Finding the Best USB Audio Interface Under 500 Dollars for Home Recordings on a Budget
Finding the best usb audio interface under 500 dollars can be a challenge. A good computer audio interface is perhaps the most important spoke in the wheel of any home based recording studio. Before we look, we need to examine exactly what an audio interface does and determine what our recording needs will be. An audio interface is the analogue to digital (AD) and digital to analogue (DA) converter for your computer recording system. Whether you use a PC or a MAC, an audio interface will be needed to obtain high quality digital audio recordings and play them back. The analogue side of the equation begins with microphone and line or instrument inputs. The number and quality of these inputs will vary with budget. Type and number of analogue outputs can also be a determining factor when choosing the best audio interface for your needs. The lower the number and quality of inputs and outputs, the lower the price. As the number and quality increases, so does the price. Someone wanting to record a full band at one time would need more input channels. If one wants to simply record vocals and guitar, perhaps they would use a two channel interface with very high quality inputs. Another deciding factor when selecting an audio interface is the latency of the digital i/o. Most people like to hear themselves with a reverb or other effects when recording. An audio interface with low latency and an on-board DSP will provide real time effects when recording. They can even be used during live performance! Let’s take a look at several USB audio interfaces and find the best USB audio interface under 500 dollars!
Best USB Audio Interface Under 500 Dollars
Focusrite Clarett 2Pre
In my search for the best USB audio interface under 500 dollars I’ll begin with the Focusrite Clarett 2Pre. It is a two channel audio interface built with exceptional quality. Focusrite is one of the best known names in mic preamps for recording and digital audio interface design. The two mic pres on the Clarett 2Pre are touted to be on par with their original ISA mic preamp! These mic preamps provide low distortion, low noise and exceptional clarity with an open, transparent sound to guarantee faithful reproduction of your performances. 24-bit/192 kHz recording can be produced with extremely low latency and jitter for high quality recording at it’s finest. The Clarett 2Pre also provides a headphone and two line outputs as well as Midi I/O. Eight additional inputs can also be obtained by connecting an eight channel ADAT preamp. This is an excellent audio interface for the discriminating singer songwriter wanting future expansion. If you are looking for exceptional audio quality with room to grow, this USB audio interface fits the bill. Go To Top
For many years Roland dominated the digital home recording market with their top notch all-in-one VS series digital workstations. The Roland OctaCapture USB 2.0 Audio Interface packs the same top level recording and mixing technology into a best in class audio interface. For what you get it’s certainly worthy of being classified as one of the best audio interfaces in the under 500 dollar category! The OctaCapture packs 8 high quality XLR Combo preamps and 8 quarter inch line outputs into one extremely compact interface. The unit also autosenses the input signal on each input and automatically sets the level! This is a huge time saver and helps eliminate recording errors by eliminating over driving or under driving the signal into the preamp. The result is an optimal recording level every time! The unit’s internal DSP provides 40-bit processing without loading your computer! Up to four independent mixes with compression and reverb can be utilized at one time, providing each performer with their own custom mix. The Roland OctaCapture is also expandible. It’s possible to link two units together for a total of 16 inputs and 16 outputs. That’s enough high quality I/O for any home studio! In addition to it’s stunning recording capabilities, the unit can be used in live performance situations because of it’s internal DSP. If you can appreciate the quality found in every Roland product out there, you can certainly understand why the Roland OctaCapture is a must have for any discerning home recording studio. It very well may be the best USB audio interface under 500 dollars for larger setups and even live performance.
