If you want a low-cost, easy-to-use, professional recording system, and you don't need more than two inputs, then you don't have to look any further than the Digidesign Mbox with Pro Tools software.
In fact I'd say just buy it, there is no point in considering further - it's that good.
However, just because the Mbox (and Pro Tools software) are good, it doesn't preclude the possibility - probability? - that one day there's going to be something better coming along.
That 'something better' might just be the Mackie Spike. Mackie have a reputation for taking on established companies and giving them a damn good challenge at their own game - look how they took a big bite out of Soundcraft's market, for example.
The Mackie Spike system separates neatly into two parts, well almost. Firstly the XD-2 interface. The XD-2 offers two mic/line/instrument inputs with 24/96 digital audio quality. OK, yada yada - but the extra goodness that you might not find elsewhere is the internal SHARC processor. SHARC is an abbreviation for 'super Harvard architecture computer', coined by manufacturer Analog Devices (who know a bit about these things!). A SHARC chip, in brief, is an improved high bandwidth computing device. In English, it can do a hell of a lot of processing very quickly.
Having onboard processing means two things. Firstly the computer's processor is relieved of some of the massive burden of running recording, playback and plug-in operations. Secondly, latency - which is the undoubted bugbear of low-cost recording - can be reduced. 'Reduced' naturally does not mean 'eliminated' - we're not talking about miracles here - so the XD-2 also offers zero latency monitoring, just as you would expect.
Hardware is nothing without software, and the whole Spike package, of which the XD-2 is simply the hardware component, includes the Traction software audio sequencer. Mackie claims that Traction is intuitive and easy-to-use. So much so that even guitarists can use it! (Mackie's implication, not mine!) Tracktion includes VST support for plug-ins and software instruments.
If Tracktion is not to your taste, then you can use any software that supports ASIO, WDM or OS X Core Audio, which covers most of the leading softwares.
Now if Spike supported Pro Tools too, then it might just be the perfect audio interface!
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