The Best Audio Interfaces Under $200

Budget audio interfaces

Originally published on Dec. 20, 2015 and updated on .

Gearing up for recording has never been easier, all you need is your computer, instrument, microphone, and a good affordable audio interface. Since cheap audio interfaces continue to get better, we decided to take another look at what the market considers as the best and update our list for 2017. This time around, we decided to include interfaces with any number of channels as long as they do not exceed the $200 ceiling price.

We're happy to to be able to say that all the devices in this list are (or can be) USB Audio Class Compliant so they can work with all the significant modern operating system operating systems (Windows, MacOs, iOS, Linux, Android) without needing drivers. This means that you don't need to rely on the manufacturer releasing new drivers going forward into the future to avoid your interface turning into an expensive brick. Most of these also provide proprietary drivers for Windows and Mac and they may allow you to use enhanced features. iPad/iOS users should be aware that they need to use the Apple lightning to USB adaptor to connect to their device and the interfaces in the list will require some form of external power or a powered USB hub.

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

Contents

The Best Cheap Audio Interfaces Under $200

Gearank Sources Street Price
Behringer U-Phoria UMC204HD 89 175+ $80
Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD 93 275+ $100
Steinberg UR22 MK2 90 225+ $150
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2nd Gen 88 350+ $150
Roland DUO-Capture EX UA-22 87 100+ $180
Audient ID4 95 60+ $199
CEntrance MicPort Pro 90 80+ $200
Presonus AudioBox 22VSL 87 250+ $200

Behringer U-Phoria UMC204HD

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 175+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$80
Behringer U-Phoria UMC204HD

Behringer continues to dominate the entry-level market with top rated affordable products like the U-Phoria UMC204HD. For the price, this audio interface gives you two channels to work with, along with complementary features that you'd usually expect on more expensive units. With its MIDAS-designed mic preamps and 24-bit/192kHz AD/DA conversion, you get the same sound quality as their popular mixers, but in a more portable form factor and at a mere fraction of the cost. Each channel comes complete with essential controls, including dedicated gain knobs, Line/Instrument level switches, audio signal pad switches, and a headphones volume knob. The interface also comes with multiple LED indicators that make monitoring easier. Finally, this interface is bundled with EDM/DJ friendly DAW software Tracktion, along with complementary instrument and effect plug-ins.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Preamp: 2 x Midas Designed Preamps
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR/TRS Combo, 2 x 1/4" (Insert)
  • Outputs: 2 x RCA Stereo, 2 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" Headphones
  • MIDI: In/Out
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Phantom Power: 48V
  • Bundled Software: Tracktion, 150 downloadable instrument/effect plug-ins

The UMC204HD's greatest strength is its affordability, which many reviews attest to. But its not just about being cheap, because many find the sound to be clear and impressive. Its intuitive controls and versatility also exceeded the expectations of users who partnered it with different mics, including popular dynamic and condensers. It has also been successfully used to record electric guitars, keyboards and even bass.

There were some users who had driver issues and other software bugs, but after updating the main software, they were able to fix the problem and enjoy its features.

Being the most affordable in this list, the Behringer U-Phoria UMC204HD is highly recommended for those who want to save.

Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 275+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD 4-Channel USB Audio Interface

The Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD is an affordable 4-channel audio interface with a wealth of input/output options. It is a true standout in the sub-$100 market, with its impressive specifications and features. At its core are four combo jack inputs with Midas Designed preamps, which allows for simultaneous recording of up to four sources. Each channel comes complete with dedicated controls that include Pad switches, Line/Instrument switches and Gain knobs. To make monitoring even more convenient, Behringer equipped the UMC404HD with A/B monitor switching, stereo/mono switch and monitor mix - all of which are ideal for auditioning your mixes with different studio monitors. Other noteworthy features include multiple LED indicators and MIDI compatibility. It comes with a suite of recording software and plug-ins that you can use for recording and mixing.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Preamp: 4 x Midas Designed Preamps
  • Channels: 4
  • Inputs: 4 x XLR/TRS Combo, 4 x 1/4" (Inserts)
  • Outputs: 6 x 1/4", 2 x XLR, 2 x RCA Stereo, 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
  • MIDI: In/Out
  • Power: AC Adapter, USB Bus Powered
  • Phantom Power: 48V
  • Bundled Software: Tracktion, 150 downloadable instrument/effect plug-ins

With its four dedicated preamps and 4-in/4-out configuration, the Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD simply gives you the best value for your money. And it's not just about feature count, because it continues to gather positive reviews from many users who commend its overall sound and built quality. Many describe the preamp as being very quiet and transparent, with some even describing the sound as comparable to more expensive interfaces. Users who gave their thumbs up include podcasters, voice over artists, guitarists, bassists, keyboardists and other musicians.

