The 5 Best Audio Interfaces For Ableton (2021)

Here is the complete list of best audio interfaces for Ableton Live:

  1. Apollo Twin Mk II
  2. Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
  3. Audient ID44
  4. SSL 2+
  5. Motu M2

No matter what style of music you make, if you’re a professional engineer or a bedroom musician, an audio interface is probably one of the most important parts of your production set-up.

If you want to use high quality studio headphones, you’ll need an audio interface, and more so, if you’re planning to record anything. Audio Interfaces aren’t all about recording either anymore, some interfaces even feature DSP processing, Analog simulators, and can even serve as clocks for your synth.

The Best Audio Interface for Ableton is something, that’s not too complicated, works through USB, and will help you, instead of hinder you, when recording or listening.

So, to see what the best audio interface for Ableton is, we’ll go through our 5 favorites, but first, why do you even need an Audio Interface?

Apollo Twin Mk II Duo

apollo twin MK II duo audio interface

The UAD Apollo Twin is the best interface for a small, bedroom studio including 2 mic lines, with incredible pre-amps built-in, and 2 line outputs, on top of UAD’s incredible range of analog emulated plugins.

When talking the best audio interface for Ableton, the Universal Audio Apollo Twin MK II Duo is one of the top dogs, and has good reason for being so popular.

More accessible than the flagship Apollo 8 and 16 Universal Audio interfaces, the Apollo Twin is the best way for mere mortals to gain access to proper DSP, as well as the awesome UAD range of plugins.

The Apollo Twin Duo comes with very high quality converters, as well as incredible pre-amps and other components. You get 2 high quality mic and line pre-amps, as well as 2 line outputs, for monitoring, as well as a headphone output.

The Input and Output number can be expanded by using the ADAT connection, which gives access to up to 8 more channels of digital input.

Apollo Twin also offers up to 24-bit/192kHz recording and playback.

Probably the biggest appeal for the Apollo Twin are it’s DSP capabilities. In addition to being able to record and output from your interface, the unit can also be utilized as a DSP external processing system, which can run UAD DSP plug-ins.

What sets it apart even further is the Unison technology, which creates a hybrid between the analogue front end and Unison-driven plugins on the UAD platform.

The Unison plugins enable the modelling of a range of preamps, guitar amps and effects, pairing impedance switching, and gain staging (on the analogue end) with component-level circuit modelling in software.

This all means that UAD’s impeccable software emulations of vintage studio gear, are some of the most accurate that you can get. Offering everything from Neve Channel strips, to legendary Compressors, and even the included 1176, La-2a and even a Marshall Plexi Amp.

In fact, you get quite a few free plugins and effects with a purchase of an Apollo Twin.

The plugins you get for free with an Apollo Twin MKII Duo are:

  • UA-610-B Tube Preamp and EQ
  • Marshall Plexi Classic Amplifier
  • Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier
  • 1176SE/LN Limiting Amplifiers
  • Pultec Pro Equalizers
  • Ampeg SVT-VR Bass Amp
  • Precision Mix Rack Collection
  • Raw Distortion
  • RealVerb Pro

Easily one of the best interfaces for a small studio, it’s been dominating the market for good reason. Unless you’re an absolute analog elitist, you’ll love the Apollo Twin MKII Duo

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 audio interface

The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 is an awesome, high-quality interface, with 18 ins, 20 outs & 2 headphone outs. It’s perfect for multi-tracked studio sessions, and has incredible built-in pre-amps. If you record a lot and need the I/O the 18i20 is perfect for you.

There are many different offerings in the Focusrite Scarlett line of audio interfaces, from the ubiquitous 2i2, to the awesome 18i20.

Our favourite of the range is, the 18i20 – one of the best rack interfaces you can get for under $700.

Particularly well suited for multi-channel recording and live audio, the 18i20 has plenty of inputs and outputs for everything you might want.

You get 18 inputs, and 20 outputs + 2 headphone outputs, with individual volume controls. This is enough outputs for two sets of stereo monitors and a 7.1 surround sound setup, with outputs to spare.

