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Best Budget Audio Interface: Cheap, USB, Home Studio

best budget audio interface

So you’ve got the computer, the dream of being a respected producer, and the talent. But can your computer do everything you’re going to need in your home recording 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 to help you get started.

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. The audio can also travel via the interface from your computer to your speakers or headphones to listen to what you created.

We’ll take a look at a few impressive audio sound cards on the market to suit your unique applications.

We suggest you look at this list and choose the best budget audio interface according to your own requirements.

Best Budget Pick
Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD
Best Overall
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Best Portable Design
Peavey USB Audio Interface
Table of Contents

Best Budget Audio Interface Reviews: Top 5 Picks

1. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Best Overall USB Audio Interface

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

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We love that a simple device can transform your home recording studio into a stylish space thanks to great design and aesthetics.

This unibody case protects the internal components, and the rugged metal is red, making 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 an XLR input and ¼” TRS jacks. 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 also quite attractive as it comes with bundled software for effects like Pro Tools, Focusrite Creative Pack, and Ableton Live Lite DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).

Pros

  • Can accommodate XLR inputs and small jacks
  • Small design
  • Stunning exterior
  • Strong and small enough to be portable

Cons

  • Some problems with Windows setup
  • Guitar sounds may not be ideal

2. Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD

Best Budget Pick

Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD

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 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. This budget option is also portable and compact — only 6.7”x 4.9”x 2” — that you can easily fit it into a 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.

Pros

  • Easy setup
  • Great knob design; very comfortable to use
  • Phantom power
  • Low price range
  • Compatible with popular recording software

Cons

  • Not balanced XLR
  • Quick start guide but no manual

READ MORE: The Complete Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD Review

3. Peavey USB Audio Interface

Best Portable Design

Peavey USB Audio Interface

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 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.

Pros

  • Clear audio
  • Compact design
  • Quality sound in

Cons

  • Limited features
  • Can easily pick up interference

4. Apogee One Audio Interface for iPad & Mac

Best Mac Audio Interface

Apogee One Audio Interface for iPad & Mac

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 recording 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 for your MIDI keyboard.

Pros

  • Compact
  • Multiple functions in one
  • Quality sound

Cons

  • No MIDI connector
  • Expensive equipment
  • Can’t work with Windows

5. ESI U24 XL 24-Bit USB Audio Interface

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 a priority for you, we recommend other budget audio interfaces on this list.

Pros

  • Works with most operating systems
  • Compact
  • Effortless installation thanks to no drivers

Cons

  • Limited options
  • Not cheap

Best Budget Audio Sound Card: Ultimate Buyers Guide

To figure out which audio interface is the BEST ONE 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 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 studio 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 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 different 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 to listen to music, a home studio must have an audio interface to start recording and creating those great tracks.

Choosing the Best Cheap Audio Interface for Your Home Studio

Home studio setup

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.

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 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 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 we listed above, and you’ll see anyone’s budget is catered for.

How to Identify the Best Budget Audio Interfaces 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 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:

  1. Do you simply want to record voices? Then one or two mic inputs will suffice
  2. Planning on recording musical instruments too? Your inputs should be appropriate — hi Z connections with instrument-level settings
  3. Will you add speakers to your setup so you can play your tracks for others? That’s what you need line-level outputs for
  4. 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.

inputs and outputs of audio interface

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 audio 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.

Conclusion

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 & 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 an XLR input and ¼” TRS jacks. So besides the fact it is a budget audio interface, it also has all the specs you’ll need for your home studio setup.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

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About the author

cd38730de4e65cc7ce515086e48ba144

After becoming obsessed with the beats that were the soundtrack to his youth, Nick became a student of hip hop, digging for vinyl records, looking for the perfect break. Before he got his hands on an MPC sampler, he would mash these records, beats, and breaks into mixtapes and live DJ sets.