Why do you need an audio interface? Can you find a cheap, portable, and good audio interface? Our article will give you the answers.
If you are just getting into recording or music production, a good quality audio interface (sound card) is essential. The external sound card should be one of the first additions to your home recording studio. It is what stands out in a home, semi-pro, or professional music studio.
In this post, we will help you find the best cheap audio interface with premium features that fits your needs while spending the minimum possible budget.
On this list, we recommend from 2 to 6 inputs audio interfaces that are excellent start-up addition for home recording studios. For semi-pro studios, it requires more inputs to record multiple tracks at the same time. We will stay on budget with all our picks for the best DJ turntable for around or under $200. The choices are made according to build quality, features, value-for-money, popularity, personal experience, and of course sound quality.
All audio interfaces you will see below are compatible with both Windows and MAC operating systems. They will fluently work with FL Studio, Ableton Live, Cubase, Logic Pro, and all major music production software.
Top 9 Best Audio Interface Under $200 – Reviews
1. FOCUSRITE Scarlett 4I4 (3rd Gen.) USB Audio Interface
Scarlett 4i4 by Focusrite is one of the most popular and the best seller audio interface in the market. The reason for success is the attractive price range, quality build, and a beautiful and distinctive design.
As the title gives away, Scarlett 4i4 has a USB connection and offers four inputs (two with mic pre.) and four balanced outputs. In the front, there are two instrument inputs to plug in your guitar, bass, or microphone. Two balanced line inputs for connecting synthesizers, drum machines, and other line-level sources. As well, four outputs to connect your monitor speakers, along with a separate output for your headphones.
There are so many electronic music producers that use the Scarlett, that can easily be one of the best audio interfaces for EDM production.
The Scarlett 2i2 (2nd gen.) was missing MIDI ins/outs, a quite useful feature for music producers. If you also wanted to plug in a guitar into one of the inputs, you wouldn’t succeed due to dB padding. The new Scarlett 4i4 comes with MIDI in/out ports and it also features pad switches that solve the problem of guitar clipping.
The package comes with Pro Tools, Focusrite Creative Pack, and Red Plug-in Suite, Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time, and Tone Bundle. All necessary software and plugins to start recording, composing, and mixing.
Conclusion: It won’t be easy to find a better and more affordable audio interface than Focusrite Scarlett. If you are a bedroom producer and you are satisfied with four inputs, then Scarlett 4i4 is the perfect tool for you. If you spare a few extra bucks you can go for the Scarlett 8i6 with two extra RCA phono outputs, and four more inputs for mics, guitars, or synths.
Musicians who use it: Haywyre, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Maury Lobina, and many more.
|A/D resolution||24-bit/ 192kHz.|
2. PreSonus Studio 26c 2×4 USB-C Audio Interface (new entry)
PreSonus has been in the audio-recording industry for decades. Their high-quality studio monitors, headphones, digital mixers, and audio interfaces appear in many professional recording studios around the world.
Studio 26c is a rugged unit with a sleek design, that makes it irresistible for DJs and electronic musicians on the road. It delivers excellent audio quality and professional metering, difficult to find in an audio interface at this price range. The best part about this sound card is the USB-C connection, which is faster and supports higher bandwidth as compared to the typical USB 2.0.
On the front panel, 26c offers two pristine XMAX-L solid-state mic preamps for XLR connection, instrument line, or line-level audio connection. As well, LED level indicators (2 inputs, 2 main outputs) and four gain toggle knobs to control each channel with ease and accuracy. On the backside, there are four balanced outputs for your monitors and one more for your headphones. However, most producers would prefer the headphone port on the front.
The package comes with PreSonus’ award-winning Studio One Artist DAW (music production software) for both Mac and Windows OS. Furthermore, a USB-C to USB-C and a USB-C to USB-A cable to connect on any computer or laptop for music production!
Conclusion: Presonus Studio 26c is a compact audio interface with professional features, hard to find at this price range. It is ideal for every musician who wants excellent audio quality in a sturdy portable tool with the reliability of a top brand.
|A/D resolution||24-bit / 192KHz|
3. STEINBERG UR22 MK2 / UR242
A happy surprise is the price range of all these audio interfaces, good enough to get the job done in any new home recording studio. With a very attractive price tag, the Steinberg UR22 MK2 is without a doubt a great investment.
On the front panel, it offers two Class-a D-PRE mic preamps that will capture all details of any audio source and a headphone output. As well, five solid knobs – one for each channel and one main output.
