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Thunderbolt Audio Interface: Top 10 review

Thunderbolt is the brand name for an Intel-developed hardware interface for connecting external devices to a computer. Thunderbolt is a single cable that integrates PCI Express (PCIe) and DisplayPort (DP) signals into two serial signals and, furthermore, delivers DC power. A single connection may handle up to six peripherals through different topologies.  Thunderbolt 1 and 2 utilize the Mini DisplayPort (MDP) connection, while Thunderbolt 3 and 4 employ the USB-C connector. It was originally commercialized under the title Light Peak and was first released on 24 February 2011 as a component of an end-user product.

Depending on the version, it supports a wide array of different data speeds and cable lengths. Thunderbolt interfaces are classified as thunderbolt-1, thunderbolt-2, and thunderbolt-3. If you want to know more about audio interfaces have a look here.

Thunderbolt 1 interface:

The following are some of the characteristics of the Thunderbolt 1 interface type:

  • Thunderbolt 1 was launched in 2011.
  • Thunderbolt 1 connects through the MDP (Mini DisplayPort) connector.
  • There are two channels, each capable of transmitting data at a rate of ten gigabits per second. Thus, a total of 20 Gbps is possible.

Thunderbolt 2 interface:

The following are some of the attributes of the Thunderbolt 2 interface type:

  • The Thunderbolt 2 made its debut in 2013.
  • Thunderbolt 2 connects through the MDP (Mini DisplayPort) connector.
  • Thunderbolt 2 offers data transfer rates of up to 20 Gbps.
  • It supports four PCI express 2.0 lanes and DisplayPort 1.2.

Thunderbolt 3 Interface:

Thunderbolt 3 interfaces include the following characteristics:

  • It was released in 2015.
  • It is equipped with USB-C connections.
  • Thunderbolt 3 offers data transfer rates of up to 40 Gbps.
  • It supports four PCI Express 3.0 lanes, DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI-2, and USB 3.1 Gen-2 protocols.

Thunderbolt 4 Interface: 

Thunderbolt 4 is Thunderbolt’s latest generation. These ports are available on PCs equipped with Intel® CoreTM mobile CPUs from the 11th generation or on systems equipped with a Thunderbolt 4 controller.

Thunderbolt 4 offers many upgrades and additional features over Thunderbolt 3.

  • Speed: Thunderbolt 4 ports provide the same high-speed 40Gbps data transfer rate as ThunderboltTM 3 connectors. In contrast, the minimum PCIe data requirements have been increased from 16Gbps to 32Gbps. This implies that external PCIe devices with high transfer rates and performance, such as storage and external graphics, may experience substantial improvements in transfer rates and performance.
  • Security: By rerouting requests from external devices and verifying appropriate permissions, VT-d-based DMA prevention helps avoid security risks.
  • Wake from sleep: This feature enables a PC to be woken up from hibernation while attached to peripherals via a dock.

While all ports serve the same fundamental function of connecting input/output devices to a computer, Thunderbolt 4 connectors provide many unique benefits:

1.     Flexibility: Certain ports provide electricity for your gadgets. Others are used to transmit data between devices and the PC. Others let you send visual signals from your computer to an external display. A ThunderboltTM port can perform all three of the functions listed above. It supports high-speed data transmission, video output, and power delivery to compatible devices (including charging a lightweight laptop).

2.     Bandwidth: Thunderbolt 4 connectors offer a bidirectional bandwidth of 40Gbps (gigabits per second). This enables rapid data transfer to and from external storage, as well as the connection of up to five Thunderbolt devices for flexible device configurations—all powered by a single port.

3.     Versatile connectivity: Thunderbolt 4 connectors are backward compatible with earlier ThunderboltTM, USB, DisplayPort, and PCle standards. The ports are equipped with typical USB-C connections.

In this section, we have listed 10 Thunderbolt audio interfaces for you.

1. Presonus Quantum 26×32 Thunderbolt 2 

PreSonus Quantum 2 is an audio interface of 26 × 32 and is recognized as part of one of the quickest and most profitable audio interface series. This Quantum 2 22 x 24 interface is perfect for studios that need high-quality recordings, near-zero latency due to the Thunderbolt 2 connection, and the potential to expand operations in the future by stacking several units for additional inputs/outputs.PreSonus is an extremely well-known and respected brand in the industry.

