Best High End (Most Expensive) Audio Interface [2023 Reviewed]

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

ThumbnailHigh End InterfacesProRec ScorePrice
RME Audio Interface

RME Audio Interface

9.4
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Universal Audio Apollo x4 HE

Universal Audio Apollo x4 HE

8.9
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Antelope Audio Zen Q Synergy Core

Antelope Audio Zen Q Synergy Core

8.8
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Introduction

Compared to the distorted hissy machines we used to record on back in the day, modern interfaces have come a long way. More expensive, high-end interfaces sound a lot better than what was available in the past. The main reason for the higher quality output are the preamps and converters that help shape the sound from your interface.

The ProRec team has A/B tested several interfaces over the years and we have heard noticeable differences in sound quality. Better converters and better parts on more expensive interfaces go through more R&D. As a result, you get a product that has better connections, noise floor, and harmonic distortion. The components all together are more heavily scrutinized, so the final product is more perfect than ever.

When choosing a high-end, more expensive, audio interface you are mainly paying for the additional features that you won’t find on more budget offerings. For example, an on-board DSP with a virtual mixer is a game changer for most people. Other features in the same category include a better input output configuration, ADAT/SPDIF expansion, special plugins for hardware emulation, better drivers, and internal mixing controlled by a software editor.

However, it is important to note that unless you get an off-brand interface, most budget offerings are more than capable. If you’re a singer songwriter, or a guitar player, laying a couple tracks in your home studio, then you’ll be fine with a simple Focusrite interface. However, if you need to streamline your workflow, then a higher quality interface will make your life a lot easier.

The biggest problem with low quality interfaces is with their functionality, synchronization, driver configuration and lack of advanced features. As long as you do your due diligence, you should be able to bag something decent for a fair price.

You should also consider investing in proper sound treatment and better gear (other than your interface). A $2000 audio interface won’t fare well if you’re using it with a low-quality mic or cheap studio monitors. For a better output, invest in better gear all together and look into minimizing parallel surfaces in your studio.

Best High End (Most Expensive) Audio Interface Reviews

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

8.9ProRec Score
Apollo x4 Heritage Edition
Price to Performance
8.5
Input / Output
9
Sound Quality
9
Connectivity
9
Additional Features
9

The UA Apollo x4 HE is a 12 x 18 Thunderbolt 3 audio interface that comes with an onboard DSP paired with Unison technology. The interface features 24-bit/192 kHz conversion, and comes with a set of plug-ins as well as flexible ins/outs and a built-in talkback mic. The top-level quad-core processing makes the x4 a complete analog powerhouse for recording professionals.

The top panel features a Level Knob that controls multiple functions based on the selected modes – in PREAMP mode it directs the preamp gains for the inputs while in MONITOR mode it controls the Monitor or Headphones volume. Here you will also find a range of various LED indicators (for preamp gains, volume level, input source, selected input channels, and selected stereo output along with input and stereo output meters). The talkback microphone is located on the left corner, between the Preamp and the Monitor Buttons. Next to these, to the right, are Option buttons with a display for the selected function.

The front panel is rather minimal with Hi-Z Instrument Inputs on the right for guitar, bass, or other high-impedance instruments. On the left are the output channels for ¼” stereo headphones.

The rear panel features 4 preamp channels for Mic/Line Combo Inputs on the left, followed by DC-coupled Monitor Outputs. Next, there are 4 Line Outputs (also DC-coupled) for routing audio to other equipment. You will also find the Power Supply Input and Thunderbolt 3 Port along with the Power Switch. On the top-right corner you’ll see the TOSLINK Optical I/O Ports for ADAT or S/PDIF digital signal protocols. Also, the side panel features the Kensington Security Slot for anti-theft security.

