Ten of the best 8-mic pre audio interfaces under $1,000

Audio interfaces are the central pieces of the modern studio and for many engineers they're not just about AD/DA but also used for providing microphone pre-amplification - not only because it’s convenient but also because it’s a cost-effective route into the world of multitrack recording if you don't have the coin to spend on external preamps. With that in mind we have consulted with our members on their favourite audio interfaces under the thousand dollar* mark with eight preamps. Here’s what they’ve told us!

*Average EU/US market prices - listed in alphabetical order by manufacturer.

Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820

Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820

The UMC1820 shows the latest developments from Behringer, with an entirely new design, upgraded components, sample rates up to 96kz and most notably the adoption of MIDAS preamps. This 18x20 interface packs in quite a lot: eight combo line/mic inputs, ten line-level outputs, SPDIF I/O, MIDI I/O and ADAT for eight additional inputs/outputs. All input channels are equipped with mic/line switches, gain pad and gain knobs, which are all easily accessible on the front panel along with two phantom power buttons, a master output control and two headphones outputs with independent sources and volume knobs. The UMC1820 offers direct monitoring through a knob on the front panel, but if you want to set up more complex monitoring and/or cue mix routing you’ll run into a bit of difficulty since there’s no proprietary "mixing" software offered here. It's a shortcoming that feels almost inevitable for an interface with such an affordable price tag - one the most affordable in its category in fact and a viable choice if the funds are limited but recording with eight preamps is required. That aside, you can pair it up with a ADA8200 and you have a sixteen input rig for multitrack recording for less than $500, which is quite a bargain.



Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (2nd Gen)

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (2nd Gen)

Focusrite have recently updated their entry-level line of interfaces, and here we have the “2nd Gen” Scarlett 18i20. This new version handles sample rates up to 192kHz, has redesigned instrument inputs with high headroom to record almost any instrument and built-in analog circuit protection to protect from power surges. The second generation of the Scarlett line also brings improved drivers for very low latencies (especially useful when tracking with plug-ins), and the extra bonus of free membership the Plug-In Collective, a service that brings free and discounted high-end plug-ins every month to Focusrite interface owners. Focusrite have also introduced a control app for iOS that allows the user to set up cue mixes and input level settings from their phone or iPad. Despite all these new features the connectivity is kept intact - as the name hints this is 18x20 (inputs x outputs) USB 2.0 interface has plenty of connectors - ten line outputs, two headphone outputs with dedicated volume knobs, a monitor control knob with dim/mute functions, two instrument/mic inputs with instrument switches and a gain pad on the front panel, six mic/line combo inputs with dedicated gain knobs on the rear panel, two phantom power switches for channels 1-4 & 5-8, MIDI I/O, ADAT optical ports for input/output expansion with S/MUX support for higher sample rate operation, SPDIF I/O, Wordclock output and a handy 5-LED input meter on the panel. The asking price also hasn’t changed, and it’s arguably one of the best examples of a 'bang for buck' audio interface that one can think of. Read our user reviews of the 18i20 1st gen.



Focusrite Clarett 8Pre

Focusrite Clarett 8Pre

If you no longer want a USB interface and staying current and future-proof is what you’re looking for, Focusrite has a very enticing offering with their Clarett 8Pre audio interface. Powered by Thunderbolt this 18x20 interface has the same connections as the Scarlett 18i20, but besides the different computer interface type the Clarett 8Pre also has different AD/DA converters with 119dB of dynamic range on tap and perhaps more notably a different preamp design, which are equipped with special analogue “Air” circuits that emulates the tonality of the classic transformer-based Focusrite ISA preamps that are largely responsible for the brand’s trademark sound. The front panel is reminiscent of the Scarlett 18i20, with monitor and headphones volume knobs, a 6-LED meter and individual gain settings for the analog inputs. Owners of this lovely interface will also benefit from a free iOS control app and membership of the previously mentioned Plug-In Collective. Definitely a solid pick, with superb conversion, great sounding mic preamps and up-to-date tech that will support you far into the future without breaking that important psychological $1k barrier.



