Your interface is one of the most essential items in your setup (along with studio monitors), but it can also be one of the most costly. From the seemingly endless options available, we’ve picked out some of the best budget audio interfaces to save you some time researching.
We curated the list to make your decision as easy as possible. Instead of listing all budget sound cards, we included only the best affordable ones.
Each product has been selected based on different strengths that will favor a particular purpose. Meanwhile, before we get into them, let’s look at a few key aspects that might set one interface apart from another.
Selecting the best budget audio interface for your studio
Although we all have slightly different needs, a few fundamental principles benefit all audio users regardless of your discipline or the style of music you create.
1. AD/DA Conversion
The quality of your audio interface’s AD/DA converters is arguably the most crucial aspect of your home studio when it comes to recording and mixing. The AD (analog-to-digital) conversion stage happens on the way in, so this can affect the dynamics of a recorded signal.
Alternatively, DA (digital-to-analog) conversion determines the clarity and transparency of the signal sent from your DAW system to your monitors and headphones.
While both play important roles, it’s the fidelity of the DA stage we rely on during playback – so this comes into play even if you make music exclusively with samples and software instruments.
As explained in our mixing guide, the quality of your mix will largely depend on the quality of your audio recordings. By ensuring that your audio interface captures high-quality recordings, you are directly increasing the potential quality of your mix.
If you plan on using vocals, guitars, synths, or other instruments in your tracks, your recording input stage is worth considering in this process.
Most audio interfaces have microphone and instrument preamps built-in with gain/trim controls and phantom power for condenser mics and DI boxes.
Be sure to check out the inputs relevant to your recording process, as they don’t all sound the same. Also, do not assume that because a certain sound card yields good results on guitars that the same will be true for vocals.
As 2Pac once said, “How do you want it?” The form factor, layout, and specs of your audio interface will also influence your choice. The number of inputs and outputs, as well as their format (XLR, TRS, S/PDIF, MIDI, etc.), is an important factor.
In addition, you need to consider whether your PC or Mac has the right connectivity ports (USB or Thunderbolt) and if its OS version and your chosen DAW are compatible with the interface drivers.
Other features like portability or whether the device is rack-mountable can also be useful, while some interfaces ship with onboard DSP and bundled software to add to your arsenal.
What are the best budget audio interfaces in 2022?
Now that you know what to look for in an audio interface, here’s our list of the products you should consider. The listed items are suitable for audio recording, music production, podcasting, and multimedia use.
These are the best audio interfaces for home recording are:
- Universal Audio Volt 1
- PreSonus Studio 24c
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen
- MOTU M2
- Audient ID4 MKII
Let’s take a closer look at the listed interfaces.
Universal Audio Volt 1
With an outstanding reputation for analog hardware and pro audio interfaces, Universal Audio has entered the budget end of the market with the Volt series interfaces.
Universal Audio Volt 1 is a basic 1 in/2 out USB-C audio interface with a built-in microphone preamp inspired by the legendary UA 610 tube pre. It offers 24-bit/192 kHz recording, direct monitoring, MIDI I/O, and an independently controlled headphone output.
It’s bus-powered, but the 5V DC power supply can be bought separately, and the package includes a range of software from Ableton, Softube, Plugin Alliance, Relab, and Melodyne.
More info: Universal Audio Volt 1
PreSonus Studio 24c
PreSonus Studio 24c is an excellent budget audio interface for home recording and a great introduction to the Studio One Artist DAW software package, which is included.
What’s more, the XMAX preamps offer plenty of gain for dynamic mics, and the straightforward front panel layout makes operation a breeze.
It’s powered via USB-C and provides two XLR combo inputs, two TRS outputs, and MIDI I/O.
More info: PreSonus Studio 24c
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen
These unmistakable little red boxes from Focusrite are the most widely used interfaces around, with a simple design philosophy and foolproof setup procedure.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen is a bus-powered USB-C 24-bit/192kHz interface with 2 ins and outs and direct monitoring, which is all the average recording musician needs.
Most devices connect via USB, so the lack of MIDI I/O shouldn’t pose a problem. Moreover, you also get a selection of software from Antares, Brainworx, Focusrite, Softube, and XLN Audio.
It’s important to mention that owning any Focusrite or Novation product (including Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen) gives you access to the Focusrite Plug-In Collective. As a member of the Focusrite Plug-In Collective, you will receive exclusive free VST plugins and other software deals several times yearly.
Most interfaces come with a free software bundle, but Focusrite customers get access to new freebies every few months. This fact alone makes Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen one of the best budget audio interfaces on the market.
More info: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen
MOTU M2 brings the professional edge of MOTU interfaces into the budget price range. It’s a bus-powered unit with excellent ESS Sabre32 converters, 2 ins and outs, and MIDI I/O.
MOTU is known for the stability of the drivers, particularly on Mac OS, and the metering on the front panel makes it easy to optimize your gain on the way in.
Included in the bundle, you also get over 6 GB of loops and samples to get you started.
More info: MOTU M2
Audient ID4 MKII
If you prefer the desktop-style audio interface format, the Audient ID4 MKII packs everything into an elegant design that doesn’t take up much space.
The metal chassis has a simple layout, and you get separate gain controls for the XLR combo input on the rear panel and the JFET DI input on the front.
In addition, the ID4 is equipped with two headphones outs which is a great feature for an interface in this price range.
Audient ID4 MKII is an excellent budget audio interface for guitarists and singer/songwriters who need a compact solution for their home recording setup.
More info: Audient ID4 MKII
Budget audio interfaces: honorable mentions
Here are some additional budget interfaces you can try if none of the abovementioned products meet your requirements.
- Behringer U-Phoria UM2 is the cheapest audio interface you can buy. It’s a solid starting point if you’d like to spend as little money as possible on an interface.
- M-Audio M-Track Solo is another option at the very bottom of the price range.
- Arturia MiniFuse 1 is a new budget audio interface from Arturia. It looks clean and minimal, and it’s a great choice if you want to keep your home recording studio looking slick.
- SSL 2 is somewhat pricier than the other audio interfaces on the list. However, it makes up for this with its stellar recording quality and “optional sound coloration inspired by the legendary SSL 4000 series.
What audio interface are you using? Are you planning to upgrade your recording setup? Would you like to suggest an audio interface that isn’t listed above?
We’re looking forward to hearing your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below.