GEAR GUIDE: USB and Firewire Interfaces

It is easier (and cheaper) than ever to record professional quality audio, and with the added convenience of recording gear becoming smaller with each passing season, the market is currently flooded with dozens of ‘pro-sumer’ recording devices.  From a newbie looking to start recording demos in his or her bedroom, to professionals needing a portable recording solution, the options are seemingly endless. Fortunately there is a solution for everyone. Below are a few of the more popular USB and FireWire audio solutions, compared for your convenience.


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Steinberg CI2

Coming with a special ‘Lite’ version of Cubase, Steinberg’s CI2 is an interface designed for both beginners and more advanced Cubase users seeking a portable, inexpensive recording solution. With built-in recording templates and presets, more inexperienced users can be up and recording in matter of minutes. The CI2 is a hassle-free, intuitive interface designed to help beginners effortlessly record their music.

PreSonus FireStudio Mobile

While the FireStudio Mobile is the smallest interface mentioned, it is also has one of the more flexible I/O setups available.  PreSonus has somehow managed to squeeze eight analog inputs, in addition to  a MIDI and S/PDIF I/O into this ultra-portable box, capable of recording at 24-bit 96kHz.  Bundled with their Studio One software, featuring a rich virtual instrument and sample library, the PreSonus FireStudio Mobile is an ultra-portable, ultra-capable recording and production workhorse.

Digidesign Pro Tools Mbox Mini

The Mbox Mini is the newest addition to Digi’s recording line. While it is their entry-level interface, it is also the most affordable/portable Pro-Tools recording system on the market. If you’re interested in learning the long-time industry DAW standard or need a flexible system that will allow you to take your sessions from your bedroom to major recording facilities, the Mbox Mini is the way to go.

Line 6 POD Studio UX2

Originally made famous for the Pod, a portable guitar effects and amp modeling device, Line 6 recently tapped into the recording interface industry – most notably with their Studio UX2, an interface geared towards guitarists. With software that emulates 18 guitar amps and 24 cabinets, five bass amps and five cabinets, and 29 effects pedals, the UX2 is a surefire way to create tremendous guitar tone without disturbing the neighbors. Coupled with an interface capable of recording at 24-bit 96kHz, the POD provides a unique, yet professional recording experience.

Cakewalk UA-25EX

Long known for their Sonar recording and production software, Cakewalk brings us the UA-25EX – the only reviewed device that features built-in effects processing.  While the included software is Windows-only, the interface itself is highly capable, and the only other mentioned device to feature both MIDI and digital I/O. There is an included threshold adjustable compressor/limiter that can be toggled on and off to prevent digital clipping when recording, in addition to both 1/4” and RCA analog outputs. As mentioned, the included Cakewalk Production Plus Pack is Windows-only, however the unit ships with drivers for both Mac and PC.


M-Audio FireWire Solo

Being the only other device mentioned capable of running Pro Tools (not included), the FireWire Solo is a simple, high-quality interface capable of recording at 24-bit 96kHz. Being compatible with most recording/production software, and having the added convenience of S/PDIF digital I/O, the Solo is a solid foundation to any recording rig. As an added bonus, Pro Tools M-Powered can be purchased separately for a truly flexible recording/production system.

Parting Thoughts

Regardless of how many inputs a device may have or how many plug-ins a piece of software comes with, all of these interfaces are simple, compact, and surprisingly powerful.  Whether you need to cut huge sounding guitar tracks on your PC without disturbing your neighbors, or you need a simple recording solution to throw in your bag, there is an interface and recording solution on the market for you.


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