12 Best Budget Audio Interfaces for a Home Studio (Up to $500)

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Home studio recording technology has advanced remarkably in the last 15-20 years. Back then, you needed to spend thousands to achieve the recording quality that today’s audio interfaces can deliver for under $100.

The interfaces available now for a few hundred dollars would astonish sound engineers from just a decade or two ago.

In this post, we cut through the clutter to bring you our top 12 picks for audio interfaces up to $500 for home studios, based on extensive hands-on testing and research of budget models over the years.

As an independent website with no affiliation to any brands, we aim to provide unbiased recommendations – noting any drawbacks alongside the advantages of each model.

In a Rush? Here’s our top four picks in each price category.

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Keep reading to discover which budget audio interfaces offers the best bang for your buck.

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

Verdict: Good entry level audio interface with decent sound quality, simple setup, and excellent value, but may be limiting if your needs expand beyond one XLR input.

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The Focusrite Scarlett Solo has been a best-seller in this price segment for a good reason – it packs a decent 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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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

Verdict: Good value for its price, providing a decent audio interface for beginners, but it falls short in the gain department and may not match the build quality and reliability of some competitors.

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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.

Pros:

  • Good sound quality and clarity for the price
  • Ultra-portable and travel-friendly
  • Independent headphone volume knob is rare in this price range

Cons:

  • 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.

Steinberg UR12

Verdict: Reliable audio interface offering good sound quality and low latency, but it has been reported to have occasional noise issues and may require high gain settings for optimal audio levels.

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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.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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

Verdict: The MiniFuse 2 offers excellent driver performance, sturdy construction, and valuable software features, along with MIDI I/O and an extra USB-C port. However, it requires an external power supply for USB hub use and may have issues with audio bleed and hardware disconnection during computer sleep.

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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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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

Verdict: Excellent sound quality and character, with a vintage mode that adds a unique touch to the sound, but its built-in compressors can be seen as gimmicky and not worth the extra cost, and some users have reported issues with low input volumes.

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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. 

Pros: 

  • Onboard compression and vintage modes are very useful
  • On/Off switch
  • Pro sound for the low price

Cons: 

  • 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 

Verdict: Capable audio interface with unique features for guitarists, but it’s marred by some users reporting issues with customer support and occasional technical glitches.

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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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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 modern guitar sounds.

Best Audio Interfaces Under $300  

In the $200-$300 segment, we enter the realm of semi-pro audio interfaces but still on a budget. These interfaces blur the line between budget options and high-end pro gear.

Those seeking to upgrade to better audio quality will find compelling options here.

MOTU M2

Verdict: High-performing audio interface offering excellent recording quality, low-latency, and superior preamps, making it a top contender in its price range; however, its software bundle may be less comprehensive than some competitors, and some users have reported issues with Windows 11 compatibility.

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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.

Pros:

  • 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
  • Low-latency

Cons:

  • 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 is around $200, the M2 is absolutely worth the step up, and a strong contender for the best low latency audio interface on a budget.

Tascam US-4x4HR

Verdict: A top choice for those seeking more inputs/outputs on a budget, this interface boasts clean preamps and low latency. Its all-metal build ensures durability. However, it’s worth noting that it has been reported to have issues with power and USB connectivity, as well as driver stability.

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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 multi-track audio.

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • 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

Verdict: The Audient iD14 impresses with its console-quality mic preamps and robust all-metal build, offering detailed sound and versatility for home studios. However, its lack of separate gain control for headphone outputs and not ideal latency may not suit all recording needs.

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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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • No separate gain control for headphone outputs. Have to control from main output.
  • I got roundtrip latency around 7ms. Good, but 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

Verdict: The Clarett+ 2Pre offers high-quality converters and preamps for the price, very low latency, and the unique “Air” analog modeling feature. However, maximum gain on the microphone input is relatively low, which can be a problem when using certain microphones.

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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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • Notably more expensive than interfaces with similar I/O count.
  • Would expect more gain from the mic inputs.

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.

SSL 12

Verdict: The SSL 12 offers the iconic SSL console sound and excellent preamps in an affordable package, though you may experience harshness with the 4K effect on already bright sources.

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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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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 

Verdict: Solid audio interface with a vintage mic preamp and four audio channels, but it has been criticized for its built-in compressor being somewhat gimmicky and potentially noisy, and its inability to expand the interface via ADAT.

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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.

Pros:

  • 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.

Cons:

  • 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.

Final words

Testing and researching audio interfaces has been an enjoyable journey of discovery for us. Our goal is to offer this guide as a valuable resource for both newcomers and those considering an upgrade in their audio setup.

Stay tuned, as we continually update this post with the latest and most promising audio interfaces in the market.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Some had told me to avoid using a USB interface because you lose out on the tone and quality of the music. I have read conflicting things about it. Would you say this is the case to any degree? I just want to make sure what I decide to buy works best for my setup. I don’t want to cripple my audio.

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