So you’ve got the computer, the dream of being a respected producer, and the talent. But can your computer do everything you need in your home recording studio?
Probably not. But don’t be discouraged!
An audio interface is a piece of hardware that connects different items on your equipment list and converts their analog signals to digital versions.
This is sent to your PC so you can use it for production. Audio can also travel from your computer to your speakers or headphones to listen to what you created.
I suggest you look at this list of the best budget audio interfaces and choose one according to your requirements.
Best Budget Audio Interface Reviews: Our Top 5 Picks
1. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Best Overall USB Audio Interface
I absolutely love that a straightforward audio interface can transform your home recording studio into a stylish space thanks to great design and aesthetics.
This unibody case protects the internal components, while the rugged red metal makes a picture-perfect style statement for your modern studio that impresses clients.
But aside from the outer shell, what really matters to me are the intrinsic features that make this equipment a highly-functional gear.
You can use the combo jack for an XLR input and ¼” TRS jacks for this interface.
This is a plus factor for me because it’s highly functional and versatile. All of these are carried in a COMPACT design of only 9.6”x 4.1”x 6.6”. It can even fit inside an average laptop case!
Additionally, the Focusrite only weighs 2 lbs. So, if you’re often transporting your equipment, this won’t weigh you down much.
The rugged casing should protect the unit in general transport scenarios, such as taking your music on the road to different gigs.
The package is also eye-catching for musicians and sound engineers, as it comes with bundled software for effects like Pro Tools, Focusrite Creative Pack, and Ableton Live Lite DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).
- Can accommodate XLR inputs and small jacks
- Small design
- Stunning exterior
- Strong and small enough to be portable
- Some problems with Windows setup
- Guitar sounds may not be ideal
2. Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD
Best Budget Pick
Just because you’re managing a lower budget doesn’t have to mean you have to settle for low quality.
Behringer is an EXCELLENT brand, and you get surprisingly high levels of diversity for this great budget audio interface.
It’s compatible with iOS and Windows and has two inputs plus two outputs. It even has phantom power, which will help with those high-quality recordings you need with a vocal mic.
It’s unfortunate that it only has one switch to manage all four channels, though.
I also really like that Behringer’s affordable audio interfaces are portable and compact — only 6.7”x 4.9”x 2” — so they can easily fit into the protected area of your luggage.
Budget audio interfaces could also be the IDEAL OPTION if you simply want to learn about the industry. With limited (but enough) features, it’s simple to set up, even if you’re a beginner.
- Easy setup
- Great knob design; very comfortable to use
- Phantom power
- Low price range
- Compatible with popular recording software
- Not balanced XLR
- Quick start guide but no manual
3. Peavey USB Audio Interface
Best Portable Design
Peavey is another trusted brand for audio interfaces, and if you’re looking for LIGHT and PORTABLE at a budget-friendly price, this could be it. It only weighs 1 lb!
It’s a simple design, but I think it would have been better if all ports were on the same side. If you want to change some of the connections, it requires some shifting.
The USB is also not the highest quality, so you should work CAUTIOUSLY. Otherwise, it’s quite durable, and if you’re looking for something simple, this could work since it only requires XLR connections.
Of course, if you’re looking for a more complicated setup, this won’t suffice. It’s really not about getting the best audio interface but the most relevant for your situation.
You’ll love it for the clarity of the audio and for how it won’t clutter your desk in a small home recording studio setup.
It’s an ideal unit to connect to your PC with home studio monitors — a simple solution if you want better audio quality pumping through your speakers.
It’s also handy for simple setups. With the stereo/mono switch, if you don’t want to use up two channels for stereo, you don’t have to.
- Clear audio
- Compact design
- Quality sound in
- Budget audio interface
- Limited features
- Can easily pick up interference
4. Apogee One Audio Interface for iPad & Mac
Best Mac Audio Interface
This is the interface you must get if you own devices that run on macOS or you’re building a studio supported by iOS. Of course, you can’t use this with Android or Windows devices.
It’s such a sleek design, and the die-cast aluminum case protects the components, so you can carry this with you anywhere.
With two inputs and outputs, and great control via the Apogee software, your home recording studio can become quite VERSATILE.
Besides that, here’s the surprise that impressed me the most: It has a built-in microphone.
So, you don’t need to connect one on your device to record vocals. It serves as an AI but can even be your headphone amp.
This also means you can do MUCH MORE while carrying fewer components.
It weighs 3 lbs., which is heavier than others on this list, but the 6.4”x 0.8”x 2.2” design is easy to pop into your backpack or laptop bag.
NOTE:This model doesn’t have a MIDI connector. You can use audio-only for your MIDI keyboard.
- Multiple functions in one
- Quality sound
- No MIDI connector
- Expensive equipment
- Can’t work with Windows
5. ESI U24 XL 24-Bit USB Audio Interface
Another option for Mac users is this from ESI, but luckily it will ALSO WORK for Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and even Windows 10.
So if you have either of these operating systems and you need these features, you may have your winner:
- 2 inputs
- 2 outputs
- Separate headphone connector
- 24-bit converter
It’s not the most affordable unit, but it’s not high-end either. If you have some cash to spend, this could be a great investment — especially because it weighs less than 1 lb.
You can easily take it wherever you go!
It also doesn’t have drivers that minimize the chance of issues between the unit and operating systems.
