
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Universal Audio Apollo Solo Heritage EditionUniversal Audio Apollo Solo Heritage Edition
8.1
Check Price on Amazon

Introduction

If your workflow consists of heavy plugin use, then an interface with a built-in DSP is probably your best bet. A DSP (Digital Signal Processor) is a microprocessor chip that can process digital signals recorded through your audio interface. It allows you to mold the signal (within the interface hardware) without relying on your CPU completely.

Built-in DSPs not only help with plugin processing but are also great for latency reduction. Without a DSP, any plugins running through your DAW get processed via your CPU, which isn’t adapted for audio signal processing. Even if you have a computer that can run multiple plugins, a DSP will always be a better processing solution.

Before you get too excited about getting a DSP interface, you should know that the cheapest audio interface with a formidable DSP chip will set you back at least $500. More professional grade DSP-equipped interfaces can go as high as a few thousand dollars. For a lot of beginners, this may seem like a lot but if you’re looking for a DSP interface, you’ll have to up your budget. A good DSP-equipped interface is worth the investment if you’re planning on running multiple plugins.

As is the case with any audio interface, the DSP is only part of what makes the unit a good purchase. The number of I/O channels and the unit’s sound quality are arguably much more important factors in your selection. You’ll need to make sure that the interface can accommodate enough I/Os to satisfy your needs while making sure that it features high-fidelity converters and preamps. In fact, we would argue that a DSP, ADAT expansion and SPDIF are only optional features that further refine the unit.

Another thing you should keep in mind when choosing a DSP interface is the plugin library. Audio interface manufacturers often have their own plugin libraries that include free effects. However, some of these plugins only work with the company’s corresponding products (e.g the UAD plugins which run exclusively on UA audio interfaces). Therefore, you might incline towards a certain brand if you value their plugin offerings.

Best audio interface with DSP Reviews

All text and image links lead to Amazon unless stated otherwise. All product scores are based on ProRec’s in-house scoring model

MOTU UltraLite mk5
8.3/10ProRec Score
8.3Average Score
ProRec Score – Motu Ultralite mk5
Price to Performance
9
Input / Output
10
Sound Quality
8
Connectivity
7
Additional Features
7.5

The Motu Ultralite mk5 which was released back in 2021 was received with great praise by professional audio engineers. It is one of the cheaper audio interfaces that have a built-in DSP and 18×22 I/O channels.

Designwise, the Ultralite mk5 isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing. The unit is relatively big and is enclosed in a rugged metal which makes it extremely sturdy. This makes the mk5 not the best choice for portability purposes but it is otherwise perfect as a tabletop or rackmount unit.

The back panel of the Ultralite Mk5 contains the majority of the I/O sockets which include 10 line outputs, 6 line inputs, SPDIF connectors, and MIDI sockets. You’ll also find a USB-C port (version 2.0), a 12V external power port, and ADAT connectors which allow you to connect additional 16 channels of I/Os.

On the rightmost part of the front panel, you’ll find a large OLED display which provides an accurate metering of different settings such as sampling rate, gain level, and volume output. You’ll also find 2 XLR/TRS combo inputs each with a corresponding PAD button, a 48V toggle, and a gain knob. These knobs are also clickable and allow you to alter the different settings on your device (e.g sample rate). The 3rd knob which you’ll find sitting above the ¼’’ headphone socket can be used to control the headphone volume output, but it also doubles down as a power switch (by holding on the knob).

Soundwise, the mk5 is equipped with remarkably powerful preamps which are a cut above anything in the same price tag. They’re extremely transparent and offer around 74 dB of gain which is unprecedented for a sub $1000 interface. We never have to use more than 80% of the gain range even for the most gain hungry instruments/mics. Our recordings also sounded crystal clear and didn’t distort even at a high gain setting because of its incredibly low THD+N (-113).

The unit’s converters offer around 115dB of dynamic range on the mic inputs which in face value might not seem much considering the price tag. However, everything we recorded sounded impeccable, the tracks were crisp and clear, and had a ton of detail. Moreover, the unit has an exceptionally low noise floor (-129 dBu) which even made us detect certain flaws with our setup.

Performance wise, the mk5 offers an incredibly low round-trip latency of less than 4ms at 96kHz sample rate and 64 buffer speed. When combined with the powerful DSP, the unit becomes an absolute beast for sessions where you have to use multiple plugins. We were running some EQ and reverb effects in real time while putting zero strain on our CPU.

As far as drawbacks go, we couldn’t find any major faults with the mk5, but there are a few downsides we would like to point out. For instance, the knobs on the front panel are a bit small and require a bit of force to rotate. The headphone knob can be especially annoying to use if you have a headphone plugged in since the connector can get in the way of you rotating the knob. Additionally, we faced several driver issues and random bugs during the setup process most of which we eventually resolved. However, due to Motu’s impeccable record of refining their products, we are confident that they will eventually patch most of these issues considering that we tested out the Mk5 during its early production stages.