There were some users who had to update the driver before getting it to work with their DAW software, so we do recommend downloading the latest drivers from Behringer's website first before setting up the unit. A few users experienced interference issues, probably due to external factors because most users find the UMC404HD to be super quiet.

If you want the best value for your money, or you want to future proof your home studio without breaking the bank, then the Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD is for you.

Steinberg UR22 MK2

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 225+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$150
Steinberg UR22 MK2 USB Audio Interface for iPad, Mac and PC

More popularly known for their music production software, Steinberg is now owned by Yamaha and they are becoming known for recording hardware as well. This collaboration combined Yamaha's hardware expertise with Steinberg's software know-how, resulting in highly rated interfaces with improved DAW compatibility. This includes the Steinberg UR22 MK2 which features two Yamaha D-Pre mic preamps, the same ones found on their more expensive mixing consoles. Complementing the preamp section is the unit's high-quality analog to digital converter, with up to 192kHz sampling rate at 24-bits. It also comes equipped with Class Compliant mode for improved compatibility with different platforms. Other noteworthy features include MIDI connectivity, zero-latency hardware monitoring, and Loopback mode for live streaming audio while recording.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Preamp: 2 x Yamaha D-Pre Mic Preamps
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" Combo (Mic/Line, 1 input switchable to Hi-Z/Instrument)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" Line Out, 1 x 1/4" Headphones
  • MIDI: In/Out
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Phantom Power: 48V
  • Bundled Software: Cubasis LE (iOS), Cubase AI (Mac/PC)

The Steinberg UR22 MK2's sound quality continues to satisfy, if not exceeded, the expectations of many. The build quality also received multiple commendations, along with its intuitive controls and operational stability. While it is specifically designed to work well with Steinberg's Cubase, it's right at home with all the other DAWs, including Audacity, Pro Tools, Logic Pro and many more.

There is some concern over driver installation and the bundled software, but these are probably due to user inexperience rather than design fault. Of course those using the unit in class compliant mode would not experience these issues. Sound drop outs were reported by some users on specific computers/laptops but they found that the interface worked on other computers so it's hard to pin this on the UR22.

If you are primarily a Cubase user, or if you switch between multiple DAWs, then you might want to consider the Steinberg UR22 MK2.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2nd Gen

88
GEARANK

88 out of 100. Incorporating 350+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$150
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2nd Gen USB Audio Interface 2-Channel

Focusrite continue their market dominance with the 2nd generation Scarlett series audio interfaces, which includes the immensely popular Scarlett 2i2. This 2nd Gen version features upgraded A/D resolution of 24-bit/192kHz, lower latency, improved instrument input and improved hardware. Having said all that, the Focusrite mic preamp within the unit is still its main standout feature, as it is still highly regarded by many for its sound quality. But it's no longer just great for mics, because the instrument input is improved to handle the pickups of different guitars and basses. This improved capacity for instruments makes it even more viable for home studios. Other features that helped the original Scarlett 2i2 become a top selling audio interface are retained, including its elegant looking red metal chassis, distinct halo indicators for monitoring signal level, and the ability to be powered via USB. The controls are also improved, with a grippy metal gain knob being its centerpiece.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Preamp: 2 x Focusrite Preamp
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (Line), 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
  • Power:
  • USB Bus Powered,

  • Phantom Power: 48V
  • Bundled Software: Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, Softube's Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite Red Plug-In Suite, 2GB Loopmasters samples

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2nd Gen continues the legacy of its predecessor with its high ratings and many recommendations. Commendations point to its sound quality as its best feature, while others point to its reliability as another strong point. Be it for condenser or dynamic mics, the Scarlett 2i2 got a lot of kudos from satisfied users, which include singers, instrumentalists, podcasters, voice over actors and more. Its elegant appeal also got a lot of thumbs up, with many specifically referring to its distinct red color and halo lights.

There are minor concerns for its instruments input, with some noting that getting it to work properly requires a bit more tweaking than what they wanted.

Being a consistent top selling audio interface for many years, the Scarlett 2i2 2nd Gen is easy to recommend, especially for those who want good sound quality mixed with eye candies.

Roland DUO-Capture EX UA-22

87
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$180
Roland DUO-Capture EX UA-22 USB Audio Interface

Roland joins this list with the 2-channel DUO-Capture EX UA-22, which is highly rated for its portability. It can run on 3 x AA batteries, which allows it to work with mobile devices even in locations where a power outlet is unavailable. The use of batteries is especially useful when pairing the DUO-Capture with laptops, tablets and other mobile computing devices. Traditional power options like USB bus power and AC Adapter (sold separately) are also available so you only use batteries when its actually needed. It's also relatively light, weighing in at around 1lb, which makes it all the more viable for mobile recording. But its not just about mobility because this interface comes packed with the same VS mic preamps that are used on Roland’s high-end digital mixers. Finally, it comes with enough input/output options (2-channel) to meet the needs of most home studios, and includes MIDI in and out.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/48kHz
  • Preamp: 2 Roland VS Preamps
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR/TRS Combo
  • Outputs: 2 x TRS, 1 x 1/4" Headphones
  • MIDI: In/Out
  • Power: USB, 3 x AA batteries, or optional AC power supply
  • Phantom Power: 48V
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite

Overall response to the Roland DUO-Capture EX UA-22 is mostly positive, impressing many users with its build quality and portability. Other reviews were happy with its painless installation and quick setup for Mac, Windows and even iOS, making it viable for inexperienced users who want to try their hands at home recording.

