Go back 15 or 20 years, and the idea of getting pro-level sound from an audio interface under $500 seemed crazy. You needed to spend thousands to get the sound quality, connectivity, and features required for professional recording and production. But thankfully, those days are long gone.
Now there are tons of incredible budget-friendly options that offer impressive performance without obliterating your bank account. Even in the under $100 and $200 price ranges, the sound quality from today’s interfaces would blow the doors off what was available for 10x the price not long ago.
Over the years, I’ve tested out a range of budget-friendly interfaces to find the ones that truly deliver on sound quality, low latency, and essential features without compromising too much.
In this blog post, I’ll be sharing my top 12 picks for audio interfaces under $100, $200, $300, and $500, based on my hands-on testing and research.
Let’s dive in.
Best Audio Interface Under $100
In the sub-$100 range, compromises in quality and features are often made to reach extremely budget-friendly price points. However, there are some surprising gems that over-deliver on performance despite their affordability.
The interfaces highlighted in this section provide a cost-effective entry point while maintaining usable quality.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen
The Focusrite Scarlett Solo has been a best-seller in this price segment for a good reason – it packs professional sound quality into an affordable, compact unit.
With its renowned mic preamp, Air Mode for added clarity, and bundled software suite, it’s a great starting point for recording vocals, guitar, and more.
- Metal body of the interface. Very durable
- Comes bundled with Pro Tools First, Ableton Live Lite, soft synths, effects plugins, loops, and samples. Provides excellent value through the included software suite.
- The “Air” button engages an analog modeling mode that adds brightness and presence, which is especially beneficial for vocals and acoustic instruments. Helps recordings stand out in a mix.
- Proven track record of quality and performance from a respected brand. Focusrite has years of experience making professional audio interfaces.
- No separate gain control for headphone output. Have to adjust the main output level to control headphone volume.
- Some reports of flimsy USB cable.
- The headphone amp is not powerful enough to drive high-impedance headphones like 250 ohm dt770 pros.
For just under $100, the Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen gives you a taste of Focusrite’s premium preamp sound. While I wish it had a separate monitor/headphone knob, overall, it’s hard to beat at this price point.
Presonus AudioBox GO
If portability is paramount, the Presonus AudioBox GO is a mighty compelling option and cheapest audio interface in this list. Its super compact design is perfect for recording on the go with a laptop or iPad. The addition of Studio One Prime software and virtual instruments bolsters its value even further.
- Good sound quality and clarity for the price
- Ultra-portable and travel-friendly
- Independent headphone volume knob is rare in this price range
- Mostly plastic build quality feels a bit cheap
- Max gain of 50dB may be too low for some dynamic microphones
- Not well shielded against radio frequency interference
While it’s made mostly of plastic, the AudioBox GO’s portability, decent preamp, and inclusion of Studio One Prime punch above its weight class. For mobile recording, it’s a great fit.
From a trusted brand like Steinberg, the UR12 is a fuss-free 2-in/2-out interface with a smooth, detailed preamp for capturing vocals, guitars, and podcasts. Its compact form makes it easy to slip into a laptop bag.
- Sturdy, well-built construction with metal housing
- Very solid D-PRE Class-A mic preamp.
- Easy to use with minimal controls. Simple setup for beginners.
- Clean phantom power and headphone output
- No additional dedicated headphone volume control.
- More output and input gain would be nice
- No stereo jack line outputs; it has RCA instead, which is quite old-school
The UR12 keeps things simple – maybe too simple for some. But if a basic, good-sounding interface is what you need, it delivers quality and reliability in a small package. I’d rank it as a solid contender.
Best Audio Interfaces Under $200
Stepping up to the $100-$200 bracket provides more headroom for better audio conversion, sturdier construction, and extra features.
These interfaces offer greater flexibility and audio fidelity. For those looking to level up from a beginner interface, this range offers affordable options with improved sound.
Arturia MiniFuse 2
Arturia’s MiniFuse 2 stands out with its sturdy aluminum housing, flexible connectivity (including MIDI I/O) and generous software bundle. With rich preamp sound and bus-powered convenience, it’s a portable interface equipped for creativity.
