6 Best Budget Audio Interface


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These days, you don’t need a professional studio to record your own songs and music.

Many famous artists from Billie Eilish to Beck started out making recordings in their bedroom, and the tech required to do so has only gotten more affordable.

That said, there is still a steep learning curve that many people will have to overcome if they want to set up a home studio.

Recording a song doesn’t require much, and many people have managed to capture a decent recording using nothing other than a phone.

However, if you want to make your recordings sound better, you will need to edit them in a digital audio workstation (or DAW for short).

Naturally, you won’t get very far with any DAW if you don’t have a way of connecting your instrument or microphone to your computer.

As such, if you want to start making your own original music, but don’t know where to start, the answer is always with a good audio interface.

An audio interface is a box that you can plug into your computer via a USB cable. It often has outputs for connecting to a set of speakers, as well as inputs for XLR cables and jacks.

You can plug microphones and electric instruments into these inputs, where the interface will convert the analogue signal they produce into a digital signal that your computer can understand.

This allows you to capture high quality recordings that can then be manipulated and edited in your DAW of choice.

Today, we will be looking at some of the best audio interfaces for musicians on a budget to record their ideas and compositions.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen

Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface, for the Guitarist, Vocalist, Podcaster or Producer — High-Fidelity, Studio Quality Recording, and All the Software You Need to Record

Focusrite are industry leaders when it comes to simple, well-built and accessible audio interfaces.

The 3rd generation of the Scarlett Solo offers all you need to set up a simple home studio.

As you can tell by the name, this interface is marketed towards solo music producers with one XLR input for a microphone, and a jack input for plugging in guitars or basses.

Both inputs have their own gain knob, with an LED halo that will flash red if the audio peaks. This is to help amateur recorders know when they need to lower the gain to avoid distortion or clipping.

If you’re having trouble recording lyrics, then you can use the air button, located under the XLR input, to give your vocals a more open sound that is great for improving clarity.

When you buy the Solo, you will also receive an extensive package of plugins, and free subscriptions to music making software, so you can start recording as soon as you get it.

There are two standard line outputs on the back for hooking the Solo up to a set of speakers.

The single pre-amp built into this unit offers excellent sound quality, which makes it equally good for listening to music as well as making it.

If you want to really appreciate what this interface can do, then plug a set of good headphones into the port on the front and hear your favorite songs like you have never heard them before.

Pros:

  • XLR input with phantom power and air setting for clearer vocals.
  • The gain knobs have light-up halos to tell you when the sound is peaking.
  • Comes with bundled software for starting your home studio.
  • Includes a headphone port as well as speaker outputs.

Cons:

  • Only one input for mics and one for instruments.
  • Not powerful enough to drive high impedance headphones or speakers.

Also available at: Thomann

Sale
Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface, for the Guitarist, Vocalist, Podcaster or Producer — High-Fidelity, Studio Quality Recording, and All the Software You Need to Record
  • Pro performance with the finest pre-amps - Achieve a brighter and a more open recording thanks to the best performing mic pre-amps the Scarlett range has ever seen. A switchable Air mode will add extra clarity to your vocals when recording with your Scarlett Solo.
  • Get the perfect guitar take - There’s no need to sacrifice your tone with the high headroom instrument input when recording your guitar and basses. Capture your instruments in all their glory without any unwanted clipping or distortion thanks to our Gain Halos.
  • Studio quality recordings for your music and podcasts - You can achieve professional sounding recordings with Scarlett’s high-performance converters which enable you to record and mix at up to 24-bit/192kHz. Your recordings will retain all of their sonic qualities so that you can sound like the artists you admire.
  • Low-noise for crystal clear listening - Two low-noise balanced outputs provide clean audio playback. Hear all the details and nuances of your own track or music from Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. Plug-in your own headphones via the output for private listening in high-fidelity.
  • Easy Start - It’s easier than ever to get up and running with your Scarlett with our online tool, Easy Start. Whether you’re looking to record or playback audio, we will help you get started.

BEHRINGER UMC 404HD

Behringer U-PHORIA UMC404HD Audiophile 4X4 24-Bit/192 KHz USB Audio/MIDI Interface with Midas Mic Preamplifiers Black

The Scarlet Solo is great for singer songwriters who only need to record vocals and a guitar.

