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The Top 5 Best Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces Of 2024

audiosorcerer
|
August 3, 2023 
|
Last Updated on January 8, 2024

A reliable audio interface is the most crucial tool in your music production setup. While USB and the more recent USB-C interfaces are perfectly viable options for recording, an interface that uses Thunderbolt connectivity to transmit data offers you the highest speed possible.

Thunderbolt can transfer data at a minimum of 10 GB per second, with newer versions (Thunderbolt 3 and 4) delivering a whopping speed of 40 GB per second. On the other hand, USB-C can only transfer data at a rate of up to 5 GB per second.

Choosing a Thunderbolt interface means more efficient handling of continuous data streams, more speedy data transfer at higher bit rates, less protocol overhead, and reduced strain on your CPU. In other words, you get a smoother operation that's future-proof.

In today's guide, we reviewed the 5 best Thunderbolt audio interfaces on the market so you can find the right equipment for your needs and budget.

Best Overall
Focusrite Red 16Line
5
  • 64x64 I/O
  • 192 kHz max sample rate
  • Thunderbolt 3
Runner-up
PreSonus Quantum 2626
4.3
  • 26x26 I/O
  • 192 kHz max sample rate
  • Thunderbolt 3
Lowest Price
Universal Audio Apollo Solo Heritage Edition
4.2
  • 2x2 I/O
  • 192 kHz max sample rate
  • Thunderbolt 3

1. Focusrite Red 16Line

Top Pick
Focusrite Red 16Line
10/10Rating

Interested in getting this audio interface? Click the link below.

Kickstarting our list is the 16Line Thunderbolt audio interface from the Focusrite Red lineup. This unit is high-end on all fronts: design, performance, and price.

At first glance, you can tell this is one of the most attractive candidates you'll come across. It rocks a vibrant red dock with a black screen down the center and silver detailing across the control panel. It looks and feels premium, suitable for professional-level setups.

It relies on Thunderbolt3 connectivity, transmitting data at up to 40 Gbps. It’s a super fast interface that you can incorporate into your DAW, your Pro Tools | HD rig, or Dante network as an I/O device.

The presence of DigiLink connectors alongside Thunderbolt supports convenient switching from  Pro Tools | HD to a second DAW – no card reconfiguration required.

The Red 16Line features two Red Evolution preamps, digitally controlled and providing ultra-clear gain up to 63dB. The pristine sound can be further enhanced by the Air effect; Focusrite’s sonic signature of the company’s renowned ISA preamp transformer.

Additionally, you get to play with stereo linking, phase reverse, high-pass filtering, individual phantom power, and more.

The AD/DA output is superior to all, featuring a fantastic balance between ultra-low conversion latency, dynamic range (more than 118dB A/D and over 112dB D/A), and sound quality.

Features

  • 64x64 channels
  • 24 L x 19 W x 5 H (inches)
  • 15.4 lbs
  • 118dB A/D 121dB D/A
  • 16 input lines and 16 output lines (physical connections)
Pros
  • Excellent build quality
  • Unique look and refined design
  • A superb sonic performance led by premium quality preamps
  • Phenomenal signal clarity, even for headphone amps
  • Produces a highly efficient workflow
  • Extensive headroom
Cons
  • Expensive price tag

2. PreSonus Quantum 2626

Top Pick
PreSonus Quantum 2626
4.3/5Rating

Interested in getting this audio interface? Click the link below.

If your budget doesn't meet the hefty price of the Focusrite Red 16Line, the second-best option would be the Quantum 2626 from PreSonus

This is the newest addition to the Quantum Lineup, powered by Thunderbolt 3 connectivity for light-fast data transfer. It's also backward compatible with Thunderbolt 1 and 2.

The front panel on the Quantum 2626 comes with 8 XLR jacks; 2 for instruments and the rest for Line/Mic level inputs. 

If you need more input channels for recording, you'll be happy to know that you can expand this interface to house 26 input and 26 output channels.

The preamps provide impressive clarity, functioning at 192 kHz. The dynamic range of 115dB keeps distortion to a minimum while smoothly capturing natural harmonics. You'll enjoy silky highs, deep lows, and plenty of headroom for a rich, detailed output.

Appearance-wise, the Quantum 2626 boasts a sleek black design with silver detailing. Bottomline – it's a beauty to see and hear.

Features

  • 26 channels
  • 19 L x 7.5 W x 1.75 H (inches)
  • 5.0 lbs
  • 115dB dynamic range
  • Free access to Studio One DAW, Studio Magic Suite, Ableton Live Lite
  • Latency less than 1 ms
Pros
  • Expandable to 26 I/O
  • Comes with a free subscription to Studio One Artist
  • Easy setup
  • Impressive signal stability
  • Features split phantom power
Cons
  • Thunderbolt 3 cable not included
  • The power button located on the back isn't very practical
  • No screen for monitoring

Related Article: 10 Best Audio Interfaces Under $500 | What Should You Get?


3. Universal Audio Apollo Solo Heritage Edition

Top Pick
Universal Audio Apollo Solo Heritage Edition
4.2/5Rating

Interested in getting this audio interface? Click the link below.

If you're searching for a budget-friendly Thunderbolt audio interface with impressive sound and lots of value for the money, the Apollo Solo Heritage Edition from Universal Audio may be exactly what you need.

