Do You Need an Audio Interface for Ableton?

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Most of the audio interfaces available on the market are compatible with Ableton but they are not all great. Our article about the best audio interfaces for Ableton is here to help you find the best audio interface for your recording studio, especially if you’re using Ableton DAW for all the recording, mixing, and editing purposes.

What is Ableton?

Ableton is, arguably, the most popular DAW on the market. DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. This is a software tool that allows you to record live and virtual instruments, edit and mix audio tracks, and add all kinds of effects to your recordings. Different artists and editing specialists prefer different DAWs (Ableton, Pro Logic, Pro Tools, FL Studio, Cubase, Studio One, GarageBand, etc.). They all have the same basic functions but they are not all equally user-friendly and don’t deliver the same kind of final product.

One of the things Ableton is known for is its ease of use, which makes it very popular among beginners (especially the cheapest Ableton Live Lite version). It’s also a great choice if you want to combine recorded audio with all kinds of digital instruments. It has a minimalistic and intuitive user interface that makes the production super-easy.

Do You Really Need an Audio Interface for Ableton?

In most cases, especially if you want to record live instruments (like guitars), or vocals via XLR mic, or if you want to use high-impedance headphones for monitoring, an audio interface is necessary. So, anything other than line-level sources requires an audio interface. Some USB microphones (like Blue Yeti mics) can be used without a separate audio interface and can be a good choice for podcasts and some other purposes but they also have a built-in interface. 

Recommended : What is the Best Audio Interface for Windows 10?

The only thing that could be used instead of an audio interface is a mixer with USB or Firewire ports. Mixers are, by default, more complicated and offer you more control over the audio that gets sent to your computer. However, mixers are the preferred option for live performances while audio interfaces are still a better option for recording. Why? Well, because most mixers, even those with audio interface built-in, can’t perform multitrack recording. Instead, they will mix all the incoming signals into two-channel audio and send it to your DAW. If you have a great USB mixer that supports multitrack recording, then you can absolutely use it as a replacement for an audio interface. Have in mind that these mixers are usually pricier than the audio interfaces with the same number of inputs and outputs.

Our Top Picks

This post contains affiliate links. See the affiliate disclaimer here.

ProductPriceOverall RatingReview
Steinberg UR12Check Price on Amazon4.4Read Review
M-Audio AIR 192|4Check Price on Amazon4.5Read Review
Behringer U-PHORIA UMC202HDCheck Price on Amazon4.5Read Review
MOTU M2Check Price on Amazon4.7Read Review
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2Check Price on Amazon4.4Read Review
Focusrite Scarlett 18i20Check Price on Amazon4.8Read Review
Tascam US-16×08Check Price on Amazon4.4Read Review
Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII DuoCheck Price on Amazon4.5Read Review

Are All Audio Interfaces Compatible with Ableton?

Most of them are. In fact, many interfaces come with Ableton Live Lite as one of the included software tools. However, you should still check the specs and product details before buying and see if there were some incompatibility issues in the past.

After a short and hopefully informative introduction, we can move onto our selection of the best audio interfaces for Ableton. We did our research, tested many popular interfaces, and picked out our favorite interfaces for different purposes and different budgets. You just have to determine your limit and check out our recommendations for that price limit.


BEST AUDIO INTERFACES FOR ABLETON UNDER $200

The majority of these affordable audio interfaces are compatible with PCs and Macs. Most of them have one or two inputs (either two combo XLR/TRS inputs or separate XLR and 6.35mm TRS inputs) and two outputs (line out and headphones). Cheaper units deliver lower recording quality (up to 24bit/96kHz) and some pricier units ($100-$200) deliver higher recording quality (up to 24bit/192kHz).

Best USB Audio Interface for Ableton Under$150 – Steinberg UR12

Steinberg UR12

Editor’s Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)

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Impressions

Steinberg is one of the names that come to mind when speaking about reasonably priced audio interfaces. Steinberg is closely related to Yamaha so it’s not a no-name brand. UR12 is one of the simplest and cheapest Steinberg’s interfaces and it’s a perfect choice for tiny home recording studios. If you’re a beginner and want to record just a guitar and your voice, this is a perfect choice.

UR12 comes with one USB cable (USB Type-B to USB-A) and one CD with drivers. The unit has two power supply options (USB Type-B port for computers and a micro USB port for iPads). However, micro USB cable is not included in the package. 

This interface is compatible with all the most common DAW software tools (including Ableton) and supports all the most common standards (ASIO, WDM, Core Audio). When using an iPad, you can download, install, and use the Cubase music app or any other iOS audio app for recording. The unit also comes with a software bundle that includes guitar amp emulators (four kinds), EQ and compressor effects, reverb effects, etc.