Presonus Quantum 26×32 Thunderbolt 2

FEATURES

  • Ultra high-quality circuitry & preamps
  • Presonus’ fastest & best-selling audio interface line
  • Sleek design & rack-mountable
  • Ultra-low latency with its Thunderbolt 2 connectivity
  • Premium-priced
  • Versatile, with the ability to stack up to four Quantum 2s via Thunderbolt to achieve 9696.
  • XMAX Class A analog microphone preamps
  • Studio One Artist and Studio Magic Plug-in Suite are included.
  • 1-year warranty

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Thunderbolt (2) connectivity
  • 8 x XLR/TRS (combined) inputs
  • Switchable phantom power
  • 2 monitoring TRS output (front side)
  • 8 line outputs
  • MIDI input/output
  • SPDIF input/output
  • 24-bit/192kHz
  • Weight: 2.72kg
  • Dimensions: 7′′ x 19′′ x 1.8′′ inches
  • Compatible with Mac and Windows

Cons: The device is not equipped with a T3 cable.

2. Apogee Element 88- Thunderbolt Audio Interface 

It’s a 16 x 16 Thunderbolt audio interface unit, which we like to refer to as the “Apple of the audio interface” world, creating ultra-sleek, high-quality gear that exudes elegance and exquisite sound quality. Contrary to the other units on the list, this one is best left in the rackmount cabinet (if you’re performing live) or in the studio, if it’s part of your studio setup. In general, the Apogee Element 88 is promoted as a high-end device capable of concurrently handling eight XLR channels (4 with TRS capability) and delivering excellent sound efficiency.

Apogee Element 88- Thunderbolt Audio Interface

FEATURES

  • Ultra high-quality circuitry & preamps
  • A company that has a high level of trustworthiness.
  • Sleek design
  • Rack-mountable
  • Premium-priced
  • No MIDI Input/Output

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Thunderbolt (original) connectivity
  • 4 x XLR/TRS (combined) inputs
  • 4 x XLR inputs
  • Switchable phantom power
  • 2 monitoring TRS outputs (front side)
  • L + R main outputs
  • L + R alt outputs
  • 16 ADAT/Optical inputs and outputs
  • Word Clock I/O
  • 24-bit/96kHz
  • Weight: 1.58kg
  • Dimensions: 13.5′′ x 5.5′′ x 1.8′′ inches
  • Compatible with Mac only

Cons: There will be no daisy-chaining of thunderbolts.

3. Presonus Quantum 48×48 Interface All Line Inputs Thunderbolt

A 48 x 48 ‘All Line Input’ thunderbolt audio interface, and part of one of PreSonus’ best-selling audio interface lines, the Presonus Quantum 2 is known to be very fast and very successful. When it comes to the Thunderbolt connection, the Presonus machines stand out due to their usage of Thunderbolt 2.

Thunderbolt’s bandwidth is 10 Gbps, compared to Thunderbolt 2’s 20 Gbps… Thus, unless you’re considering the pricey Universal Audio Apollo series units, the Presonus is the obvious victor here when it comes to near-zero latency.

Presonus Quantum 48×48 Interface All Line Inputs Thunderbolt

FEATURES

  • Ultra high-quality circuitry & preamps
  • Presonus’ fastest & best-selling audio interface line
  • Sleek design & rack-mountable
  • Ultra-low latency with its Thunderbolt 2 connectivity
  • Premium-priced
  • Versatile, with the ability to stack up to four Quantum 2s via Thunderbolt to achieve 192 x 192.
  • XMAX Class A analog microphone preamps
  • Studio One Artist and Studio Magic Plug-in Suite are included.
  • 1-year warranty

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Thunderbolt (2) connectivity
  • All line inputs
  • 32 channels of DB25 line-level I/O 
  • 2 monitoring TRS output (front side)
  • 8 line outputs
  • 24-bit/192kHz
  • Weight: 2.72kg
  • Dimensions: 7′′ x 19′′ x 1.8′′ inches
  • Compatible with Mac and Windows

Cons: Catalina 10.15.7 is not compatible with it.

4. Zoom Tac-2R 2×2 Thunderbolt

The Zoom TAC-2R is nearly identical in size and features to the aforementioned Resident Audio T2, but there are two significant differences (aside from minor aesthetic differences): frequency range, with the Zoom TAC offering a significantly higher range of 192kHz at full fidelity, whereas the T2 can only go to 96kHz, and, most likely, pricing.