Unfortunately, it also doesn’t have a MIDI interface. So if this is a priority for you, I recommend other budget audio interfaces on this list.
- Works with most operating systems
- Effortless installation thanks to no drivers
- Limited options
- Not cheap
Best Budget Audio Sound Card: The Ultimate Buying Guide
To figure out which is the best budget audio interface for YOUR situation, it would be best to discuss this topic further.
Unfortunately, it’s not a one-size-fits-all shopping spree you’ll be going through.
Choosing the right audio interface requires some insight. You need to start the journey by looking at what you have.
Then you have to pick the studio gear that will get you where you want to go. Is it a necessary expense? Definitely!
Budget Audio Interface for Home Studio
The basic reason why you need to do this is that your computer, even with an impressive sound card, will NEVER live up to a real producer’s expectations.
No computer sound card has the elaborate capabilities that the best audio interfaces have, and here are some of its downsides:
- The audio you get with a sound card is not the best quality
- It doesn’t enable you to record from multiple sources, such as musical instruments
- It can’t do a lot about interference on the line, so your recordings are bound the have hums
So while a soundcard is great for listening to music, a home studio must have an audio interface to start recording and creating those great tracks.
How to Choose the Best Budget Audio Interface for Your Home Studio
Why is it so important to do your homework before you start shopping?
Because it’s VERY EASY to waste your money if you don’t consider one of these aspects.
Making these mistakes can you lead you to more trouble like:
- You may be forced to purchase a new computer if your current one and the audio interface aren’t compatible.
- You may expand your studio only to find that your interface can’t handle everything you throw at it. Long-term planning is essential.
- The interface you choose may not be high-end enough to produce the quality you need. If you’re asking people to pay for the tracks you create, you better make sure it’s WORTH THEIR MONEY.
Budget USB Audio Interfaces
You may think only high-end units will suffice. But this is only partially true.
Sound equipment manufacturers aim to serve different niches.
They know everyone can’t afford high-end items, and if you’re setting up a simple home studio, you’re not going to spend as much as professionals on the best audio interface.
But they still want your business no matter which category you fall under.
This is why you’ll find budget audio interfaces perfect for beginner beat-making in a home studio.
Simply glance at the items I listed above, and you’ll see anyone’s budget is catered for.
How to Identify the Best Budget Audio Interfaces for Producing
Your budget audio interface is supposed to make your recording process EASIER, not more complicated.
Of course, there will be a learning curve with any new equipment, but make sure the interface you select has some of these features.
The Correct Input and Output Options
In technical terms, this is called the I/O configuration.
You need the right type and number of inputs and outputs to suit your needs. Here are a few questions to help you gauge your requirements for the best budget audio interfaces:
- Do you simply want to record voices? Then one or two mic inputs will suffice.
- Planning on recording musical instruments too? Your inputs should be appropriate — hi Z connections with instrument-level settings.
- Will you add speakers to your setup so you can play your tracks for others? That’s what you need line-level outputs for
- Do you want to go all the way and record a large band? Look for digital I/O options so you can include an additional eight-channel unit to your system.
Here’s the biggest challenge: Do you know where your recording career is going?
In an ideal world, you should purchase today what you’ll need later on, so you don’t have to buy new equipment then.
You can start small, but don’t forget to THINK BIG and think LONG-TERM.
How Does it Connect?
Your audio interface should make it easy to connect to the sound sources you’ll work with. This requires:
- USB connections
- Firewire (make sure your computer can handle this)
- PCI interfaces (not meant for laptops)
Let’s Talk About the Specs
Your interface must perform well and be relevant in these areas.
- Compatibility: Can it connect with your operating system? Some audio interfaces are only iOS or Windows compatible.
- Bundled Software: If your interface is already integrated with the bundled software, it will make your mixing much easier
- Bit Depth: The most recommended rating here is 24-bit as it won’t cause quiet parts of your production to seem noisy
- Sample Rate: The minimum rate selected by professionals is 48kHz.
There’s always a RISK for being drawn to cheap audio interfaces. Once you start looking under $100, you have to be careful.
Although there are a lot of good brands when it comes to looking for the best budget audio interfaces, you also need to look if it has everything you need.
This includes compatibility, bundled software, bit depth, and sample rate.
After weighing all the specs, pros & cons, the OVERALL WINNER for the best home recording interface is definitely the Focusrite Scarlet 2i2.
Besides the great aesthetics, it also offers a lot of functionality, such as a combo jack that can be used for an XLR input and ¼” TRS jacks.
So besides the fact it is a budget USB audio interface, it also has all the specs you’ll need for your home studio setup.
- Best Audio Interface For FL Studio: Ultimate Buyers Guide
- Best Audio Interface for Garageband Users
- Best Home Studio Ideas for Home Producers
- Beginner’s Guide to Beat Making Equipment
December 18, 2022 – minor formatting edits
May 12, 2022 – updated article images
April 24, 2022 – minor content edits
May 19, 2021 – optimized content
May 18, 2021 – updated title and meta description, updated publish date, tagged primary keyword, added table of contents, added schema, updated product images and buttons, changed affiliated links to Genius links, added RUR table, added new article images, fixed and updated article formatting and content, updated external links and added 3 new external links, removed 4 internal links and fixed interlinking