The unit has a very strong aluminum housing with an intuitive input/output scheme and with easy-to-use and responsive controls. The front panel houses one XLR input for microphones and one 6.35mm Hi-Z input for instruments. Each input has its own gain dial and peak/clipping indicator. For the XLR input, there’s also a 48V indicator (48V phantom power switch is on the back). The front panel also houses one headphone output, one volume dial, and a direct monitoring button (zero-latency monitoring).

The rear panel houses RCA line outputs (one pair), 48V switch, two inputs (USB Type-B and micro USB) with a switch between them that allows you to select the connection you’re using.

Steinberg UR12 features D-PRE/Class-A mic preamplifiers made by Yamaha. The max supported recording and AD/DA conversion quality is 24bit/192kHz.

Advantages

  • Priced under $150
  • Compact and durable housing
  • Simple and intuitive user interface
  • Two power supply options – USB Type-B and micro USB
  • Compatible with Windows, macOS, and iOS
  • Compatible with all the most common DAWs (including Ableton)
  • One XLR mic input with 48V phantom power support
  • Class-A mic preamp by Yamaha
  • One 6.35mm Hi-Z instrument input
  • Dedicated gain dials for each input
  • Headphone OUT x1
  • RCA Line-OUT x1
  • Max audio quality – 24bit/192kHz

Disadvantages

  • Micro USB cable and adapter are not included (required when using an iPad)

Best USB-C Audio Interface for Ableton Under $150 – M-Audio AIR 192|4

M-Audio AIR 192|4

Editor’s Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)

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Impressions

M-Audio AIR 192|4 is fairly similar to the previously reviewed Steinberg UR12 but has a USB-C connection port and comes with more software tools. It’s also a great choice for solo artists and small home recording studios.

This unit is also compatible with macOS and Windows devices. It comes with two cables (USB-C to USB-A and USB-C to USB-C). The software bundle includes free Ableton Live Lite, Pro Tools, and a bunch of guitar amp emulators and FX plugins.

M-Audio AIR 192|4 has a solid aluminum chassis with an angled control panel for improved usability. All the inputs are on the front and rear panels, and all the controls are on the top.

On the front, there’s a single Hi-Z 6.35mm instrument input, 48V switch (phantom power), and a headphone output. On the back, there’s one XLR/TRS combo input, one pair of LINE OUT ports, and a USB-C port.

On the top, you have two gain dials and two VU meters (one for each input). Also, there are two volume dials (one large for master volume and one small for headphone volume), and one mixer dial (USB/DIRECT) for direct monitoring.

M-Audio AIR 192|4 features a low-noise Crystal mic preamp and delivers very clean and noise-free output. The max supported audio quality is 24bit/192kHz.

Advantages

  • Priced under $150
  • Compact and durable
  • Compatible with Windows and macOS
  • Comes with an impressive software bundle (that also includes Ableton Live Lite)
  • One Hi-Z guitar input
  • One XLR/TRS combo input
  • Dedicated gain dials and VU meters for each input
  • Headphone OUT x1
  • LINE OUT x1
  • Supports 48V phantom power
  • Supports direct monitoring

Disadvantages

  • The included cables are fairly short

Behringer U-PHORIA UMC202HD

Behringer U-PHORIA UMC202HD

Editor’s Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)

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Impressions

U-PHORIA UMC202HD is also a simple 2I/2O audio interface made for less demanding users. It’s perfect for solo artists and podcasters. The interface comes with a USB cable for connecting to a PC/Mac. It will also work with iPads but you will need additional equipment.

U-PHORIA UMC202HD is compatible with all the most common and most popular DAWs including Ableton, Avid Pro, Pro Tools, Cubase, etc. 

The housing is made of aluminum and is very rugged. The front panel is quite crowded – almost all the inputs and controls are located there. You have two combo inputs (XLR/TRS) compatible with all kinds of instruments/microphones including Hi-Z instruments. For each input, there’s a dedicated gain dial with signal and clipping LED indicators, LINE/INST selector (for selecting the type of input), and pad button (attenuates the input signal). Headphone output, two volume dials (headphone volume/master volume), and a direct monitoring button are also located on the front.

On the back, there’s one pair of line outputs, 48V phantom power switch, and a USB Type-B port.

U-PHORIA UMC202HD features MIDA mic preamps and supports the max audio quality of 24bit/192kHz. It delivers very stable and smooth performance.

