An audio interface is an essential part of your recording setup, if you are looking to start recording music at home. In this post, I’m going to share my opinion on the best audio interfaces under $200. So if you are looking for an audio interface at a cheap price point, then you’ve come to the right place.
I’m going to look at some of the features and specs of each of these audio interfaces and also talk about what I like in them. Hopefully this will help to make your purchasing decisions a little easier.
The Audient ID4 interface has a good looking design and solid build, it has an all-aluminum case. The dials feel excellent and are really sturdy. It does have a slight wobble on it but it’s nothing that I ‘d be concerned about. It also has a decent amount of weight to it.
On the front of the interface, there is a quarter-inch DI input. You will also find a quarter-inch and 3.5-millimeter headphone socket, which offer latency-free monitoring. On the back of the interface, there are a few more I/O options. A USB 2.0 port to connect it to your computer, a set of quarter-inch outputs to run to your powered monitors, a 48-volt phantom power switch and an XLR combo jack to connect a mic or line-level level input. This controls the microphone or line-level input on the back. There is the DI gain dial which controls the DI input level. You also have an ID button and when you press that down it allows you to use the large volume dial to scroll through or adjust any input settings for your plugins or your DAW.
It is a big dial to control the volume of your headphone output and your speaker output on the back. The top meter will be for DI input.
To conclude everything mentioned above, this is my personal favorite interface on this list. The audio and build quality on this interface is excellent. Although it is the most expensive AI on this list I would definitely say that it’s worth its price!
The Focusrite Scarlett series is one of the most popular audio interface series that are used in home studios. What I like the most about it is simplicity. Everything that you’re going to need is right on the front of the interface.
You have two XLR/TRS combo inputs. These are both really clearly labeled and they each have corresponding gain knobs. From my point of view, it is really great that gain knobs are backlit with LED indicators. These will help you to see whether your signal is clipping or is too hot. The instrument input allows you to switch between line level and instrument level. The mic preamps sound really good for the price.
There are two 1/4-inch balanced jack outputs on the back of the interface to connect professional studio monitors and a USB connection. This interface is USB bus-powered which means you need no external power supply.
The Scarlett 2i2 also comes with bundled software. If you’re just starting out included software is definitely something that you want to pay attention to.
Most notably the Scarlett 2i2 comes with Ableton Live Lite and Pro Tools First. These are the introductory versions to Ableton Live and Avid’s Pro Pools respectively. Which are two of the industry-leading digital audio workstations.
This is the only audio interface in this list that comes with two DAW’s.It is a big plus for you, if you’re just getting started because it gives you the opportunity to try the different options.
If you’re running a Mac, you can get Mac’s with GarageBand free of charge. So in fact, you could try out three of the most popular digital audio workstations.
The last thing I would like to mention with the Scarlett 2i2 is the build quality. Despite its little and small compact unit, the metal housing will definitely give you good protection, should you choose to travel with this device or move it around a lot.
TASCAM’s budget interface provides you with a number of features that you won’t typically find at this price point. There is actually very little to complain about with the US-2 × 2 offering solid construction, quality preamps, MIDI connectivity, and iOS compatibility.
On the front panel the US-2 × 2 features two XLR/TRS combo input jacks, accepting of line-level signals from professional processors and synthesizers. When an input signal is detected and the other when the input signal is clipping, a gain control and two LEDs accompany each input; one LED indicates. It Works but’s a simple indication as intended. Additionally, each input can be switched to high-impedance via sliding switches for direct recording of bass and electric guitar.
The right of the front panel is home to the headphone jack and, thankfully, separate headphone and line output volume knobs with TASCAM resisting the urge to combine the two output controls as often found on cheaper interfaces. We also find the direct monitoring control here. Even the most efficient computers and DAW software can produce a slight delay before reaching the outputs, which can distract some vocalists and instrumentalists. The direct monitoring function allows for monitoring the input signal with zero latency before it is sent to the computer.
Finally for the front, +48 V phantom power for condenser microphones is available for both inputs, controlled with a switch on the bottom left of the front panel.
On the rear panel, we find our outputs, consisting of a pair of balanced TRS 1/2 inch outs for connecting to studio monitors and MIDI I/O for connecting synths, drum machines, and controllers. There’s also a USB 2.0 port for data connection and power and lastly, a 5V DC power connector used to connect an AC adapter for when the US-2 × 2 is hooked up to an iOS device. TASCAM doesn’t include such an adapter with the interface but they buy one separately.