The Motu Mk5 is the 5th gen model of the renowned ultralite series. Its immediate predecessor, the Mk4 wasn’t hugely successful since it didn’t provide any major improvements from the incredibly successful Mk3 predecessor. On the other hand, the Mk5 offers much better audio specifications than the Mk4 even though they have the same number of I/O channels. For instance, the Mk5 offers an additional 14 dB of gain compared to the Mk4 which only offers a 60 dB gain range. The Mk5 also provides better dynamic range specifications on all I/O channels. To be more specific, compared to the Mk4, the Mk5 provides an extra 8 dB, 10 dB, and 3 dB of dynamic range on line outputs, line inputs, and mic inputs respectively. The Mk5 also has the upper hand when it comes to latency and almost all other audio specifications.

Overall, we can’t deny that the Mk5 offers a bang for your buck, especially for its price tag. At this price point, you won’t find any audio interface that offers as many I/O channels while also producing impeccable sound quality. We recommend the Motu Ultralite Mk5 as an extremely powerful unit that can deliver nothing less than professional tracks.

Motu Ultralite mk5 Benefits

The preamps provide an incredible 74 dB of gain range.

The unit has a remarkably low latency.

You can run several effects in real-time because of the built-in DSP.

The Mk5 is extremely price-efficient considering how many I/O channels it provides.

Motu Ultralite mk5 Drawbacks

You might face some driver issues.

The knobs can be quite unpleasant to use

All text and image links lead to Amazon unless stated otherwise. All product scores are based on ProRec’s in-house scoring model

Apogee Symphony Desktop
8.2/10ProRec Score
8.2Average Score
ProRec Score – Apogee Symphony
Price to Performance
7
Input / Output
8
Sound Quality
10
Connectivity
7
Additional Features
9

The Apogee Symphony Desktop is an incredibly powerful USB-C audio interface that features 10 inputs and 14 outputs. It’s a high-end unit that contains remarkable DSP and converters.

Physically speaking, the Symphony desktop is relatively small and weighs under 2 pounds. The device is slightly inclined which helps with control accessibility but this means that the unit can only be used as a tabletop unit. The knob is smooth and extremely satisfying to use. The touch screen is also very responsive and has a null-response time which we think makes a huge difference.

The back panel of the Symphony desktop features 2 XLR/TRS combo inputs, 2 balanced monitor outputs, a ⅛’’ headphone output socket, and ADAT I/O channels which allow for an extra 8 inputs and 8 outputs. This panel also contains the USB-C connector, a 9-16V power jack, and a USB Host socket which allows for MIDI connections. On the other hand, the front panel contains a dedicated JFET input for high-impedance instruments and a ¼’’ headphone output socket.

As part of Apogee’s simplistic trademark, the main screen of the Symphony desktop contains a single all-purpose controller. To its left you’ll find a large touch screen which allows you to denote which channel is being affected by the knob in addition to providing control over several settings such as sampling rate and device settings.

As for its sound quality, the unit’s converters offer around 123 dBA and 129 dBA of dynamic range on AD and DA converters respectively. This translates to incredibly detailed and granular audio that sounds extremely crisp. Everything we recorded or listened to through the Symphony desktop simply sounded impeccable and had an exceptional amount of details.

In addition to the remarkable converters, the Apogee desktop’s prowess stems from its incredibly powerful preamps. The 2 mic pres offer an astounding 75 dB of gain. They’re some of the best preamps we ever tested providing a remarkably transparent, uncolored, and noise-free output. We couldn’t find a single piece of gear that those preamps couldn’t drive and we never even had to max out the gain settings. In fact, we think that the Symphony desktop sounds better than some external standalone preamps.

The Apogee Symphony desktop also comes with the ECS channel strip which is a powerful tool that offers several effects such as EQ, saturation, and compression. Because of the unit’s powerful DSP, we had this plugin running with almost zero latency while also emulating a 50s american tube preamp. Meanwhile, the CPU was under no strain, the emulation sounded exceptionally accurate, and the unit kept on pumping impeccable audio.

While the Apogee Symphony desktop is by all measurements an extremely powerful unit, we were still presented with some downsides during our testing. For instance, during the set-up process, we had to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to properly install the drivers since the process wasn’t as simple as we’d expected. Nonetheless, we didn’t face any driver issues on either Mac or Windows devices once we had the apogee software up and running. We also noticed that the Symphony desktop can get pretty hot at times especially when running several plugins. The metal casing doesn’t help either so you might need to opt for an external cooling system. Additionally, we would’ve preferred if the unit at least had more XLR inputs considering that it costs a pretty penny!

