The Best Cheap Audio Interfaces - Under $100 & Under $200

The Highest Rated Audio Interfaces Under $200

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More and more people are getting into music production and with the tech becoming more accessible, come more affordable choices for gear. Just a decade ago, starting a recording studio ate up a lot of time, money and research.

Audio interfaces were high end pieces of gear since studios large and small used custom PCs with soundcards built in. The Protools HD rig was a hallmark of the last 2 decades.

The new challenge then is finding which among the many affordable audio interfaces to pick, and this is what the September 2021 Edition of this guide is for.

Even with their high scores, you'll be delighted to know that our selections for this guide don't exceed $200. This puts them in the range of most people who want to start with recording or want a mobile alternative for recording on the go.

All the devices in this list are (or can be) USB Audio Class Compliant so they can work with all the significant modern operating systems (Windows, macOS, iOS, Linux, Android) with no need for drivers. This means your interface won't become an expensive paperweight if the manufacturer does not deliver updates for future platforms. Most of these also provide proprietary drivers for Windows and Mac which may allow you to use enhanced features. iPad/iOS users should know they need to use the Apple Lightning to USB adapter to connect to their device and the interfaces in the list will require external power or a powered USB hub because the iPad doesn't provide sufficient USB Bus power.

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

The Best Cheap Audio Interfaces

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

The Best Audio Interfaces Under $100

Behringer U-PHORIA UMC22

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 2900+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$59
Behringer U-Phoria UMC22 USB Audio Interface

Midas is known for large-format consoles and mixing desks. After Behringer acquired Midas, the technology has been assimilated into Behringer's core lineup of products.

The Behringer U-Phoria line features Midas-designed preamps with the UMC22 being the most affordable in the roster.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: up to 24-bit/48kHz
  • Preamp: 1
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 1 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line), 1 x 1/4" (Hi-Z)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (main out), 1x 1/4" headphone out
  • MIDI: None
  • Power: USB bus powered
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: Tracktion DAW and 150 downloadable instrument/effect plug-ins

Pros

Many reviews praise the Midas-designed preamp for its low noise floor and its clean, balanced sound. Many users were also surprised by the overall build quality.

Cons

Some users had issues with compatibility and drivers. However, these are older comments and these problems have been resolved after a driver and firmware update.

Overall

For affordability, and quality, the Behringer U-Phoria UMC22 is a winner if all you need is an affordable interface with a great-sounding mic preamp and good build quality.

Behringer U-PHORIA UMC202HD

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 4150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$89
Behringer U-PHORIA UMC202HD 2-Channel USB Audio Interface

The UMC202HD by Behringer also features preamps designed by recording console maker MIDAS.

Having a great preamp is important for pristine sound.

The UMC202HD allows up to a studio-grade 24-bit/192kHz resolution for the best possible recording quality without compromise.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Preamp: 2
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR/TRS Combo
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4", 1 x 1/4" (Headphones)
  • MIDI: None
  • Power: USB bus powered
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: Tracktion DAW and 150 downloadable instrument/effect plug-ins

Pros

Many users praise the UMC202HD for its great price to performance ratio. The onboard MIDAS preamps were noted to make vocals have depth and dimension. The build quality was also a surprise for some who didn't expect a good metal enclosure and solid feeling knobs at this price point.

Cons

The USB jack is seen as a weak point in an otherwise solidly built interface.

Overall

The Behringer UMC202HD is a great, affordable interface with tech developed by longtime console maker MIDAS. Surprisingly good build quality comes as a bonus at this price point.

Shure X2U

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$99
Shure X2U Microphone XLR to USB Audio Interface

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Audio Interface Under $100 - for the third year in a row!

The Shure X2U is an unconventional audio interface.

Instead of plugging a microphone into it, you plug it INTO your microphone.

This allows you to have a very minimal setup if you only need to use one microphone similar to a USB powered mic but with the freedom to change microphones whenever you like.

This includes using large-diaphragm condenser microphones since it has built-in +48V Phantom power.

Zero-latency direct monitoring is also a handy feature.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: 16-bit, up to 48 kHz
  • Preamp: Integrated preamp with Microphone Gain Control
  • Channels: 1
  • Inputs: 1
  • Outputs: Headphone Out, USB out
  • MIDI: No
  • Power: USB powered
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: None

Pros

Promotional materials say "It turns any mic into a USB Mic!" and this is what most users who rated the X2U positively say. Users love how they can use their favorite mics with the unit on-the-go without needing to bring a typical interface and cables. The convenience of not having to bring so many components to record makes it a great tool for field recordings.

