The 5 best budget audio interfaces of 2019
Best budget audio interface: buying advice
At the complete budget end of the audio interface market, realistically you’re not going to find a decent interface with more than two inputs and two outputs. Unless you’re planning to spend more, the most you’re going to be able to record is two mono or one stereo input/s, and outputs will be limited to – at most – a stereo pair of outputs for studio monitors and a separate headphone output.
What’s more important to consider is the type of ports offered. Audio interfaces will offer some variety of mic and instrument inputs, which operate at different levels and use different connection types to suit either a microphone lead or jack from a guitar, synth, drum machine, etc.
The most useful variety are ‘combo’ inputs, which can accept either lead type and will usually have a control for switching between mic and instrument levels. If you’re planning on using a mic with your interface, it’s worth checking if you need ‘phantom power’ – this is the 48v signal sent by interfaces and required by some mics.
The options in this best budget audio interfaces guide can all be used with both Mac and PC setups. Many can also be used with Apple’s mobile iOS devices too. You will see lots of interfaces described as ‘class compliant’ which essentially means they are plug-and-pay with iPhone and iPad. Some come complete with the appropriate ‘Lightning’ connectors, while others will need Apple’s USB-to-Lightning Camera Connection Kit’ adapter.
Like many types of studio hardware, audio interfaces often come packaged with a variety of software to sweeten the deal. At this price, particularly if you’re just getting started, it’s worth paying attention to these bundles. Offerings range from lukewarm packages of ‘LE’ (often limited, entry level) versions of major applications to full versions of genuinely great synths and effects. If you’re yet to kit out your software studio, this could really help!
1. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 1
NI don’t have the audio interface pedigree of some of the brands in this list, with just three I/O boxes amongst their current line-up of products – including the slightly higher spec’d Komplete Audio 2. This is no sub-par imitator though. As with pretty much all recent NI gear, the Komplete Audio 1 is well designed and sturdily built, offering features ideal for bedroom producers.
It benefits from being part of NI’s Komplete ecosystem too as the free software that comes bundled here includes an excellent plugin synth and a trio of effects that are arguably worth the price of entry alone. For producers just getting started, this is an excellent value package.
2. Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen3
Focusrite are one of the best known names when it comes to audio interfaces, and the higher-end units in their Scarlett line are favourites of many intermediate and pro level producers. Their pre-amps are highly regarded, and having one in an interface at this price makes this a great option for those looking for high quality recording on a budget.
The Scarlett Solo does a stellar job of diluting the appeal of its bigger siblings into something smaller and more affordable; keeping the solid build, sharp looks and quality pre-amps but trimming the features down to the bare necessities.
3. Presonus Audiobox USB 96
Another solid choice of interface from a well-regarded brand name. Looks-wise, the Audiobox isn’t as sleek and sharp as some of its rivals in this list, but other than that there’s little bad we could say about it.
The two combo inputs offer as much flexibility as you’re going to get at this price point. The bundled software package is nothing to scoff at either, with an entry-level version of Presonus’ excellent DAW Studio One, plus a tidy bundle of effects from some well-regarded names.
4. Steinberg UR12
The UR12 is one of the older interfaces in this guide but that’s no reason to overlook it. This compact 2-in/2-out interface is built into a rugged metal container, which makes it one of the most durable-feeling interfaces at this price point – although that does come at the cost of it being fairly weighty.
The fact that the main and headphone outputs share a single volume control is our only other real criticism here. On the software side of things, the UR12 comes with cut down versions of Steinberg’s Cubase DAW for both desktop and iOS. These are both thoroughly usable, although as a package it’s not as generous as NI or PreSonus’s offerings.
5. Mackie Onyx Artist 1.2
To be honest, there’s not a lot to say about Mackie’s Onyx Artist 1.2 that can’t be gleaned from reading the specs. It’s a solid-enough, inoffensive-looking interface with both mic and instrument inputs, and a fairly standard range of controls.
In all there’s not much to make this interface stand out from its rivals, but there’s also very little we can say about it that’s negative. The price point is thoroughly reasonable too. It comes bundled with its own slightly stripped back version of Tracktion Waveform, which is an excellent piece of recording software, although it might not appeal to newcomers in the way that Ableton Live, Cubase or Maschine does.