M-Audio ProFire 2626

M-Audio ProFire 2626

As with most digital tech, audio interfaces can be very ephemeral things but M-Audio’s Profire 2626 has sort of defied the odds, surviving in many studios to this day, which is not exactly common for interfaces that are almost a decade old. This interface operates with sample rates of up to 192kHz, provides good connectivity with eight preamps, eight line-level outputs, two ADAT I/O ports with SMUX support for up to sixteen extra analog inputs/outputs, SPDIF I/O, Wordclock I/O, MIDI I/O and a mixer app with flexible routing for up to eight stereo cue mixes. It’s a FireWire interface, a standard that’s probably on its way out but still present on many computers, most notably older Macs (and still available via an adapter to Thunderbolt ports on current Macs). The 2626 can be bought for very little money and still provides great value, but it's worth keeping in mind that there’s no guarantee that it will work on newer/future operating systems since drivers are no longer being developed by M-Audio. However, even if it ceases to work on your computer, it also works as a standalone preamp/converter, which should extend its life since you can always connect it to a newer interface to add eight more mic pres. If you’d like to stick with M-Audio then check out the M-Track Eight, which is their current flagship interface with eight preamps and eight analog outputs, this time through a USB 2.0 connection and also very affordable, although it doesn't have any digital connections for expansion. Read our user reviews of the Profire 2626.



MOTU 8pre

MOTU 8pre

MOTU is almost a synonym for “audio interface”, as it's a brand that’s been with us on our music computers since the very beginning, and the Unicorn makes yet another mark with their 8pre USB 2.0 interface. This nifty unit comes with a very focused feature set: it’s a 16x12 interface, with eight mic preamps/line inputs combo XLR/TRS connectors on the rear panel, a stereo balanced TRS output, MIDI I/O, and two pairs of ADAT I/O for up to sixteen more inputs and outputs. The front panel has a look that unmistakably resembles other interfaces from the company, featuring a single pushable multi-function encoder, a headphone output and a gain knob on each analog input along with 48V/pad buttons. The 8pre comes with a cue mix/monitoring app with latency-free effects and iPad remote control support, which should definitely make life easier (and cut the "going back and forth to the computer" to a minimum). If brand history and longevity are important aspects to you when choosing audio interfaces then MOTU should rank pretty high on your list. Read our user reviews.



PreSonus Studio 192

PreSonus Studio 192

PreSonus was quite successful in the value-priced “interface with eight mic pres” department with the FireStudio, but now the company raises the bar with the new Studio 192, which adopts USB 3.0 instead of Firewire and incorporates their latest developments on preamp and converter design. This unit comes with eight Class A “XMAX” recallable mic preamps on combo XLR/TRS inputs, eight balanced outputs, two headphones outputs, SPDIF I/O, Wordclock I/O and two pairs of ADAT I/O, which makes for an impressive 26x32 unit. The FireStudio is also remote controllable through the UC Surface app, which runs on Windows touchscreen computers or iPad, and as expected it integrates perfectly with Studio One (a free copy of the 'Artist' edition is included) - with extensive interface control directly from the DAW mixer. As a bonus you’ll also get free plug-ins from Arturia, Brainworx, Eventide and Lexicon too. The Studio 192 is one of the most expensive interface on our list (if not the most expensive), but it’s also the unit with the highest I/O count and arguably one of the best feature sets. If money is short but you would like to stay with PreSonus then look for the AudioBox 1818VSL, which (as the name hints) is a 18x18 USB 2.0 interface with the same eight XMAX preamps from the Studio 192, but without the recall functionality.



Roland UA-1010 Octa-Capture

Roland UA-1010 Octa-Capture

The Roland Octa-Capture is one of the most enduring units out there and highly regarded in this community for its great sound, low latency and reliability. This USB 2.0 interface works with sample rates up to 192kHz, providing eight analog outputs and eight preamps on combo inputs, two of them equipped with Hi-Z options. Preamp levels can be easily set with an intelligent level setting feature, with the front panel provides quick visual reference on the input levels on a backlit display which also provides access to manual level settings and cue mix configurations. The front panel also features navigation buttons, cue mix selection (up to four cue mixes are available) and knobs for main monitors and headphones volume. One interesting aspect of the Octa-Capture is the smaller than usual chassis/form factor that makes it somewhat portable, which is good thing since it can be used without a computer as mixer with preamps (rackmount ears are still provided just in case you do want to 'install' it). If your I/O needs are greater than what the Octa-Capture provides then check out the Studio Capture UA-1610, which shares many of the features of the Octa-Capture (including its sensible pricing) but expands the inputs to 16 channels, 12 of them equipped with mic preamps. Read our user reviews of the Octa-Capture.