If you're familiar with Universal Audio's Twin X Duo Heritage Edition, you may notice that it's the scaled up version of this unit. 

The Apollo Solo supports Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, so you're joining the high-speed transfer club at a very affordable price.

Looking at the Apollo Solo, it's clear it was built with portability in mind. It's quite a compact package, small enough to fit in a laptop bag. It's also USB-powered, which saves you the hassle of an external power supply cable for on-the-go recording.

The Apollo Solo houses a Unison mic preamp and guitar amp, offering near-zero latency. These are paired with Fender, Neve, Manley, and API emulations among many others.

Your purchase will also include access to the manufacturer's exclusive DAW, LUNA. It's fully integrated to deliver a smooth operation with the plugins, although it's only compatible with MacOS.

The Apollo Solo promises clear recording with decent signal clarity. You can boost the sound quality with the plugins to make up for its limited capability compared to other candidates on today's list.

Features

  • 2 channels
  • 9 L x 9 W x 9 H (inches)
  • 5.0 lbs
  • Metal construction
  • Access to Universal Audio, Teletronix, and Pultec premium plugins
Pros
  • Budget-friendly Thunderbolt interface
  • Ideal for hobbyists or as a backup/home-use unit for professionals
  • Fantastic portability
  • USB-powered unit
Cons
  • Recording capability is nothing impressive
  • Too few I/O
  • LUNA DAW is only compatible with Mac devices

4. Steinberg AXR4T

Top Pick
Steinberg AXR4T
4.4/5Rating

Interested in getting this audio interface? Click the link below.

Steinberg's AXR4T audio interface is based on Thunderbolt 2 connectivity, which supports a transfer rate of up to 20 GB per second. This isn't as fast as Thunderbolt 3, but it's still miles ahead of USB interfaces and enough to effortlessly handle continuous streams of large data packages.

The Thunderbolt 2 speed for recording and playback is further reinforced with a 32-bit resolution and 384 kHz sample rate. 

This German-made unit can efficiently tackle whatever information transmission challenge you throw its way.

The AXR4T features 4 AXR hybrid preamps with low latency, terrific signal clarity, and Neve emulations. The jitter reduction is quite reliable whereas the AXR mixing software (DSP) offers extra audio processing, routing, and monitoring options.

You can expand the AXR4T via the digital connections or the D-sub to reach a maximum of 24 outputs and 28 outputs. That's more than enough for recording a live band.

Features

  • 28 channels
  • 23.3 L x 19.8 W x 6.4 H (inches)
  • 10.1 lbs
  • 28 input lines and 24 output lines
  • 32-bit, 384 kHz playback and recording
Pros
  • Great sound quality
  • The knobs feel solid and turn smoothly
  • Compact and sleek design
  • Easy to install
Cons
  • On the pricey side
  • Some controls, such as USB-C to MicroUSB, are placed awkwardly

5. Antelope Audio Zen Go Synergy

Top Pick
Antelope Audio Zen Go Synergy
4.2/5Rating

Interested in getting this audio interface? Click the link below.

Headquartered in Bulgaria, Antelope Audio jumped on the Thunderbolt interface wagon with the Zen Go Synergy Core. The compact sibling of the company's lineup is packed with effective features for on-the-go recording.

Delivering high-resolution output, the Zen Go is big on the details and ever bigger on the headroom thanks to the 127dB dynamic range of the AD/DA. The preamps may be discrete, but there's nothing modest about the clarity of their 65 dB gain.

The Zen Go supports loopback streaming and session recall functions. It also supports over 35 real-time effects and houses 4 input and 8 output channels.

Complete with switchable inputs, this Thunderbolt audio interface is surely impressive, but not perfect. 

The clock-sourcing ADAT format is missing, the core implementation is too weak to support using multiple FX simultaneously and accessing plugins from your DAW is unnecessarily complicated.

Features

  • 28 channels
  • 7.8 L x 4.6 W x 2.3 H (inches)
  • 1.5 lbs
  • 127dB dynamic range
  • 2 preamps
  • 4 input lines and 8 output lines
  • Acoustically-Focused Clocking at 64-bits, 192 kHz
  • 37 real-time effects
Pros
  • Great value for money
  • FPGA- and DSP-enhanced processing power
  • Has switchable inputs (preamps/Hi-Z/line level)
Cons
  • Simultaneous use of multiple FX not supported

Related Article: The Top 5 Best Audio Interfaces For Podcasting In 2024


Final Thoughts

The key to making the most out of today's list of the best Thunderbolt audio interfaces is to pick the one that best matches your needs.

To that end, we can help you out by recommending the Focusrite Red 16Line as the overall winner. It’s second to none in all aspects, be it sound quality, feature availability, design, signal clarity, or workflow efficiency.

It is, however, quite expensive. So if you aren't ready to splurge, we recommend the PreSonus Quantum 2626 as the runner-up. It offers an impressive performance while being easy on your wallet.

If you’re looking for the best possible recording output at the lowest possible price, the Universal Audio Apollo Solo Heritage Edition will fit the bill.

"Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. These links are from various companies such as Amazon. This means if you click on any of these links and purchase the item or service, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is at no cost to you and the money gets invested back into Audio Sorcerer LLC."

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