If you’ve found yourself in need of more simultaneous channels while recording, then you’re probably trying to figure out what to look for in a higher track audio interface.
As is usually the case, the features to prioritize in a 16 channel interface will depend on your situation and needs.
Today, I’ll be highlighting three different audio interfaces at different price points that all have different strengths. All three are among the best in their price range, and all three are capable of high quality audio recordings.
So let’s get started.
My Definition of “16 Channel”
Before I go any farther I want to make sure we’re on the same page with what is meant by 16 channels. Some interfaces will claim to be 16 channels if they have 8 inputs and 8 outputs, but to me this is an 8 channel interface.
So all the products I’ll recommend today are capable of at least 16 simultaneous inputs during a recording session. Some will be capable of more, but 16 inputs will be possible for all of them.
Achieving More Than 8 Channels
Many of the high end audio interfaces come built in with only 8 analog inputs. But most of them claim to be capable of more than 8 inputs.
This may be review for you, but if it’s your first time looking for an interface that can do more channels than it has physical inputs, then you might need to know how to get those extra channels.
In almost all cases, this is achieved through a combination of using the built-in analog inputs and using multi-channel digital inputs that are built in to the device. The most common digital input you’ll see is ADAT (Alesis Digital Audio Tape). It’s just a digital connection that allows 8 digital audio channels to be sent simultaneously.
This of course begs the question, how to you get that digital audio?
Getting Digital Audio Into Your Interface
Most recording of raw sound is done with a microphone of some sort. The microphone turns physical sound waves into an electrical signal. And that electrical signal is often referred to as analog sound or an analog signal.
But digital audio is different. A digital audio signal is a collection of information that can be used by a computer (basically, just a long string of 1’s and 0’s).
Inside your audio interface is some hardware and software that interprets the analog/electrical signal and turns it into a digital signal/digital information. This part of the process is called analog to digital conversion.
And it just so happens that there is audio gear specifically made to convert analog signals to digital signals. They are usually called AD/DA converters, and most of them will convert audio signals in both directions (analog to digital and digital back to analog).
These converters will have analog inputs and digital outputs (and vice versa) that you can use to plug in additional microphones and then connect to an audio interface via ADAT (or sometimes other types of connections).
If your interface has multiple ADAT connections, you may need multiple AD/DA converters to utilize all the channels available on that interface.
When 16 Channels Are Useful
For most home recording artists, 1 channel is often enough. In fact, I’ve recorded dozens of songs using only 1 channel.
But then you might want to play guitar while you record vocals and you find that you need 2 channels. Then perhaps you want to record an acoustic drum kit and need several microphones to gain mixing control over every part of the kit.
But even then, usually 8 channels is enough.
So when might you need 16?
- When you’re recording live groups and need more than 8 microphones
- When you’re recording a particularly large or involved acoustic drum kit
- You want lots of mics to record sound from different perspectives
- Any other time you are using more than a dozen mics to record.
If you find yourself recording entire groups together, or recording live performances, its not too farfetched to think you might need 16 channels (or more).
So if big track counts are in your recording future, read on.
Affordable Option – Behringer X Air XR18
- Capable of up to 18 simultaneous channels
- 16 of those channels are built-in to the interface
- Made primarily for live sound
- Built-in mixer, controlled from tablet (not included)
This Behringer X Air XR18 is a little different than a lot of the interfaces I recommend in that it serves as both a mixer and an audio interface. It’s at its best when used for recording live sound.
Typically, when you record at home you do all the mixing after your audio comes into you audio editing software. You would use an EQ plugin and manipulate the various frequencies of the audio signal with extreme precision.
Also, as mentioned previously, you typically achieve high track counts (anything above 8 channels) with digital audio sent directly to your interface.
But with the XR18 you have 16 built-in analog inputs, each with their own dedicated preamp that has adjustable gain. And you don’t have the opportunity for higher track counts because there is no digital connection (no ADAT).
You can get up to 18 channels with help of two additional 1/4 inch analog instrument lines (without preamps).
The recording quality of this interface is on par with other mid tier audio interfaces, and should work great for either live sound or for amateur home recording artists.
Overall, The Behringer X Air XR18 is one of the most affordable interfaces for tracking 16 channels simultaneously.
Top Pick – RME Fireface UFX+
- Capable of up to 94 simultaneous channels
- Premium parts, professional quality
- 12 built-in analog inputs
- MADI connection which allows for massive track counts
- Also accepts ADAT, S/PDIF, AES/EBU, XLR, and 1/4 line
The RME Fireface UFX+ is currently on my wish list for my next audio interface. Keep in mind I don’t record with 16 simultaneous channels (I think 12 is the most I’ve ever needed), but for me this interface has everything.
I use MIDI extensively and the Fireface has 2 MIDI in/outs. It accepts ADAT, S/PDIF, AES/EBU, XLR, 1/4 line and the MADI connection which on its own provides up to 64 simultaneous channels.
RME is known for making the highest quality recording gear available, and the Fireface comes with pretty much every feature a sound engineer could want as well.
This 16+ channel audio interface connects via Thunderbolt or USB 3.0. The latency you’ll experience, especially with lower channel counts is well within the requirements for human ears.
Another plus: RME drivers just work. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a complaint of RME drivers regarding compatibility with any system
Overall, the RME Fireface UFX+ is among the highest quality audio interfaces on planet Earth, and is more than capable of handling 16 simultaneous channels.
Best Value – MOTU 16A 32×32
- Capable of 32 simultaneous channels
- More affordable, still a very high quality product
- 16 analog line inputs built-in, no XLR inputs built-in
- 2 ADAT digital connections provide the additional 16 channels
- Some driver issues have been reported with Macs
The MOTU 16A (I assume this stands for 16 analog inputs), is another interface with 16 analog inputs, which is honestly pretty rare these days.
This interface is capable of exactly 32 simultaneous channels overall, with the 16 built-in as well as 2 ADAT connections (capable of 8 digital channel a piece). But you won’t be able to connect any S/PDIF or MADI or AES/EBU or MIDI.
Here’s the big kicker: No XLR inputs and no preamps. That’s not strictly a problem, but it does limit some options and it may even require you to buy an external preamp to get vocal recordings to reach the highest standard.
The best news is that the MOTU 16A is around half the price of the Fireface and still provides similar overall quality, similar latency (as long as you use the Thunderbolt connection), and up to 32 simultaneous channels.
However, this unit has had some driver problems reported by buyers. Companies like Lynx and RME rarely have issues with sofware drivers, but MOTU has had some issues with newer Macs. Before buying, make sure you thoroughly research the current state of the drivers with respect to your setup.
Overall, the 16A is a great value. It ditches some of the features you find in units like the Fireface, but doesn’t compromise quality, and the result is a high quality 32-channel audio interface for about half the price.
The three 16-channel audio interfaces that I’ve highlighted today all have their benefits.
The XR18 has 16 flexible analog inputs and preamps built in to the device, and serves as a mixer as well as an interface, but the quality is middle of the road.
The Fireface is a top of the line interface with professional quality, loads of features and is capable of up to 94 simultaneous channels. But it’s expensive.
The MOTU 16A is capable of the same high quality recordings of the Fireface for a much better price, but its analog inputs are only 1/4 inch and they don’t come with built in preamps.
Whatever, your situation, hopefully one of these audio interfaces will fit your needs.