So you’ve got the computer; you’ve got the dream of being a respected producer and you’ve got the talent. But can your computer do everything you’re going to expect of it in the studio?
Probably not, but don’t be discouraged.
That’s why the most prominent brands in the music industry want to supply you with an audio interface and we’ll help you pick one.
An audio interface is a piece of hardware that connects different items on your equipment list and then usually converts their analog signals to digital versions.
This is sent to your PC so you can use it for productions. The audio can also travel via the interface from your computer to your speakers or headphones to listen to what you created.
We’ll look at quite a few impressive units on the market because you need one that suits your unique application. We suggest you look at this list and choose the best budget audio interface according to your requirements.
In a rush? Click the link below to find the winning!
Budget Audio Sound Card Reviews
1. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (1st Generation)
USB Recording Audio Interface
We love that a simple device can transform your home studio into a stylish space thanks to great design and aesthetics.
This unibody case not only protects the components but the rugged metal is red which makes it a style statement your modern studio will need if you aim to impress clients.
It’s great that the combo jack can be used for XLR and ¼” TRS jacks. This means you get a lot of functionality out of a compact design of only 9.6”x 4.1”x 6.6”. It can even fit inside the average laptop case.
It weighs 2 lbs. so if you’re often transporting your equipment this won’t weigh you down much.
The rugged casing should be enough to protect your unit in general transport scenarios such as taking your music on the road to different gigs.
The package is quite empowering as software for effects and DAW is included in the purchase.
2. Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD
Budget Audio Interface
Just because you’re managing a lower budget doesn’t have to mean you settle for low quality.
Behringer is an excellent brand and in this model, you get surprisingly high levels of diversity.
It’s compatible with both iOS and Windows & it 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 of the channels though.
Budget options can even be portable since this is so compact—only 6.7”x 4.9”x 2”—that you can easily fit it into a protective 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.
3. Peavey USB Audio Interface
Best Portable Design
Peavey is another trusted brand 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 it would have been better if all ports were on the same surface (side); if you want to change some of the connections it requires some shifting.
The USB is also not high 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.
Can you see how it’s 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 studio setup.
It’s an ideal unit to connect your PC with monitors—a simple solution if you want a higher quality sound 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.
4. Apogee ONE-MAC USB Audio Interface
Best Mac Audio Interface
Of course you can’t use this with Android or Windows devices so this is what you get if you have a Mac or you’re building a studio supported by iOS.
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 studio can become quite versatile.
Here’s the surprise: It has a built-in microphone so you don’t have to connect one for recording vocals.
It serves as an AI but can even be your headphone amp.
That means you can do much more while you carry fewer components with you.
It weighs 3 lbs., which is heavier than some 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 that it doesn’t have a midi connector; you can use audio only of your midi keyboard.
5. ESI U24 XL 24-Bit
USB Audio Interface for PC/Mac
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 connecto24 Bit converter
- 24 Bit converter
It’s not the most affordable unit but 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.
so you can easily take it wherever you go.
It doesn’t have drivers which minimizes the chance of issues between the unit and operating systems.
Unfortunately it also doesn’t have a MIDI interface. Is this a priority for you?
There’s always a risk of 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 interface, you also need to look if it has everything you need such as compatibility, software, bit depth, and sample rate.
After weighing all the specs, pros and 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 which can be used for XLR and ¼” TRS jacks. So besides the fact it is a budget audio interface, it also has all the specs you need for your home studio.
- CHECK OUT THE NEW 2ND GENERATION MODEL BELOW
- Excellent digital performance
- Rugged metal unibody case
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface, truly portable interface
- Includes an authorization code for Ableton Live Lite, Scarlett Plug-in Suite (RTAS/AU/VST), Red 2 & Red 3 Plug-in Suite (AAX/AU/VST), the Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Novation Bass Station, and 1GB of Loopmasters samples
Best Budget Audio Sound Card
Ultimate Buyers Guide
Let’s discuss the topic so you know how to spot the best one for you.
Unfortunately, it’s not a one-size-fits-all shopping spree you’ll be going on.
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 gear that will get you where you want to go. Is it a necessary expense? Definitely.
Audio Interface for Home Studio
The basic reason why you need to do this is because your computer—even with an impressive sound card—will never live up to a real producer’s expectations. No sound card has the elaborate capabilities these interfaces below have:
- The audio you get with a sound card is not the best quality
- It doesn’t enable you to record from multiple different sources such as 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 to listen to music, a home studio must have an audio interface to start recording and creating those great tracks.
Choosing a Cheap 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 didn’t take one of these aspects into consideration.
- 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 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 going to ask people to pay for the tracks you create you better make sure it’s worth their money
Affordable USB Audio Interfaces
You may think only high-end units will suffice.
This is not entirely 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.
But they still want your business no matter in which category you fall.
This is why you’ll find interfaces for a home studio at affordable prices.
Simply glance at the items we listed below and you’ll see anyone’s budget is catered for.
How to Identify the Best Interface for Producing
Your 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 your 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:
- Do you simply want to record voices? Then one or two mic inputs will suffice
- Planning on recording 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 add 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 Specs
Your interface must perform well and relevant in these areas.
- Compatibility Can it connect with your operating system? Some interfaces are only iOS or Windows compatible.
- Software If your interface is already integrated with the 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