- Things to Think About
- What should you anticipate from a cheap audio interface?
- What to look for in an audio interface when on a tight budget
- Audio bitrate and resolution
- connectivity, outputs, and inputs
- Device and DAW compatibility
- Software was utilized
- Measurements and weight
- Comparison Table:
- Focusrite Scarlett Solo
- PreSonus AudioBox USB 96
- M-Audio AIR 192|4
- Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
- Steinberg UR12
You can now choose a good and best budget audio interface at a very reasonable price because of the decreased manufacturing costs and technological advancements. The selection of the best budget audio interface can take time due to the vast array of options and features.
Due to the limited budget, each feature must be beneficial. As a result, it’s crucial to start by thinking about your musical objectives or what you want to accomplish. Then, among other features, you can focus your search on the desired sound resolution, DAW compatibility, software bundle included, and interface size. We’ve reviewed some of the top inexpensive audio interfaces to make the process easier for you and provided a thorough buyer’s guide to assist you in making a wise choice.
Things to Think About
So far, you have limited the numerous options on the market to seven. It’s time to reduce the list from seven to one. To do this, consider what you’ll be recording. What do I need to plug into my audio interface, or even better: Do you have any instruments, synthesizers, or “friends” who can make noise when you record? In other words, this situation is about more than just budgeting. After all, we’re talking about the top inexpensive audio interfaces. You need to be aware of your needs. The best audio interface, you see, may differ depending on whether you’re recording a live band or an electronic musician.
What should you anticipate from a cheap audio interface?
Flexibility should be at the top of the requirements for a low-cost audio interface. Budget audio interfaces are not purchased separately, thus the explanation. You’ll need musical instruments, headphones, and microphones. While a tight budget does not necessarily equate to inferior products, you should still avoid having an interface with poor build, sound, or functionality.
What to look for in an audio interface when on a tight budget
It is in your best interest to take into account the following features when looking to buy an audio interface on a tight budget:
Audio bitrate and resolution
Although the sample rate is frequently touted as a significant selling point, a beginner should be okay with it. It resembles a television. Manufacturers of TVs release new resolutions every few years, including 4K, 8K, and others. But viewers don’t care about these numbers. But as technology advances, producers work hard to fit excellent preamps into small boxes at a reasonable price. They all offer good sound quality, whether through the JFET input on the Audient EVO 4, Class-A preamps in the PreSonus AudioBox 96, or “Crystal” preamps on the M-Audio Air 192/4.
As manufacturers compete to offer the best low-noise floors and dynamic ranges, the published specifications are frequently impressive. Although most low-cost audio interfaces have comparable specifications, you can tell the difference in the amount of gain each one’s mic preamps can handle. Choose the gain that best meets your needs as a result. For instance, recording vocals will require more clean gains than recording drums or guitar amps.
connectivity, outputs, and inputs
An interface’s type and quantity will vary depending on your musical objectives. You would require 1XLR input and 1TRS or Jack input, for example, if you intended to play bass guitar, electric guitar, or acoustic guitar. Most current models treat the two inputs as a single input. For your combo (jack) input, the XLR and TRS together make up the three pins. The ability to accept lead inputs makes combo inputs very useful. They also have controls for adjusting mic levels and changing between instruments.
A single input, such as the one found in the Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen), will be adequate if you want to record your guitar and vocals separately in separate takes. Choose two inputs, such as those in the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96, or more, if you want to record the guitar and vocals simultaneously. Choose an interface with MIDI connectivity if you use MIDI devices to gain remote control over your music production workflow. Examples include Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) and BEHRINGER U-Phoria UM2.
Device and DAW compatibility
Each audio interface on our list works with both Windows and Mac configurations. Some can also be used with Apple mobile devices, such as the Steinberg UR12. Any interface referred to as “class-compliant” works with iPhone or iPad. Some have the proper “Lightning” connectors built in, while others need Apple’s USB-to-Lightning Camera Connection Kit adapter.
While others boast their own, the units are compatible with top-tier DAW recording software. (For instance, PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 offers a Studio Magic Plug-In Suite with over $1,000 worth of computer-based recording software plug-ins and DAW recording software.) In case you have any doubts, make sure to read the customer reviews and comments.
Software was utilized
If you still need to commit to a DAW (digital audio workstation), some devices, like the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96, come with one. Every audio interface comes with a free copy of Ableton Live Lite. Additionally, you can get Avid’s Pro Tools for free when using the M-Audio AIR interface, Cubasis or Cubase AI for free when using the Steinberg UR12, and Studio One’s artist edition when using the PreSonus AudioBox. Some of the audio interfaces on our list offer VST instruments or extra effect plug-ins as incentives. For instance, Focusrite offers a variety of plug-ins.
