Some of the best cheap audio interface for home recording studios and live performances are now available for under $200.
One of the most important purchase, whether you are building a new home recording studio or improving an existing one, is the audio interface. The audio interface should be one of the first additions in your home recording studio. It is what stands out in a home, semi-pro or pro music workplace.
In this post, we will help you find the best cheap audio interface that fit your needs but also spending the minimum possible budget.
What is an audio interface and why is it so important
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 interface will convert the analog signals such as synthesizer, drum machines or vocals, 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 big price differential that can go from $100 to more than $4000 for professional recording studios make this choice quit special.
The most important features to consider when buying a cheap 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 a dozens of inputs to cover their needs.
- 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.
- Input channel types: LINE, MIC, OPTICAL, DI for your recordings. As well as MIDI IN/OUT to connect your keyboard or 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 of an audio interface that will offer superb sound quality for your recorsings. The brands such as Focusrite, NI and Steinberg are well known to the general public that will deliver the job as a progessional tool.
If you are thinking of your own home recording studio check how to build a home recording studio with under $600.
On this list, we recommend from 2 to 6 inputs audio interfaces that are great 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, feautures, value-for-money, popularity, personal experience and of couse sound quality.
5 BEST AUDIO INTERFACE UNDER $200
1. FOCUSRITE SCARLETT 2I2 USB / 2I4 USB
Scarlett 2i2 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 nice and special design.
As the title gives away, Scarlett 2i2 has USB connectivity and offers 2 mono inputs (with mic pre) and 2 outputs. To the inputs, you can connect two mono instruments or one stereo, and your monitor speakers are connected straight to the two mono outputs, along with a separate output for your headphones. Where this model wins is at the build quality which is tough and will last hardship. The package comes with Ableton Live Lite and if you go for the 2nd gen. model it also includes Pro Tools.
Scarlett 2i2 is missing MIDI ins/outs, a quite useful feature for music producers. A note for those who want to plug in a guitar into one of the inputs, they won’t succeed because is lacking dB padding. However, you can find a way out of it, send me an email and I will respond with detailed instructions and guidance.
conclusion: It won’t be easy to find a better cheap audio interface at this price range. If you are a beginner and you are satisfied with 2 inputs then Scarlett 2i2 is the perfect tool for you. If you spare a few extra bucks you can go for the Scarlett 2i4 with 2 extra RCA phono outputs but most important it comes with MIDI IN/OUT ports. It also features pad switches that solve the problem of guitar clipping.
Musicians who use it: Haywyre, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Maury Lobina
|A/D resolution||24-bit / 96KHz|
2. 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). 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 iPad and work with Studio One Artist, a DAW software that is included in the package.
conclusion: The ratings of this 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. Also in our budget the Studio Bundle with a condenser microphone and studio headphones.
|A/D resolution||24-bit / 96KHz|
3. STEINBERG UR22 MK2 / UR242
A happy surprise is the price range of all those 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.
Steinberg UR22 MK2 features 2 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 have not find your ideal keyboard controller check The Best Cheap MIDI Keyboard for Home Recording Studio in 2018.
One of the inputs has a Hi-Z switch that you can engage to accommodate guitar or bass. The construction is tough with good quality metal chassis. Plus the package offers Cubase AI and Cubasis LE.
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. NATIVE INSTRUMENTS KOMPLETE AUDIO 6
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 4 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 by NI.
Komplete Audio 6 has 2 balanced line/mic, 2 balanced line (1.4″TRS) inputs and 4 balanced outputs (1.4″TRS). The two mic inputs are armed with high-end pre-amps and Cirrus Logic converters for original sound. This interface from Native Instruments connects with USB and also have MIDI IN and OUT ports to connect your MIDI keyboard. One big plus that you wont find on an audio interface of that budget is the 15 status LEDs which provide visual feedback for all signals.
By looking 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 with the softwares that it comes with, Cubase LE 6, Traktor LE 2 and Komplete Elements with over 1000 instruments and effects sized 3GB. I love those packages that offer everything you will need to start DJing or produce music.
conclusion: NI Komplete Audio 6 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. Superior to the above we met so far 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 / 96KHz|
5. FOCUSRITE SCARLETT 6I6
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 good interfaces but they barely missed the list.
Let’s see the additions and differences of Scarlett 6i6 to the smallest models. It Features 6 inputs, 4 balanced outputs able to connect 2 different set of monitors and 2 headphone outputs with separate volume control. The two different headphone outputs are very useful 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.
conclusion: Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 is probably the best value for money purchase of our list. It’s perfect for home recording studios, however, can also stand decent in a semi-pro or even pro recording studio (DEADMAU5 uses one). The almost perfect 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|
The audio interface is a very important studio tool for creating high-quality recordings and mixes. Have in mind that professional ‘sound cards’ could be one of the most expensive tools in a professional recording studio.
If you go for any of the models from the above list you can now sleep tight. Our picks were made out of hundreds of possible options that are available on the market today, and no choice was made randomly. But remember, the final choice is yours. Just because one tool is best seller in its category, doesn’t mean that is ideal for you as well. Be sure that you will not need more inputs/outputs than those you need now.
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.
If you have any questions about our list of the best audio interface under $200, leave your comment below.