However, if you are looking to mic up a full drum set, or a whole band, then you will need more inputs. That’s where the Behringer UMC 404HD comes in, with four combination inputs that can accept either jacks or XLRs.

With phantom power, you can safely plug condenser microphones into this interface. Each channel can be switched from line to instrument depending on what they are being used for.

As you can tell, this interface’s main strength is its versatility. You can use all the four inputs for four different instruments in mono, or hook up two devices in stereo.

Clip and signal inputs are on every channel to help you get the gain just right without any unwanted distortion.

On the back, you will find numerous outputs for connecting this device to any set of speakers imaginable.

With 4 Midas preamps, the sound quality on this unit is great, and it can be used to drive reasonably large speakers as well as high impedance headphones.

Pros:

  • 4 inputs that accept both jack and XLR.
  • Plenty of outputs for speakers and headphones.
  • 4 high-quality preamps.

Cons:

  • Large and difficult to fit on a desk next to a laptop.

Also available at: Thomann

Behringer U-PHORIA UMC404HD Audiophile 4X4 24-Bit/192 KHz USB Audio/MIDI Interface with Midas Mic Preamplifiers Black
  • 4x4 USB 2.0 Audio/MIDI interface for recording microphones and instruments
  • Audiophile 24 - bit/192 kHz resolution for Professional Audio quality
  • Compatible with popular recording software including Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, etc.
  • 4 state - of - the - art, Midas designed mic preamplifiers with +48 V phantom power

Steinberg UR12

Steinberg UR12 - USB Audio Interface with XLR-XLR Cable & Pop Filter Bundle

This interface is very similar to the Scarlett Solo, in that it is a compact unit with one XLR input for a microphone and a jack input for musical instruments.

These two channels are completely separate and cannot be used to record stereo input as you could on the Behringer UMC 404HD.

The Steinberg UR12 USB audio interface has a Class-A discrete mic preamp which offers superb fidelity and no crossover distortion.

While it doesn’t offer lots of microphone inputs, this kit has all the things you need to start your home studio.

It comes with an XLR cable for connecting your microphone to the interface, as well as a pop shield for removing unwanted popping sounds from your recordings.

With the monitoring function turned on, you can listen back to your input as you record without experiencing any latency at all.

The Steinberg UR12 has an inbuilt loopback function that allows you to record the audio from your computer on a separate channel to your microphone.

This feature makes it a great USB audio interface for podcasting or recording YouTube videos.

As well as the two outputs on the back for connecting this device to speakers, there is also a headphone output, so you can listen back to your recordings while you work.

Pros:

  • Offers latency free hardware monitoring.
  • Has an inbuilt loopback function.
  • Comes with useful accessories for setting up your home studio.

Cons:

  • Can’t record stereo input.

Also available at: Gear4Music and Thomann

Steinberg UR12 - USB Audio Interface with XLR-XLR Cable & Pop Filter Bundle
  • 2 Input/2 Output
  • Single Class-A D-PRE Mic Pre
  • Latency-Free Hardware Monitoring
  • Loopback Function
  • Power Source Selector

IK Multimedia iRig HD 2

IK Multimedia iRig HD 2 digital guitar interface for iPhone, iPad and Mac (IP-IRIG-HD2-IN)

This is a dedicated audio interface for guitarists to record their riffs and chord progressions with ease.

Singer songwriters may bemoan the lack of a mic input, but guitar players will find it an incredibly useful and portable tool for creating high quality recordings on the fly.

It has one input for plugging in your instrument, and three outputs for connecting the iRig HD 2 to an external guitar amp, your computer or mobile device and speakers/headphones all at once.

Unfortunately for PC users, this product is very Apple orientated, with the included cables being designed for connecting to iPads, iPhones and MacBooks.

IK Multimedia have also included a free copy of amplitude 4 for both MacBook and iPhone.

This plugin-in suite allows you to run your guitar through virtual amplifiers and pedal boards to access a whole new world of incredible effects on your iPad or mobile device.