Zoom Tac-2R 2×2 Thunderbolt

FEATURES

  • Very compact audio interface
  • Ideal for the ‘on the move’ musician
  • Lightweight
  • Sturdy aluminum chassis
  • High-resolution sound quality
  • Near-zero latency
  • 1-year free extended warranty

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Thunderbolt (original) connectivity
  • 2 x XLR/TRS (combined) inputs
  • Switchable phantom power
  • 2 (left and right) line outputs
  • 1 phone output (mono & stereo monitoring)
  • MIDI In and Out
  • 24-bit/192kHz
  • Weight : 0.71kg
  • Dimensions: 4.8′′ x 6.9′′ x 1.8′′ inches

Cons: There is difficulty regarding latencies. There seems to be a possibility that no Apple hardware will be supported.

5. Motu 828es 38×32 Thunderbolt 3

MOTU is a well-known and renowned US audio interface and recording equipment company that we had to incorporate into our list. This Thunderbolt (2) and USB compatible audio interface offers a broad range of capabilities, from the variety of accessible inputs to the remarkable 123dB dynamic range and ultra-low roundtrip latency durations of about 1.6ms (through Thunderbolt) and 1.9ms (via USB).

Motu 828es 38×32 Thunderbolt 3

Features

  • A company with a high level of trustworthiness.MOTU
  • 2 microphone preamps
  • Built-in mixer with onboard DSP effects
  • Sleek design & rack-mountable
  • Low latency with its Thunderbolt 2 connectivity
  • Excellent value for money.
  • 1-year warranty

Technical Specification

  • Thunderbolt (1,2 & 3) connectivity
  • 2 x XLR/TRS combination inputs
  • 8 x TRS line inputs
  • 2 XLR monitor outputs (front)
  • 8 x TRS line outputs
  • MIDI input & output
  • S/PDIF input & output
  • 2 x optical input & output
  • 24-bit/192kHz
  • Weight: N/A
  • Dimensions: N/A
  • Compatible with Mac and Windows

Cons: it doesn’t really operate with Windows 10, which may be due to the complexity of the software.

6. Universal Audio Apollo X1618×20 Thunderbolt 3 

Features

Universal Audio Apollo X1618×20 Thunderbolt 3
  • High-quality A/D & D/A conversion with the lowest signal-to-noise ratio.
  • HEXA Core processing features 6 UAD DSP chips
  • 2 Unison-enabled microphone preamps
  • Surround formats (up to 7.1)
  • Built-in talkback feature
  • Sleek design & rack-mountable
  • Ultra-low latency with its Thunderbolt 3 connectivity
  • Premium-priced
  • There are 16 UAD plugins available.
  • 1-year warranty

Technical Specification 

  • Thunderbolt (3) connectivity
  • 8 x XLR/TRS combination inputs
  • 6 x Line inputs
  • Switchable phantom power
  • 2 monitoring TRS output (front side)
  • L & R monitor line output
  • 2 x ADAT S/MUX input/output
  • 24-bit/192kHz
  • Weight: N/A
  • Dimensions: N/A
  • Compatible with Mac and Windows

Cons: it doesn’t really operate with Windows 10.

7. Focusrite Clarett 8 PreX 26×28 Thunderbolt

Focusrite is another firm that requires no introduction to the audio interface market. Mostly because they have been producing industry-leading commodities at very minimal prices for many years. Not only that, but the brand does not exploit its low price to conceal any flaws in its quality. 

On the other hand, they utilize only the highest-quality circuitry and offer a two-year manufacturer’s guarantee with each item. With that stated, the Clarett audio interface we’ll be reviewing has a 24-bit/192kHz audio resolution, which means you can anticipate ultra-high-quality audio.

Focusrite Claritte 8 PreX 26×28

FEATURES

  • Ultra high-quality circuitry & preamps
  • A company that has a high level of trustworthiness.
  • Sleek design
  • Rack-mountable
  • Premium-priced
  • Focusrite Control: Remote control from an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
  • 2GB Loopmasters samples
  • Ableton Live Lite, Red 2 & 3, and the Softube time & tone bundle are all included as a free download.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

  • Thunderbolt (original) connectivity
  • 8 x XLR/TRS (combined) inputs
  • Switchable phantom power
  • 2 monitoring TRS outputs (front side)
  • 10 line outputs (2 of those are monitor outputs)
  • MIDI input/output
  • SPDIF input/output
  • 24-bit/192kHz
  • Weight: 5.6kg
  • Dimensions: 8′′-18′′-24′′ inches. 
  • 2-year manufacturers warranty
  • Compatible with Mac and Windows

Cons: It has a slew of issues with the control software.

