Can You Use a Thunderbolt 2 Audio Interface With a Thunderbolt 3 Device?

If you have a Thunderbolt 2 audio interface and the latest Macbook with Thunderbolt 3 port then might be you stuck on this question, can you use a Thunderbolt 3 audio interface with a Thunderbolt 2 device such as Macbook?

Well, NO Thunderbolt 2 is not directly compatible with Thunderbolt 3 so you cannot use a Thunderbolt 2 audio interface on a Thunderbolt 3 port.

But there are a few other ways you can use to connect them together. In this blog post, I will show you 3 ways to connect Thunderbolt 2 audio interface on a Thunderbolt 3 device.

But, first off,

What is Thunderbolt Technology?

what is thunderbolt

Thunderbolt is the latest generation of data port that comes in Apple computers. It is jointly developed by Intel and Apple.

The purpose of developing this technology is to combine both data and display signals into a single cable. This gives us lightning-fast transfer speeds.

Thunderbolt 2 was first introduced in 2013 on Apple computers. It had 20 gbps of speed and allows you to daisy-chain up to six devices.

At that time many audio interfaces and other device manufacturers adopted this technology on their devices to make them compatible with Apple devices.

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But just 2 years later Apple released Thunderbolt 3 which has data transfer speed upto 40 gbps. And the port was also changed to USB-C type of connector due to it’s popularity.

Thunderbolt 3 supports 4K display.

Why Thunderbolt 3 is Not Compatible to Thunderbolt 2 Audio Interface

Tunderbolt 3 Port

Thunderbolt 2 and Thunderbolt 3 have different types of ports. Apple changed the Thunderbolt 3 port to USB-C due to its popularity.

Today most mobile, TV, and audio interface manufacturers are using USB-C type connections. So Apple knows it should have USB-C port to make its devices compatible with other USB-C devices.

But, Thunderbolt 2 has Mini DisplayPort which cannot be directly connected to USB-C type Thunderbolt 3 port.

Also, the signaling technologies used in these two generations are different.

3 Ways to Connect Thunderbolt 2 Audio Interfaces with Thunderbolt 3 Devices

Let me show you the 3 different ways to connect Thunderbolt 2 audio interfaces with Thunderbolt 3 devices.

1. Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter

Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 Adapter

The most simple way to connect a Thunderbolt 2 device to Thunderbolt 3 port is using a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter to bridge the gap between the two generations.

These adapters are specially designed to convert signals from Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 with Mini DisplayPort on one side and USB-C type port on the other side.

Connect your Thunderbolt 2 cable to Mini DisplayPort side and Thunderbolt 3/USB-C cable to its USB-C side. Now your devices are ready to connect.

Note: This adapter only converts the signals and does not increase the data transfer rate.

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2. Docking Stations or Hubs

thunderbolt Docking Station

Docking stations and Hubs are one of the best solutions to connect Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 2 devices.

A Docking station or hub provides additional ports and connectivity options along with Thunderbolt 3 devices and Thunderbolt 2 ports.

If you want a single solution for multiple multiple connections then Docking Station is the best thing for you.

3. PCIe Expansion Chassis

PCIe thunderbolt expansion chassis

Another less popular solution to connect Thunderbolt 2 devices t Thunderbolt 3 ports is using PCIe expansion chassis.

PCIe chassis allows you to install PCIe cards, like audio interfaces, video cards etc, and connect them to your Thunderbolt 3 device.

I have used this chassis to connect my RME PCIe audio interface and it works fine with my Macbook.


As we know Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 2 are not directly compatible, even though you can connect them via the 3 ways I have given above.

Adapters, docking stations, and PCIe expansion chassis provide a straight solution to this problem.

However, buying these leads you to spend extra money from your pocket.

So, you don’t have to update your computer or audio interface, but go and get one of these solutions and, connect your Thunderbolt-2 audio interface with Thunderbolt-3 enabled computer.

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Gautam Roy is a recording engineer and a blogger from India. He loves music, writing, and travelling. He is also an active investor and a successful entrepreneur.

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