There is some concern over the lower sampling rate, but many believe that sampling rates above 44kHz should be the least of your wound quality concerns. There are also a few concerns from users who had driver issues right after updating their operating system, but these types of problems are usually solved after updating software drivers.

If you're always moving from place to place and want an audio interface that can work without draining the batteries of your laptop, and without being tied to a wall wart, then get the Roland Duo-Capture EX UA-22.

Audient ID4

95
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$199
Audient ID4 USB Audio Interface 2-in/2-out

The ID4 is an audio interface that features Audient's class A mic preamp and JFET circuit packed in a compact unit. As such, it provides all-in-one solution for recording vocals and instruments, two things that most home studios need. And judging by how the Audient ID4 continues to rake in high scoring reviews, they may have found the best balance of feature, price and cost in the ID4. In addition to its two distinct input circuits, Audient equipped the ID4 with essential output options that include 2 x 1/4" outs for stereo monitoring, and two headphone outputs. Other practical features include monitor mixing (input and processed sound), monitor mute and monitor panning. Being class compliant, this audio interface works with popular operating systems, including Apple's OSX and iOS, as well as Windows. Note that this unit is USB bus powered, so it will get the power from your desktop or laptop computer. It can also work with Apple iPad and iPhone, but it requires a powered USB hub to work.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/96kHz
  • Preamp: 1 x Audient Class A Mic Preamp, 1 x JFET DI
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 1 x XLR-1/4" Combo (Mic/Line), 1 x 1/4" DI (Instrument)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" Monitor, 1 x 1/4" (Headphones), 1 x 1/8" (Headphones)
  • MIDI: No
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Phantom Power: 48V

The Audient ID4 continues to get high scores for its sound and build quality, form users of different backgrounds including singers, instrumentalists, voice over artists, home studio owners and more. According to reviews, sound quality is its biggest strength, while its reliability come second. It also helps that the ID4 is easy on the eyes and compact, making it an inspiring tool to use in the studio or while on the move.

There were a few users who were not too happy with the ID4's mic preamp, but they admit that its mostly just preference. There were also a few who deducted a few points to their reviews because they wanted extra features like MIDI i/o.

If you're looking to maximize your $200 and want no less than what the market rates as the best, then get the Audient ID4.

CEntrance MicPort Pro

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 80+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$200
CEntrance MicPort Pro

The Centrance MicPort Pro is a top rated plug-and-play USB audio interface that's built to discretely connect to microphones. It has a compact profile that can directly mount to a mic, and housing its mic preamp and A/D converter. It essentially transforms regular microphones into USB mics, which allows you to continue using your preferred mic in recording, and at the same time free up valuable space on your desk. It is meant to be a space saving solution for those who record everything through microphone, be it musical instruments, podcasting, singing and others. Other features of the CEntrance MicPort Pro interface include zero-latency monitoring via its stereo headphone jack and a 48V phantom power for working with condenser mics.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/96kHz
  • Preamp: 1 x CEntrance Mic Preamp
  • Channels: 1
  • Inputs: 1 x XLR
  • Outputs: 1 x 1/8" (Headphones)
  • MIDI: No
  • Power: USB Bus Powered
  • Phantom Power: 48V
  • Bundled Software: Reaper (Trial Version)

One user put it nicely, "Small package but big in fidelity", a nice description of how many users feel about the CEntrance MicPort Pro. Most of them credit this usb interface for simplifying their setup, which resulted in improved productivity. While others were impressed with its transparent sound and quality. While majority of the reviews are from those who do voice over work, there were singers and musicians who also gave the unit their thumbs up.

There were a few who deducted some points because of lack of features, specifically tone shaping and EQ controls. But this is to be expected from a compact and discrete audio interface. There were also others who were not too happy with the lack of instructions, but waere satisfied with the unit once they got it up and running.

If you have a favorite analog mic and want a convenient way of using it to record digitally, then get the CEntrance MicPort Pro.