The Apollo x4 has a sturdy case that is both reliable and resilient. Being Mac users, we found the setup super easy. The installation process was smoother than we expected and within minutes, the Apollo x4 was up and running. We connected a Neumann U87 Ai condenser microphone, and tracked using emulations ranging from Nerve, API, Avalon, and Manley. UA’s signature preamps are precise and deliver a clean and transparent sound, capturing the true essence of our microphone. The recordings came out clean yet rich. The interface also has excellent monitoring, it was easy to make informed decisions throughout, only with a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones.

The specs on the interface match the rackmount Apollo Xs, however, the ease of desktop configuration does come at the expense of performance. Even then, we believe that for many users, the x4 is the preferred option over the x6. It features a dedicated DSP with Unison input processing that is virtually latency-free. With this unit we measured a sub-2 ms latency during our testing. We also found the UAD processing was powerful enough to free our computer from taking on excessive load.

In contrast to its predecessor Twin X, the Apollo x4 stands out with its extensive input/output config that includes four Unison-enabled preamps , four monitor outputs, and six line inputs, while the Twin X only features two of each. While both interfaces can expand via ADATs, Apollo x4 gets to have a headstart with its additional inputs by default. If you need expansion later on, x4 has more room for further growth. When it comes to UA’s Realtime Analog Classics Plus UAD plugin bundle, both have almost similar plugins offering high-quality emulations of professional-level gear.

There are hardly any shortcomings with Apollo x4. The most notable drawback is that it doesn’t support MIDI. Also, it specifically features Thunderbolt 3 connection – which makes it incompatible for users PCs that do not support this host connection protocol (unless they get an expansion card!). Like other interfaces of the series, this one also doesn’t come with a Thunderbolt cable.

Regardless, Universal Audio Apollo x4 Heritage Edition is one of the top-of-the-line interfaces with impressive DSP processing and immaculate sound quality in a compact, sleek package. Its existing flexibility for input/output connections, plus room to expand further makes it a perfect unit for both professional recordings and mixing applications alike!

Universal Audio Apollo x4 Heritage Edition Benefits

Groundbreaking DSP + FPGA technology for low-latency UAD processing.

Outstanding additional features (Unison technology, optical ADAT/SPDIF input, Talkback mic)

Premium collection of high-end plugins (from Fairchild, Helios, Pultec, Teletronix, and UA)

Universal Audio Apollo x4 Heritage Edition Drawbacks

Doesn’t support MIDI

Lacks Thunderbolt 3 cable

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

9.4ProRec Score
RME Babyface Pro FS
Price to Performance
10
Input / Output
10
Sound Quality
9.5
Connectivity
8
Additional Features
9.5

RME Babyface Pro FS is a 12 IN /12 OUT bus-powered portable USB audio interface that is superior both in terms of audio circuits and drivers as well as overall mechanics. The unit comes with USB 2.0 A and C cable, a MIDI breakout cable as well as TotalMix FX software.

The top panel of the Babyface Pro features a high-precision rotary encoder that changes various parameters directly from the unit. Above it you’ll see four buttons labeled IN, A (SET), (MIX) B, and OUT and below, the SELECT and DIM buttons. The 4 LED bands show the current gain, input and output level, and the set channel, based on the selected mode. The lower LEDs signal phantom power (+48 V, orange) and DIM whereas the higher one identifies overload (clip, red).

On the underside, you will find the +19 / +4 dBu switch that directly reduces the level of the outs while also keeping the TotalMix FX faders near zero. The side panel on the right of the unit features the remaining two unbalanced analog inputs that have a gain control 9 dB. Plus, there’s also a K-slot for anti-theft security.

The left side panel of the interface has a MIDI connector, next to the Optical in/out that automatically detects SPDIF or ADAT input signals. Lastly, there’s a Standard USB socket for connection to the computer and a socket for power connection.

Made from a single block of aluminum with a tough chassis, the unit is small (about the size of a thick paperback book), sturdy and elegant – even better than what we had seen in the pictures. There is a slight slope to it, with exemplary craftsmanship and a satisfying feel to the buttons.

