So, why might you need one of the best budget audio interfaces? For music makers using software in computer-based home recording studios, an audio interface is an essential investment, turning even the most basic laptop into a simple home studio set-up.
For musicians, DJs and beatmakers taking their first steps in recording and production, an audio interface is likely to be one of their first purchases. The challenge here is finding something that delivers all the core benefits of an interface, like recording instruments, monitoring on studio headphones and playing back your work on studio monitors, while keeping a keen eye on price.
Fortunately, it’s possible nowadays to pick up a good quality, straightforward audio interface without having to spend big. For this best budget audio interfaces guide, we’ve compiled the top options available at the very lowest end of the price spectrum.
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Best budget audio interface: Our top pick
Being completely transparent; there’s often very little difference between rival interfaces at this price point. Each offers largely similar functionality, with small differences perhaps in the types of connections on offer or bundled software.
That said, we do have a favourite and that is the Presonus Studio 24c. The Studio 24c offers superb audio fidelity, is future-proofed thanks to its USB-C connectivity and comes with a well-stocked bundle of software audio tools. It sits at the top end of what you’d typically call budget, but when you look at its spec sheet and hear the results, you’ll consider it money well spent.
Best budget audio interfaces: Product guide
There are audio interfaces that aim to support specific musical disciplines like, for example, guitarists (check out our best guitar audio interfaces guide for more of that). And then there are jack-of-all-trades, which try to do a bit of everything, from speech to music. The Presonus Studio 24c is firmly in the latter camp, offering exceptional quality regardless of what you’re trying to record or produce.
We particularly like the included Universal Control software, which enables the interface to ‘loop back’ on itself virtually. This provides great flexibility for routing audio between different applications without requiring extra cables, making it ideal for streamers and musicians alike. Build quality is solid, and the MIDI connectivity to the back of the unit is a great touch.
Focusrite are one of the best known names when it comes to audio interfaces, and the higher-end units in their Scarlett line are favourites of many intermediate and pro level producers. Their pre-amps are highly regarded, and having one in an interface at this price makes this a great option for those looking for high quality recording on a budget.
The Scarlett Solo does a stellar job of diluting the appeal of its bigger siblings into something smaller and more affordable; keeping the solid build, sharp looks and quality pre-amps but trimming the features down to the bare necessities.
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It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that Audient launched its smallest ever audio interface, the iD4. There’s always room to improve things though, which is why the Audient iD4 MkII is interesting. Where the first iteration won fans on account of its rigid build, superb audio fidelity and simplicity, the MkII takes these characteristics and introduces faster USB transfer speeds and USB-C connectivity.
There are some nice details included, like the extra headphone output and a smart scroll wheel which can be used to tweak settings in your software. And, speaking of which, the bundled ARC package contains plenty of plugins, effects and virtual instruments to get you up and running in no time. It might be a little pricier than other interfaces in this guide, but it's a pretty comprehensive package all round.
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The UR12 is one of the older interfaces in this guide but that’s no reason to overlook it. This compact 2-in/2-out interface is built into a rugged metal container, which makes it one of the most durable-feeling interfaces at this price point – although that does come at the cost of it being fairly weighty.
The fact that the main and headphone outputs share a single volume control is our only other real criticism here. On the software side of things, the UR12 comes with cut down versions of Steinberg’s Cubase DAW for both desktop and iOS. These are both thoroughly usable, although as a package it’s not as generous as NI or PreSonus’s offerings.
Read the Steinberg UR12 review
We’ve placed takeaway orders that have cost us more than what Behringer’s UMC22 retails for, so it’s hard to quibble with this one on price. You do, of course, get what you pay for to some extent, and there are a number of areas where the UMC22 lags behind its pricier rivals.
For one thing, the max resolution here is 16-bit, which is still CD quality and will most likely be fine for most users, but is worth being aware of. The U-Phoria range doesn’t have its own designated driver either, and relies on the universal ASIO4ALL (although this is still a free download). Also, while build quality is in no way poor, we wouldn’t want to bet on the UMC22 outlasting the devices at the top of this list.
All that being said, there are no outright deal-breakers amongst these downsides and at this price, if you need something cheap to get going with, you could certainly do a lot worse.