Presonus AudioBox 22VSL

87
GEARANK

87 out of 100. Incorporating 250+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$200
Presonus AudioBox 22VSL

The Presonus Audiobox 22VSL is a straightforward 2-channel interface that continues to thrive in the entry-level market. At its core is its distinguishing feature, two XMAX preamps that run on 30V power rails, higher than the usual 10V to 18V that other preamps use. This increased voltage results in more headroom and translates into a richer overall sound, that many users approve of. This preamp is paired with a 24-bit/96kHz converter with essential controls for gain, main level and headphones level. It does all this while running on USB 2.0 power, making it viable for both indoor and outdoor recordings.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/96kHz
  • Preamp: 2 x Presonus Class A XMAX Mic Preamps
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" Combo (Mic/Instrument)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
  • MIDI: In/Out
  • Power:USB Bus Powered
  • Phantom Power: 48V
  • Bundled Software: Studio One Artist DAW

The Presonus AudioBox 22VSL continues to get high marks for its ease of use and sound quality. Although there were driver issues in the past, the latest operating systems can now run this audio interface without much issue, so much so that most users commend it for being a true plug and play device. It continues to make positive impressions on bassists, guitarists, vocalists and other musicians, and it is also used for other voice recording.

Here is the kicker though, this audio interface does not accept line level inputs, which means that you can't directly plug-in keyboards, synthesizers and active pickup instruments. Presonus suggest using a Direct Box (DI) which is ironic since it's usually instrument level sources (i.e. guitar, bass) that need DI's. This is somewhat limiting for an audio interface, but it still is a very viable mic/instrument level audio interface, which for many is really all that they need. Also note that Presonus has discontinued the VSL (Virtual StudioLive) control software for all AudioBox units. Thankfully, DAW software and even operating systems now provide the same level of control, so it is not a big deal.

With its impressive sound and build quality, the PreSonus AudioBox 22VSL is highly recommended, especially if you use their Studio One DAW.

Things to Consider when Buying an Audio Interface

  • Number of Channels

    2 channel audio interfaces and even single channel ones are good enough for most home recordings because you have the option to record vocals and instruments one by one and mix them down later. But if you're planning on recording more than two sound sources simultaneously, then you'll want to consider those with 4 channels or more.

  • Input Ports

    Most audio interfaces utilize "combo" inputs which accept both XLR and 1/4" jacks. Since they are essentially 2-in-1 ports, they allow for smaller form factors and help reduce the cost of the product. They also simplify connections for users, and allow for worry free connection of mics and instruments. Note that some still utilize traditional XLR and 1/4" ports, especially older devices. We have listed the types and number of inputs available for each of the audio interfaces in this list for your perusal.

  • 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. While you can use a DI box if your interface doesn't support instrument instrument level, it is more convenient to be able to plug straight in to your interface. 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.

  • Mic Preamps and Phantom Power

    • Mic Preamp Quality
      When using mics, the preamps can play a part in the resulting character of the sound. For versatile home recording use, you'll generally ones that are transparent. These aim to reproduce the sound coming in as accurately as possible. Thankfully, this is what the audio interfaces in this list provide, but there are others who prefer preamps that can subtly color the sound.
    • 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 if the audio interface that you're buying is capable of providing the required phantom power.
  • 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 Compatibility

    If you want to ensure that your audio interface can work with the widest possible range of operating systems and is 'future proof' then get one that is USB Audio Class Compliant. This is also known a 'Plug and Play' and it means that you won't need to depend on the manufacturer's drivers for it to operate with the widest range of current and future operating systems. Users of iOS, Android and Linux in particular need to look out for this as drivers either can't be used or aren't provided. But even Windows and Mac users can be left stranded when a new OS version comes out and the manufacturer does not make new drivers available. Although the proprietary manufacturer drivers can provide access to extra features it's handy to know your interface can keep working long after the drivers have stopped being provided.

    If you have an iPad and you want to use it for mobile recording, then you should also consider interfaces that can directly connect with them. For USB interfaces you'll need to purchase Apple's camera connection kit (CCK) or Lightning to USB Adapter to convert regular USB jacks into iPad compatible ports. Under this setup you also need to be aware of providing power to the interface. The easiest way to find one suitable for the iPad is to read our guide to:
    The Best iPad Audio Interfaces

  • 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 is a welcome plus because they can help reduce clutter, and allow for mobile use 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.

  • 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 many these free software have enough features to handle the recording and mixing needs of conventional music.

Methodology

For this 2017 update, we decided to remove the 2-channel limitation and include single channel and four channel audio interfaces that fall within the $200 price ceiling. We looked at over 30 audio interfaces, including new versions of popular units. We then took note of their relevant reviews and ratings, which amounted to over 10,500 data sources. All these data are processed by the Gearank Algorithm, resulting in scores that we used to narrow the list further to just the cream of the crop. Finally, we sorted the list by price to make it easier to see the ones that fit your budget. In addition, we've included detailed descriptions and specifications for each audio interface, along with noteworthy pros and cons as reported by actual users. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works.

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