With all of the companies manufacturing entry-level interfaces these days, getting a solid interface for under $500 is nowhere near as hard as it used to be.
Whether you are looking to create some solid vocal recording or lay down some sweet guitar riffs, we’ve got you covered.
We’re here to take you through some of the best entry-level audio interfaces on the market right now so that you can find the one with the right features for all of your recording needs.
What to Expect from an Audio Interface Under $500?
When you purchase an audio interface for less than $500, there are a couple of things that you can expect.
Interfaces in this range will typically come with eight or fewer inputs and outputs, though there are a few outliers. Most of these models will have digital inputs and outputs if they have any more than four as it helps to cut costs.
With that said, fewer I/O options will still be more than enough for home studios, especially for those who are looking to record one instrument at a time.
Beyond the I/O options, you’ll want to make sure that your audio interface is as flexible as possible so that you can record anything that comes to mind. Hopefully, your interface will have each of these things:
- DI Input for Guitars and Other Live Instruments
- Line Inputs for Guitars and Other Line-Level Gear
- Mic Input for Your Microphone
- MIDI Inputs for MIDI Controllers
Top 6 Audio Interfaces Under 500 Dollars
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The Focusrite Clarett 2Pre is just about one of the best audio interfaces on the market for singer-songwriters. It works with both Mac and PC systems and comes complete with two USB cables, as it is a bus-powered device. For better performance, you can use the USB cable to power the device through a wall outlet as well.
The face of the Clarett 2Pre comes with two microphone preamp inputs, which can both also be used with TRS signals. This is perfect for guitars or other instruments that utilize line level outputs. Each of these channels has a +48V phantom power switch for condenser microphones, as well as a gain control knob for adjusting levels. The large monitor knob is intuitive, allowing you to adjust the overall output level with ease. On the far right is a headphone jack that has its own separate output level.
The back panel of the Clarett 2Pre features four balanced TRS outputs jacks, MIDI in and MIDI out ports, a USB-C port, an optical ADAT input, a power on/off button, and a power adaptor input. There is an “Air” feature on each of the preamps as well, which essentially adds clarity to the overall sound. Speaking of clarity, the Clarett 2Pre has an A/D resolution of 24-bit/192kHz, giving you crystalline sound that is unmistakable.
Bottom Line: If you are looking for an entry-level audio interface that sounds amazing (why wouldn’t you be), then the Clarett 2Pre should be the first choice on your list. With tons of features and a sturdy build, it is made to deliver quality recordings wherever you are!
Though the Behringer U-Phoria UMC1820 is the lowest in terms of price on this list, it also features much more than the other interfaces. It comes with eight XLR/TRS inputs and high-quality Midas preamps, two on the front panel and six on the back. Each of these inputs comes with a line/instrument button switch, signal and peak LED indicators, a PAD button switch, and of course a gain control knob.
On the front panel sits the power switch, a SPDIF/ADAT switch, two headphone jacks—each with separate level knobs and routing switches—buttons for Mute and Dim, a Stereo/Mono switch, and a Mix Monitoring Control knob.
The back of the unit has main monitor outputs, 3-8 inputs, eight line outputs, MIDI in/out ports, SPDIF in/out ports, a USB port, and the port for the power adaptor. With a 24-bit depth and a 96kHz sampling rate, this thing sounds incredibly good for the low price. They’ve even thrown in Traktion DAW software for those who are just getting started.
Bottom Line: Though it may not deliver the crystal-clear audio of some of the other entry-level interfaces on our list, it provides some of the most inputs and outputs. This is perfect for those who are looking to lay down some band demos or multi-mic some instruments for live recordings.
Though the Audient ID4 came out back in 2015, many still consider it to be one of the best entry-level audio interfaces on the market today. With a compact design that is perfect for your desktop, it manages to deliver a superior audio performance compared to the range of other entry-level devices out there.
The Audient ID4 comes complete with two Class A microphone preamps, each of which were designed in-house. Some of the other top-notch technology onboard includes a JFET direct input, Burr-Brown converter technology, and console-style monitor control, which all come together to provide class-leading sound.