Best USB Audio Interface Under 400 Dollars
Tascam gear has been in my studio for many years. I’ve been a big fan since my first Tascam DA88. The Tascam UH-7000 is an excellent performer with incredibly quiet mic pres and pristine Burr Brown digital conversion. It’s definitely one of the best USB audio interfaces under 400 dollars! I purchased mine three years ago and have absolutely loved it! With two channels of simultaneous extremely high quality audio streaming and recording, it’s a must have for any discriminating singer songwriter or voice over artist. The onboard DSP provides near latency free audio with reverb and compression, noise suppression, de-esser, exciter, EQ, limiter or low-cut filters! Playback is also wonderful. I can hear details that I couldn’t hear with my previous Presonus 44VSL audio interface or my Alesis Multimix 8 USB 2.0. The Tascam UH-7000 can also be used as a standalone preamp, providing nearly noise free, completely transparent audio! I personally tested noise levels when using the UH-7000 versus my previous units and there is absolutely no comparison. In my opinion the UH-7000 provides the audio quality of audio interfaces two and three times the price. For a singer songwriter it’s the must have USB interface for making that perfect demo! Go To Top
Presonus Studio 1824
I have used Presonus gear for many years and I’m personally sold on the brand. As a Studio One Professional user (Presonus’ highly acclaimed DAW software), I have great respect for their attention to detail and the quality of their products. The Presonus Studio 1824 USB Audio Interface has many of the same functions of their renowned mixing boards! Excellent XMAX Class A mic preamps with phantom power provide pristine audio. 18 channel inputs and 18 channel outputs with 8 x 8 simultaneous in / outs at 24-bit / 192 KHz provide enough for full band recording! (Note: 8 added inputs and outputs are provided via an added 8 channel ADAT mic preamp) Two 1/4″ headphone outputs are provided with independent mixes. This comes in handy when recording someone else… One mix for the performer, one for the engineer. Additional mixes can also be provided with the addition of headphone amps (up to 4 stereo mixes using 8 line outputs). The internal DSP provides near latency free monitoring. My favorite thing about the Studio 1824 is that it can be used with Presonus’ UC Surface wireless remote software via a phone or a tablet. This allows the performer to customize his or her own headphone mix! The Presonus Studio 1824 is an excellent USB 2.0 audio interface for large or small recording situations. It’s certainly one of the best Audio Interfaces under 400 Dollars!
Best USB Audio Interface Under 300 Dollars
With 16 channel inputs and 8 channel outputs the Tascam US-1608 USB digital audio interface has more than enough for I/O for full band recording in the under 300 dollar category! 8 of the 16 input channels are Ultra-HDDA mic preamps with XLR connectors and phantom power located on the front of the unit along with 2 line / instrument inputs. The other 6 inputs are 1/4″ TRS balanced line level inputs, perfect for keyboards, electric drums, mic preamps or any other line level source. The internal DSP mixer provides the ultimate in low-latency digital mixing with 4 band EQ and compression available for each input. The DSP mixer can provide up to 4 custom stereo mixes for performers for recording a whole band if needed. The US-16X08 audio interface is also flexible. It can also be used as a stand alone preamp and provide Midi I/O for your entire studio. I consider the US-16×08 the best USB audio interface for full band recording under 300 dollars.Go To Top
Steinberg is one of the oldest names in digital audio recording. Their recording softwares, Cubase and Nuendo, have been used in professional recording studios all over the world. Their USB digital audio interfaces reflect the same high quality as their software. At just under 300 dollars, the UR44 is a DSP based USB audio interface with enough digital I/O for live performance situations for two to four musicians. The UR44 has four Class-A Yamaha D-Pre XLR mic preamps providing transparent, detailed sound. Two of the UR44’s XLR combo inputs can also accommodate a HI-Z instrument input, eliminating the need for direct boxes. The UR44 has two additional 1/4″ TRS balanced inputs on the rear of the unit for added connectivity to keyboards, drum machines, etc… The internal DSP, dspMixFX, not only provides latency free monitoring, but also adds ample dynamics control and Yamaha’s REV-X reverb! In addition to these internal DSP goodies, the DSP also provides advanced Yamaha guitar amp modeling with four amp types: Clean, Crunch, Drive and Lead! The UR44 provides pristine 24-bit / 192 kHz recording for the most discerning musician and seamlessly integrates with Cubase. The UR44 will also work effortlessly with any other DAW and provides CC mode (class compliant mode) for use with any supported iPhone or iPad IOS app! To make the UR44 even more flexible, it provides Midi I/O for connection and control of most any keyboard, drum machine or midi control device. If you are a two to four man acoustic group, this may be the best USB audio interface under 300 dollars for your needs.