Steinberg UR22 MK2 features two inputs/outputs, phantom power for microphone recording, and two USB ports. What to do with two USB ports? One is large to connect to your Laptop/PC and get power as well, and the other one is small to connect to your iPad (iPad cannot sufficiently power the audio interface). The MIDI port will allow you to connect your keyboard right away and start recording. In case you hadn’t found your ideal keyboard controller check The Best Cheap MIDI Keyboard for Home Recording Studio in 2020.
One of the inputs has a Hi-Z switch that you can engage to accommodate guitar or bass. The construction is tight with good quality metal chassis. Plus the package offers the Cubase AI and Cubasis LE and starts composing.
Conclusion: It is not top-rated and highly recommended by many users by accident. Constitutes an excellent choice for the first audio interface, it is very affordable, with many features, it is portable and interface with Apple iPad devices. You can also go for the UR242 with two more inputs for just a few extra bucks.
|A/D resolution||24-bit / 192KHz|
4. Steinberg UR22C 2×2 USB 3.0 Audio Interface (new entry)
The UR22 is still a very popular and reliable audio interface for home recording. However, Steinberg felt the need to follow the market of USB-C connectivity audio interfaces and in 2019 launched its new UR-C models. The series includes also the UR44C (4 IN / 4 OUT), and UR816C (8 IN / 16 OUT) audio interfaces for professional music studios with a large variety of studio monitors.
Besides the faster 3.0 connection, the UR22C offers refine sound quality with higher 32-bit resolution, and a stronger and “cooler” metal casing. It is nearly impossible to find which audio interface has the best preamps, but the UR22C will capture every detail of every sound device. The connectivity, ports, and knobs are solid and pretty much the same as the UR22.
The package comes with Cubase AI DAW, Basic FX Suite, Cubasis LE iPad music production app, and the WaveLab LE audio editor. All these are the tools you need to start music production and home recording. A computer and a studio-quality microphone are required.
Conclusion: The small (16cm.) and robust wide metal housing makes the Steinberg UR22C the perfect first interface for producers on-the-go, and a great solution for small home recording studios. This audio interface is for PC and Mac OS and will connect to all major DAW. We cannot find any bad reviews, significant problems, or cons with this product. Take a look at a full spec comparison of Steinberg Audio Interfaces.
|A/D resolution||32-bit/192 kHz|
5. MOTU M2 2×2 USB-C Audio Interface (new entry)
MOTU is well-known in the music industry for its high-quality audio equipment. The MOTU M2 is a USB-C audio interface with a top-shelf sound that won’t break your budget.
The M2 includes all of the essential connections for a modern home recording studio. There are two great-sounding mic preamps and an ESS-driven stereo headphone output on the front panel. You may also benefit from the full-color LCD screen for volume metering. On the backside, there are MIDI In/Out, and two DC-coupled analog outputs for your studio speakers.
No matter which DAW (Ableton Live, Logic Pro, FL Studio) or PC you are using to record music, the ultralow latency for host software processing will result in zero-latency operation.
The dials, buttons, and knobs feel solid and in general, the entire interface is very strong. The package comes with MOTU Performer Lite, Ableton Live 10 Lite DAW, and 6+ GB of free loops and samples libraries.
Conclusion: If you want a professional-quality audio interface, for all the jobs, and at a friendly price, the MOTU M2 USB-C is probably the choice for you. The audio interface has been designed for recording, mixing, podcasting, and any other task you have in order.
|A/D resolution||24-bit / 96KHz|
6. PRESONUS AUDIOBOX ITWO
PreSonus Audiobox iTwo is the newly developed model of 22VSL. I cannot find a significant difference between those models except the price (iTwo is a few bucks cheaper). But both equally cheap audio interface.
Like Scarlett 2i2, Audiobox iTwo is a simple two input/output interface with USB connectivity. It is also cheaper than 2i2 and also offers MIDI I/O to connect your keyboard or controller. Audiobox iTwo has the headphone jack to the front part which makes it more comfortable than 22VSL where you had to search, and “blind” plug it to the back of the device.
It has a good quality build, metal housing, and it weighs less than two pounds for easy transportation outside of your studio. Audiobox iTwo can also be connected with the iPad and work with Studio One Artist, a DAW software that is included in the package.
This light and extremely portable USB audio interface is an excellent choice for any musician on the move.
Conclusion: The ratings of this low latency audio interface are as good as the best seller of this category Scarlett 2i2. I would highly recommend it if you have a limited budget and you want MIDI ports to use MIDI equipment. The studio bundle with a condenser microphone and studio headphones is also in our budget. For more microphone and audio interface packages check the best studio bundles.
|A/D resolution||24-bit / 96KHz|
7. Tascam US-2×2 USB Audio/MIDI Interface
If you are looking for great audio quality and ergonomic design, then this 2-in/2-out USB audio interface might be perfect for you.