The ability to connect it to an iPhone or iPad is a feature that may divert a good deal of attention away from the above competition. The US-2 × 2 performs well on iOS and is able to achieve comparable results on iPad to that of those produced on a desktop setup. We would still recommend using a Windows or Mac PC for anything particularly complex. For simple tracks and basic composing this setup is ideal.
Another feature of the 2 × 2 which is better than the two interfaces above is MIDI I/O connectivity. This interface will be the best choice for you, if you want to use a MIDI keyboard or controller in your setup.
It is a part of two audio interface releases that Native Instruments did. The Komplete Audio 1 is available at the most affordable price point right around $100.
At first glance, this Komplete Audio 1 captures all of the sleek and minimal design elements that Native Instruments is known for.
However, the Komplete Audio 1 is made almost entirely of plastic. It is definitely one of the most lightweight options on this list.
On the top, we have two LED indicators, one for phantom power and one for our USB connectivity. Just to the left of that, we have a VU meter. This is a really nice feature because this will give you more accurate control of your input levels and prevent any clipping.
There is an instrument and mic input with corresponding gain knobs on the front of the interface. The instrument input can also be set to a line-in level. Also, there is a phantom power button, so we can use our condenser mics. You will also find an input and host dial which will essentially allow you to determine what you’re hearing in your headphones.
On the back, there is a USB connection and an RCA stereo output. The Komplete Audio 1 also comes with a great software bundle:.
Ableton Live Lite.
Monarch– Native Instruments analog synthesizer.
Machine essentials– This is the basic version of Native Instruments Maschine which is a great beat making workstation and plugin.
I would recommend upgrading to Komplete Audio 2, if you have the extra $30 .Instead of having just one mic input and one instrument input you get two combination inputs.
In each input you can record either a mic or an instrument. Let’s say you want to sing and then mic your guitar either an electric guitar or an acoustic guitar. Having two mic inputs will enable you to do that. Essentially these combination inputs are just going to give you a lot more flexibility and for thirty bucks it doesn’t seem like too high of an asking price in my opinion.
In addition to this, Komplete Audio 2 comes equipped with a stereo jack output.
If you have a computer with USB C connections then this might be the best interface choice for you. If you don’t have a computer with USB C connections, then don’t worry as it comes supplied with a USB C to USB A cable.
This is another really sturdily built AI. Despite the fact that the top of the device is made of plastic, the sides are metal and it still feels really solid.
Let’s take a look at some its features. On the top of the interface, there is a gain dial for both inputs 1 and 2 and directly beneath that, there are the meters for those respective inputs. In the center of the interface, there is a large monitor dial to control the volume of the monitor outputs on the rear of the device. Above and to the right of the large dial there is a mix dial that allows you to mix between zero-latency monitoring and your computer playback. To the right of that, you’ll find the headphone volume control. Beneath those dials, you’ll find a power light to indicate if the interface is plugged in and getting power, also there is a light to indicate if + 48 volts is turned on or off and lastly you will find a light to indicate MIDI signal in and out.
The feature set and the sound of the M-Track 2x2M don’t really set it apart from other entry-level audio interfaces. What does set it apart though is the USB C port, the dials and it just looks a lot cooler than the other entry-level interfaces.
The whole interface of the UR22MKII really feels like a small brick. But I should mention that three knobs are very close to each other and that makes turning them a little bit awkward.
On the front of the device, there are two XLR/TRS combo inputs and to the left and right of the inputs, you’ve got the corresponding gain knobs. Above the inputs, you’ll find two peak LEDs that light up when the signal is clipping. You’ll also find another LED which is signaling if the 48-volt phantom power is turned on or off and one more LED which lights up when you plug in the interface into a PC.
To the right of the input 2 gain knob, there is a button with which you can change the TRS input on channel 2 from a line to a HI-Z instrument input. To the right of that, there is a quarter-inch headphone jack with the corresponding volume knob above it. The next knob lets you choose whether you only hear the direct monitoring signal without any latency or the audio signal from your DAW. You’ve got one more knob that controls the volume of the outputs.
On the back of the interface, there are two quarter-inch TRS connectors. Above them, you can find a switch to enable or disable phantom power for the mic inputs. To the left of that, there is a MIDI input and MIDI output. Further to the left, you can find the USB type B connector for hooking up the interface to a PC.
You can also find a micro USB connector right next to that which can be used to power the interface with an external power supply. You can even use this interface with devices that do not deliver enough power over the USB data connection and you’ve got a switch which lets you toggle between the two USB connectors as a power source. And finally, you got a small cutout in the housing so you can attach a high-security Kensington lock.