The Apogee Symphony desktop was preceded by the Apogee Symphony MKII. The similar model name might imply that both units are fairly equivocal in terms of sound quality and features. However, the MKII is a much more sophisticated unit that’s superior to the Desktop version in every sense, which is expected considering that it costs almost 3 times as much. Compared to the Desktop, the MKII features TB3, superior converters/preamps, and even offers up to 32 I/O channels. It also has much better audio specifications like lower THD+N (-119 dB on DA conversions) and lower noise floor. SImply put, the MKII is geared towards professional environments while the Desktop model is tailored towards advanced home-producers .

All in all, the Apogee Symphony desktop is undoubtedly one of the most powerful audio interfaces in the market. Boasting amazing audio specifications, remarkable DSP, and incredible build quality, the Symphony desktop might as well be the one tool you need to propel your music production career.

Apogee Symphony Desktop Benefits

The preamps offer crystal clear, uncolored, and impeccable output.

The Built-DSP allows you to run several plugins latency-free.

You get hardware control for most of your settings.

The unit has a relatively compact and light design.

Apogee Symphony Desktop Drawbacks

You might face some issues during the set-up process.

The device can get pretty hot.

You will have to shell-out a decent amount.

All text and image links lead to Amazon unless stated otherwise. All product scores are based on ProRec’s in-house scoring model

Universal Audio Apollo Solo Heritage Edition
8.1/10ProRec Score
8.1Average Score
ProRec Score – UA Apollo Solo HE
Price to Performance
8
Input / Output
5
Sound Quality
7.5
Connectivity
10
Additional Features
10

As the cheapest audio interface with DSP on our list, the Universal Audio Apollo Solo TB3 heritage edition is a very powerful audio interface that features 2 inputs and 4 outputs.

Considering that the Apollo Solo has a simple 2×4 I/O configuration, the unit is relatively light, weighing around 1.38 pounds. Most of this weight comes from the sturdy metal frame which we think gives the unit a premium feel. We also found the controls to be very satisfying to use, especially the knob surrounded by an LED halo indicator that updates in real-time.

The Apollo Solo’s I/O sockets can be found on the front and back panel. This includes a ¼’’ headphone output socket and a dedicated instrument input on the front panel. In addition to 2 XLR/TRS combo inputs and 2 balanced line outputs on the backside, the back panel also contains the TB3 socket which also acts as the unit’s power supply.

The main panel of the Apollo Solo contains all the control buttons, the gain knob, and the display screen. The screen provides information regarding the active functions on the unit, in addition to accurate metering of the I/O levels. The different function buttons include a 20dB pad button, a link button (stereo mode), a 48V button, a polarity inverter button Ø, a high pass filter button (75 Hz cut-off), and an input button. You’ll also find a preamp and monitor button which you can use to alternate between the channel affected by the large knob.

When it comes to sound quality, we believe that the Apollo Solo is one of the best sounding audio interfaces in its price range. With its 2 incredibly transparent UNISON preamps and remarkably powerful converters, the Apollo Solo produces immaculate audio that is nothing less than professional-grade. These converters can sample audio at a maximum sampling rate of 192kHz and they provide an impressive dynamic range of 118 dB (A-weighted). Combined with the TB3 connection, the unit boasts an ultra-low round trip latency of 1.1 ms which is one of the best measurements we’ve seen on a mid-range interface.

For both instrument and vocal recordings, we had an incredibly pleasant experience using the powerful UNISON preamps which provided a crystal clear, transparent, and noise-free output. For the most part, we had an electric guitar hooked up to the JFET input while also recording through a Sennheiser MD421 mic. We were also monitoring through a pair of focal alpha 80 studio monitors which sounded exceptionally well. We should however mention that the Solo doesn’t offer a lot of gain (+10 dB to +65 dB) so we had the gain settings almost maxed out for both inputs. Nonetheless, this gain range is sufficient to drive most inputs including most dynamic mics.

The Solo also comes with the UAD library which includes around 8 GB of incredibly powerful effects such as compressors, equalizers, and preamp emulators. To test the unison enabled emulation, we activated a Manley emulator which sounded exactly as its real counterpart. The unit even switches up its own circuitry in order to match the emulated preamps’ sweet spots and input impedances. The best part is that we had around 5 plugins including the emulator running in with no notable delay because of the unit’s DSP.

The Apollo Solo heritage edition comes in 2 editions which are a TB3 and a USB version. Both units are exactly the same except that the USB version cannot be bus-powered through its USB-C socket and instead features an external 12V power supply. The TB3 unit expectedly has a much lower round trip latency because of its superior connectivity. However, unlike the TB3 version, the USB version also contains a power switch which we think should’ve also been included in the TB3 version.