Unlike some similarly priced units, UMC202HD doesn’t have MIDI ports. Also, the explanations on how to download the drivers and free software tools are not very clear.

Advantages

  • Compact and rugged chassis 
  • Two combo inputs (XLR/6.35mm)
  • Inputs are compatible with microphones, Hi-Z instruments, and line-level instruments
  • Supports phantom power
  • Headphone OUT x1
  • LINE OUT x1
  • Direct (zero-latency) monitoring
  • 24bit/192kHz – max recording quality

Disadvantages

  • The front panel is a bit too crowded
  • Lacks MIDI inputs/outputs

Best Audio Interface for Ableton Under $200 – MOTU M2

MOTU M2

Editor’s Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars (4.9 / 5)

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Impressions

MOTU M2 is, like the previous three, a very compact audio interface made for small home recording studios and solo artists. It’s also good for podcasts. It’s better than the others because it has more inputs and outputs (MIDI IN/OUT and an additional pair of line outputs).

The packaging includes USB-C to USB-A cable. Also, you get a bunch of free software tools (two DAWs – Ableton Live Lite and MOTU Performer Lite, all kinds of virtual loops, virtual instruments, and sounds). MOTU M2 is compatible with macOS and Windows computers. It will also work with iPads but you will need some additional equipment.

The housing is made of metal. The unit is compact and the whole user interface is very nicely designed. The front panel houses two combo inputs compatible with mics, line-level instruments, and Hi-Z instruments. For each input, you have a 48V phantom power button, direct monitoring button, and gain dial. Next to the inputs, there’s a nice LCD display with two VU gain meters (for the inputs) and two VU volume meters (for the outputs). On the far-right end of the front panel, there’s a headphone output with its volume dial and one larger master volume dial.

On the back, there are two pairs of line outputs, MIDI in/out ports, USB-C port, and a power switch.

The unit has ultra-clean preamps and delivers distortion-free sound on both inputs. The max audio quality is 24bit/192kHz. M2 allows you to mix computer output audio with the input signals, which comes in handy when podcasting and streaming (loopback feature).

Advantages

  • Compact and rugged 
  • Intuitive and user-friendly controls
  • Two combo (XLR/TRS) inputs
  • Inputs are compatible with mics, line-level, and Hi-Z instruments
  • 48V phantom power
  • Headphone OUT x1
  • LINE OUT x2
  • MIDI IN/OUT ports
  • Loopback feature
  • 24bit/192kHz – max recording quality

Disadvantages

  • Additional equipment required for iPad use

BEST AUDIO INTERFACES FOR ABLETON UNDER $500

Best Audio Interface For Ableton Under $250 – Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2

Editor’s Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars (4.9 / 5)

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Impressions

NI Komplete Audio 6 Mk2 is an incredibly versatile and powerful audio interface. It’s one of our top recommendations for more advanced users. It’s not a professional interface but it’s still great for various use scenarios.

Komplete Audio 6 Mk2 comes with one USB Type-B cable. The packaging includes a large bundle of software tools (Ableton Live 10 Lite, TRAKTOR LE 3, KOMPLETE START (virtual instruments and effects), MASCHINE Essentials, MONARK, REPLIKA, etc.).

The interface has a fairly small and compact but very attractive and very durable black housing. Even though it has quite a few inputs and outputs, everything looks pretty clean. The front panel houses two combo inputs (XLR/6.35mm TRS). For each input, there’s a dedicated gain dial and line/inst switch (allows you to select the input type). Next to the inputs, there’s a 48V button (phantom power), mixer dial for direct monitoring (INPUT/HOST), mono/stereo switch for mono or stereo monitoring, output selector (1-2/3-4), and two headphone outputs with their volume dials.

On the top, there are 4 VU gain meters and one output volume indicator. Also, you have three LED indicators – USB, 48V, and MIDI. On the right end, there’s a large master volume dial.

The rear panel also has quite a few input and output ports. First of all, there’re four analog line outputs (two pairs). Also, you have two analog RCA inputs. Then, there are MIDI input and output ports, SPDIF input and output ports, and a USB Type-B port.

NI Komplete Audio 6 Mk2 delivers premium performance at a very affordable price. The sound output is practically distortion and noise-free. The max recording/conversion quality is 24bit/192kHz.