This audo interface isn’t as popular as others, but it’s definitely worth your consideration. It is the cheapest audio interface on this list.
This interface has combination inputs that help you to get two mic preamps. I really like the way that the preamps sound on this interface, they have a nice warmth to them.
On the front of the audio interface, we have five knobs that at a glance they all look exactly the same.
We also have our stereo line outputs and I prefer these to the stereo RCA outputs. We’ve obviously also got phantom power and like the Komplete Audio one and two, there is a little mixer knob which again lets you mix between the dry signal from your input and the playback from your digital audio workstation.
This thing’s also got some very different yet still very cool included software. It comes bundled with Studio One which is a DAW that’s made by Presonus. This DAW isn’t as popular as some of the other DAW’s we’ve talked about today but studio one is beloved by its users and is touted as a great digital audio workstation for beginners.
It also comes bundled with the studio magic plugin bundle with some great selections from lexicon output editorial most notably for me it comes with Arturia’s Analog Lab Light which if you don’t know is a great introduction into the world of a Arturia’s analog set collection, in their vintage key selection.
The last thing I want to mention is the build quality of this thing. It is built like a tank. Then this might be the way to go, if you’re moving around a lot or you’re going to be taking this on the road.
The Behringer UMC404HD might be your answer, if you’re looking for an audio interface that has 4 mic inputs for less than $200.
On the front of the interface, there are four Midas preamps with signal and clip indicators, each with a line instrument selector and pad switch. We also have four XLR/TRS combination inputs.
On the back starting at the left there is the power input. The interface is USB bus-powered but Behringer does supply a PSU for it if you want to work that way. Next, to the right of that, there is the USB and the MIDI in and out ports. In the middle, we have the playback outputs A and B that I mentioned earlier that we can switch between at the front. We also have the main monitor outputs the jacks can be used for let’s say an external headphone preamp and the XLR for monitors. Finally, to the right of the main outputs, there are jack inserts for connecting external processing units.
As you can see this compact little interface has so many options when it comes to outputs and inputs. This is a very good portable yet a professional little AI that we can use in the studio for getting some great audio in and out of your recording system. And for the price, you definitely can’t argue.
Audio Interface Buying Guide.
If you want to choose an audio interface for recording, a number of things have to be taken into consideration. There are a lot of audio interfaces to choose from, so knowing your unique requirements will help greatly in choosing the right audio interface for your studio.
How many inputs do you need?
First ask yourself how many inputs you will need. The work you are working on will define the number of inputs you will need. For example, if you are going to record bands you will need more inputs than just to produce dance music. Most people with small home studios will most likely only need two inputs, but this is a very important factor not to be overlooked.
How many outputs do you need?
When it comes to outputs, two connections will normally suffice. These are simply left and right outputs, where you can connect your listening source to– serious producers will use studio monitors to give a clear flat response.
There is usually a single or multiple output connection for use with headphones too. Some producers may opt for audio interfaces with a higher amount of outputs, this is usually due to work with surround sound e.g many speakers will be used on the output.
What Connection types does your computer have?
As it stands USB is probably the most popular connection type for audio interfaces today. This is mainly due to the fast data conversion rates it produces. The first USB audio interfaces on the market were USB 1.0 which really were not fast enough to cope with the demands of today’s computer music applications. Luckily, we now have USB 2.0 or 3.1/ C.
What Specs to look for on an audio interface?
A final aspect which is sometimes overlooked is bit depth. Bit depth involves the dynamic range that it is possible to record with. This basically means that every artifact of the sound can be recorded with great detail. Sample rate, which is often combined with bit depth as a statistic, is the amount of samples taken or produced from an audio sample. For your reference aim to purchase an interface that is capable of at least 96khz with a bit depth of 24.
In my opinion, any of these options will help you to create music at home or in your own home studio.
A lot of described interfaces are indistinguishable in sound, so it really comes down to the feature set, the build quality and what you personally want to use.
I hope this list helped you to get a little bit closer to finding the audio interface that’s perfect for you. If you want more help with choosing an audio interface then check out our guide: How to Choose an Audio Interface – Buying Guide.
There is a quarter-inch DI input on the front of the interface. Also there is an instrument and mic input with corresponding gain knobs. This device has a gain dial for both inputs 1 and 2 and directly beneath that, there are the meters for those respective inputs.
As has been mentioned above this compact little interface has so many options for inputs and outputs. The first USB audio interfaces on the market were USB 1.0 which really was not fast enough to cope with the demands of today’s computer music applications.
USB 2-in/2-out High Performance Audio Interface