If you desire to get the best potential playback quality for home recordings, you’ll likely have to shell out for an audio interface – a studio equipment often overlooked by beginners. That said, it is likewise correct to think that you can get quite good results too without having to spend excessively: an interface of reasonable quality can now be had for well below $250.
Through the list below, you’ll realize that that statement above is indeed true. For such a relatively low amount of money, you can now expect to get 24-bit quality and a few (or a couple maybe) outputs and inputs. If you’re thinking of also hooking up an external synth or controller, another feature to watch out for is MIDI I/O.
Now, before you get yourself an interface, ensure that it has the output and input types that you need. All of the options recommended below operate via USB and are compatible with PC and Mac. Some of them will also work with iOS devices.
And so, without further much ado, below is a regularly updated list of the best USB audio interfaces that you can purchase now. To provide you an estimate of the money you’ll have to prepare for some models, we included their approximate average price as of this writing. Take note that the audio interfaces are not listed in a particular order.
The first Scarlett audio interfaces offered a lot of value for money, and the next generation of models are poised to give even more bang for the buck.
There’s a total of six models in the Scarlett series, and four of those – the 6i6, 2i4, 2i2 and the Solo – can be bought for less than the $250 price mark. And so, there is probably a Scarlett interface that will suit your case, whatever your I/O needs and budget may be.
Compared to the first models, the new series members sport an improved instrument input with more headspace for hotter signals. Also, they have enhanced microphone preamps that allow more precise level setting. There is also support for as much as 192 kHz sample rates, as well as lower latency.
M-Audio M-Track 2×2
The C Series 2×2 of M-Audio is available in both non MIDI and MIDI iterations and supports USB-C and USB 2.0 bus-powering. Their similar features include 24-bit / 192 kHz operation, zero latency monitoring, and separate level controls for the main and headphone outputs.
Besides the MIDI In and Out, the MIDI version also has microphone, instrument, and line choices for its two input channels, instead of just one of each as in the basic model. The software bundled include the Air Music Tech virtual instruments and plug-in effects, as well as the Cubase LE.
Needless to say, the M-Track 2×2 is a very good option, more so because of its affordable price.
Mackie Onyx Blackjack
“Tough” is the word you’ll think of upon reading this description of the Blackjack – it’s a studio gear whose chassis is made of sturdy metal. And that is no surprise really, considering that the 2-in/2-out interface is from Mackie – a brand which is well known in the music technology industry.
Why Mackie is popular is immediately evident on both of its superior quality preamps. You can plug in instruments and microphones, and the convenient monitoring dial allows you to record with hardly any latency by sending your signal directly to the speakers.
Furthermore, the USB audio interface is so intuitive to use. It will rest firmly on your desk and its controls are naturally angled towards you. Without a doubt, the Mackie Onyx Blackjack is at par with other high quality studio equipment.
Steinberg UR12 and UR22
Made with the help of their parent company Yamaha, Steinberg’s UR22 is a tough 2-in/2-out audio interface that delivers up to 24-bit / 192 kHz performance and is operated via USB 2.0.
The UR22 has two preamplifiers with phantom power (+48v), while its inputs are the TRS/XLR combination type. Its Input 2 has a Hi-Z switch which you can utilize when recording your guitar. TRS jacks house the two outputs, and other connection options include the MIDI I/O and the headphones output which has a dedicated level control. Using its Mix Balance knob, monitoring zero-latency can be done.
The Steinberg UR22 is a great first audio interface for anyone, and is a high value choice given that it comes with Cubase AI and has a metal chassis. You may also consider the UR12, which only has 1 preamp, but is similar in all other regards.
Tascam MiniStudio Creator US-42 and MiniStudio Personal US-32
The Tascam MiniStudio Creator US-42 and Personal US-32 interfaces are mainly intended for podcasting purposes and work on iOs and desktops via USB. You can put together hardware inputs (e.g. line and microphone) with computer audio and add processing, spot effects and reverb via the app that it comes with. Then, using the “On Air” button, the mix produced is routed back to the computer.
The US-42 also comes with a regular creator mode, and because it has two instead of one mic/instrument/line inputs and dedicated monitor outputs, it can be utilized as a direct 2×2 audio interface. Moreover, both models look great because there are lots of buttons with backlight.
Duo Capture EX by Roland
Roland’s 2-in/2-out model sports two VS preamps, and they are similar to the ones integrated in the brand’s more expensive Octa-Capture and Quad-Capture interfaces. Meanwhile, its inputs supports both 1/4-inch jack connections and XLR. Phantom power is available through the XLRs and the Input 1 Hi-Z setting for directly plugging in a bass or guitar.
At the back of the interface, there are in and out ports for MIDI and balanced outputs for 1/4-inch jacks. Also, there is a headphone output on the front panel, and it has a dedicated volume control.
The Duo Capture EX may be powered via USB, batteries, or an AC adapter (sold separately). The Roland interface has a decent build and delivers good sound quality, and is well worth the money you’ll pay for.
Maximize Your Studio Equipment
Basically, a USB audio interface is a tool that helps you maximize your other music studio equipment. Aside from expanding the input and output options of your computer, a USB audio interface also improves its sonic capabilities. Hence, you get the best possible recording out of each mic or instrument that you record into it.