Cons

It is a tool for a very specific purpose and naturally people would want more out of it. But to add more would sacrifice the portability and convenience of the unit as a few users mentioned. Mics that need high gain like the Shure SM7b might hiss at higher input gain settings as a few users noted.

Overall

So you want an audio interface but you don't want to bring along a box and 2 different cables to set up? The Shure X2U solves that very specific problem. If you're looking for an interface that allows you to use your favorite mics on the go, the X2U is worth checking out. Just make sure you're using a mic that won't need a lot of gain as many users report hiss when pushing the preamp.

PreSonus AudioBox USB 96

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 3800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 2-Channel Audio Interface

Presonus markets the AudioBox USB 96 as a "Simple, affordable, mobile recording solution".

It features two XLR/TRS Combo preamp inputs as well as MIDI I/O.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: up to 24-bit/96kHz
  • Preamp: 2
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic / instrument)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (main out), 1x 1/4" headphone out
  • MIDI: In/Out
  • Power: USB bus powered
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: Studio One Artist

Pros

For such an affordable audio interface, many people love that it has MIDI I/O which makes it easier to integrate other instruments and controllers like keys and e-drums and other MIDI-controlled equipment with the MIDI OUT.

Cons

Some report that the software included is severely limiting compared to the hardware.

Overall

If you're looking for an affordable audio interface with MIDI I/O, it's difficult to recommend anything else. The AudioBox ticks a lot of boxes feature-wise and is a good centerpiece in a project or home studio. Some found the included software to be limited but that should not be a problem for most since the price of the interface leaves more in your wallet for a license for the DAW of your choice and more.

The Best Audio Interfaces Under $200

Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 15800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$120
Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Audio Interface Under $200 along with the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen.

Focusrite has become the brand people first mention when people ask "What's a good interface?" and for good reason. The Scarlett series has always been very consistent regarding their preamps.

Now on its third generation, Focusrite makes a winning formula even better with increased headroom, an even lower THD (total harmonic distortion) level, better gain range and handling of high output instruments, and overall better dynamics.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/192kHz
  • Preamp: 1
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 1 x XLR (mic), 1 x 1/4" (Hi-Z)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" TRS
  • MIDI: 1 x 1/4"
  • Power: USB bus powered
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Pro Tools First Focusrite Creative Pack, Focusrite Red plugin suite, several more

Pros

The Scarlett Solo gets rave reviews from both first-timers and professionals noting the simplicity to be a plus rather than a downside. The Scarlett Solo shares the same signal conversion and preamp with all the products in the line and many reviewers think the Solo is a great value for people who are looking for top-quality audio but don't need all the other bells and whistles.

Cons

Some users report crackling and sound loss but comments on these posts point to their computers not being up to spec to handle low buffer sizes. A tweak in the latency/buffer size settings on the driver fixes most of these issues.

Overall

There's not much more to be said about Focusrite Scarlett interfaces that haven't been mentioned with each new generation. For this version, the improved signal handling and gain problems that users complained about in their first-gen (and sometimes even in the second-gen) have been resolved. Get it if you want a piece of the Focusrite pie. Be careful though, once you've had the sweetness of Focusrite preamps, it will be difficult to use anything else until you go beyond the budget scope of this guide.

PreSonus Studio 24c

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 1450+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$170
PreSonus Studio 24c USB-C 2x2 Audio Interface

The PreSonus Studio 24c is a high definition audio interface capable of up to 24-bit/192kHz recording resolution.

Its XMAX-L solid-state microphone preamplifiers provide lots of clean headroom and gain.

Bundled software includes Studio One Artist and Studio Magic plugins to get you started right away.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Preamp: 2
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line/Hi-Z)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (main out), 1 x 1/4" (headphones)
  • MIDI: In/Out"
  • Power: USB bus powered
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: Studio One Artist, Studio Magic Plug-in Suite

Pros

Many people compare the Studio 24c with a certain "red" model interface and they note that the PreSonus Studio 24c felt like a definite upgrade in both sound, stability and build quality. The added MIDI at this tier was also praised.

Cons

Direct monitor was noted to be only in mono. The headphone out was also noted to be low gain, an advantage the "red" interface has over it.

Overall

If your priority is getting a portable, high resolution audio interface while on a budget, the PreSonus Studio24c is a great pick.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen

95
GEARANK

95 out of 100. Incorporating 10450+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$170
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Audio Interface Under $200 along with the Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen.

The Scarlett series has long been a darling with the project studio community for its great sound quality, solid build, and great plugin bundles.

The 3rd Gen release of the line makes minor tweaks that improve the overall capabilities of each model especially the way they handle high gain inputs from mics and instruments.

