The Best Budget Audio Interfaces - 2 Channels

2 Channel Audio Interfaces

With the abundance of cheap audio interfaces, it's never been easier to capture your musical ideas and performances. As long as you have a fairly recent computer, all you need is a good quality audio interface and you're good to go. Here we look at top-rated and budget friendly audio interfaces, focusing on practical 2-channel units that allow for quick and reliable recording. We decided to narrow down the list to ones that are priced below $200, a reasonable budget for anyone who is gearing up for basic recording.

NB: We have separate guides for interfaces with 4-Channels and more and for iPad interfaces.

What to look for in a 2 Channel Audio Interface

  • Input/Output Connectivity

    Most home studio applications are fine with just 2-channels because you can record instruments one by one and later mix them down. You'll want one with XLR and TRS or 1/4" input jacks, so you can connect both mics and instruments. Thankfully, most of today's compact audio interfaces feature "combo" jacks that allow for both XLR and TRS cables to plug-in.

  • Mic Preamps and Phantom Power

    • Mic Preamp Quality
      When using mics, the preamps are responsible for the resulting sonic character of you're recording. For versatile home recording use, you'll want ones that are transparent and full sounding, these can handle the varying tonalities that different types of instruments and vocals have. Interestingly, most affordable audio interfaces come with the same mic preamps as more expensive ones, the only difference being the number of preamps used.
    • Phantom Power
      If you haven't yet, you will end up using a condenser mic at some point when recording. These mics require 48v phantom power to operate, and so it is imperative to check the audio interface that you're buying is capable of providing such.
  • Power Options

    The ability to be powered via USB is a convenient option that many modern day audio interfaces utilize. While those that use "wall warts" or power adapters are still viable, having the option to get power from the USB can help reduce clutter, and make the device useable even when there is no power outlet to plug into. Some audio interfaces have the option to be powered by regular batteries, for even more portability. Note that if you're using USB power from a laptop or tablet that it will drain the batteries quicker.

  • Mic Level, Instrument Level and Line Level Inputs

    Often neglected by beginners, you have to know if your audio interface can handle line level (low impedance) and instrument level (high impedance) sources. Line level sources include amps and other electronic instruments, while instrument level ports are for guitars and basses with no active preamp, mic inputs are designed to handle the even higher impedance signal that come from mics. While you can use a DI box if your interface doesn't support instrument instrument level, it is more convenient to be able to simply switch impedance levels. So if you're planning to record multiple types of instruments and mics, you'll want one that allows for switching the input between mic, instrument or line levels.

  • Analog to Digital Bit Rate and Sample Rate

    This is the rate at which your analog signal is converted into digital data. The idea is that the higher the sample rate, more of the details are captured. However this does not necessarily indicate good or bad recording quality, rather it is the preamp that dictates this more. 24–bit and 48kHz sample rate is currently the standard, and should be more than enough for home recording use.

  • Computer and iPad Connectivity

    While there are multiple ways that audio interfaces connect to computers, the most popular and accessible method is still through USB. Specifically for this price range, USB is the standard for recording, and USB 2.0 is more than enough to handle 2-channel digital audio data. If you have an iPad and you want to use it for mobile recording, then you'll want to consider interfaces that can directly connect with them. You will however have to purchase Apple's camera connection kit (CCK) to convert regular USB jacks into iPad compatible shapes. The easiest way to find one suitable for the iPad is to read our guide to:
    The Best iPad Audio Interfaces

  • Bundled Software and Drivers

    To be able to use audio interfaces, you will need a good Digital Audio Workstation or DAW. Thankfully, cheap interfaces are bundled with various kinds of DAWs that are quite useful, albeit with some limitations. Still they are a nice plus especially if you're looking to try a particular DAW, they will also get most recording completed without issue,

Steinberg UR22

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$150
Steinberg UR22 2-Channel USB 2.0 Audio/MIDI Interface

More popularly known for their music production software, Steinberg has since been acquired by Yamaha and commissioned to build recording hardware. The Steinberg UR22 audio interface resulted from this new venture and it has proven to be popular and well received, garnering an impressive amount of positive reviews and recommendations. This positive reception is most likely due to the D-PRE mic preamps that are used for each channel, the same high quality preamps found on Yamaha's more expensive equipment.