Best USB Audio Interface Under 200 Dollars
Audient is well known for their large scale mixing consoles with industry best microphone preamps. Their mixing boards can be found in recording studios world wide. They began making small scale digital USB audio interfaces just a few years ago and they have made a huge impression on the market. Users tout the quietness and clarity of their preamps as well as their wonderful digital to analogue conversion capabilities. The Audient iD4 is the baby of their line up and I believe it’s an excellent choice for any singer songwriter looking to start their own home studio (or even upgrade!). The iD4 has one of Audient’s world class mic preamps coupled with a JFET instrument input for simultaneous vocal and instrument recording. The iD4 is also equipped with two headphone outputs which is both helpful and unheard of for an interface in this price range! The iD4 also provides “Scroll Control” technology which allows for hands on control of your DAW by allowing the control knob on the iD4 to control the input level of the item on your DAW that your mouse hovers over! This is a unique feature which enables easier control of those controls that are difficult to fine tune with a mouse. The unit is limited to 96kHz for recording, but in all honesty, I typically record in 48kHz anyway. In fact, I’ve never recorded in 192kHz and have only recorded in 96kHz for one project. I don’t believe the added resolution is truly that discernible and it requires much more disc space to accomplish project wide. Low latency monitoring is provided with monitor mixing capabilities, but effects are not included on board. For the added recording quality, I wouldn’t let these short comings stop me. I believe the Audient iD4 is one of the best digital audio USB interfaces under 200 dollars! Go To Top
The Steinberg UR242 has the same awesome DSP features of the UR44 with fewer channel inputs and outputs. This combination makes it perfect for any solo artist or even a small duo! The UR242 USB audio interface is equipped with two Class-A Yamaha D-Pre XLR mic preamps. The result is clean, clear, detailed audio for excellent 24-bit / 192 kHz recording. One of the UR242’s Neutrik combi XLR inputs can also accommodate a 1/4″ TS input for guitars or basses. This eliminates the need for a direct box, making setup much easier. Two additional 1/4″ TRS balanced inputs are provided on the rear of the unit for line level input signals such as keyboards, effects units, etc… Yamaha’s dspMixFX is the front end for the internal DSP. This not only gives you latency free monitoring capabilities, but also it also provides effects and dynamics processing for each input! Ihe dspMixFX also includes Yamaha’s own guitar amp modeling capabilities with four amplifier variations: Crunch, Lead, Drive and Clean! The UR242 will work flawlessly with any DAW and provides class compliant (CC) mode for use with most any iPad or iPhone app! In addition to this, the UR242 will seamlessly integrate into Cubase as an added benefit for Cubase users. The UR242 also provides Midi I/O for added flexibility and control of most any midi capable device. If you are a solo musician or even a small duo, this may be the best USB audio interface under 200 dollars for your needs.
Best USB Audio Interface Under 100 Dollars
Mackie Onyx Artist 1.2
Mackie has always been a heavy hitter when it comes to high quality mixing boards. My first recording board was a Mackie 1604 and I was always impressed with the quietness and headroom the mic pres had in that unit. The Mackie Onyx Artist 1.2 is their entry level USB audio interface. The Artist 1.2 has one of Mackie’s premier Onyx mic preamps as well as an instrument input, making the unit a perfect choice for a beginning singer songwriter looking to record at home. The Onyx Artist 1.2 is 24-bit / 192kHz capable. It also provides one headphone output on the front of the unit with two 1/4″ TRS outputs on the rear for the main mix. Zero latency direct monitoring is available, but no internal DSP for effects or dynamics control. The Onyx Artist can be powered on the USB bus for a truly portable recording solution, keeping setup easy. Mackie’s Onyx preamps and mixers produce high quality audio and the Mackie Onyx Artist delivers the same quality in a compact, affordable package. I’d definitely consider the Mackie Onyx Artist 1.2 as one of the best USB audio interfaces under 100 dollars. Go To Top
Presonus Audiobox USB 96
My affinity for Presonus Studio One and their high quality gear and customer service makes my selection of the Presonus Audiobox USB 96 a no brainer. The Audiobox USB has been in production for many years. Presonus has no doubt been keeping the unit up to date and worked out any issues that may have been present in very early versions. When you purchase an Audiobox, you know you’re purchasing a time tested unit that will perform for years to come. It’s definitely not simply a cheap audio interface for home studio use! It is USB bus powered and can record up to two channels of audio simultaneously to a pristine 24-bit 96kHz. Both preamps can provide 48v phantom power for any studio condenser microphone. The unit has the standard headphone output and two channels of output on 1/4″ TRS outputs. The Audiobox USB 96 also Another huge plus is that the unit comes with Studio One Artist, Presonus’s entry level version DAW. I’ve been using it for the past six years and absolutely love it! It includes 6 gigs of effects, dynamics and virtual instrument plug-ins, enough to satisfy any project! The Presonus Audiobox USB 96 is tried and true. It’s the perfect 2 x 2 (2 input channels / 2 output channels) audio interface for the singer songwriter on a 100 Dollar budget.