Advantages

  • Compact and attractive
  • Intuitive controls and indicators
  • Two combo (XLR/TRS) inputs
  • Combo inputs are compatible with mics, line-level instruments, and Hi-Z instruments
  • 48V phantom power
  • Direct monitoring (INPUT/HOST dial) – in mono or stereo
  • Two headphone outputs
  • Four analog line outputs
  • Two analog line-level inputs
  • MIDI in/out ports
  • SPDIF in/out ports
  • Premium audio quality – 24bit/192kHz

Disadvantages

  • The initial setup takes some time and requires the Native Access app

Most Versatile Audio Interface for Ableton Under $500 – Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 (3rd Gen)

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20

Editor’s Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars (4.9 / 5)

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Impressions

Scarlet 18i20 3rd Gen is much more capable and versatile than any of the previous interfaces. This is a perfect choice for bands and it’s a great budget option for professional recording studios.

The unit comes with a detachable power cable and a USB-C cable for connecting your Mac/Pc. After your register the product, you can download your software bundle that includes Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, Pro Tools, and all kinds of virtual instruments and plugins (some of the software tools are just temporary subscriptions).

18i20 3rd Gen has very crowded front and rear panels and may look a bit intimidating at first but it’s actually very user-friendly and the adjustment period takes just a few hours. The front panel houses two combo inputs (XLR/TRS) compatible with Hi-Z instruments, line-level instruments, and microphones. Then, you have two 48V buttons (for inputs 1-4 and for inputs 5-8) and a series of 8 gain knobs. For the first two knobs, there’s the INST button that allows you to connect Hi-Z instruments. For every knob, there’re two functions – AIR (Focusrite ISA preamp simulation) and PAD (signal attenuation). 

On the right end of the front panel, there are 8 VU gain meters for 8 inputs. Then, you have the talkback button (which activates the built-in mic and allows you to talk to the band when they are in the booth), ALT button (which allows you to shift between two pairs of monitors – 1-2 and 3-4), DIM button (reduces the output by 18dB), MUTE button (turns the outputs off). Finally, there’re two headphone outputs with their volume dials and the master volume dial.

On the back, there are 6 additional combo inputs (compatible only with mics and line-level instruments), 10 line outputs (4 of which are monitor outputs – MAIN and ALT), MIDI IN and OUT ports, two optical ADAT inputs and two outputs, SPDIF IN and OUT ports, word clock output, and power input.

Scarlet 18i20 3rd Gen delivers impressively stable and reliable performance with minimal latency. The max supported mixing and recording quality is 24bit/192kHz.

Advantages

  • Fairly compact considering the number of inputs/outputs
  • Solid construction
  • 8 combo XLR inputs
  • Two front combo inputs are compatible with Hi-Z instruments
  • 48V phantom power for all 8 inputs
  • Direct monitoring (through Focusrite Control app)
  • Two headphone outputs
  • 10 line-level outputs (4 of which are the main and ALT monitor outputs)
  • Two optical inputs and two optical outputs
  • SPDIF IN/OUT ports
  • MIDI IN/OUT ports
  • AIR and PAD functions
  • DIM and MUTE functions
  • ALT function
  • Talkback function

Disadvantages


Best Audio Interface for Ableton Under $300 – Tascam US-16×08

Tascam US-16x08

Editor’s Rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)

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Impressions

Similar to the previous Scarlet interface, Tascam US-16×08 is made for professional or semi-professional use and it’s perfect for larger bands. The best thing about this interface is its surprisingly affordable price. It can be yours for less than $300.

The unit comes with a detachable power cable, USB cable, rack mount adapter, manual, and a warranty card. The only piece of software that comes with it is the Settings Panel (for macOS and Windows).

The front panel houses 8 XLR mic inputs with two 48V phantom power buttons (one for inputs 1-4 and one for inputs 5-8). On the right end of the front panel, there’re two ¼-in inputs compatible with line-level and hi-Z instruments (there’s a LINE/INST selector for each input), ten gain dials with clipping indicators, one headphone output with a dedicated volume dial, and a master volume dial for the monitors.

On the back, there’s a DC power input, 6 line-level inputs with adjustable levels (-10dBV or +4dBu), 6 line-level outputs, MIDI IN/OUT ports, and a USB Type-B port.

US-16×08 has a DSP mixer for low-latency mixing. Also, you have 4-band EQ and compression for each channel.

Advantages

  • Very affordable
  • Compact
  • Intuitive user interface
  • 8 XLR mic inputs with a dedicated gain dial and clipping indicator for each input
  • 48V phantom power
  • Two ¼-in inputs compatible with line-level and Hi-Z instruments
  • One headphone output
  • Six line-level inputs with adjustable level (-10dBV/+4dBu)
  • Six line-level outputs
  • MIDI input/output
  • 24bit/192kHz – max recording/mixing quality

Disadvantages

  • Only one headphone output 
  • Doesn’t come with a free software bundle

BEST AUDIO INTERFACES FOR ABLETON OVER $500

When it comes to higher-end audio interfaces (for both – home and professional use), our top four recommendations are audio interfaces made by Universal Audio, RME, Apogee, and Antelope Audio. 

