Best Budget Friendly Audio InterfacesSep 20, 2022
I am going to list my favourite best budget friendly audio interfaces. Let's face it, budget is important and to be honest, when you're just a beginner, it doesn't make sense to purchase something super expensive. Why spend $2000 on an audio interface when you can't hear the difference?
My first audio interface cost $150, and I thought that was expensive at the time. Now that I've been producing music for a number of years, I've graduated to a $3000 audio interface with a variety of different pre amps to choose from. I'll get into more of that lingo later on. I just want to stress the importance that you do not need an expensive audio interface when you are a beginner. On top of that, it will depend on what you need the audio interface for.
What Is An Audio Interface?
An audio interface does two important tasks. The first thing is, they convert the signal from microphones and instruments into a format that your computer can easily process. In more simple terms, they exchange analog single (think audio wave form) to a digital signal (think zeros and ones).
The second thing they do is, they amplify the sound of the audio form. This is also known as "pre amp". For example, if you're recording vocals in Logic Pro, the audio signal coming from the microphone is very low and it needs to be amplified before it gets recorded.
Now that you know an audio interface converts sound and amplifies sound, the cost of the interface will depend on the quality of the converter and pre amplifier.
Back in the old days, like in the 60s, and even in some professional studios today, engineers will use separate converters and pre amplifies, instead of them being nicely packaged in one audio interface. For instance, you might use an apogee symphony converter and then a Neve 1076 pre amp before recording. Here is a great video where I'm using this setup and comparing it against an audio interface.
You don't need to worry about converters or pre-amps. However, it's good to know what's happening inside your interface.
Why Does The Cost Vary So Much With Audio Interfaces?
Converts + Pre Amps
The reason audio interfaces vary widely in cost has to do with the quality of the converter and pre amp. Budget friendly interfaces, which we'll get into below, have lower quality converters and pre amps. However, the technology has come so far in the last 10 years that you still get a recording that can be used in a professionally produced song.
The more expensive audio interfaces are good but not completely necessary for beginners. Although, there are some neat bells and whistles you can get with an expensive audio interface, for instance, the UAD Apollo Twin. I'll talk a little bit about expensive audio interfaces at the end of this post.
Number Of Channels
Another big contributor to cost is the number of channels on the audio interface. Another word for this is inputs. For example, when you plug in your microphone to your audio interface, that means you're plugging the mic into one channel on your audio interface. Audio interfaces can have one channel up to 16 channels, some times even more. You can also link multiple audio interfaces together to create more channels but that's more advanced. Most budget friendly audio interfaces will have 1 or 2 channels.
How Many Channels Do You Need On Your Audio Interface?
Many beginner producers wonder how many channels they'll need on their audio interface before they purchase one. I can tell you that most beginner producers aren't going to need much more than 1. You might be asking yourself though, "I play guitar, I play piano, and I sing, won't I need three channels?" No, you don't . You can get this all done with 1 channel since you can record all these instruments, guitar, piano, and vocals with 1 channel by recording them separately. So, when would you need 2 or more channels?
There's a few reasons why you might want 2 or more channels on your audio interface. The first reason about be, multi-track recording. For example, you'd like to record your guitar and vocal at the same time. This wouldn't be possible to do with a 1 channel audio interface. Instead, you'll need 2 channels. One channel to plug in your guitar. Another channel to plug in your microphone.
Another reason you might want more than 1 channel on your interface would be, you record many instruments and you're also doing stereo recordings. For example, let's say you do a lot of vocal recordings, so you have channel 1 for vocals. Channel 2 and 3 could be for a stereo piano recording that you have setup. Channel 4 could be for an electric guitar you have setup. These channels could be set up and ready to go whenever you're ready. No fuss. No plugging in or out. Nice and easy.
If you're a producer and you find yourself recording a lot of vocals but then some time you record some guitar or something else with a microphone, you'll be fine with a 1 channel interface. The number of channels on an interface will not affect the quality of the interface. Quality has to do with the above section; converters + pre amps.
Top 5 Best Budget Friendly Audio Interfaces
Here is a list of my favourite budget friendly audio interfaces on the market right now. Starting with one of the most popular, which I first started with when I was a beginner.
#1: Scarlett Focusrite Solo or 2i2
My personal favourite and a very popular choice for early stage music producers if the Scarlett Focusrite. Focusrite is a trusted brand and has been around for a long time. I've been on the phone with them and they have great customer service. The very first time I purchased my Focusrite, I was having problems with it, I called them up and they sent me a new one! Finally, the quality you get for the cost is very strong. Theres' a reason I put it at number one.
