The AudioBox USB 96 is a legit contender for the best audio interface under $100. The reason it’s so good is that it’s a small, all-in-one recording solution that you can take anywhere. It now comes in two color versions: blue/silver and all-black 25th Anniversary model.
AudioBox USB 96 overview
Each variation of the AudioBox USB 96 performs exactly the same; the only difference is the color scheme.
The Presonus AudioBox USB 96 is a small and simple 2×2 USB bus-powered interface. The first thing that makes it appealing to beginners, other than the price, is the fact that it’s so easy to set up, plug and play.
The front panel is quite busy, but not in a bad way. You have two XLR/Line combo inputs on the left, with the second being followed by a 48 V phantom power button. Next, you have independent gain controls for inputs one and two, each with a small LED to show clipping.
Now, we have a feature that I really like but don’t always see on smaller interfaces; a Mixer knob to blend between the direct audio and sound from your DAW (USB).
After that, you have an independent headphone volume and a main volume for your monitor outputs. In terms of hands-on control, it’s already surpassed many similarly-sized/priced interfaces. Rounding up the front panel is a small power LED to show when the interface is on.
On the back panel, we have a USB type B connector, a MIDI in and MIDI out, balanced TRS monitor outputs, and a 1/4″ headphone out.
What makes the AudioBox different?
In all honesty, not a lot, but that isn’t a negative; it’s just that most beginner audio interfaces share similar features. The direct audio to USB mixer is a pleasant surprise; the MIDI ports are the only other uncommon addition.
You might be wondering why you even need MIDI on your audio interface, and there’s every chance that you’d never use it. However, it gives you some extra options, like running a MIDI clock out of your computer to tempo-lock an external synth.
Alternatively, you might want to experiment with external MIDI gear and virtual instruments. Options are never bad to have.
The AudioBox has a few issues in the performance department. At really low and really high frequencies, audio is not recorded at the same amplitude. At either end of the 20 Hz to 20 kHz spectrum, there is a drop-off of around 2 dB.
It’s not a massive issue, and it won’t be the only interface under $100 with this problem, but it’s worth pointing out. When you increase the gain to about halfway, you see a much flatter response.
For the best chance of maintaining a flat frequency response, it’s a good idea to use a condenser microphone with the AudioBox rather than a dynamic mic because they use less gain.
The upside is that most potential buyers might not even notice any issues, as most people with a very small setup use condenser microphones most anyway.
Shortcomings aside, with the right microphone and the right gain setting, you can still capture very good-quality 24-bit/96 kHz audio.
The build quality is one of the most surprising things about the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96. When you consider the price and the size, you wouldn’t expect such a solid unit.
The entire interface has a metal housing, but the sides, in particular, are pretty chunky. It gives the impression that it would survive a few bumps and bangs quite easily. That’s always reassuring for an audio interface that you are likely to travel with at some point.
The controls on the front panel feel solid and have a nice smooth action. Nothing feels flimsy or hard to get to, which is another surprise at this size.
PreSonus throw in a copy of their own DAW, Studio One Artist. The beginner-friendly production software allows you to compose, record, and produce with very little fuss.
Although it’s so easy to use, it’s still a fairly powerful music production tool. PreSonus did a great job keeping the layout nice and clean and adding lots of drag and drop functionality. So, if you are used to using a computer and the internet, you shouldn’t have any problems with Studio One Artist.
Studio One is meant to be used while connected to the internet, giving you access to a wide range of plugins, effects, and virtual instruments. You also get access to an extensive collection of loops and sample content to throw straight into your project.
Continuing the plug and play theme, Studio One automaps to any PreSonus interface, so you don’t need to mess around mapping any physical controls to your DAW.
Adding to the portable nature of the AudioBox USB 96, PreSonus has a multi-track recording app called Capture for iPad. So, if you are out and about with your iPad and record a track or even just sample ambient noise, you can transfer it instantly from the app to Studio One.
AudioBox USB 96 vs. other interfaces
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 1
A very popular budget USB audio interface. If you like NI plugins, go for this, but if you want a solid build, go for the AudioBox. See our NI Komplete Audio 1 review
Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen
Consistently one of the best selling budget interfaces. It beats the AudioBox if used exclusively at home; if on the road, it’s hard to top the AudioBox’s build and software combo. See our Focusrite Scarlett Solo review
M-Audio AIR 192|4
The M-Audio AIR range is one of my favorites in recent years. Fantastic build quality with a great software bundle. See our full M-Audio AIR 192|4 review
Final verdict on PreSonus AudioBox USB 96
It’s easy to sound negative about this little interface. But, the more you get into it, the more you realize what’s most important. The important thing is that you can make music easily and anywhere. The AudioBox USB 96 does that fantastically, with a build quality way beyond its price.
- Outstanding build quality.
- Studio One Artist.
- Capture for iPad.
- MIDI in/out.
- Cheap and portable.
- Average performance at the lowest/highest frequencies.