Measurements and weight
An audio interface’s storage capacity and portability are impacted by size and weight. Fortunately, the interfaces on our list are on the small side of things. For instance, the BEHRINGER U-Phoria UM2, which is the lightest item on our list, has dimensions of 5.04″ x 4.65″ x 1.47″ and weighs only 0.6 pounds. The Steinberg UR12 is the largest and heaviest device on our list, measuring 9.21″x 8.07″x 4.13″ and weighing 2.9 pounds.
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Focusrite Scarlett Solo
The Focusrite Scarlett Solo is the best affordable USB audio interface for recording a single instrument or a person’s voice (3rd Gen). It is easy to use, well-built, and lets you input high-quality audio from different microphones into your computer. (Dynamic microphones need a preamp because of their low output.) Your recordings sound better thanks to its suitable air Mode, and the two hum-free outputs deliver crystal-clear audio playback. Its high-performance converters further enhance the audio quality, which enable mixing and recording up to 24-bit and 192kHz.
What else? The solo 3rd Gen is a significant improvement. This model has better instrument inputs, variable line inputs, fixed line inputs, microphone inputs, and line and monitors outputs than the previous iterations. To give you an idea, the 2nd Gen Bus-Powered counterpart has a dynamic range of 106 dB and a gain range of 50 dB, while the 3rd Gen has a dynamic range of 111 dB and a gain range of 56 dB (mic input). The 3rd Gen’s line & monitor has a dynamic range of 108Bb and a maximum output level of 15.5dBu instead of 106dB and 10dBu compared to its 2nd Gen Bus-powered predecessor. That explains why the audio quality is so excellent. The better sound, Pro Tools, and quick start tool that come with the solo 3rd Gen make it a force to be reckoned with.
PreSonus AudioBox USB 96
Two excellent Class-A mic preamps are available on the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 22 for connecting XLR microphones. Thanks to the included Amphenol XLR tips, the preamps can also be used as line preamps for connecting instruments. As a result, there is minimal floor noise and a crisp sound. The preamps now feature MIDI I/O for connecting to your preferred MIDI controller. Using professional converters, you can mix and record music at up to 24-bit/96kHz. You can use zero-latency monitoring if you buy a 3.5mm headphone adapter. The construction quality is excellent, and the metal accents and aluminum chassis give the device a premium appearance.
The PreSonus AudioBox features DAW recording software and a Studio Magic Plug-In Suite (with over $1,000 worth of computer-based recording software plug-ins) and is straightforward, dependable, and portable. Because of this, it is perfect for musicians, producers, and podcasters on a limited budget. Collaborations involving guitar or guitar-bass are also ideal. This audio interface makes recording simple for both home and away studios because it is transportable and 2.0 bus-powered.
M-Audio AIR 192|4
The audio interface of the M-Audio AIR 192|4 enables you to effortlessly and intuitively produce perfect 24-bit/192kHz high-quality masterpieces. The interface’s new 1″ instrument input and XLR+1″ balanced combo input allow you to create two channels. The stages for gains and impedance on the 14 “Bass or guitar are faithfully portrayed in the instrument input thanks to excellent engineering. Even better, the interface includes a software package containing all the tools you need to start. Take into account Eleven Lite, Avid Effect Collection, Pro Tools (First Edition), Ableton Live Lite, and other programs. The M-Audio AIR 192/4 is, by all accounts, one of the best USB 3.0 audio interfaces available for a fair price.
People who enjoy alternative pop, rock, or classic rock will find the device most appealing. If you like The Who, Iron Maiden, and the Foo Fighters, this is also for you. (Power the AMD interface with a power brick and connect the 14-pin) “the motherboard’s sound card for output.) The M-Audio AIR 24 has excellent build quality, is simple to set up, and provides clean tones, which we found appealing. Without any unnecessary noise, our instrument sounded great with distortion effects. Additionally, our recordings (on the laptop) sounded incredibly clear, all because of a 24-bit/192kHz at a reasonable cost. We also admired its small and lightweight size, making it simple to carry to a desired place and fit into a laptop bag.
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
Native Instruments Komplete Audio boasts 2 (2x Combi-XLR/jack) inputs with phantom power for flexible recording. Its 1/4″ stereo outputs are perfect for usage in the studio, at home, or on stage. You can listen to playback while you record using the host/input mix. The interface also records in 24-bit resolution at up to 192kHz, which is remarkable given its low cost and small size. Direct monitoring is another function, with essential LED level readouts. A VU meter for precise level adjustment and a large volume knob for simple output level adjustment are included.