There is an adjustable gain wheel on the side of this interface, as well as a separate volume control. You can use the Thru-FX switch to select which signal is sent through to your amplifier.

When set to Thru, the amp will receive the clean signal from your electric guitar, while the FX setting will add any effects you have selected in Amplitude 4.

Overall, while not the most versatile devices on this list, the iRig HD 2 is the undisputed king of guitar audio interfaces.

Pros:

  • Comes with a free copy of Amplitube 4 for Mac.
  • Individual gain control and Thru-FX switch.
  • Incredibly compact and portable.
  • Can be connected to mobile phones and tablets.

Cons:

  • Only suitable for Mac users.
  • No Microphone input.

Also available at: Ikmultimedia and Thomann

IK Multimedia iRig HD 2 digital guitar interface for iPhone, iPad and Mac (IP-IRIG-HD2-IN)
  • 1/4" Instrument input for guitar, bass, and other instruments
  • 1/4" Amp output for use with an amplifier or mixer
  • 1/8" Headphone output for silent practice; distortion (THD): 0.007%
  • Adjustable input gain and FX/Thru switch
  • Unlocks exclusive content inside amplitude iOS and Includes amplitude 4 for Mac/PC

PreSonus AudioBox USB 96

PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 25th Anniversary Edition with Studio One Artist and Ableton Live Lite DAW Recording Software

The PreSonus AudioBox is an awesome budget interface that comes with a great selection of bundled software for starting your home studio.

There are two combination inputs for recording two mono signals or a single stereo one.

Both inputs have their own individual gain controls, and you can easily connect condenser mics to this unit with the 48V phantom power.

As well as a master volume control, you can fine tune the overall level of your audio with the mixer knob.

This allows you to blend the signal between your inputs and the playback from your computer for easy zero latency monitoring.

There are also MIDI ports on the back, so you can connect this interface to a MIDI controller like a keyboard or drum pad.

Overall, the PreSonus AudioBox USB is a fantastic little piece of kit that offers excellent value for money.

As well as the interface itself, you will also get $1000 worth of bundled software including Ableton Live Lite, Studio One Artist and the Studio Magic plug-in suite.

With all of this, you will be well on your way to creating your own original music.

Pros:

  • Comes with a great selection of bundled software.
  • Mixer function for latency free monitoring.
  • Midi in and out ports.

Cons:

  • The USB cable is not compatible with USB-3.0 ports.

Also available at: Gear4Music and Thomann

PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 25th Anniversary Edition with Studio One Artist and Ableton Live Lite DAW Recording Software
  • Value-packed 2-channel USB 2.0 interface for personal and portable recording.
  • 2 high-quality Class-A mic preamps make it easy to get a great sound.
  • 2 high-headroom instrument inputs to record guitar, bass, and your favorite line-level devices, plus MIDI I/O.
  • Studio-grade converters allow for up to 24-bit/96 kHz recording and playback.
  • Comes with over $1000 worth of recording software including Studio One Artist, Ableton Live Lite, and Studio Magic Plug-In suite.

M-Audio AIR 192|4

M-Audio AIR 192x4 USB C Audio Interface for Recording, Podcasting, Streaming with Studio Quality Sound, 1 XLR in and Music Production Software

This interface is an equally valuable tool for music producers and professional streamers.

It has one combination XLR and jack input for channel one and a dedicated jack input for musical instruments on channel two.

The LED lights on the top of the interface allow you to easily monitor your gain levels, so you can accurately adjust them as you need.

With Crystal preamps, the audio quality from this interface is remarkably clear and will capture every detail of your performance.

Since it uses USB-C, there is practically zero latency when connecting this interface to your computer.

To further reduce latency, you can use the mixing knob to hear the clean input from your instrument/microphone, the playback on your computer, or a mixture of both.

The Air 192|4 has inbuilt 48V phantom power for driving condenser mics, which means it should be compatible with any of the equipment you already have.

It comes with some great software, including ProTools and Ableton Live Lite. Overall, this is a great piece of kit for anyone who needs to record live audio, including musicians, streamers and podcasters.

Pros:

  • USB-C compatible.
  • Comes with useful software for music production.
  • Crystal Preamps for super clear audio quality.