The 2i2 is no exception to these improvements as the unit now includes Focusrite's proprietary "Air" technology from their more expensive ISA series preamps.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: Up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Preamp: 2
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line/Hi-Z)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" TRS
  • MIDI: No
  • Power: USB bus powered
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: Ableton Live Lite, Pro Tools First Creative Pack, Red Plug-in Suite, Focusrite Collective access

Pros

Many consider the Scarlett 2i2 as their first "serious" interface. Many users have upgraded from other brands and felt like the 2i2 is the best at this price point for their purposes. With no compromises made in the entire line regarding the preamp and signal converters, the 3rd Gen 2i2 is well-loved in the community for both small home studios and mobile setups.

Cons

Not having MIDI turned off a few from this interface though they still ended up getting a different Scarlett Interface - you can always get a separate MIDI interface if you need one later.

Overall

This is THE interface to get if you want pristine recordings for voice, instruments, and more. With the tweaked gain response of the preamp, even the highest output metal pickups get the same red carpet treatment to your hard drive as the nicest vintage T-style guitar.

MOTU M2

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 1100+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$180
MOTU M2 2x2 USB-C Audio Interface

Mark of the Unicorn, or MOTU for short, took the audio engineering community by surprise when they released their M2 and M4 Audio Interfaces.

MOTU interfaces have a good track record for quality and long-term use though it is only with their release of the M2 and M4 that their renowned premium quality has been made more affordable.

The M2 features up to 192kHz,120dB output dynamic range, and -129dBu EIN input dynamic range -- specifications not usually seen on interfaces at this price.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Preamp: 2
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line/Hi-Z)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" TRS (DC coupled), 1 x Dual RCA Stereo
  • MIDI: In/Out/USB
  • Power: USB bus powered
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: MOTU Performer Lite, Ableton Live 10 Lite, Bundled Loops/Sounds

Pros

Many users were delighted by the fact that MOTU gear has now become more accessible. Despite being a more budget-oriented interface, many users loved the low noise floor, low latency, and great compatibility that the M2 offers. While some users mentioned they had troubles with getting the gain staging right with other interfaces, the MOTU M2 allowed them to record very dynamic tracks with lower noise and higher headroom compared to certain "Red" interfaces they've used before.

Cons

An early issue arose about the Phantom power button not working that may have been resolved since no new reviews have brought up the issue. Some report "crackling" sounds when they record. However, upon checking the comments on some, they have been resolved by changing the buffer size as the default may be too low for their hardware.

Overall

If you're looking for top-of-the-line quality at a surprisingly affordable price, the MOTU M2 will more than satisfy your needs.

Audient iD4 MKII

93
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$199
Audient iD4 MKII USB-C Audio Interface

Audient builds on the popularity of their original iD4 compact audio interface by releasing a MKII version.

Audient’s ASP8024-HE console preamp makes an appearance on this small, but powerful audio interface

The large volume knob can also be assigned as a one-knob DAW controller.

Besides the speaker outs, two audiophile-grade 600Ω headphone amplifier with dual independent outputs (1/4" and 1/8") round out the monitoring options.

A USB-C connection ensures the iD4 MKII's compatibility going into the future.

Specifications:

  • A/D Resolution: up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • Preamp: 2
  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs: 1 x 1/4" (instrument), 1 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line)
  • Outputs: 2 x 1/4" (L/R)
  • MIDI: None
  • Power: USB bus powered
  • Phantom Power: +48V
  • Bundled Software: ARC software suite

Pros

Users praise the quality of the preamps, citing the transparency and preservation of the dynamics as its best qualities. The headphone amplification was also praised for its ability to drive high impedance headphones like the Sennheiser HD600 with ease.

Cons

The only con we could find was from a user who received a defective product. Be sure to purchase products from retailers with a good exchange policy in these rare instances

Overall

The Audient iD4 has top tier features in a more affordable price for an audio interface. If you're looking for a great interface with great converters and headphone amplifiers, this is the one to get.

Things to Consider when Buying a Cheap 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 over two sound sources simultaneously, then you'll want to consider those with 4 channels or more.

Input Ports

Most audio interfaces use "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 use traditional separate 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, know if your audio interface can handle line level (low impedance) and instrument level (high impedance) sources. Line level sources include keyboards 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 the instrument level, it is more convenient to plug straight into 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, and line levels.

