Picking the right audio interface for your home studio can be difficult.
I get it. I had to do this myself once, too.
“What brand is best?” “What ports and buttons and switches should it have?” “How much should I spend?”
There are so many factors to take into consideration. There are literally hundreds available so how are you supposed to choose?!
I am going to simplify things so that all you have to do is answer one simple question.
But before we get to that, if you’re not sure exactly what an audio interface does and why you definitely need one (or you just want a little more information), I highly recommend having a read of this guide first – What Is An Audio Interface And Why Do I Need One?
The One Question
So, the only thing that you need to ask yourself is this –
How much do I want to spend?
Simply pick your budget and zoom down to that part of the page.
You’ll find my carefully curated best pick at that price range. I’ve only picked quality devices that I have researched and then used myself, or a fellow engineer has used.
I’ve chosen interfaces that include all of the basic functions that you’re going to need to get started as an Audio Pro.
Now, let’s go.
Do you want an audio interface that has almost every feature a beginner musician or producer could need for under $50? Does this even exist?
What wizardry is this?!
Behringer have managed it with the Uphoria UM2. They’ve packed a huge amount of value into this tiny box. I recommend getting an interface with at least one XLR and one jack input for any musician or producer. And thankfully, the UM2 includes one of each for under $50. This means you’ll be able to record a mic and an instrument line in at the same time.
Single LED signal and clip indicators are featured so that you can make sure you’re not overloading the preamps. +48v phantom power is available (via a switch on the rear) for use with condenser microphones and active DI boxes. Bear in mind that this can only be applied to both inputs simultaneously.
Phono outputs are found on the back for connecting up your speakers, although you may need an adapter if your speaker inputs require jack connectors.
The UM2 has a plastic body, which is forgivable at this price range. It does mean that it’s not as well equipped to take a knock as some of the more premium options. However, it’s lightweight and small, meaning it could also be a useful secondary, portable interface for the travelling musician.
Behringer’s own Tracktion DAW software is included to get you started with recording (if you don’t already have a DAW). One thing to keep in mind is that the UM2 doesn’t use it’s own dedicated driver – so make sure you keep your computer’s drivers up to date (particularly PC users).
+ Super cheap
+ Two inputs
+ Phantom power
– No dedicated drivers
– Plastic construction
2. Under $100/£75
Now we’re starting to get into some high quality gear.
PreSonus has packed a lot into this interface while managing to keep the footprint small. You’re getting two XLR/jack combo inputs letting you multitrack up to two mics at once.
Phantom power is included, but bare in mind that it can only power both inputs simultaneously. A nice addition is the input/playback fader, giving you precision control over what you’re hearing while you’re tracking.
PreSonus equipment does tend to feel solid enough for the price and the AudioBox is no different. The brushed blue metal frame stands out and give the interface some weight which helps with stability when multiple cables are plugged in.
MIDI I/O is included on the rear as is the phones output. I find the placement of the phones output awkward. Generally speaking you’re going to be sitting in front of the interface and having the headphone cable coming from the back can be messy and cause strain on the wiring. Whether or not this is an issue will depend on your setup though, and it does mean PreSonus have managed to keep the physical footprint small.
If you don’t yet have a DAW to record into, you might find the included StudioOne Artist software a useful bonus. StudioOne is a perfectly usable
+ Great value
+ Lots of features in a small package
+ StudioOne Artist included
– Some have reported driver compatibility issues
– Rear-facing phones output
3. Under $150/£100
They’ve proven that they can with the UR22 mkII. In the same vein as the PreSonus above, two XLR/jack combo inputs are included with high-quality preamps. The headphone output is found on the front, and the rear features MIDI I/O and speaker outputs.
Steinberg have included not one, but two free DAWs in the form of Cubase AI (for PC and Mac) and Cubase LE (for iPad).
A DC power adapter is included. You can power the device via USB, but if you need some extra oomph when recording to an iPad with phantom power, you’ll need to plug it into the wall.
The UR22 is the first on the list to support recording at a sample rate of 192Khz. For most musicians and producers, recording at this resolution is overkill – but it’s certainly nice to have the option.
The ‘peak’ LEDS will illuminate red if your signal is coming in too hot. Sadly, there’s no general level indication. At high levels you may also find a tad more ‘self noise’ than some of the other options on this list. You shouldn’t need to crank the inputs loud enough for this to be an issue, though.