Steinberg UR824

Steinberg UR824

One of the most praised audio interfaces among our users is Steinberg’s UR824, and we could go as far as saying it’s the most highly recommended interface in this category and price bracket. This USB 2.0 interface comes with eight analog balanced outputs, Wordclock I/O, two pairs of ADAT for 16 extra analog inputs/outputs (S/MUX supported), eight Class-A Yamaha “D-PRE” mic preamps with dedicated gain knobs and attenuation pad (two on the front panel have Hi-Z [instrument-level] switches), which makes it a 24x24 interface supporting sample rates up to 192kHz. It also features phantom power (four buttons for input pairs), two headphones outputs with independent volume control, master output volume knob, JetPLL clocking for jitter-free performance, and a software app for cue mix configuration with latency-free monitoring with the Sweet Spot Morphing Channel Strip (EQ and Comp), REV-X (reverb) and Guitar Amp Classics (guitar amps simulation). The app can also run on iPad (model 2+) for mobile recording with the included Cubasis LE. As a Steinberg product it integrates nicely with their flagship DAWs, enabling the user to set basically all relevant parameters inside the Cubase/Nuendo mixer, so there’s no need for switching windows for setting most things up. If you’d like to use the Cubase/Nuendo integration but you’re stuck with an older computer with FireWire you might want to look at the MR816 CS/CSX interfaces, which were released a few years before the UR824, with a very similar feature set, the same Yamaha preamps and still works on current operational systems. Read our user reviews of the UR824.



TASCAM Celesonic US-20x20

TASCAM Celesonic US-20x20

Tascam’s respectable Celesonic US-20x20 is their latest effort in the audio interface department, bringing lots of connectivity through a USB 3.0 port. This interface brings ten analog balanced outputs, two balanced line inputs, SPDIF I/O, MIDI I/O, ADAT I/O (SMUX supported), Wordclock I/O, and on the front panel there are eight mic pres on combo XLR/TRS inputs with gain knobs. The front panel also provides two +48V phantom power switches, headphone outputs and a main output level control, all with their own volume knobs. Tascam used to outsource driver development, which led to some criticism in the past, but this is no longer the case as they’ve taken control over their design and now have an in-house team coding not only the drivers but also the nifty software monitoring app that allows for highly flexible monitor mix setups through a fully-fledged mixer with EQ, effects and even a 'virtual patchbay'. The US-20x20 can also work without a computer and can easily serve as a compact mixer for the road. Overall it's a very solid interface with many great features and a very friendly price tag. If you're a fan of Tascam but your budget is really short and/or you can live with fewer features then look out for the US-1608, which sells cheap (relatively speaking) and provides the same eight preamps on USB 2.0, but with only analog I/O i.e. no ADAT or any other digital ports.



ZOOM UAC-8

ZOOM UAC-8

Zoom have recently stormed the audio interface market with some respectable products, notably the UAC-8 (featured) and TAC-8 interfaces. The UAC-8 runs on USB 3.0 while the TAC-8 runs on Thunderbolt. They’re essentially identical except for the chassis colours (silver/blue for the TAC-8 and grey/black for the UAC-8) and a slightly lower price for the UAC-8 model. Both are 18x20 interfaces operating on sample rates up to 192kHz, with eight mic pres on XLR/TRS combo connectors (two on the front panel) with dedicated input gain knobs, eight line level analog outputs, a main stereo analog output, two headphone outputs with their own level settings, a main output control knob, SPDIF, MIDI, ADAT and Wordclock I/O. They also offer a mixing app with latency-free onboard effects and are both capable of operating as standalone units. Despite being a newcomer to the interface game it seems like Zoom “got it right” - our community seems to agree that Zoom has done a great job on these interfaces, combining great sound quality with solid performance at a relatively affordable price.


That’s our list, hopefully it will help you to pick the right interface and get great quality recordings done without breaking your bank.

Are you planning on upgrading your interface? Will you stick to Firewire and/or USB 2.0 or are you planning on moving up to Thunderbolt or USB-C/3.0? Please share your thoughts!

For more discussion and opinion on audio interfaces please visit: https://www.gearslutz.com/board/music-computers/