Mic Preamps and Phantom Power

  • Mic Preamp Quality
    When using mics, the preamps can play a significant part in the resulting character of the sound. For versatile home recording use, you'll 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 others 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 typically require between 11V and 48V phantom power to operate, and so it is imperative to check if the audio interface that you're buying can provide 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 higher the sample rate, the higher the captured frequencies, and the higher the bit rate the more detailed the dynamic differences are recorded. However this does not indicate good or bad recording quality, rather it is the preamp that dictates this more. 24–bit and 44.1 to 96kHz sample rate is 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 because sometimes drivers either can't be used or aren't provided/updated. 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 updated.

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 it 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 software for recording. Thankfully, cheap interfaces are bundled with various kinds of DAWs that are quite useful, albeit with some limitations. Still many of these free applications have enough features to handle the recording and mixing needs of conventional music.

Cheap Audio Interface Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2015 and the current edition was published on September 24, 2021.

We first looked at all audio interfaces with at least 1 microphone input under $200, which includes single-channel, dual-channel, and four-channel audio interfaces. We ended up with a shortlist of 30 audio interfaces, and we analyzed relevant reviews and ratings, including the most current ones. For this September 2021 edition, the number of review sources that we processed reached over 70,600. The Gearank Algorithm processed this staggering amount of data and gave us the rating scores out of 100 we used to narrow the list to just the best among the best. Finally, we divided our recommendations into two price ranges to make it easier to spot those that fit your budget. Also, we've included detailed descriptions and specifications for each audio interface, along with summaries of noteworthy pros and cons that were reported by actual users. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

Aside from endlessly window shopping and watching hours of gear reviews for leisure, he enjoys playing competitive FPS games, MMORPGs and caring for his 5 cats. He is primarily influenced by guitarists like Kurt Ballou and Paul Gilbert. His favorite pieces of gear are his Ibanez RG550RFR, Orange Brent Hinds Terror amplifier and EQD Acapulco Gold fuzz.

Contributors

Alden Acosta: Product research.
Alexander Briones: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Supplemental research, Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: Compiled by Gearank.com using photographs of the Shure X2U and Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen interfaces.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.

Comments

hi, looking to digitise my

hi, looking to digitise my vinyl.
Would you recommend the Motu over Focusrite for this ? I have a Macboook 2020 with 4 thunderbolts.

Hello,

Hello,

Either would work but check what outputs your vinyl player has. If it only has RCA outs, even a behringer UCA222 would do. But if your player has balanced XLR outs, I'd personally go for the Focusrite. MOTU is great too as the noise floor is better on it so if that's important to you (especially if you have an older vinyl player).

-Raphael

damn all the cons in this

Damn all the cons in this review were explained very well. Good show.

Hi, Matt!

Hi, Matt!

Thanks for the feedback! I'm glad I was able to help achieve some clarity.

-Raphael

I have an old Line6 Toneport

I have an old Line6 Toneport UX2. I was wondering how these compare to the units you just reviewed?

Hi Bob,

Hi Bob,

The Toneport UX2 (and its identical successor, the Studio UX2) was popular in the early 2010s because of it's relatively low price and bundled software (Pod Farm). Mostly metal players picked it up because several popular bands at the time attributed their tone to either the "Big Bottom" model (for a number of British bands) and the "Cali Diamond Plate" model (for mostly American bands).

In our database, the Studio UX2 gets a score of 81 out of 100 as of April 2020; which is par for the course. Though the unit gets good reviews for its easy of access and bundled software, it gets low reviews for its build quality and longevity. Many UX2 users report long term part failure.

For sound quality as a general purpose audio interface, the UX2's preamps just aren't up to par with modern audio interfaces that have higher quality components and circuitry at accessible prices.

My advice: Try it out, and if it still works, I think the Pod Farm software is still available for downloads for legacy users. The Cali Diamond Plate doesn't sound like the Mesa Dual Rectifier it seeks to emulate but it fits well with most mixes.

-Raphael

Focusrite Scarlett - "Some

Focusrite Scarlett - "Some users report crackling and sound loss but comments on these posts point to their computers not being up to spec to handle low buffer size. A tweak in the latency/buffer size settings on the driver fixes most of these issues."

If only it were so simple. I use an 18i20 plus Octopre for 16-track recording. Results are excellent, but I simply cannot use Focusrite for playback at home. I have a powerful desktop rig which should in theory handle the task without breaking a sweat, but despite trying every suggestion I've been able to find, plus contact with customer support, I've given up.

I record on my Focusrites and use a Zoom R8 for playback.

The Scarletts are a nice series but I would not in good conscience recommend them to anybody who wants hassle-free ASIO audio.

Save your money and get the

Save your money and get the cheaper version two inputs AI.You can only record a vocal and a guitar one at the time. You only need 4 or more if you intent to have the whole live band come to your basement and they all plug their instruments into your Au.interface, and then your computer blows up in two minutes.