8. Apogee element 2410×12

It is a rack-mountable ten-by-twelve Thunderbolt audio interface device. The Apogee Element 24 is advertised as a premium-grade device and based on the quality of their previous products, we can fairly conclude that it delivers excellent sound quality.

Apogee element 2410×12

Nonetheless, you only get two XLR/TRS combination inputs, which may be plenty for some but not for others, but as other reviewers have mentioned, you can simply extend them with an ADAT (optical) device, such as the Behringer 8-channel AD/DA Converter, which results in significant cost savings.

Features

  • Ultra high-quality circuitry & preamps
  • A company that has a high level of trustworthiness.
  • Sleek design
  • Rack-mountable
  • Premium-priced
  • No MIDI Input/Output 

Technical Specification

  • Thunderbolt (original) connectivity
  • 2 x XLR/TRS (combined) inputs
  • Switchable phantom power
  • L + R main outputs
  • 8 ADAT/Optical inputs and outputs
  • Word Clock I/O
  • 24-bit/96kHz
  • Weight: 0.34kg
  • Dimensions: 5.8′′ x 3.8′′ x 1 inches
  • Compatible with Mac only

Cons: It is not interoperable with the 2016 MacBook Pro or the LG Ultrafine5K display. 

9. Universal Audio Apollo TwinMK Duo 2×6 T2

The Apollo Twin MKII Duo is a two-input, six-output audio interface that supports Thunderbolt.

The Apollo Twin MKII is available in three configurations: Solo, Duo (this one), and Quad, with the number of DSP power cores indicating the amount of processing power available to execute software plugins. If you want to use this device only as an audio interface, in conjunction with your DAW plugins and the “free” Universal Audio plugins, the Solo version is optimal.

Features

Universal Audio Apollo TwinMK Duo 2×6 T2
  • Sleek design
  • Dual-core processing – 2 DSP core processors
  • Compact and portable
  • Download a low-latency app.
  • It has two UnisonTM compatible mic preamps.
  • Sturdy aluminum chassis
  • Ultra-high-resolution sound quality along with Apollo AD & D/A converters
  • Near-zero latency
  • Ability to combine up to 4 Apollos
  • Monitoring & built-in talkback mic
  • It includes a number of UA plugins.

Technical Specification 

  • Thunderbolt (2) connectivity
  • 2 x XLR/TRS (combined) inputs
  • Switchable phantom power
  • 2 (left and right) line outputs
  • 2 phone output (left and right monitoring)
  • 12V power supply is required for operation.
  • 24-bit/192kHz
  • Weight : 1.74kg
  • Dimensions: 6′′ x 8′′ x 8′′ inches
  • Compatible with Mac & Windows

Cons: At the moment, a thunderbolt cable is not present.

10. Resident Audio T2 Interface

It is ideal for artists looking for a lightweight and small thunderbolt audio interface with a mix of XLR/TRS inputs. The Resident Audio T2 interface is the least expensive option on our list. However, do not let this create any misconceptions about the interface’s quality, particularly the sound performance, which can run at 24-bit/96kHz. Additionally, the device has a MIDI input and output, making it perfect for those who want to connect a keyboard/synth.

Resident Audio T2 Interface

Finally, the device has two dual-balanced line outputs for left and right feeds, as well as a single headphone output. Additionally, the T2 has a Smart Monitoring function that enables easy switching between stereo and mono monitoring.

Features

  • Very compact audio interface
  • Ideal for the ‘on the move’ musician
  • Lightweight
  • Sturdy die-cast aluminum chassis
  • Bus-powered (Thunderbolt)
  • Ultra-high-resolution sound quality
  • Near-zero latency
  • Extended 1-year warranty 

Technical Specification

  • Thunderbolt (original) connectivity
  • 2 x XLR/TRS (combined) inputs
  • Switchable phantom power
  • 2 (left and right) line outputs
  • 1 phone output (mono & stereo monitoring)
  • MIDI In and Out
  • 24-bit/96kHz
  • Weight : 0.92kg
  • Dimensions: 7′′ x 1.5′′ x 4.2′′ inches
  • Compatible with Mac and Windows (although limited compatibility with Windows)

Cons: It is completely at odds with newer Macs and macOS, MacOS×Sierra. Furthermore, there is concern about T4 and Mac minis.

Hope this article can help you find the best thunderbolt audio interface you are looking for. If you are a mac user and searching for a specialized audio interface for MAC we have a list for you here.

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