We connected the interface to a Mac with the provided USB-C cable, and downloaded the latest drivers from the RME’s website – all of which seamlessly integrated and we had no troubles with the process. True to its reputation, this unit delivered a pristinely articulated sound. We soon noticed that the low-end is fuller and much better than the other interfaces we tested. The midrange and high-end were accurate as well. We were delighted to see that the phantom power delivered a true 48 volts which many desktop interfaces fail to produce.

Using a Neumann U87 to record our vocals was a good starting point for us, and we got a perfectly detailed and transparent sound that closely matched our expectations. Also, to track our drum kit, we used our Metric Halo Labs LIO8. While the mic remained connected to the unit’s preamps, we used the rest of the preamps for the LIO8. We took full liberty of the expanding options by connecting its ADAT output to the optical input of the unit. The sound was crisp, the impact was phenomenal and the bottom end of the kick was tight and extended.

To test the latency, we used the Oblique Audio Round-Trip Latency (RTL) Utility. Our calculations were as follows: 3.1 ms, 2.9ms and 2.8 ms with 48 samples at 44.1kHz, 96 samples at 96kHz, and 192 samples at 192kHz respectively. These are massively better than its earlier units, thus bringing its delivery almost similar to what we have seen in UFX on USB 3.0. It is worth mentioning that we had no problems with the clocking the entire time of our testing and it was spectacular to see the unit’s painless expansion options as well.

Speaking of Babyface Pro (the predecessor), we were happy to see that the manufacturers have brought some significant improvements with the newer Pro FS upgrade. For starters, the Pro FS features a remarkable +19 / +4 dBu switch (the one on the underside) that helps you to avoid any trace of distortion in your recordings. Another amazing bonus is that all the outputs are DC-coupled, a feature most of us like to see that allows CV control to your equipment. Also, the addition of RME’s SteadyClock FS timing circuit to all the inputs is a great benefit – staying true to the new “FS” badge, the unit boasts the lowest jitter and impressive syncs.

Also, the microphone preamps and line inputs have also been improved, now featuring an SNR of 113.7 dB and 116.3 dB respectively. While the original Babyface Pro already delivered fully warm recordings, there’s no doubt that the upgraded features have only enhanced and strengthened the overall performance of the newer version. All while keeping the similar power consumption regardless!

If we look at the bigger picture, the beauty of this unit is that it is mostly flawless. The accompanying TotalMix software isn’t easy to work with and takes a while getting used to. Also, the RME has provided a hardshell case which doesn’t exactly go with its portable nature. Don’t get us wrong, it’s still great and makes the unit durable but adds unnecessary bulk if you’re on the move. Finally, the USB 2.0 config is a bit dated, but the way RME has built this interface totally negates the port selection, it is solid and works perfectly and does not impact performance at all!

With that being said, the Babyface Pro FS is undoubtedly as articulated, clear, and transparent as one would come to expect. With its unmatched monitoring functions and routing flexibility, it is a unit that delivers an excellent sonic experience. Whether you’re on the move or in the studio, Pro FS is sure to live up to your expectations!

RME Babyface Pro FS Benefits

Exceptional Preamps, on board DSP, +19 / +4 dBu switch, SteadyClock and DC-coupled outs.

Ample analog, digital, and MIDI connectivity.

Comes with a plug-in bundles including those of Scuffham S-Gear, Modartt Pianoteq 6, Gig Performer among few others

RME Babyface Pro FS Drawbacks

The unit uses USB 2.0, whereas the standard is USB-C for most interfaces.

TotalMix, the accompanying software, is not the easiest to work with.

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

8.8ProRec Score
Zen Q Synergy Core
Price to Performance
9.5
Input / Output
8
Sound Quality
8.5
Connectivity
10
Additional Features
8

Antelope Audio Zen Q Synergy Core is a Thunderbolt 3 audio interface (also available in USB) with 14 x 10 input/output channels and a sample rate of 192kHz/24-bit resolution with AD/DA conversion up to 127 dB. The unit allows for direct monitoring with Synergy Core effects for real-time processing at near-zero latencies. It comes with a USB A to USB C cable (no Thunderbolt 3 cable included).