The XLR and TRS inputs accept balanced mic and line-level signals, with a high-impedance option to record electric guitar and bass. The two ultra-HDDA mic/line preamps provide up to 57dB of gain with no noise or distortion. This compact interface also comes MIDI in and out to connect synths, drum machines, and controllers.
Tascam US-2×2 is a recommended audio interface for Ableton Live and FL studio.
In the package, you will also receive two DAW softwares; Cakewalk SONAR X3 LE and Ableton Live Lite, to choose and start music production right away.
Conclusion: Modern design, ergonomic, sturdy, and stylish, this audio interface has everything you need in your home or portable recording studio. The US series by Tascam also comes with 1-in/2-out, 4-in/4-out, 16-in/8-out, and 20-in/20-out ports to pick the one that fits your needs.
|A/D resolution||24-bit / 192KHz|
8. NATIVE INSTRUMENTS KOMPLETE AUDIO 6 MKII
We will take it up a notch and get our budget a little higher. For those who have greater needs for simultaneous recordings, it features four balanced analog inputs and outputs. Except for recording studios, Audio 6 is also commonly used in live performances with a DJ controller and the Traktor Pro DJ software by NI. Check out the best DJ controller for Traktor Pro for more info.
DJ with TRAKTOR: Route separate audio from two decks directly into your mixer.
Komplete Audio 6 MK2 has two balanced line/mic, two balanced lines (1.4″TRS) inputs, and four balanced outputs (1.4″TRS). The two mic inputs are armed with high-end pre-amps and Cirrus Logic converters for an original sound. This interface from Native Instruments connects with USB and also has MIDI IN and OUT ports to connect your DJ mixer or MIDI controller. One big plus that you won’t find on an audio interface of that budget is the 15 big and bright status LEDs which provide visual feedback for all signals.
By looking at this sound card, you will notice the sleek, rugged metal casing that will guarantee a long-life product. Many users, including myself, find the big main volume knob on top of the tool very useful. But I’m most excited about the softwares that it comes Ableton Live Lite 10, MASCHINE Essentials, Traktor LE 3, Monark, Replica, Mod Pack, Solid Bus Comp, and Komplete Elements with over 1000 instruments and effects sized 3GB. I love those packages that offer everything you will need to start music production or upgrade your DJ setup.
Audio 6 is one of the best audio interfaces for DJing and live performance in 2020.
Conclusion: NI Komplete Audio 6 mk2 is not only one of the best audio interfaces for home recording studios, but it can also perform great in semi-pro studios. It is a bit over our budget but worth every penny and if you can afford it, go for it. Audio 6 would fit better in a list with the best audio interfaces under 500 dollars. It is not like the conventional audio interfaces like the above but offers all the essentials with low-latency performance, high-quality pre-amps plus professional NI products, and software.
Musicians who use it: Madeon, Savant, Carnage, Haywyre
|A/D resolution||24-bit / 192KHz|
9. FOCUSRITE SCARLETT 6I6 2nd Gen. Audio Interface
We start and finish our list for the best audio interface with Focusrite Scarlett. I would prefer not to have two same brand names in the best audio interfaces list, but after a big search, Scarlett 6I6 overcomes to its competitors. AKAI EIE Pro, Tascam US-4X4, Roland UA-55 Quad-capture are suitable interfaces, but they barely missed the list.
Let’s see the additions and differences of Scarlett 6i6 to the smallest models. It features six inputs, four balanced outputs able to connect two different sets of monitors, and two headphone outputs with separate volume control. The two different headphone outputs are handy if you are planning to work with a friend in a studio.
Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 has USB connectivity, same design, sound, and build quality and it also features MIDI IN and OUT ports. The 2nd generation model comes with Pro Tools software and Ableton Live Lite. If you find a 1st generation model, you will save a few bucks.
Not only, Focusrite produces one of the best audio interfaces for electronic music production, but the majority of musicians seem to love its sound and features. Hip hop producers, music bands, drummers, singers, and composers choose it.
Conclusion: Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 is probably the best value for money purchase of our list. It’s perfect for home recording studios; however, it can also stand decent in a semi-pro or even pro recording studio (DEADMAU5 uses one). The almost excellent reviews and the 25 years of audio excellence by Focusrite makes this purchase gold.
Musicians who use it: DEADMAU5
|A/D resolution||24-bit / 96KHz|
Check out more Focusrite audio interfaces with Thunderbolt connectivity.
What is an audio interface?
Audio interfaces or “sound cards” will get the sound in and out of your computer. Your computer probably has a built-in sound card, but there is no way it can handle studio work in any possible way. The external audio interface will convert the analog signals from recording vocals, synthesizer, drum machines or instruments, into digital signals in your computer. Then it will convert the digital signals into analog audio so that you will hear it from your speakers and headphones.