Best USB Audio Interface Under 50 Dollars
Behringer has always been known for high quality gear at a budget price. They have in fact, been the go to company for digital mixing consoles. I have personally seen numerous top quality venues using Behringer’s flagship X32 mixing console for their stages. Behringer has recently released their U-Phoria line of USB audio interfaces. The Behringer UM2 is the baby of this line up. The UM2 in an excellent cheap USB interface for home studio use! The interface is advertised as a one channel unit, but it actually is a 2 x 2 unit. It provides one of Behringer’s XENYX mic preamps with 48 volt phantom power, but it also provides one Hi-Z input for guitars or basses! The unit is direct monitoring capable and provides a headphone output along with 2 channels of output on the rear of the unit in a stereo RCA pair. The unit is USB 2.0 compatible, but only provides a maximum sampling rate of 48 kHz. As I’ve stated before, I typically record at 48 kHz and at this price point it’s certainly understandable. I believe this unit would be perfect for an entry level DJ because of the location of the volume controls. They are located on top of the unit! Perfect for easy control from the standing position. This unit would also be perfect for a singer song writer looking for a good budget solution! I definitely believe the Behringer UM2 is the best USB audio interface on the market for less than 50 dollars! Go To Top
Behringer U-Channel UCA202
The Behringer UCA202 USB audio interface has been in production for many years. It provides high quality 48 kHz digital I/O for any musician, DJ or even home user wanting to transfer analogue stereo RCA audio to digital audio. The outputs are also via RCA jacks. The UCA202 can be used in conjunction with a mixing board for transfer of vocals, microphones, line level devices such as keyboards or drum machines, or guitars and basses. The UCA202 can also be used for direct hookup to a phonograph for digital transfer of your favorite vinyl albums! Another thing that sets the UCA202 apart from other budget audio interfaces is that it also provides an optical S/PDIF output for direct digital conversion. The mix can also be monitored via the built-in 1/8″ headphone output. The tiny form factor of the UCA202 and the fact that it’s powered from the USB bus couple to make the unit extremely portable for use anywhere! The Behringer UCA202 is a unique interface. Depending on the use, it can easily be the best USB audio interface under 50 dollars!
Assess Your Needs To Find The Best Budget USB Audio Interface
There are certainly many good options to choose from when it comes to USB audio interfaces under 500 dollars. It all comes down to your needs and your budget. It’s up to you to carefully assess your needs and know your budget before setting out to find the best budget USB Audio Interface. If you are looking for an interface with 16 ready to go recording channels for a full band, then your options are limited without adding additional ADAT channels via expansion. There are many options available for the singer songwriter. In this case you need to evaluate your budget and needs. Do you need the best quality available for the absolute best in 24-bit / 192 kHz recording? Or do you anticipate using your audio interface during live performances as well? A DSP with FX for zero latency monitoring would be best for this use. If you can determine your need and budget you won’t go wrong with any of the choices for best USB audio interface under 500 dollars listed in this post! Back To Top