Highlights:

  • A/D resolution up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • 2 Independent in/out audio channels that accept both XLR and TRS inputs.
  • 48V phantom power capable
  • Bundled with Cubase Software.

Complementing the preamp section is the unit's high-quality analog to digital converter, with up to 192kHz sampling rate at 24-bits. This results in great quality recordings that have satisfied if not exceeded the expectations of many. There are some concern over installation and the bundled software, but these are probably due to inexperience rather than design fault. Finally, this interface is super reliable, making it ideal for both home and mobile situations. If you're not sure what to get, the Steinberg UR22 is the safest pick.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 1700+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$150
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface

Focusrite is known in the recording world for their impressive sounding microphone preamps, and many professionals continue to use and endorse their products. The Scarlett 2i2 features the same well received mic preamp found on their more expensive music equipment, only this one is more compact and affordable. As such, it provides home studios with a way to get great quality recordings without going over budget - and the many positive ratings, reviews and recommendations serve as proof.

Highlights:

  • A/D resolution up to 24-bit/96kHz
  • 2 simultaneous in/out audio channels.
  • 48V phantom power capable
  • Comes bundled with Ableton Live Lite, along with free plug-ins and a free sample pack.

As the name implies, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a compact 2-in/2-out USB recording interface, allowing for recording of two simultaneous sound sources. The two channels allow for XLR or ¼ inch TSR jacks and have switchable phantom power. This makes the Scarlett 2i2 ideal for singer songwriters and duos, since it can handle most recording duties with ease. Also noteworthy is the anodized aluminum unibody chassis, which looks good and is solid enough for mobile use. There are minor concerns that it gets noisy in high gain settings, but this may either be due to user error or a problem with the unit, both of which can be resolved quickly. All things considered, this audio interface is highly recommended.

Roland DUO-Capture EX UA-22

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 70+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$179

Roland's contender in the budget audio interface market is the 2-channel DUO-Capture EX UA-22, users rate it highly for its mobile friendly features. Since it is a relatively recent release, compatibility with various operating systems is improved, allowing for painless installation and quick setups. It can even be used with an iPad for convenient mobile recording.

Highlights

  • A/D resolution up to 24-bit/48kHz
  • 2 x XLR/TRS Combo
  • 48V phantom power capable
  • Works with iPad via Apple Camera Connection Kit
  • Includes SONAR LE software

To complement its mobile friendly features and compact profile, Roland equipped this interface with 3 power options – it can draw power from a power adapter, 3 x AA batteries, or via USB. Note that it cannot draw power from an iPad, so its best to have 3 AA batteries ready. There are concern over the lower sampling rate iPad(at around 41kHz) , but it should still be good enough for the typical home studio. Equipped with the same VS preamps found on Roland’s high-end digital mixers, majority are impressed in this compact unit’s sound quality. Get the Roland Duo-Capture EX UA-22 if you’re looking for a mobile friendly audio interface.

Presonus AudioBox 22VSL

87
GEARANK

87 out of 100. Incorporating 200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$200
Presonus AudioBox 22VSL

The Presonus Audiobox 22VSL is a straightforward 2-channel interface that has been getting more and more positive ratings and recommendations. This is primarily due to its impressive XMAX preamps which run on 30V power rails, higher than the usual 10V to 18V found on other budget preamps. This increased voltage results in more headroom, which then induces a richer overall sound, and this is corroborated by the many positive reviews.

Highlights

  • A/D resolution up to 24-bit/96kHz
  • XLR/1/4" combo inputs
  • 48V phantom power capable
  • USB Bus Powered
  • Bundled with Studio One Artist and Virtual StudioLive software

In addition to its great mic sound, the AudioBox 22VSL is designed to be compact and portable by allowing the option to be powered via USB. This means that you can carry this around for quick recording, so you won't have to miss musical ideas when they come. Here is the kicker though, this audio interface does not accept line level inputs, which means that you can't plug-in keyboards, synthesizers and other instruments that use DI boxes. That is quite limiting for an audio interface, but it still is a very viable mic audio interface, which for many is really all that they need.