What we really love about the Audient ID4 is the Scroll Control mode, which gives you intuitive access to the parameters that are in your DAW, allowing you to control just about everything from the interface.
Bottom Line: If you are in the market for an audio interface that is expandable and versatile with a great sound, the Audient ID4 should be on your list. Though it may not be as versatile as the Clarett, it comes with some of the best-sounding preamps that this range of interfaces has to offer.
Those who use entry-level audio interfaces will tell you that Focusrite is a go-to brand. For audio interfaces under $500, the best choice right after the Clarett is the Scarlett 6i6. With a budget-friendly design that will fit in your backpack, it is a no-brainer for producers and singer-songwriters on the go.
Just like the Clarett, the Scarlett 6i6 is compatible with just about every major DAW as well as Mac and PC systems. It comes complete with the Focusrite Control software mixer, which is an easy-to-use system that allows you to route your setup configuration and monitor your output.
The 6i6 provides users with an A/D resolution of 24 bit-depth and a 192kHz sampling rate. In terms of specs, the Scarlett 6i6 comes with four analog inputs, which include two Scarlett microphone preamps and tons of gain! There is also a redesigned instrument input that allows you to plug your guitar straight in and record without ever having to mic up an amplifier. At the very end of the audio interface lies two headphone outputs for quiet monitoring, as well as dedicated volume controls.
Bottom Line: The Scarlett 6i6 is one of the leading entry-level interfaces on the market for a very good reason. With superb sound quality and a versatile array of features, it is perfect for any singer-songwriter on a budget.
The Mackie Onyx Producer 2.2 is one of those hidden gems that we don’t often hear about, though when it comes to build quality, it sits at the top. The Producer 2.2 interface blends balanced analog connectivity and 24-bit/192kHZ operation with the high-quality Onyx mic pres that is onboard. It is bus-powered, but it can still deliver a clean enough sound to feed your DAW pure, unaltered audio.
On the face of the Onyx Producer 2.2, you’ll find two identical mic/line inputs. They come with a combination of XLR and jack connectors, allowing you to plug in either a microphone or a line-level instrument. Each of these inputs comes with a backlit, manual green input switch that enables you to change to a Hi Z instrument, as well as a 48V microphone.
The input signals can both be monitored using the Input/DAW mix knob so that you don’t experience any annoying latency issues. On the back of the interface sits a pair of ¼-inch jacks that you can plug monitors into as a MIDI in/out pair. All of this audio goodness is wrapped up in a durable metal case, perfect for those who travel often and like to record on the go.
Bottom Line: The Mackie Onyx Producer 2.2 is a true workhorse audio interface. With its durable casing, we highly recommend it for traveling producers and singer-songwriters.
Best Budget Option
You’ve likely heard of Native Instruments, as they are one of the largest VST software companies in the world. When it comes to softsynths and real-world instrument VSTs, they provide top-of-the-line products. With that said, they also happen to design one of the best little 2-input/2-output interfaces that are on the market right now.
The 2-input design saves space by combining the XLRs and the line-level jacks so that you can switch between microphone and line level in a pinch. They have also included 48V phantom power for those who record with condenser microphones, and it can be engaged via a single global switch.
Beyond the front panel inputs, there is also a large monitoring balance knob and an independent headphone output control. You can easily control the overall level via the large knob on the top.
They have also given you some nice input meters that sit beside the USB indicators as well. On the back of the audio interface sits a USB-B connector, a Kensington Security Slot, and TRS ¼-inch output jacks.
Bottom Line: The Native Instruments Komplete 2 sounds just as sleek as you would assume from the design. Plus, when you tack on the generous software bundle that is included, it is a solid deal.
Ready To Record?
Audio interfaces have a natural price progression, meaning the more you spend, the more you are going to get. Models under $500 are perfect for personal use in home studios, as well as for use on the go. Of course, you may want to upgrade one day, but there is no reason to spend a few grand when you are just getting into the world of recording.
Though all of these models are excellent in their own regard, we highly recommend the Focusrite Clarett 2Pre above all else. With pristine sound and a versatile design, it is about as good as it gets in this price range.
Whatever you ultimately decide on, we hope that your chosen audio interface provides you with many years of recording! We can’t wait to hear your music!