Best Audio Interface for Ableton Under $1,500 – Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Duo

Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII Duo

Editor’s Rating: 4.9 out of 5 stars (4.9 / 5)

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Impressions

UAD Apollo Twin MKII Duo is one of the best Thunderbolt audio interfaces under $1,500. It’s compatible with Mac and PC (primarily made for macOS devices). It comes with a power adapter and a user manual. For some reason, the Thunderbolt cable doesn’t come with the unit. The package also includes a huge software bundle (LUNA Recording System, UAD plug-in bundle, Tube preamp and EQ, etc.).

The input/output scheme is perfectly simple and intuitive. The front panel houses one Hi-Z instrument input and one headphone output. The rear panel houses two combo inputs for microphones and line-level instruments, monitor outputs, two line-level outputs, optical input, Thunderbolt 3.0 port, DC input, and a power switch.

All the controls and indicators are located on the top panel. In the middle, there’s a large dial and a built-in mic (talkback function). Around the volume dial, you have VU gain meters for each input and volume indicators for each output. Below that dial, there’s an LED display and a series of 8 buttons. You must use these buttons to select the input/output you want to control or the function you want to activate (talkback function, Low-Pass, DIM, ALT, PAD, etc.). 

Advantages

  • Compact and solidly built
  • Intuitive design with responsive controls
  • Comes with an amazing software bundle
  • One Hi-Z input
  • Two combo XLR/TRS inputs compatible with microphones and line-level instruments
  • 48V phantom power
  • Monitor outputs + two line-level outputs
  • Optical input
  • Thunderbolt 3 connection
  • Realtime UAD audio processing
  • Near-zero latency
  • 24bit/192kHz – max recording/mixing quality

Disadvantages

  • Thunderbolt cable is not included in the package

These were our top picks when it comes to best audio interfaces for Ableton. Hopefully, you have found the perfect unit for your needs. In case you haven’t, there’s a short Buyer’s Guide below with some useful tips and tricks. Take a few minutes to read it and get a better understanding of these devices before you keep searching for your new interface. As always, feel free to comment and ask questions.


Buyer’s Guide – Things to Consider When Buying an Audio Interface for Ableton

Compatibility with Ableton

As discussed in the introduction, almost all of the available interfaces on the market will work with Ableton, regardless of the manufacturer or price. Many will also come with a free version of Ableton Live software. 

PC/Mac/iPad Compatibility

This thing is tricky. Most interfaces are compatible with both PCs running on Windows and Macs running on macOS. However, some interfaces are made specifically for macOS. They usually have Thunderbolt 3 connection and deliver the best performance when connected to a macOS device. In some cases, they will also work with Windows machines but won’t deliver the same level of performance. 

iPad compatibility is the trickiest thing. If you want an interface that doesn’t require additional equipment to work with iPads, look for an MFi interface (MFi- made for iPhone/iPad). For more info about iPad compatibility, read our previous article about the best iPad audio interfaces.

Price

As you were able to see from our selection, the price of audio interfaces varies. The cheapest and simplest and priced under $100. Some pretty good and fairly versatile interfaces can be found for $200 or less. More versatile interfaces are priced above $200 and professional interfaces are often priced over $1000. You just have to think about your needs and then set your budget. And be reasonable – you can’t get a great interface with 4 mic inputs for $200. 

Inputs (Type and Number)

Depending on the number and type of instruments and microphones you want to record, you should be looking for the interface that meets all of your requirements. Some people need just two inputs for two microphones. Some people need just a guitar interface with only one input and one headphone output. Bands will need much more inputs and not only XLR and TRS instrument inputs. They may need ADAT, optical, and SPDIF inputs, too.

Outputs

Most audio interfaces have at least two outputs – one line out for connecting monitors and one headphone out. The smallest portable interfaces may have only one headphone output and no line outputs. More advanced interfaces have multiple headphone and line outputs. They may also have MIDI outputs, SPDIF outputs, etc. 

Controls

All audio interfaces have gain and volume knobs, as well as other buttons for additional features (48V phantom power, mic preamp simulators, pads, etc.). However, they are not all equally user-friendly and the controls are not always equally intuitive and/or responsive. The best thing you can do is to try the interface before buying it and see if it’s good enough for you or not. 

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