The best 32 channel audio interface is one that is capable of recording 32 simultaneous tracks (obviously), has a fast connection type (usually Thunderbolt), produces high quality, clean recordings, and works with your unique set up.
Today I’m highlighting three of the the highest grade and best value 32 channel audio interfaces available. Each has its own merits, and each has its own shortcomings (usually trading features for price).
But all three are wonderful in the right situation.
32 Channels vs. 32 Inputs
First of all, let’s just remind ourselves of the difference between 32 channels and 32 inputs. You’re not going to find an audio interface with 32 inputs (at least I couldn’t). But you can find plenty of interfaces capable of recording at least 32 simultaneous channels.
A very typical setup is an interface with 8 analog inputs built in and one or more connection types for additional digital channels.
You’re not going to be plugging 32 XLR cables straight into an audio interface.
How to achieve 32 simultaneous channels
But you can record 32 or more XLR inputs (or 1/4 inch instrumental lines) simultaneously. The trick is that you’ll need more gear to achieve this.
Here’s a big picture breakdown of what it might take to achieve this:
- Plug 8 analog cables directly into your audio interface
- Plug 3 separate ADAT inputs each with 8 digital channels (or 1 MADI input with 24+ channels) into your audio interface
- Each ADAT input is connected an AD/DA converter that accepts 8 analog inputs
There are of course several different ways to achieve 32 simultaneous channels. So the main takeaway here is that a fancy interface alone isn’t enough to record 32 channels. You’ll need extra gear.
When 32 Channels Are Needed
For the vast majority of amateur home recording artists, 8 channels will always be sufficient. The most involved recording setup would be an acoustic drum recording setup where you put a dedicated microphone on everything. 8 channels will get you there, maybe 12-16 if you have a big drum set or you want to double up on something.
So when might you actually need 32 simultaneous channels?
Here are a few scenarios:
- Live recordings of a group that needs up to 32 mics, for example an orchestra or a band with an enormous drum kit
- Choir recording where you want lots of control over individual parts
- You want lots of microphones to capture ambient sound for a recording
- Any other scenario where dozens of mics are being used for a single recording
It’s honestly something that should rarely be needed. However, most of the highest quality audio interfaces on the market are capable of 32 channels or more.
So I guess a final reason to look for 32 channels is because you’ll also find some of the most professional sounding interfaces available today.
Affordable Option – PreSonus Quantum 26×32
- Single interface capable of 26 simultaneous channels
- Can chain together up to 4 units to create 96 channels
- 8 built-in analog inputs with preamps
- ADAT, S/PDIF, XLR and 1/4 line inputs
A single PreSonus Quantum interface is capable of only 26 simultaneous inputs, but in many cases this will be sufficient. If you start with one and find you need more channels you can buy another one to connect them together and double the number of simultaneous channels.
It comes with 8 built-in flexible inputs (all accepting XLR and 1/4 line), each with a dedicated preamp. So for 90% of your recordings, the interface itself is more than enough.
However, in order to reach the 26 channel maximum, you will need to completely fill in the analog inputs and the ADAT inputs. When recording at the full capacity, only a 48 kHz sample rate is possible. If you want to go up to 96 kHz sample rate, you will only have 18 channels available.
This actually only gets you to 24 channels, so the additional 2 channels are from the MIDI input and the S/PDIF analog input.
This product connects to your computer with two Thunderbolt cables, and thus is able to achieve very low latencies under decent conditions. Also the dual Thunderbolt cables is what allows the maximum 96 channels when putting 4 of these in series.
If you’re looking for a more affordable way to increase your channel count, the Presonus Quantum 26×32 is a great option.
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 32 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.
Bit depth maxes out at 24 and sample rate at 192 kHz, and while you won’t get those numbers with the channels maxed out, you can get close with 32 channels.
This 32 plus 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 32 simultaneous channels.
Value Pick – 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 different from the other two interfaces we’ve looked at in a few ways.
First, this interface is capable of exactly 32 simultaneous channels. There’s no chaining together units to achieve freakishly large channel counts.
Second, the 16A only has two types of inputs. The digital side of that is the two ADAT inputs, each accounting for 8 simultaneous channels. ADAT is pretty standard these days, so this shouldn’t be any issue, but you won’t be able to connect any S/PDIF or MADI or AES/EBU. The other type of input is the analog 1/4 inch line.
Which brings me to the third difference. 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 been prone to some bad reviews, primarily owing to the lower quality drivers from MOTU. 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.
A 32 channel audio interface will allow you to simultaneously record large groups live, gigantic drum sets and any other complicated set ups you can create.
The three interfaces I’ve highlighted are all capable of large track counts with high quality results and minimal latency, and you may even consider them affordable depending on your budget.