Mackie Onyx Blackjack

87
GEARANK

87 out of 100. Incorporating 200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Mackie Onyx Blackjack Audio Interface

Drawing from their expertise with digital mixing consoles, Mackie designed and crafted the Onyx Blackjack. It is a compact 2 x 2 USB recording interface that features two Onyx preamps and 24-bit/48kHz A/D (Analog to Digital) converter all packed in a convenient tabletop style housing. I for one prefer the Onyx Blackjack's angled top mounted interface, and many users agree that it is better positioned for visual monitoring and for quick adjustments. The drawback however is that carrying this audio interface around can be quite tricky, because it will require a special box or bag, because of its angled shape. Still if it will mostly be stationary, the tabletop design is ideal.

Highlights

  • A/D resolution up to 24-bit/48kHz
  • Built-in DI on each input for direct connection of guitars, basses and other instruments
  • 48V phantom power capable
  • Includes Tracktion 3 music production software for Mac or PC

The preamps used on this unit is the Onyx preamp found on Mackie's more expensive mixing consoles, and reviews have been unanimous in saying that it sounds great and operates really quietly. And since the controls are top mounted, getting the right gain and monitor settings is going to be a lot easier. Majority of the negative feedback that the Onyx Backjack received refer to software and driver issues, and since many others are not having problems, these issues may very well be user induced or there's a problem with the operating system in the first place. Also important to note that the Mackie Onyx Blackjack is the cheapest in this list and will let you keep $100 off of your $200 budget, so you have spare for a good mic and even accessories. It you're setting up a home studio and you're looking for a stationary compact audio interface, you should check this one out.

Tascam US-2x2 USB

82
GEARANK

82 out of 100. Incorporating 60+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$150

The Tascam US-2x2 USB is a compact 2-channel audio interface that has switchable impedance, making it truly beginner friendly and versatile. The XLR and 1/4" combo jacks can be manually switched to instrument level (high impedance) or line level (low impedance), making it easily work with mics and various instruments without the need for extra outboard gear and DI boxes. This seemingly simple feature, can have a big impact, especially for beginners who are just learning the ropes of recording. And it also helps that not much software issues are being reported, many reviewers are raving how they quick and easy the Tascam US-2x2 USB was to setup.

Highlights

  • A/D resolution up to 24-bit/96kHz
  • XLR/1/4" combo jacks with switchable impedance makes recording guitar or bass easy
  • 48V phantom power capable
  • Includes Cakewalk's SONAR X3 LE and Ableton Live Lite 9

And its not just about ease of setup, the US-2x2's two Ultra-HDDA high gain mic preamp sounds great in a wide variety of musical applications. Its high rating and review scores testify to this, and you'll be hard pressed to find actual fault on the unit, rather most of the negative comments refer to software related issues. Another cool feature of the Tascam US-2X2 is its removable “bio-cell” side panels, which allows you to angle the interface towards your eye level, making it desktop friendly when needed. Finally, everything is packed inside a rugged, sleek metal design that can handle the rigors of recording while on the move. This straightforward audio interface gives you impressive quality without having to spend your entire $200 budget, in fact you'll have enough change to buy a decent mic.

M-Audio M-Track Plus II

81
GEARANK

81 out of 100. Incorporating 30+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$149
M-Audio M-Track Plus II

The M-Track Plus MK II also offers as much flexibility as possible for a sub $200 audio interface. It has high sampling rate that goes up to 96kHz at 24-bits and features XLR/TRS 1/4" combo inputs with switchable impedance. This allows you to plug in your guitar or bass without the need for a DI Box and conveniently switch back to line level for mics by simply pushing a button. The front fascia and the position of the knobs and ports are well thought out, looking the part of a premium gear that will get the job done, without the expensive price tag.

Highlights

  • A/D resolution up to 24-bit/96kHz
  • XLR/1/4" combo inputs
  • 48V phantom power capable
  • Bundled with Ableton Live Lite and Cubase LE DAW software

The ability to balance the USB and DIrect signal is another nifty feature that allows for zero-latency when recording over a track. And its not just for home recording because the M-Track Plus II is designed for mobile use. Since it can be powered via USB, it can also double as a mobile audio interface when inspiration strikes and you're outside. Its tank tough metal case is designed to handle road use, and because it is compact, you can carry it with you, alongside your laptop and instrument so you can record anywhere. With some knowledge on its software installation and DAW integration, you will find that this audio interface will not disappoint.

Other Audio Interfaces

Many digital multitrack recorders also double as audio interfaces ranging from 2 to 8 channels - see our multitrack recorder guide for more information.

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