Italian brand IK make a whole host of mobile-compatible interfaces and peripherals, including this compact and budget-friendly interface. The iRig HD 2 is aim primarily at recording guitarists, but its instrument interface would work fine for any monophonic electronic instrument too.
The iRig HD works cross platform with PC, Mac and iOS, and comes with both USB and Lightning connector cables. Because it’s designed for mobile use, it’s ultra-compact too – small enough to tuck into your pocket and it even includes a mic stand clip.
The downside to this mobile design, however, is the lack of monitor outputs. You do get a headphone output through, as well as a monophonic jack output designed to be plugged into a guitar amp, which can either monitor the input or output from software on the computer/iOS device.
Read the full IK Multimedia iRig HD 2 review
NI don’t have the audio interface pedigree of some of the brands in this list, with just three I/O boxes amongst their current line-up of products – including the slightly higher spec’d Komplete Audio 2. This is no sub-par imitator though. As with pretty much all recent NI gear, the Komplete Audio 1 is well designed and sturdily built, offering features ideal for bedroom producers.
It benefits from being part of NI’s Komplete ecosystem too as the free software that comes bundled here includes an excellent plugin synth and a trio of effects that are arguably worth the price of entry alone. For producers just getting started, this is an excellent value package.
Read the full Native Instruments Komplete Audio 1 review
To be honest, there’s not a lot to say about Mackie’s Onyx Artist 1.2 that can’t be gleaned from reading the specs. It’s a solid-enough, inoffensive-looking interface with both mic and instrument inputs, and a fairly standard range of controls.
In all there’s not much to make this interface stand out from its rivals, but there’s also very little we can say about it that’s negative. The price point is thoroughly reasonable too. It comes bundled with its own slightly stripped back version of Tracktion Waveform, which is an excellent piece of recording software, although it might not appeal to newcomers in the way that Ableton Live, Cubase or Maschine does.
Mainly known for their collaborative music software, BandLab are another brand without much history to lean on when it comes to interface design. Despite this, their first hardware unit is impressive.
This compact box manages to squeeze in a combo mic/instrument and gain control. The Link Digital’s main downside compared to more expensive options is its limited output ports. There’s both a headphone and main output, but the latter is a single stereo jack, rather than a standard pair of jacks or RCA output (although the interface does come with a splitter cable).
Best budget audio interface: Buying advice
When you're looking at the most affordable audio interfaces, realistically you’re not going to find a decent interface with more than two inputs and two outputs. Unless you’re planning to spend more, the most you’re going to be able to record is two mono or one stereo input/s, and outputs will be limited to - at most - a stereo pair for studio monitors and a separate headphone output. For beginners, however, this is a decent set of parameters to work within. Recording more than two sources at once will require a more fully-featured interface, with a greater number of inputs, and would automatically move out of the budget department.
What’s more important to consider is the type of ports offered. Audio interfaces will offer some variety of mic and instrument inputs, which operate at different levels and use different connection types to suit either a microphone lead or jack from an electric guitar, synth, drum machine, etc.
The most useful variety are ‘combo’ inputs, which can accept either lead type and will usually have a control for switching between mic and instrument levels. If you’re planning on using a mic with your interface, it’s worth checking if you need ‘phantom power’ – this is the 48v signal sent by interfaces and required by some mics. DJs should also look out for RCA connectivity, which is used to hook up DJ mixers and turntables.
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Every model in this best budget audio interfaces guide can be used with both Mac and PC setups, and many can also be used with Apple’s mobile iOS devices too. You will see lots of interfaces described as ‘class compliant’ which essentially means they are plug-and-pay with iPhone and iPad. Some come complete with the appropriate ‘Lightning’ connectors, while others will need Apple’s USB-to-Lightning Camera Connection Kit adapter. It’s worth doing further research before committing to a specific model, however, as Apple has a habit of dropping some functionality when it upgrades its operating systems.
Like many types of studio hardware, audio interfaces often come packaged with a variety of software to sweeten the deal. At this price, particularly if you’re just getting started, it’s worth paying attention to these bundles. Offerings range from lukewarm packages of ‘LE’ (often limited, entry-level) versions of major applications to full versions of genuinely great synths and effects. Most interfaces, particularly at this level, will bundle in a digital audio workstation (DAW), which is the software used to actually record your music into so this is super helpful if you’ve not already committed to one platform.