We have reviewed a wide range of products to bring you what we consider to be the best budget audio interfaces in 2021.
Every one of our top picks is in the $200 price range, making them ideal for beginners. However, it’s not just about the price; these interfaces deliver quality that should please even the more experienced users.
We made our choices based on value for money and functionality. In other words, we have put together a selection of audio interfaces that genuinely has something to offer for everyone.
1. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen
The most popular choice
Choosing the Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen as our best budget interface might seem a little obvious. But, Focusrite has been getting it right with low-cost audio interfaces for years. The Scarlett 2i2 provides an outstanding mix of value for money, build quality, and features.
It’s a 2×2 audio interface with two XLR/TRS combo inputs, each with 48 V phantom power. The Scarlett 2i2 performs well in all areas with a more than respectable dynamic range of 110.6 dB (A-weighted).
One of the things that set the Scarlett 2i2 apart is the Air mode function that emulates the iconic Focusrite ISA preamps. It offers high-quality recording as a budget audio interface for home studio use or on the road. Focusrite has taken onboard customer comments, and the Scarlett 2i2 is now iPad Pro compatible.
2. M-Audio M-Track Solo
The ultimate cheap audio interface
Not only is the M-Audio M-Track Solo the best cheap recording interface under $50, but it’s also one of the best on our entire list. If you are a beginner who wants a good cheap audio interface, this one is for you. M-Audio’s M-Track range has been around for a while, and this latest offering is the perfect entry-level unit.
It comes with one XLR/TRS combo input with a superb Crystal preamp and one instrument input. Despite being one of the cheapest interfaces around, the advanced A/D conversion allows you to capture dynamic and expressive performances.
The M-Track Solo has a simple, beginner-friendly design, and it’s incredibly well built. It also comes with a software package that includes two DAWs, virtual instruments, and over 20 plugins.
3. Motu M2
The best metering by far
The Motu M2 is a dark horse on our list and will likely surprise a lot of people. It’s incredibly versatile, well built, and easy to use. But, the best thing about the M2 is the fantastic level meters, which are the best on any interface on our list.
The front panel features a full-color LCD screen, and that’s why the meters look so good and why they are so accurate. It comes with two XLR/TRS combo inputs, which makes it perfect for home recording and singer-songwriters. It also features ESS Sabre32 Ultra DAC technology, boasting a dynamic range of 120 dB (A-weighted).
Another interesting feature is that it has a loopback function that makes it ideal for streaming. So, whether you are a musician, gamer, or podcaster, the M2 is a great choice.
4. M-Audio AIR 192|4
The solid all-rounder
We have really liked the M-Audio AIR interfaces since they were first released. The AIR 192|4 is the ideal entry-level interface for starters who are serious about music. From the way it looks and feels to the way it performs, this cheap recording interface won’t disappoint.
The build quality is one of the most impressive things about the 192|4; it feels like a premium product. It has an XLR/TRS combo input on the back panel and a Hi-Z instrument input on the front. It also has nicer LED level indicators than most similar interfaces offer.
It has an ultra-low noise Crystal preamp that performs extremely well. Overall, it’s simply one of the best interfaces under $150 that we have seen.
5. Tascam US-1x2HR
A sleek design
Tascam has a real entry-level contender on their hands with the US-1x2HR. From the build quality to the sound, there aren’t too many things that we don’t like about this budget interface. If you are looking for a great beginner interface with iOS compatibility, the US-1x2HR could be perfect for you.
This cheap yet good USB interface captures 24-bit/192 kHz audio with ease. It provides a dynamic range of around 112 dB (A-weighted), which is beyond average in its class. One of the highlights is the Ultra-HDDA microphone preamp that provides 57 dB of clean gain. One of the best attributes of the US-1x2HR is that it has an incredibly low noise floor of -128 dB or less.
The design of the US-1x2HR looks fantastic and has a slightly angled base, making the front panel easier to access.
6. Steinberg UR12
Built like a tank
Like most Steinberg interfaces, the UR12 is built like a tank, and that’s one of the reasons we like it so much. The build quality makes it ideal for anyone who wants high-quality recording on the go as well as at home. There may be interfaces that perform better in certain areas, but few are more versatile than the UR12.
The UR12 is a 2×2 interface with one XLR input with phantom power and one instrument input. The XLR input has a fantastic Class-A D-PRE preamp that performs very well with a gain range of +10 dB to +54 dB.
The UR12 is iOS compatible, meaning it’s one of the most convenient audio interfaces for mobile recording. There are better software bundles in the same price range, but if you are already a Cubase fan, the UR12 might be right up your street.
7. Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD
The UMC202HD might be near the bottom of our picks, but it’s probably the one that surprised us most. It delivers quality beyond what we expected, making it one of the best audio interfaces under $100. The value for money alone meant we couldn’t leave it off our list.
Even at such a low price, the UMC202HD has two XLR/TRS combo inputs with 48 V phantom power. With an A/D conversion of 24-bit and a sample rate of up to 192 kHz, the UMC202HD has rock-solid foundations.
All units should deliver a dynamic range well in excess of 100 dB (A-weighted), which is great for the price. The other major selling point is that it comes with two genuine Midas preamps, lovely.
8. PreSonus AudioBox iOne
Great for iPad users
PreSonus interfaces often divide opinion; people tend to love them or hate them. We are somewhere in the middle, they don’t quite make the top half of our list, but we can’t exclude them either. The AudioBox iOne comes in the familiar PreSonus blue with a solid metal chassis. Alternatively, if you need something a little bigger, the AudioBox iTwo is available.
The AudioBox iOne is a 2×2 interface that has one XLR input and one TRS input. It’s one of the most straightforward interfaces on our list, with a simple front panel. It has two USB connectors on the back panel, one for PC/laptop and one for iOS devices.
The software bundle includes the Capture Duo iPad app, making it one of the best mobile recording interfaces. There is some exceptionally stiff competition in the budget audio interface range, but the iOne is definitely worth checking out.
It’s a fantastic time to be a beginner musician, a cheap USB interface no longer means poor quality. High-quality recording is far more accessible than ever, and it doesn’t need to break the bank, either.
Every single audio interface on our list provides professional-quality recording for under $200. Some do perform better than others, some come with a better software bundle, but they all have something to offer the right user. Overall, it’s remarkable that anyone, on any budget, can start recording awesome music.