The Komplete Audio 2 is a fantastic improvement. In contrast to Audio 1, Audio 2 supports stereo. Additionally, it has two combo jacks for added flexibility and two jack outputs for connections in studios. That’s a long cry from Komplete Audio’s RCAs, which cater to consumers. Audio 2 allows connecting instruments thanks to line/mic options for both inputs. Overall, Komplete Audio 2 is designed to make recording stereo sound easy. Since it produces high-quality audio, it is perfect for musicians, beatmakers, and performers who wish to play out, record, or develop ideas.
We admired this unit’s incredibly lightweight and small size. Its construction quality is excellent, especially considering it is built of inexpensive polymers rather than pricey metals like prior models. The reliable preamps with a remarkable gain range were also a hit with us. Without significant lag, we captured audio that was incredibly crisp and clear. Direct monitoring is made easy with its 5-segment LED signal indications, and turning the central output knob is enjoyable.
The Steinberg UR12 is a USB interface with two inputs and outputs that feature a single Yamaha D- PRE Class-A mic preamp with +48V phantom power. The D-PRE was explicitly created to record every nuance and expressiveness of any audio source. (Therefore, the mic preamps sound incredible, as one would anticipate, given that D-PRE results from years of work by experts at Yamaha Corporation.) The interface is contained in a sturdy yet small chassis to increase its durability. The converters’ 24-bit/192kHz quality also offers excellent dynamics and details. Most audio recording software apps are compatible with sit, thanks to its highly stable Windows and Mac OS X drivers.
The UR12 is perfect for any home recording enthusiast since it was designed and engineered to satisfy the most rigorous requirements. Make sure you download the drivers before plugging them in. During setup, your OS installs outdated drivers if you hear screeching noises. As a result, avoid installing the drivers from a CD. Get the most recent drivers instead from the Steinburg or Yamaha websites. The interface can be powered on and plugged in once the drivers have been installed.
What qualifies as a low-cost audio interface?
Budget is a relative phrase, but to answer the question, we’re talking about something basic, entry-level, and USB-powered. (Yes, budget and Thunderbolt don’t mix.) A cheap audio interface is relatively inexpensive compared to a good one. (Consider interfaces that cost about $200 and are powered by USB. However, as more businesses compete to dominate the beginner’s market, the $200 threshold is consistently being tested. Recently, the M-Audio M-Track interface, which costs less than $50, checks the “good” box. Well-known companies like Focusrite, Native Instruments, PreSonus, BEHRINGER, Steinberg, and others make great interfaces for under $150. Therefore, an audio interface between $50 and $200 qualifies as a budget option.
Does playback get better with an audio interface?
Okay, sure. But first, let me take you through how valuable functions within a computer are so you can grasp this. Any computer-generated sound is produced as a digital signal, which the sound card built into the computer subsequently converts to an analog signal. Due to electromagnetic interference, such a conversion degrades sound quality. The increased volume makes the effects more noticeable. An audio interface makes it possible to duplicate the sound signal. Compared to the inbuilt sound card, it produces a more precise sound. Without any floor, white, or (you name it) noise, the interface produces a superior playing experience at high levels.
Can a headphone amplifier be used with an audio interface?
If your interface has a headphone output, the answer is usually yes. It’s recommended to think about a separate headphone amp if you’re not recording or only want to drive high-end headphones. However, if you require an audio interface for recording purposes and are wondering if the interface also functions as a headphone amplifier, the likelihood is that it does. Professional headphones are considered when designing audio interfaces with specialized headphone outputs. You can try them out, and who knows? You could be happy with the outcome.
A home recording enthusiast’s excellent first step is purchasing the best budget audio interface. We have said everything we could about these gadgets; thus, the Focusrite solo receives our pick (3rd Gen). Because of its single-mic preamps, extremely low latency, unique halo indications, compact construction, and other features. We found the Focusrite tutorial series for new buyers to be quite helpful. Without any ambiguity or fear, the tutorials walk you through recording your music, setting up your DAW, and more. You can quickly get set up, plugged in, and jam (to your tune).
Choose the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 for the most significant value. The interface features a Studio Magic Plug-In Suite with over $1,000 worth of computer-based recording software plug-ins and a DAW recording program. Choose the M-Audio AIR 192/4 if you want Hi-Speed USB / USB-C technology, low latency, and an extensive software package.