Additionally, if you’re running out of inputs, you can use the ADAT connection for 8 more optical inputs. Focusrite’s main focus are their incredible pre-amps, so it makes the 18i20 the perfect choice for when recording live instruments or vocals.

The front of the interface also has a speaker switcher, dimmer and a talkback button, in addition to your headphone outputs and volume controls.

The 18i20 is designed as a rack unit (for use in a studio hardware rack (1RU)) but the rack ears are removable, so you can use the 18i20 as a desk interface just as well.

In terms of I/O, you get a total of 8 pre-amps, consisting of 2 combi jacks on the front that double as an instrument level in, plus 6 additional combi jacks on the back.

Add all the digital inputs and outputs and you’ve got 18 inputs and 20 outputs simultaneously, with 24-bit, 192 kHz capability, with a gain range of 56 dB and a dynamic range of 111 dB.

The gain metering is quite limited, when it comes to hardware, however, the accompanying Focusrite mixer app helps a lot to balance your inputs and outputs. While this isn’t a perfect solution, you still have 8 LED gauges for your physical Inputs.

These are sadly, just LED’s, and won’t provide much precision when it comes to gain staging and matching. The key is to set up your gain to appropriate levels while metering in the mixer app, before recording, to make sure every channel is as hot as it can be, without clipping.

Audient ID44

audience ID44 audio interface

The Audient ID44 is perfectly suited to be the centerpiece of your home studio. With a compact form factor, and excellent pre-amps and line inputs, in addition to ADAT connectivity, make it an appealing option for all studio enthusiasts.

The ID44 audio interface has 20 inputs/24 outputs and is 24-Bit/96kHz capable. The noise floor of your analog inputs are also very low, and only starts making some noise, when you really start to crank the gain.

Each of the 4 hardware inputs have quality rotary knobs, to adjust your gain levels (and the ID44 has +60db of gain to play with), as well as switches for Phantom Power, a -10dB pad, polarity switcher and bass roll-off.

The large central knob controls monitor volume, but can also do other functions, when it’s necessary. The ID44 also has,

  • 2 volume rotaries for headphone outputs
  • 3 customisable switches

The biggest drawback to the ID44, is it’s lack of quality hardware input metering. While LED strips like these are OK for budget interfaces, an audio interface that costs $500 should have better metering.

The iD Mixer Application does help with this of course, showing you all of your input and output levels in one beautiful app screen. Buuuutt… you won’t have your iD Mixer open all the time, and the LED metering is just not as precise.

When you have such powerful gain rotaries, staring at the iD Mixer app every time you want to adjust gain can be tiresome. If you set up your channel gain before recording, you should be OK, but it’s just a bit annoying.

That being said, Audient have been making some awesome interfaces, and the ID44 is definitely a worthy mention on our list.

It’s also cheaper than the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20, so if you don’t need 8 hardware inputs, the ID44 might be better for you.

SSL 2+

solid state logic 2+ audio interface

The SSL 2+ is just that, an awesome entry level audio interface, for small home studios, with an Analog quality and edge to it. It has 2 ins & outs, capable of 192kHz sample rates, and has fantastic mic pre-amps. All for under $300!

Go to any professional studio in the world and you’re quite likely to see a Solid State Logic mixing console. Countless hits and legendary albums have been made on SSL consoles, and now, Solid State Logic are tackling the consumer market with The SSL 2+.

The build of the interface is instantly reminiscent of classic SSL consoles, using the same blue/red color scheme from their other products. All of the I/O is in the back, so you don’t clutter your workspace with cables.

The SSL 2+ is a 2-in and 4-out interface, with extremely sturdy rotary knobs, and an awesome monitor level knob, that goes all the way up to 11. Don’t ask why it’s better, it just is!

Probably one of the most unique parts of the SSL 2+ interface, is the 4K Legacy button.

This works on your input channels, and adds rich but subtle distortion and saturation, as well as a boost at 16kHz, for a more pronounced Air, for your Inputs.

The 4K processing is entirely analog, so it’s not like there’s a plugin running inside of the interface at all times. We personally really like how the legacy 4K sounds, so we tend to use it more often than not.