- Fast driver performance and reasonably low latency
- Useful software for routing, meters, and configuration
- Sturdy metal construction and aesthetically pleasing
- Extra USB-C port for connecting other devices
- Provides 5-pin MIDI input and output connections. Allows integration with MIDI gear and instruments.
- Needs external power supply to use USB hub
- Some reports of audio bleed from speakers even at zero volume. Could require hardware repair/replacement.
- Hardware disconnects when computer goes to sleep. Need to replug USB cable to reconnect. Annoying for frequent use.
For those looking for a budget audio interface with MIDI and generous software tools, the MiniFuse 2 is hard to top in this bracket. Its solid build and audio fidelity make it a joy to record with. Definitely one of my favorites.
Universal Audio Volt 2
The Volt 2 captures UA’s renowned analog sound in a compact box. Its vintage preamp modes add warmth and character to recordings, especially vocals. For those seeking authentic vintage tone at a wallet-friendly price, the Volt 2 is a strong contender.
- Onboard compression and vintage modes are very useful
- On/Off switch
- Pro sound for the low price
- UAD software and plugins are quite expensive
There’s undeniable magic in UA’s vintage preamp emulations. The Volt 2 delivers their signature analog sound at an unprecedented price point. If rich vintage tone is your need, this one might just be the best budget audio interface for vocals.
IK Multimedia AXE I/O One
Specially designed for guitarists, the AXE I/O One provides studio-level tone-shaping and flexible connectivity. With its Z-Tone input, amp out for reamping, and suite of guitar plugins, it empowers guitarists to craft professional guitar tones on a budget.
- The innovative Z-Tone input helps dial in great guitar and bass tones.
- The Amp Out is useful for expanding tone options through reamping.
- The inclusion of MIDI I/O at this price point is also rare and valuable.
- The bundled software is limited to basic versions which require costly upgrades for full access.
- I had a disappointing customer service experience, with slow and unhelpful responses regarding issues downloading AmpliTube 4.
- There are also some reports of noise with the Z Tone pot.
For those searching for the best budget audio interface for guitar or bass, the AXE I/O One packs impressive features and connectivity. While the software bundle and customer service could be better, it provides ample tools for crafting pro guitar sounds.
Best Audio Interfaces Under $300
In the $200-$300 segment, we enter the realm of professional-grade audio quality and versatility. These interfaces blur the line between budget options and high-end pro gear. Musicians and producers seeking to upgrade to studio-level sound will find compelling options here.
With benchmark audio quality, speedy performance, and flexible monitoring, the MOTU M2 punches well above its class. Its pristine preamps and detailed LCD meters create a premium recording experience.
- Transparent high-quality preamps
- Enough power to drive even high-impedance, 250 ohm headphones
- Solid build quality
- On/Off button
- Onboard LCD meters are very useful
- Short USB cable
- No monitor/mix knob (its big brother M4 has it, but not M2)
In terms of quality and user experience, the MOTU M2 rivals interfaces costing much more. If your budget can stretch a little over $200, the M2 is absolutely worth the step up, and a strong contender for the best low latency audio interface on a budget.
Aimed at multitrack recording, the Tascam US-4x4HR provides 4 clean XLR inputs and flexible monitoring in a rugged metal chassis. With its DSP mixing and loopback features, it’s ready to record pro-sounding songs and podcasts.
- 4 XLR mic inputs allow simultaneous 4-track recording.
- The 2 headphone jacks are just very convenient
- The software for the interface is very easy to use
- Low noise
- MIDI latency is almost non-existent
- Asio drivers did not work properly on my Windows 10 pro setup.
- Phantom power is only globally on/off for all 4 channels. Per-channel control would be ideal.
- Turning phantom power on and off causes a loud hiss and pop. It just seems angry.
For the price, the number of inputs and outputs is generous. With some refinements to the drivers and firmware, the US-4x4HR can give competitors a real run for their money. It offers great value for those needing more I/O.
Audient iD14 MKII
The Audient iD14 brings their prized console preamp sound to an accessible package. With smooth, detailed preamp tone and versatile monitoring, it empowers home studio owners with pro-level quality.
- All-metal construction is durable for daily use. Nice weighted feel.