A lot has been packed into this steel box of wonders, and with the included software options the UR22 sets you up on a great start.
+ Supports up to 192Khz
+ Solid, steel casing
+ iPad connectivity
– Noisier preamps than others
4. Under $200/£150
Writing this, I’m almost surprised that I haven’t mentioned Focusrite earlier on in the article. Focusrite have been making quality preamps and mixing desks since the days of recording to tape.
Focusrite are my ‘go to’ when purchasing a new interface as they’re always of a solid construction, they have loads of options for different I/O needs and I never have to worry about noise.
They’re not the cheapest, and sadly even at this price point you’re missing some I/O options, namely MIDI and alternate speaker outputs. But aside from this, I can’t fault the 2i2.
From the solid, metal construction to the tactile knobs and clicky buttons, you can feel the quality.
Two XLR/jack combo inputs are included, similarly to PreSonus and Steinberg’s offerings. Focusrite
And finally, the most exciting thing to see on these new devices is the addition of the ‘Air’ buttons. Activating this on the corresponding preamp will give your recordings a high frequency boost and some subtle harmonic distortion – emulating those classic tape days.
If you can’t live without the MIDI I/O, I’d recommend picking up the UR22 (as above) or the Komplete Audio 6 (as below). For most musicians and producers however, the Scarlett 2i2 is a fantastic option – if it fits your budget.
+ Exceptional preamps
+ Sleek, tough design
+ ‘Air’ feature for tone shaping
– Missing some outputs the cheaper options have
5. Under $250/£200
Give a big hand to Native Instruments’ design team. This one’s as sleek as they get.
The modern black design gives the Komplete 6 a premium look and feel. LED VU metres illuminate from the top of the interface giving you a more accurate illustration of how much level is coming into the four inputs and out of the monitor channel.
At this price range you’ll generally benefit from expanded I/O options – and the Komplete 6 is no different. Two headphone outputs are housed on the front of the device with independent level knobs. This is super useful for allowing a musician to listen to themselves playing while you monitor.
Two pairs of speaker outputs let you switch between two sets of monitors. Two line level inputs are included in addition to the two XLR/Jack combo inputs on the front. Bare in mind that the line inputs don’t amplify the audio, so are exclusively used for line level devices such as keyboards.
MIDI I/O is also included, as is a phantom power button on the front and a zero-latency monitoring knob. A nice bonus feature I rarely see on an audio interface is a dedicated mono/stereo switch. This is great for testing your mix in mono without the need for an in-the-box plug-in.
In short, the Komplete Audio 6 has just about everything you’d need for a small home studio in a compact, premium housing.
+ Slick, modern design
+ VU metres
+ 2 headphone and speaker outputs
+ Mono/stereo switch
6. Under $300/£250
If you’ve spotted the other Focusrite interface earlier on in the article, you may notice that I’m a big fan of this range. The 8i6 is the 2i2’s big brother. I recommend reading the review for the 2i2 first to get a run down on the main features and design choices.
It features the same high-quality preamps in the form of two XLR/Jack combo connectors. In addition, phantom power is switchable on the front face, as is the ‘Air’ feature for tone shaping.
What sets the 8i6 apart from its smaller counterpart is the number of available inputs. An extra four jack inputs are found on the rear. You’ll be able to record up to 6 instruments simultaneously, but bear in mind that the rear inputs are for line level instruments only, such as keyboards.
Dual speaker outputs give you the option of monitoring from two sets of speakers. Two headphone outputs are present which is super useful when recording another musician. The 8i6 also adds MIDI capabilities as well which aren’t available on the 2i2.
All of this is housed in Focusrite’s iconic scarlet red brushed metal casing. The Scarlett 8i6 is the best of the bunch in the sub-$300
+ Up to 6 simultaneous inputs
+ 2 headphone outputs
+ Sleek, tough design
+ ‘Air’ feature for tone shaping
Now Let’s Get Recording!
Choosing which audio interface to buy can be overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be. I hope that narrowing down the options here has helped you to make a decision.
And if you’re still not 100% sure, feel free to drop a comment below and I’ll do my best to clear up any queries you may have!
Note: Please make sure to check that your system is compatible with any studio equipment before buying.