Cons:

  • Can’t record stereo input.

Also available at: Gear4Music

M-Audio AIR 192x4 USB C Audio Interface for Recording, Podcasting, Streaming with Studio Quality Sound, 1 XLR in and Music Production Software
  • Capture Every Detail - Premium component selection and 24-bit/192kHz resolution for professional recording and monitoring to your Mac to PC
  • Low Latency - Hi-Speed USB / USB-C circuitry gives you the fastest connection, with a class-leading round trip latency of only 2.59ms; USB and USB-C connection cables included
  • Pristine Studio Grade Capture - Transparent Crystal preamps and ultra-pristine A/D converters for unsurpassed audio recording quality
  • Connectivity - XLR+¼” TRS combo input, (1) ¼” instrument input, stereo ¼” outs and ¼” headphone out with independent level control
  • Feature Packed - Rugged metal chassis, large central volume control, VU LED meters and USB/Direct knob for zero latency monitoring

Buyers Guide

If you want to make high quality recordings of anything, from music to streaming commentary, then having a good audio interface is absolutely essential.

With so many models on the market, it can be hard to find the right one for your specific needs. In this section, we will be discussing some important things to look out for when shopping for a new audio interface.

Available Inputs And Outputs

First off, you will need to consider what you intend to use your interface for? If you plan to record music, then you will probably want at least two inputs, one for your microphone and another for any instruments you want to use.

For using a condenser microphone, you will need to have an interface capable of supplying 48V phantom power. Combination inputs are always a great thing to have for music producers, as they offer great versatility.

They can be used for both mics, and musical instruments, as well as allowing you to record audio in stereo as well as mono.

Another thing you will need to think about is the available outputs on your USB audio interface.

Obviously, you will want a USB port for connecting to your computer, as well as a headphone output for listening back to your recordings.

Speaker outputs can also help, so you can test your recordings on louder sound systems and use your interface for listening to music.

Pre-Amps

All audio interfaces will contain preamps. These are basically amplifiers that boost the signal coming into the unit before passing it through the rest of the circuitry.

Good preamps will help you to produce higher fidelity recordings. They do this by making the digital signal output from the interface closer to the analog input signal from your microphone or instrument.

Good preamps are an absolute must for an audio interface to work properly, so always research this component carefully before making a purchase.

Latency

When it comes to audio interfaces, one of the most important things to check is whether they have low latency.

This simply refers to how quickly the interface responds to changes in the input signal.

Naturally, when it comes to music, timing is everything, so you won’t want a lot of delay between playing a note on your instrument and it being recorded in your DAW.

A model with high latency will produce messy recordings where the individual parts are out of sync with each other.

Meanwhile, a low latency device will make it much easier to play in time with yourself and create recordings with multiple layers that are perfectly in sync.

Bundled Software

Many interfaces that are marketed towards musicians will come with a selection of software.

This can be a great way to get better value for money on your purchase, especially if you are new to music production.

DAWs and plug-in suites are very useful tools that will help you to create high quality recordings and capture the exact sound that you want.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is An Audio Interface?

An audio interface is an extremely useful device for any kind of audio production.

If you want to capture professional sound-quality from instruments or mics, then owning a good audio interface will be an absolute must.

These devices take the analog signal from your microphone or instrument, and convert it into a digital signal that can be edited in your DAW.

Do I Need A DAW To Use An Audio Interface?

No. You don’t need a digital audio workstation (or DAW) to use an audio interface.

Even without one of these programs, you can use your device as an external sound card for improving the audio quality from your computer while listening to music.

However, if you want to create recordings, then you will need some kind of program for importing the digital sound files that you create.

DAWs allow you to play back your recordings as well as edit them to make them sound even better.

You can also use these programs to mix multiple recordings together into a cohesive mix, which is absolutely vital for anyone interested in music production.

You can get free trials of most DAWs, so you can test them out and find one you like. Many audio interfaces will also come with basic DAWs included, so you can start making music as soon as possible.

How Do I Connect My Audio Interface To My Computer?

Most modern audio interfaces can be connected to your computer via USB and will include the necessary cable for doing so in the box.