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I need to buy an audio interface to connect my Alesis MI Active MK2 to my pc which currently has an m-audio soundcard with phone inputs on it / or another one that has a standard jack input.

The last time I had an audio interface was over 5 years ago which was an M-audio firewire unit that didn't work very well.

I want to get a simple unit that will allow me to connect my monitors to my pc or laptop (macbook pro) (so probably by USB or something faster?) that will allow me to start to play with music producing again.

What options / features should I bear in mind? My monitors have 1/4 inch jack and XLR inputs? Apologies for the vagueness, I'm a noob.

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Since you are interested in composing and presumably not recording, one option is to use a simple 1/8" to dual 1/4" TS adapter cable to connect to your monitor speakers (Example, Note: Your monitors will accept unbalanced TS connectors as well - User manual (Input Connections): "A conventional 1/4” patch cord mono TS-type plug will also work for unbalanced sources which automatically ground the minus input.").

Recent Macbooks sport 1/8" TRRS connectors in place of the usual Headphone-Out & Line-in jacks, so you can effectively use this to connect a very basic rig with a few simple adapters. If you use something like this then you can even have a mic input

Otherwise: USB 2.0 audio interfaces have come a long way (unfortunately I'm not familiar with anything using USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt yet). Focusrite & M-Audio make some of the best simple yet powerful mid-range priced interfaces (In my experience), and they are probably on display at your local Guitar Center (or possibly a Best Buy with a Music Section).

I recommend going and trying them out in person and deciding on what works in your price range with a control panel software that you feel comfortable with.

For more specific recommendation, let us know what you would like to do.

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I've been very happy with the Stienberg UR28M. I love having a big volume knob as well as separate volume knobs for 2 sets of headphones, and it's nice to have dedicated mute, dim and mono buttons.

It doesn't have a ton of inputs/outputs, but I never record more than a couple of live sources at once so I don't miss them.

It's got balanced outputs for your speakers. I use a pair of powered KRK monitors and it works very well.

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