- Dual headphone outputs allow two performers to monitor simultaneously.
- Console-quality mic preamps with wide gain range and low noise. Excellent transparency.
- No separate gain control for headphone outputs. Have to control from main output.
- I got roundtrip latency around 7ms. Not ideal for overdubbing vocals and instruments.
They say you can’t put a price on great tone – that’s what the iD14 offers. Audient’s preamps sound immaculate to my ears. If you’re craving taste of console audio quality without the big console price tag, the iD14 delivers.
Best Audio Interfaces Under $500
Upwards of $300, interfaces start to reveal more premium design and components. While still cost-effective, the $300-$500 range provides exceptionally robust construction, low-noise operation, and top-notch preamps. For intermediate users ready to get serious, this tier offers a notable jump in quality.
Focusrite Clarett+ 2Pre
With its renowned Air-enabled preamps, the Clarett+ 2Pre brings Focusrite’s flagship sound to their Clarett range. Their meticulously-designed preamps offer rich, clear audio for professional recordings.
- Warm, smooth “Air” preamp sound courtesy of analogue emulation.
- ADAT connectivity enables expansion up to 8 input channels.
- Exceptionally rigid metal chassis. Built like a tank.
- Separate gain controls for headphone and monitor outputs. Custom monitoring blends.
- Notably more expensive than interfaces with similar I/O count.
- Headphone amp could be more powerful
The Clarett+ 2Pre just sounds incredible – clear, punchy and three-dimensional. Focusrite’s preamp emulations retain their authenticity and clarity. If your budget allows, the 2Pre is worth the step up.
With flexible routing, onboard DSP and signature analog tone shaping, Solid State Logic’s SSL 12 recaptures the essence of their console heritage in a compact interface.
- Flexible monitoring options, including independent headphone outputs and monitor mix controls.
- 4x SSL analogue mic preamps are probably the best you can get in the $300 – 500 price range.
- Expandable to 8 additional input channels so you can record a whole band.
- Lots of useful software included at no additional cost.
- Experienced some startup glitches – outputs unresponsive and noisy. Likely a bug.
- Lack of control over multiple outputs simultaneously.
The SSL 12 brings a taste of that sought-after SSL console sound to a remarkably affordable package. Small rough edges aside, it enables audio recording workflows with the depth and character of a professional mixing console.
Universal Audio Volt 476P
The Volt 476P provides four UA preamps with vintage analog tone-shaping, an 1176-inspired compressor, and Unison mic preamp integration. For UA’s revered sound at an unprecedented price, it’s unmatched.
- Remarkably authentic vintage preamp mode, switchable on each input channel
- Onboard 76-style compressor
- Unison technology integrates mic preamp controls within UAD Console software. Total control.
- Excellent headphone out with plenty of gain.
- Limited monitor pair switching (Out 1-2 / Out 3-4); only one pair of monitors can be run
- Direct Monitoring feature lacks control knob for playback and monitoring balance
- UAD plugins offer top quality but can be expensive
UA’s emulations sound eerily like the real deal – rich, smooth, and colorful. The Volt 476P quadruples the vintage preamp modeling compared to the Volt 2. If authentic analog tone is your non-negotiable, the 476P is a monumental value and the best 4 input audio interface you could get for the money.
Testing audio interfaces has been an enjoyable journey of discovery for me. I’m grateful to have found several affordable options that can keep up with interfaces costing twice as much.
My top four picks to recommend based on performance, quality, and value would be:
- Under 100: Scarlett Solo. Best for any kind of one input recording, acoustic guitar, singing, podcasts, live streaming, gaming, etc.
- Under $200: Universal Audio Volt 2.
- Under $300: MOTU M2.
- Under $500: Universal Audio Volt 476P.
Of course, needs and budgets vary. I hope this guide provides a helpful starting point in finding the best budget-friendly audio interface to suit your home recording needs. We certainly live in a golden age where incredibly powerful recording tools are available at unprecedented prices.
Whichever interface you end up picking, the most important thing is that it inspires you to create music and have fun. An interface is just a means to an end. Finding one that disappears into the background and lets you focus on playing is what it’s really all about.