Capable of up to 192 kHz sample rates, the SSL 2+ is perfect, for an awesome, analog audio interface in your home studio.

You also get quite a lot of connections on the back. You have the 2 Combi input jacks, as well as a MIDI in and out port. For Output, you get the standard Line connections, as well as RCA.

Depending on which audio interface you have, you might have either one or two 1/4″ TRS headphone outputs as well.

The SSL 2+ model comes with 2 headphone outs, while the SSL 2 comes with only 1. This is also, pretty much the only difference between the two versions of the SSL 2 audio interface.

Lastly, you also get a kingston lock, and the interface itself is powered by USB-C. The SSL 2+ interface is one of our favourites for small, home studios. They offer a sound, that not much else in the sub $300 market can offer.

We truly wish more companies from the high echelons of professional studio gear, such as Neve and SSL, would bring some of their legendary qualities to the every day consumers.

Motu M2

motu m2 audio interface

The Motu M2 has 2 inputs & outputs, including 1 headphone monitor. The jacks on the Motu M2 are DC coupled, meaning this is the perfect interface for you if you have any hardware synths. It’s also under $200 which is insane.

Motu aren’t the most well-known name in the entry-level audio interface market. They’re more well known for their top-of-the-line interfaces.

The Motu M2 is definitely a more niche product, than something like the ubiquitous Scarlett 2i2 from Focusrite.

If you have any patchable synths, the Motu M2 will be the best audio interface for ableton.

Both jack outputs of the M2 are DC-coupled, which means you can utilize these with Ableton’s CV Tools, and control your synths with Ableton.

For anyone working with clockable synths, the best audio interface for Ableton, needs to be able to function as a master clock output.

With an audio resolution of up to 192kHz, the M2 also offers an impressive 120dB of dynamic range on the outputs.

One of our favourite things about the M2, is it’s awesome LCD gain metering display. Most budget interfaces such as the Audient iD4 or Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 settle for simple LED’s, to display your input gain.

This can be horribly imprecise, and an LCD screen provides that extra precision that you need, to get the most out of the M2’s gorgeous pre-amps.

There isn’t much in terms of a precise measurement scale, but, when making sure you’re as hot as you can, without clipping, it’s perfect.

Lastly, we’ve heard that some people have had defects with their M2 audio interface, most prominently coming out as a hiss, but this is rare, and Motu have been on-point with their customer service.

Aside from any anecdotal findings, the Motu M2 is easily our budget favorite, and is close to the best audio interface for Ableton.

Why Do You Need An Audio Interface?

Ableton Live 11

An Audio Interface is what will be the bridge between your computer, and any other hardware, whether it’s microphones, speakers, synths, etc. You need it to record, and listen to your audio out of your DAW. It’s also used for studio monitor outputs and anything else you might need.

Truth be told, there are USB microphones nowadays, which mean you don’t really need one, if your mic has USB.

But, most USB microphones kind of suck. Spending the same money on a cheap condenser mic and an Audio Interface will offer both better quality, and can even be cheaper in the end.

Audio interfaces are needed to hear and record your audio.

Expensive ones will usually include better things like:

  1. Pre-amps
  2. More inputs & outputs
  3. DC coupled outputs
  4. Higher dynamic range
  5. Digital Signal Processing engines
  6. Precise gain metering

They’re extremely important for even bedroom producers and can provide awesome capabilities to record, and even control synths using Ableton’s CV tools.

The Audio Interface is the way you’ll get sounds from the real world, into your computer. If you don’t need one yet, you’re sure to need one soon!

Finishing Up

To recap, here are our 10 picks for the best audio interface for Ableton:

  1. Apollo Twin Mk II
  2. Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
  3. Audient ID44
  4. SSL 2+
  5. Motu M2

Whether you’re looking to record vocals, mix on studio monitors, or control your hardware synths, you need an audio interface for Ableton. No matter what your involvement with music is, if you either listen to, or record audio, you can’t go without audio interfaces.

No matter if you’re searching for a 20 input and output beast, or a small studio workhorse with DSP, we hope you’ve found something that fits your needs.