An audio interface is the piece of gear that sits right at the heart of your home recording studio.
There was a time when audio enthusiasts weren’t able to record music at home. But with technological advancements and developments, it has become easier than ever to record music at an affordable price right in the comfort of your home.
One of the biggest and most common misconceptions with audio interfaces is that you need to spend a lot of cash to get a good one.
We’re here to tell you: that is not true.
In fact, the budget-friendly models we’re presenting today do a great job regarding performance. Yes, we can all agree that an audio interface in the $300+ range may provide more features and added versatility; however, when it comes to its core performance, there isn’t that much of a difference in the upper and lower price ranges.
How much should you spend?
Like most things in the world, you get what you pay for when it comes to audio interfaces. These devices are available in a wide range of prices. Those that come with high quality features like mic preamps and digital converters present a price tag that correlates with that level of quality.
That being said, for all recording and mixing work that doesn’t require the highest pro-level features and functionality, there are various great performing models that are available at more affordable prices.
If you’re willing to extend your budget, it’s also a good idea to invest in an interface that offers more I/O than you originally will need since, as you develop your skills and grow your gear family, you will likely want to create more complex recordings.
With all that in mind, let’s see that interfaces we liked the best in 4 different price ranges...
First up is Behringer’s super cheap audio interface, U-PHORIA UMC404HD, offering efficiency and reliability under the 3-digit mark.
Right out of the box, you can tell Behringer has gone the extra mile with U-PHORIA compared to their competitors. For starters, this interface is a rather large unit for this price range, featuring four separate inputs. Unlike other brands, Behringer opted to separate the channel inputs and controls instead of grouping them together. Aside from the trademark all-black color, this interface is pretty straightforward with inputs in the front and outputs in the back.
Taking a closer look at the U-PHORIA UMC404HD, the spotlight is definitely on the four channels. Both XLR and TRS are incorporated in a dual connector, which we think is pretty convenient. Each input has its respective controls with a pad, line/instrument switch, and gain knob. Round the back, there are several outputs, including RCA, MIDI, and USB (not used for powering). This model is powered through a DC adapter.
Once linked up, this device works surprisingly well for its price. The preamps are robustly built, offering clear vocal recordings. This audio interface works great and is compatible with both Windows and Mac. Unlike some other models, Behringer doesn’t provide U-PHORIA with any DAW software. However, you can pair it with FL Studio, Ableton Live, and pretty much any other DAW in the market today.
- Good, clear audio
- More inputs than its competitors
- Compact size
- Limited functions
- Software doesn’t allow any unique routing of signals
Bottom Line: The U-PHORIA UMC404HD is one of the best budget interfaces we’ve seen, both in its price range and even among some of the more expensive models. With plenty of inputs and good, clear audio, the U-PHORIA offers excellent value for your money!
Up next is Audient’s compact audio interface, the iD4, which delivers some serious bang for your buck.
Among Audient’s entire iD series of audio interfaces, we can see their new iD4 model is undoubtedly the smallest and least complicated member of the family. The iD4 has been slimmed and trimmed down, giving a somewhat distinct and compact aesthetic to the unit, which is perfect for its targeted consumer – audio enthusiasts/musicians in a home recording studio or on the road with a laptop or tablet.
The front features individual mic and DI gain controls. The rest of the controls are handled by the monitor mix knob for blending both the input signals with the DAW return. There are also two push buttons that light up when active along with five-LED twin meters at the top. On the side there is an instrument DI input for linking up your guitar or bass, along with TRS headphone (mini and 1/4-inch) and loudspeaker outputs. Around the back the iD4 features ¼-inch audio outputs, a USB 2.0 port and switchable 48V phantom power as well as a line/mic input on a combo XLR and jack socket.