If you are not experienced in the market of home recording studio equipment, then the choice of an audio interface is not an easy job. The many features, dozens of models and the significant price differential that can go from $100 to more than $4000 for professional recording studios make this choice quite special.
What are the best audio interface under $200 for bedroom producers?
- Focusrite Scarlett 4I4 (most Popular)
- PreSonus Studio 26c (best Overall)
- Steinberg UR22 MKII / UR242
- Steinberg UR22C (best Value-for-Money)
- MOTU M2 2X2 USB-C
- PreSonus Audio Box iTwo
- Tascam US-2X2
- Native Instruments Audio 6
- Focusrite Scarlett 6I6
The most important features to consider when buying an audio interface:
- Input/Output count: How many sound sources are you planning to record at once? You will find cheap interfaces that offer from two to dozens of input/output ports to connect your sources. In a home recording studio, an audio interface with 2-4 inputs/outputs will get the job done. In pro studios, producers will probably need dozens of inputs to cover their needs. Mic pre-amps are also essential to connect your studio microphone and get quality recordings.
- Interface connectivity: USB is the most common, FIREWIRE offers minimum possible latency, and there are also THUNDERBOLT and PCIe connection for premium interfaces. In our budget, we are exclusively looking for USB connectivity interfaces. But we have already prepared a list with the best Thunderbolt audio interface. The last couple of years the center of attention the new USB-C, which provides fast, reliable, and seamless connectivity to Mac and PC computers, as well as iOS devices. If you want to find out more check out the differences between USB and USB-C connectivity.
- Input/ Output channel types: You can connect synths, guitars, microphones, instruments, headphones, and monitor speakers, to an audio interface. LINE, MIC, OPTICAL, DI for your recordings. As well, as MIDI IN/OUT to connect your MIDI keyboard and controller.
- DAW compatible: How useful can it be an audio interface that is not compatible with the DAW(Digital Audio Workstation) you are using. Most models come with a lite version of the software for you to start. All our picks below are compatible with all the major DAW softwares. For more details about DAWs, check the best music production software.
- Sound quality: This is where your money mostly goes. Almost everyone out there can understand the need for an audio interface that will offer superb sound quality for your recordings. The brands such as Focusrite, NI, and Steinberg are well known to the general public that will deliver the job as a professional tool.
What is an audio interface used for?
An audio interface is used to record high-quality sound with the lowest possible latency. All our choices with the best audio interface under 200 dollars include models by Focusrite, Steinberg, NI, and they will get the job done perfectly.
Can I connect a mixer to an audio interface?
Yes, you can. That way, you will control the mixer when DJing with a DJ software and controller. Or you can also connect them to record your DJ set into your music software.
How to use your mixer as an audio interface?
There are plenty of DJ mixers out there, that comes with a built-in audio interface. In our latest article, you will find some of the best professional mixers for DJs.
Does a MIDI keyboard need an audio interface?
No. MIDI keyboard can be directly connected to your computer.
Audio Interface vs Sound card:
In general, an audio interface and a sound card are the same things – a device that “handles” sound, and minimal I/O make it less than ideal for recording. The sound cards have a stereo line-level input, a headphone output, and stereo output, so you can say that they are “limited sound quality”. An audio interface will offer more Input / Outputs, MIDI ports, and much better preamps and connectivity.
The audio interface is a vital studio tool for creating high-quality recordings and mixes. Have in mind that professional ‘sound cards’ could be one of the most expensive appliances in a professional recording studio.
The ultimate question you have to ask yourself is which audio interface is right for me?
If you go for any of the models from the above list, you can now sleep tight. Our picks were out of a couple of dozens of possible options that are available on the market today, and no choice was made randomly. But, the final decision is yours. Just because one tool is the best seller in its category, it doesn’t mean that it is ideal for you as well. Be sure the audio interface connections.
For example, if you require MIDI ports in your studio, then you should avoid Scarlett 2i2 by Focusrite. If you are using Traktor DJ or Cubase, then the NI Komplete Audio 6 will “sit” perfect in your home recording studio and DJ desc. And this is how you should proceed when you are looking for the best audio interface.
An audio interface with low-quality pre-amps may not handle some microphones or headphones with high impedance (250 Ohms). Audio interfaces may contain preamps, but they are not preamps – check out what’s the difference.
If you want a complete studio, check how to build a complete home recording studio at under $600!
If you have any questions about our list of the best audio interface under $200, leave your comment below…
More audio interface reviews:
- The best USB audio interface
- The best thunderbolt audio interface
- Izote Spire Studio Portable Recorder
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