The top panel features a display screen on the right side which provides information about the Gain/Volume metering for up to three outputs, current clock source, lock indicator, and current sample rate. Next, you will find three function keys including the Gain, HP/MON, and Antelope buttons. On the left is a rotary control encoder that adjusts the gain, volume and other values as well as helps navigate the menu. The front panel has a pair of switchable Line/Hi-Z instrument inputs and another pair of stereo headphone outputs.

Towards the right side of the rear panel, there is a pair of 1/4-inch analog inputs for the microphone/line level/high-impedance instrument (Hi-Z). Next, there are 1/4-inch jacks for a pair of stereo monitor outputs and line outputs. These are followed by input/output channels for stereo SPDIF digital audio, next to which the ADAT input is present that provides an expansion of 8 digital audio. Depending on the audio interface you have purchased, you will either find a Thunderbolt 3 port or a USB C port. On the far left, there is a Kensington lock providing an anti-theft system.

To test the interface we connected it to our Macbook Pro, the activation and installation took about 30 minutes, and we were all ready to record. We set up an AKG C414 to track acoustic guitars and for the vocal test, we connected an SM7B. Right off the bat, we noticed that the preamps have a depth and warmth that is reminiscent to powerful rack units. The top end, specifically, is very detailed but doesn’t feel harsh at any point. The combination of the preamps and the converters is beautifully impressive – we encountered no background hissing, blurring, distortion, or harshness throughout our recording even at higher gains. There were no issues with latency, although our experience was admittedly on a Mac.

The interface comes with plugins that can be used either directly in the virtual mixer or in your DAW. This way, you can not only use the device itself for the DSP effects but also make use of the AFX2DAW bridging plugin. We added the AFX2DAW in Logic at a sample buffer of 128 and simultaneously recorded vocals with the SM7B, while adding guitar effects from the control panel. The flexibility itself isn’t the only surprising thing here, the fact that we were able to pull this off without a single glitch, despite the project being relatively heavy, is really something that you want in a high end interface!

Other than that, the stunningly enhanced focus, clarity, and detail are refreshing to say the least, even when the recordings are through virtual instruments. You also get 37 AFX processors for free which is a win-win for everyone involved!

The Zen Q basically bridges the gap between its predecessor Zen Tour and its successor Zen Go. The predecessor is an elaborate desktop interface whereas the newer Zen Q is a much more compact portable design best fitted for beginners and intermediate artists. The predecessor offers 4 mic preamps with additional four inputs and a D-sub output that includes 8 more analog channels. The newer version, on the other hand, offers 2 preamps, 2 hi-Z inputs, and 4 line outs. However, both units provide ADAT and SPDIF connectors, thus adding room for expansion. Similarly, both offer two headphone outputs and are equipped with Synergy Core DSP processing which helps minimize the load on your computer.

While the unit boasts amazing sound quality and high-quality processing but it does have a few shortcomings. For one, the interface lacks MIDI support. Also if you plan to purchase the Thunderbolt interface, here’s a heads-up: it doesn’t come with a Thunderbolt cable. The unit is generally praised for its low latency performance on macOS (we had no troubles either!) however, most Windows users have reported higher latency values on their system. It is a real concern and if you’re on Windows, you’ll most likely run into this issue and you’ll have to figure out ways to bring the latency down.

All in all, The Zen Q is a rock-solid interface with stable performance and ultra-low latency. For those looking for sonic depth and clarity with classic plug-ins and real-time effects processing, Antelope Audio Zen Q Synergy Core does not disappoint.

Antelope Audio Zen Q Synergy Core Benefits

DSP + FPGA technology with low-latency processing.

