Best Audio Interfaces for Mac and Windows under $300
So you’re looking at options to record audio into your new PC or MAC computer, but not sure what you need to get started? Here we explain the basics or getting set up to make high-quality sound recordings with your computer and take a look at 6 options available for under $300.
Traditionally computers have the means to allow you to attach external speakers and a microphone of some kind right out of the box. These built-in connections are generally used for basic desktop functions ie: a computer headset for skype or dictation, output to set of desktop speakers for multimedia playback of video or music applications like Spotify.
Beyond that, their limited functionality is generally unsuitable to professional quality recording required for musicians, podcasters or media production. Connection types are usually of the minijack or 3.5mm connector variety meaning only cheaper varieties of mics and speakers are compatible
How to take the next step
This is where the Computer Audio Interface enters the picture. The addition of a Computer Audio Interface will allow the use of professional microphones, provide high quality, low noise sound recording as well as headphone and studio monitor speaker output. In some cases, an interface will offer the ability to record a number of different inputs at once for example guitar, keyboards, or other external devices.
There are a wide range of interfaces available ranging in price from below $100 to several thousand dollars depending on your requirements and budget.
As of writing here is a quick breakdown of the most common interfaces in the market keeping under out $500 budget.
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface: $269
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface is currently the worlds best selling interface for the Mac or PC. Featuring dual microphone or Line (instrument) front panel inputs,
a stereo headphone output and stereo output to your speakers or mixer. Conveniently powered from a single USB cable connection to your PC or Mac. An excellent entry level unit for music recording, desktop media, and video production or podcasting. One of the stand-out features of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is the inclusion of high-quality Scarlett mic preamps, built on a legacy of superior audio design synonymous with the Focusrite companies more than 30-year history of building large format professional mixing consoles and audio processing equipment for some of the worlds most exclusive recording studios. The construction is a solid aluminium chassis making the overall feel of the device quite rugged and sturdy.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo USB Audio Interface: $179
The Focusrite Scarlett solo is a budget version of the 2i2. Equipped with a single Scarlett preamp for mic input on XLR connector and a 2nd input for line or instrument type input only via a 6.5mm (1/4 inch) jack connector. A Stereo headphone output and rear line-level stereo output on more modest RCA type connectors. This unit is perfect for the solo musician, vocalist or podcaster that just needs a simple high-quality solution for one mic at a time. Like the 2i2, the solo is also easily powered via the USB connection and connects to either Windows or Mac computers.
Behringer UM2 U-Phoria 2×2 USB Audio Interface: $75.95
In similar fashion to the Focusrite models. Behringers entry-level interface is a USB power interface that features a single combo mic/line input and one inst/line only input. The mic input features their own high-quality low noise design XENYX mic preamp. Headphone output and monitor output on RCA connectors. This unit is also well suited to the desktop musician, podcaster or media creator. Long known for their value for money offering the Behringer UM2 is easily the cheapest of the bunch when compared feature for feature. The build quality is noticeable lighter duty with its plastic body, but at the price point, it is difficult to dispute its overall bang for buck.
Behringer UMC 22 U-Phoria 2×2 USB Audio Interface: $94.95
Behringers UMC 22 interface fits somewhere between the previous models. Maintaining a single channel mic input design and 2nd channel for inst or line only signals. The UMC 22 is enhanced by the addition of more rugged and professional 6.5mm stereo output jacks and a beefier desktop design with front panel controls. The UMC22 is Perfect for users willing to pay a little more in terms of build quality and design.
PreSonus AudioBox iOne USB 2.0 & iPad Recording Interface: $199
Presonus is a US Manufacturer known for very high-quality studio processors and digital mixers so it’s no surprise their interface offerings are focussed at premium quality results. The AudioBox iOne is their entry level interface. A USB powered device with the same single mic input and single line/instrument input as the UMC22. A durable overall build quality dressed in stylish blue aluminium, their own very high-quality class A mic preamp and sturdy front panel controls, the AudioBox iOne is a solid investment. Presonus also includes a suite of audio plugins compatible with most popular DAW software.
PreSonus AudioBox 96 USB 2.0 Audio Recording Interface: $209
The Audiobox 96 is a new contender from Presonus with added features like MIDI ( Musical Instrument Digital Interface ) input and output and front panel mix control to adjust between monitoring of your signal input directly or from your computer output. Audiobox 96 also includes the Studio Magic plug-in suite including effects, virtual instruments, third-party loops, software, and instrument sounds. The build quality is sturdy enough for mobile or studio use.
For the most part, each of the above interfaces will provide you with excellent results with only minor differences in their feature set. Our recommendation is to spend the most you can afford and assess exactly what you need in terms of inputs and outputs.