The only complaints we have on the Apollo Solo is about the unorganized plugin library. Once we installed the UAD library, we noticed that the whole library (8GB) was downloaded including any paid plugins. The real issue is that there isn’t any option to filter through the paid/free plugins. You’ll have to tiredly sift through the library in order to find the plugins you need. Another thing we noticed is that the unit can get pretty hot after around an hour of use. Even when we weren’t using any DSP power for plugin processing, the unit still warmed up pretty fast.

Overall, the Apollo Solo TB3 is an extremely versatile unit that offers a lot of functionality and provides a ton of processing power. With the incredibly powerful DSP, huge plugin library, and the ultra low latency the Solo is an ideal choice for plugin processing. We recommend the Solo for anyone looking to use plugins while also getting a great sounding unit.

Universal Audio Apollo Solo Heritage Edition benefits

You get access to the UAD plugin library.

The unit produces immaculate audio.

The Solo has an ultra-low roundtrip latency, perfect for plugin processing.

The unit has a lot of onboard controls.

Universal Audio Apollo Solo Heritage Edition Drawbacks

The device can get hot after an hour of use.

The plugin library is extremely unorganized.

Verdict

audio interfaces with DSP scoring model comparison

Based on our scoring model, you’ll find the highest variance in the Connectivity and Input/Output categories. As you can see, the UA Apollo Solo scores very low in the input/output category compared to the Symphony Desktop and the Ultralite MK5, both of which offer a lot more I/O. However, the Solo outperforms both units in the connectivity category because of its superior TB3 capability. We should also note that even though the variance between the overall scores is extremely low (0.2), there is at least 2 points of variance within the individual categories. This shows that each of the 3 interfaces excels in categories different from its competitors. 

Of the 3 units, the Ultralite mk5 has the highest number of I/O channels boasting an admirable 18×22 configuration. It is also the most price-efficient unit of the bunch considering both its performance and features. Even in the remaining 3 categories, the Mk5 performs fairly well as it doesn’t score below 7 even though it is compared to a high-end unit like the Symphony Desktop. These relatively low scores in the connectivity and additional features categories don’t really negate its prowess since it still does better than the average audio interface in both categories.

We should also mention that both the Apollo Solo and the Symphony Desktop can be great choices considering that there is only a 0.1 variance between any 2 consecutive units. As you can see, the Symphony desktop provides the best sound quality which is arguably more important than any other category. Meanwhile, the Apollo Solo remarkably pulls-off a 10 in both the additional features and connectivity categories while performing well in the other 3 categories (excluding the I/O). In fact, had it not been for the low I/O configuration the UA Solo would easily have topped this competition.

However, as close as the competition seems, the Ultralite MK5 emerges as the best audio interface with DSP. With its large number of Input/Output channels, remarkable sound quality, and extremely low latency, the Mk5 is an incredibly versatile unit that can handle any rigorous recording task you throw its way. Whether you’re running a bunch of plugins or using multiple I/O sources, the Mk5 can process any audio signal in real-time while providing high-quality tracks. If versatility and price-efficiency is what you’re looking for, we recommend the Motu Ultralite Mk5 as an incredibly powerful unit that’ll provide terrific value.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main benefit of a DSP Audio Interface?

An audio interface with a built-in DSP can process audio signals through its own circuitry. This means that a DSP-equipped audio interface can take some processing workload off your CPU while also providing extra power to process more plugins than you could by only relying on your CPU. You also get lower latency since some of the signal molding happens directly through the audio interface.

What is the most important aspect of choosing an Audio Interface with DSP?

You should really focus on getting an audio interface that can produce great audio instead of trying to find the interface with the best DSP chip. As useful as it seems, a DSP is only a peripheral component that doesn’t really substitute the prominence of high-fidelity converters and preamps.

You might however want to check what a certain audio interface manufacturer has to offer in terms of plugins since many libraries are exclusive to certain products. In that case, you could bias your decision towards a certain product if their plugin library appeals to you.

How much should I pay for an Audio Interface with an on-board DSP?

The starting price for a decent DSP-equipped audio interface is around $500. For most hobbyist/amateur music producers, any DSP interface in that range is sufficient for most applications including running multiple plugins. Professional music producers however won’t usually settle for anything below the $1000 margin, and some are willing to spend a couple thousand bucks on a single powerful unit.

Is there a substitute for an on-board DSP?

As we already mentioned, a DSP isn’t an essential component for producing good tracks. It’s simply a tool that improves your recording experience but you can certainly do without one. Considering that CPU technology has become very advanced, you could completely rely on your computer to process audio signals and expect similar if not better performance. Therefore, you could rely on your CPU. it isn’t mandatory.