An audio interface is one of the most essential pieces of equipment in a standard home recording setting. This article will explore the best options for audio interface for a tight budget of under $500.
Audio Interface Under 500 Comparison Table
|Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Recording Audio Interface|
A popular AI for both beginners and professionals. Combines portability, performance and usability
|Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 |
A very powerful AI for both recording and live performance
|PreSonus AudioBox USB 2x2|
Slightly more expensive as this model combines reliable audio interface with a DAW
- 1 Audio Interface Under 500 Comparison Table
- 2 What is an audio interface?
- 3 How do I choose an audio interface?
- 4 Best picks: Audio interface under $500
- 5 Conclusion
What is an audio interface?
When recording audio to be processed in your computer, the sound from your voice or instrument is in the form of analog signal, while the computer can only process digital signals. Hence, you will need an intermediary between your analog signal and the computer.
An audio interface is a device which converts the analog signals from your vocals or instrument (bass, guitar, etc.) into digital signals that a computer can process. The same audio interface also converts digital signals from a computer into analog signals which are the output from your speakers or amplifiers.
How do I choose an audio interface?
There are a few most important questions to ask yourself before purchasing an audio interface to make sure you get just what you need at a reasonably price.
Do you need to record condenser microphones?
Microphone signals, especially for condenser mics, are much weaker than, say, signals sent from a guitar. When recording with a condenser microphone, you will need “phantom power” to raise the level from the mic to line level. So if you are recording vocals with a condenser mic, be sure to pick an audio interface which has phantom power.
Also if you are going to record vocals, make sure to pick an audio interface that has a mic input.
Do you need a lot of inputs?
The number of instruments you need to record at a time will determine the number of inputs you need present on the audio interface. If you just need to record from a microphone and an acoustic guitar, for instance, then there’s no need to buy an audio interface with 16 inputs. If you are recording the whole rock band, however, having an audio interface with eight inputs will probably serve your band better compared to a four-input one.
Do you need a complimentary DAW?
Increasingly, audio interface manufacturers are producing products that come with a compatible DAW. This saves you the cost of purchasing a DAW separately, and the headache of figuring out which DAW is compatible with your audio interface. However, this option would not add much value if you already have a DAW of your choice.
Best picks: Audio interface under $500
This section reviews some of the best audio interfaces for the money.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 review – best audio interface under 300
An extremely popular option among new and intermediate recording artists and musicians, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface seamlessly combines portability, performance and usability. Featuring two neat inputs which serve both as instrument and microphone inputs, high- quality mic preamps, phantom power, and direct monitoring function to let you hear what is being recorded in real-time without latency, this audio interface is the no-fuss solution to recording.
If you’re new to home recording and music production, the Scarlett 2i2 audio interface comes with an authorization code for Ableton Live Lite, which is the trimmed version of the industry- standard DAW. This reduces studio cost and saves you the trouble of looking for a DAW that is compatible with the Focusrite Scarlett.
All in all, the Scarlett 2i2 audio interface is the ideal solution for a minimal studio recording setup, and a great start for those new to home recording and production.
Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 review
Boasting a total of 20 inputs and 20 outputs, the Saffire Pro 40 is the ultimate solution for a full-fledged recording setup. Use it for your rock band EP recording session, for recording a live concert, or even a small orchestra. The formidable audio interface features award-winning Focusrite preamps- not one, but eight of them!- giving you clean and clear recordings.
Not only does the Saffire Pro 40 offer high recording quality, it also comes with a suite of Focusrite plugins, including basic controls such as compression and EQ, as well as more sophisticated effects bundled into VST/AU plugins.
If you are serious about home recording, and if your band needs a formidable unit to record your epic sessions, the Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 might just be the right choice for you!
PreSonus AudioBox USB 2×2 Audio Interface review
An extremely affordable and durable audio interface, the PreSonus AudioBox is perfect for the new recording artist and home musician who needs a reliable audio interface- DAW combo to start off with. AudioBox comes with Studio One Artist, an industry- recognized DAW for music production. The simple setup with two inputs and outputs is also perfect for a beginner musician in need of an intuitive and no fuss solution to home recording.
However, to get the best out of this system, there are 3 conditions that you need to meet (this is from a knowledgeable Amazon reviewer)
- You are not using dynamic mic
- Your guitar is not producing high output picks because the recorder can’t detect the sound even if you tune the gain down to the lowest minimum
- Your headphones must have impedance above 100 ohms or you will no bass coming from the audio interface due to it being unable to keep up with the power draw
If you violate any of the three conditions, be prepared to be disappointed with this product. Otherwise, you will find this to be an affordable audio interface that can record and output quality sounds.
TASCAM US-366 4 Audio Interface review
If you are new to home recording, but still need enough room to accommodate a few instruments, such as an acoustic guitar and an occasional keyboard, then the TASCAM US-366 audio interface is definitely worth checking out.
This audio interface also offers on-board effects such as EQ, compressor and reverb, allowing you to apply effects to your sounds without oveloading your computer.
With high-quality preamps, multi-track recording function and on-board tone-shaping options, the TASCAM US-366 deserves to be on the wishlist for beginner and intermediate home musicians alike!
In terms of drawbacks, there was a couple:
- Firmware is not compatible with OS X El Capitan and that might cause issues such as not enabling audio playback on your mac
- Drivers have some delayed responses issues
- Some complaint that the software can’t last for more than one hour of mixing, of which the screen will turn green
Overall, the consensus is that this audio interface sound good for its price but the issues with the drivers and incompatibility might cause some hiccups in their usage.
M-Audio M-Track Plus MKII Audio Interface
Another great product which successfully combines portability with performance, the M-Track Plus MKII audio interface is a versatile recording audio interface that will accommodate any type of input. Whether you need to record a delicate condenser mic, a powerful dynamic mic, or thrashing electric guitars, this audio interface gives you that high-quality recording with minimal fuss.
The M-Track Plus MKII also comes with Cubase LE, one of the oldest and most revered DAWs in the market, allowing you to start your recording journey straight away without worrying about the extra cost of acquiring a DAW separately.
For drawbacks, it is widely accepted that the pre amps for this is not the best. It is good enough for beginners but for professional recording, the quality for these amps isn’t that. You can replace it if you want with one of the brands that you might currently using to improvot e how it sounds.
This audio interface is also not compatible with the latest Mac OSX so don’t buy this if you are using that.
Looking for a good quality audio interface below the $500 mark is never easy. We have profiled what we think are the best audio interface for the money in that price range. If you have other suggestions, feel free to list them in the comments below.