In terms of performance, this model presents a balance between usability and functionality. The class-A microphone preamp performs exceptionally well. Audient’s choice to add the J-FET instrument DI adds a certain warmth and appeal to the unit. The sound quality that comes out of the iD4 seems higher than most similarly priced interfaces in the market, particularly in the low end details and low volume levels. The highs also sound audibly less harsh than other models we’ve heard. This comes as no surprise since Audient has an unmatched reputation when it comes to supreme sonic performance.
- Compact size and design
- 2 headphone outputs
- Exemplary mic preamp
- Only one mic preamp
- Less inputs/outputs and weaker latency than competitor models
Bottom Line: Overall, the iD4 is great, simple to use with crystal clear sound. The two headphone jacks were a fantastic addition to the superb mic preamp. While we would like more than one mic preamp, we can’t complain considering the value of this budget interface.
Aesthetically, the UR44 has an incredibly robust build, featuring a metal case and an aluminum and black finish. In this price range, the build quality and finish of this interface really does outshine its competitors.
Starting off with the front, the UR44 features four Neutrik connectors, which give access to the D-Pre mic preamps. There are also 2 inputs set at instrument level and 2 at mic/line levels (which are balanced/unbalanced). Next to the input connectors are their respective gain controls. Just above the connectors you’ll find several LED indicators that show the peak for every input as well as phantom power and mains power. The layout of everything on the front panel is pretty efficiently placed. Finally, there is a monitor section that features master output control along with two headphone jacks with independent volume controls placed above them.
In the rear panel, there are four line outputs as well as two additional line inputs. The sensitivity of these can be adjusted between +4dBu and –10dBV. Additionally, there are two left and right line outputs that carry the same signals as 1 and 2. This is helpful if you’re looking to link up a second pair of monitors. On the left side you’ll find the power button, DC adaptor, and a USB 2.0 port. The last feature on the back is the standard MIDI I/O connections with a switch for class-compliant (iOS) operation for added versatility.
The UR44 offers exceptionally clean sound quality with a sampling rate of 192kHz with no buzzing or hissing. They feature Yamaha’s highly commendable D preamps, which provide outstanding audio quality to your mix.
- Four quality mic preamps
- Superb monitoring options DSP
- Beginners might find the software a little tricky
- Sometimes music cuts in and out
Bottom Line: The UR44 is a compact, sturdy and great-performing interface with superb DSP extras as well as exceptional Cubase integration.
Lastly, Focusrite has delivered an exceptional selection of top-notch Thunderbolt interfaces; their youngest and most affordable model, the Clarett 2Pre, is no different.
At first glance, this device looks very simple and vibrant. Unlike their legendary Scarlett series, Focusrite decided to do something different with the Clarett range. This model features an aluminum body with a scarlet red finish on the front plate, with the rest in a black finish. Aside from that, everything else in the layout is pretty much the same. While the look is aesthetically appealing, it is also built strong enough to withstand the typical wear and tear of home studio use.
Beneath the hard red shell, the Clarett 2Pre features a few surprising features. The new Clarett preamps that are included have eclipsed their predecessor series. At the front, there are two XLR/TRS ports, a headphone jack and volume control as well as a monitor knob. Around the back, Focusrite have packed in a few goodies with this interface. For starters there’s a Thunderbolt port for that super low latency. The outputs in the rear panel include four ¼-inch TRS ports as well as a MIDI I/O. Additionally the optical input port allows you to increase the number of channels to 10 for added expandability.
The combination of the new preamps, Thunderbolt and the ADAT support make the Clarett a force to be reckoned with. The added new ‘AIR’ technology is an imitation feature in the interface that basically enhances the performance of the preamps to sound like the brand’s iconic ISA transformer based preamps.
- Very low latency
- Superb quality mic preamps
- Robust and sturdy build quality
- Thunderbolt cable is not included
- Requires an external power supply
Bottom Line: Focusrite's attention to detail has truly shined with the Clarett 2Pre. This interface is one sturdy, fast piece of gear with superb sound quality coming at an affordable price.