Outstanding additional features (optical ADAT/SPDIF input, Loopback feature, award winning AFC, onboard FX).

Comes with a bundle of 32 AFX Synergy Core effects

Antelope Audio Zen Q Synergy Core Drawbacks

Lacks MIDI support.

Does not come with Thunderbolt 3 cable.

Latency issues reported on Windows

Verdict

high end audio interfaces scoring model quantitative analysis

According to our scoring model, the two categories with a relatively higher variance include Input/Output and Connectivity. Babyface Pro FS takes an easy lead in the first of the two categories with its amazing 24 x 12 ins/outs as compared to Apollo x4’s 12 x 18 and Zen Q’s 14 x 10 config. In terms of Connectivity, Zen Q is the best contender with its versatility for both USB and Thunderbolt connections. Babyface Pro FS scores the least, given its USB 2.0 protocols while the runner up for this specific one is the Apollo x4 with its Thunderbolt 3 availability.

RME Babyface Pro FS remains a consistent performer throughout, landing top scores for four of the five categories. It scores a solid 10 for the Price to Performance set, which is expected considering the unit brings complete justice to every penny spent. Even though it costs twice as low as the Apollo x4, it delivers better performance both in terms of hardware and delivery. In fact, when it comes to Additional Features, Pro FS boasts some outstanding details including the +19 / +4 dBu switch, DC-coupled outs, and MIDI connectivity that the other two interfaces clearly lack.

UA Apollo is the runner up with an average score of 8.9 points. One notable caveat is that the unit could’ve featured a better ins/outs configuration, which is why it scores the least in the Price to Performance category. It makes up for it by scoring well in the Sound Quality and Additional Features category with its distinctive quad core processing, Unison technology, talkback mic and a premium plugins collection. It is however worth mentioning that the interface only beats Zen Q by 0.1 average score, which speaks volumes considering it is 2.8x less pricier than the latter.

Finally, after a careful analysis, the best high-end (most expensive) audio interface is RME Babyface Pro FS with the highest average score of 9.4 points. It features a lot of improvements in comparison to its predecessor and for this price range, the unit is undoubtedly a remarkable option. It’s not just the price that it brings justice to, it also realistically delivers the “FS” promise with its jitter-prone FS timing circuit. The +19 / +4 dBu switch significantly enhances the recordings, helping you get rid of any unwanted voice or distortion. Also, if you need DC-coupled outs or MIDI connections, it’s the only unit on the list that features both. On the whole, if you are looking for a high-end interface with crisp sounds that provides all your recording solutions in a compact box, Babyface Pro FS has got to be your go-to interface!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need a High End Audio Interface?

Your audio interface needs to deliver the results you are looking for. If a good sounding, relatively cheap interface (like Scarlett 2i2) offers all the features you need, then you are all set. However, if you require more versatility, you can go for higher end interfaces that offer more features and better preamps. In general, there is no one size fits all approach - it all comes down to your individual expectations from an audio interface.

Do expensive Audio Interfaces sound better?

Yes, in most cases high end audio interfaces do sound better but not as drastically as often claimed. To be realistic, expensive interfaces have better preamps and converters. Its obvious that a unit featuring top quality preamps (such as Apollo’s Unison technology) will sound better than cheap preamps on a low-grade unit.

What Audio Interface do professionals use?

Professional Studios use different kinds of interfaces. According to our tests, the RME Babyface Pro FS is the best high-end interface that perfectly fits for all the professional uses. Other options that we would recommend include Apogee, Apollo, and Antelope. These are among the top performing audio interface brands used by professionals.

How do I choose a good Audio Interface?

A good interface should accommodate your I/O needs, have good sound quality, driver support, and should work with your OS. To narrow down your quest for a good audio interface, you need to figure out your needs and align them with the features of the interface. If you have the budget, then invest in an interface with an onboard DSP, ADAT/SPDIF (if required), DC coupled inputs, Bluetooth and any other extended features that will help enhance your workflow.