I can actually recommend a variety of the Focusrite's. The Solo, the 2i2, and even the 4i4. This really will depend on how many inputs you need. The solo includes 1 mic pre for just over $100. On the other hand, you can get the 2i2 if you need 2 mic pre's (combo inputs). Take a look at purchasing the Focusrite interfaces here.
#2: Komplete Audio 1 or 2 by Native Instruments
If you’re looking for something super simple, the Komplete Audio 1 or Audio 2 will do the trick. The Audio 1 has an XLR and a 1/4 jack that will work well for guitar and vocals, whereas the Audio 2 has 2 XLR jacks. Plus, it comes with some great plugins from Native Instruments. It’s even cheaper than the Focusrite. You can look at purchasing it here.
Native Instruments is fairly new to the space of audio interfaces and hardware. However, they've created some great products within the last few years and are very reputable company. I rely on Native Instruments for most of my sound libraries.
The reason why you might want to have 2 XLR inputs instead of 1 is to have the flexibility and ease of having a vocal mic or electric guitar plugged in at the same time. This is what I was mentioning at the beginning of this post.
#3: U-Phoria UMC22
This budget friendly audio interface is an even cheaper option at $69. It's called the U-Phoria UMC22. While the recording quality won’t be as high as some of the others on the list, it offers 1 combo input and 1 instrument input. Take note of the image below, notice how one of the inputs is for XLR/1/4 inch. However, there is another one beside it that takes a 1/4 inch. That's what I mean by combo. You can look at purchasing the Uphoria interface here.
Uphoria makes it convenient if you only want a simple one channel interface but you'd like to have your microphone and guitar plugged in at the same time. This is possible with the UMC22. On the other hand, like most interface companies, you can always graduate to their 2 channel or 4 channel interfaces. For instance, Uphoria also makes a two channel interface called the UMC202.
#4: PreSonus Studio 24c
A bit pricier, but still budget friendly, is the PreSonus Studio 24c. PreSonus is a quality brand that you can’t go wrong with. It has 2 XLR/1/4 combo inputs for versatility. It also includes a readable meter. Take note of the green, yellow, and red lights, on the image below. This is really helpful when you're setting the gain for your recording. No need to look at Logic Pro or your DAW to see what level you're coming in at. It's right there on the interface. You can look at purchasing the Pre Sonus here.
#5: Mackie Onyx Artist 1.2
The Mackie Onyx used to be the cheapest audio interface on the market and the best bang for your buck. They've recently raised their prices. However, it's still a great deal for your money. Onyx is a staple in the music industry and they've really developed a competitive audio interface for beginners. You'll notice from the image below that there is 1 XLR and 1 instrument input (1/4 inch). You can look at purchasing the Mackie Onyx here.
When Should You Buy An Expensive Audio Interface?
When I first started producing music at home, I thought to myself, should I plan for the future and purchase an expensive audio interface right now? For example, like the Apollo Twin X or the Apogee Duet . After all, I knew I would be producing full time, for a long time.
There's really no right or wrong answer. However, I do have an opinion on the matter. It's the same opinion that I hold with regard to purchasing any type of expensive music equipment. I think equipment does matter, however, I do think your production and songwriting skills matter more. When it comes to expensive audio interfaces and equipment in general, I think as a beginner you should start small, and start cheap. There is no need to buy expensive equipment if you do not know the benefits or even how to use it. Start simple. Start cheap.
As your skill set grows in the areas of songwriting and production, you will start to hear what you're missing. You'll notice that you need better equipment in certain areas. In the area of budget friendly audio interfaces, for example, if you start with the Scarlett Focusrite 2i2, which I did, you'll be happy for a few years. Then you'll start to hear the pre-amp could be a bit better or that the monitoring latency could be better. Treat yourself to more expensive equipment as you get better.
Final Thoughts On Budget Friendly Audio Interfaces
Don't overwhelm yourself with the list, if your decision comes down to price, then go for the cheapest option, that's easy.
However, you'll notice that all the budget friendly audio interface options all fall within a similar price range. Therefore, all of these budget friendly options are going to be very similar in quality. Don't stress too much about the decision. Go with what you gravitate towards and what will fit your needs the best.
I'd love to help you on your journey to become a better music producer, I suggest getting my free 6 pillars on learning Logic Pro faster.