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Best Audio Interfaces Under $300

Audio Interface

Why Invest in an Audio Interface?

Whether you’re a beginner or expert audio engineer, musician, producer, or podcaster, you’ll need a quality audio interface.

No matter what content you’re working with, if you want to record or playback high-quality audio, you’ll need an audio interface to improve the sonic qualities of your computer’s processing capabilities.

Interfaces are essential to cut down on interference, noise, and latency when recording and listening to audio. They enable you to connect studio-quality microphones, instruments like keyboards or guitars, speakers, and headphones all at the same time if you buy the right one.

But you get what you pay for—and we can’t all break the bank on a new interface.

If you want to get the most quality for the least cash, check out this list of the best interfaces for under $300.





PreSonus AudioBox USB 96

Price: $100

Input: two combo preamps

Output: L/R speaker, headphones

MIDI I/O: yes

Phantom Power: yes

Power: USB 2.0 bus

Compatibility: Mac and Windows

Software Included: PreSonus Studio One Artist DAW

Highlights: Portable: small size, 5.5” x 1.8” x 5.5”, 4 pounds

Durable: heavy-duty steel chassis

Best for Beginners



Focusrite Scarlett Solo 2i2

Price: $100

Input: one combo preamp

Output: L/R speaker, headphones

MIDI I/O: no

Phantom Power: yes

Power: USB 2.0 bus

Compatibility: Mac and Windows

Software Included: ProTools First, Ableton Live Lite

Highlights:

Portable: small size, 7.7” x 2” x 1.3”, 1.5 pounds

Splice: Limited 3-month subscription

Best for Singer-Songwriters



Apogee One

Price: $250

Input: two analog preamps, XLR mic and ¼” instrument jacks with breakout cable

Output: one 1/8” output for speakers or headphones

MIDI I/O: no

Phantom Power: yes

Power: USB 2.0 bus

Compatibility: Mac and Windows

Software Included: Apogee’s Maestro

Highlights:

Portable: small size, 6.4” x .8” x 2.2”, 13 ounces

On-the-Go: iPhone and iPad compatible

Unique Feature: Built-in omnidirectional condenser mic

Best for Travelling



The Best Audio Interfaces for Musicians, Audiophiles, and Engineers

Choosing an interface can be overwhelming when there are so many options out there. This breakdown of what you need the most in an audio interface should help you narrow things down.

Similarities Between These Best Audio Interfaces

Some features are entirely essential for an interface.

If you’ll be using a condenser microphone to record audio, your interface must supply 48-volt phantom power.

Another thing to look for in your interface is a bus power supply. That means that you can plug your interface into your computer’s USB port for power—instead of finding external power. This is essential if you want to work on a laptop on the go or anywhere you won’t always have access to external power.

Luckily, all three interfaces listed above include bus power and phantom power. They’re also all compatible with most Mac and Windows software.

Once you’ve established that the interface you’re looking at meets these basic criteria, the next best thing to do is think about how many and what kinds of preamps you might need and what software and hardware will be compatible with your existing equipment.

It might sound a bit intimidating, but this simple guide will break it all down.

Let’s dive in.

Input

There is a wide variety of input options out there: USB 1.0, USB 2.0, Firewire, PCMCIA/ExpressCard, PCI, MIDI, XLR, TS, and the list goes on. You don’t have to become an expert on all these different inputs before purchasing an interface.

All you need to know is what input your equipment is. And if you haven’t purchased it yet, decided what kind of input is best for you.

Studio microphones will always have an XLR plug. So if you want a mic that’s the first box to check off. If you want to plug in your keyboard or guitar to your interface, you’ll need a high-Z jack. Sometimes these are just called “instrument” inputs. Most interfaces will have these two standard inputs.

If you have a MIDI pad, you’ll want to ensure that your interface has MIDI input and output jacks. This is not standard, so if it’s important to you, keep an eye out for this feature. On this list, the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 has a MIDI I/O.

Once you’ve established that the interface you want to buy is compatible with your equipment, you’ll want to think about how many inputs you’ll need. Some interfaces only have one—that’s fine if you’re a singer-songwriter or a lone wolf. 

If you like to collaborate or want to record multiple instruments or vocals at the same time, you’ll need as many jacks as the number of lines you’ll have. Pretty basic, right?

Combo jacks are becoming more and more common, and they’re inputs that can receive various plugs. Don’t let them confuse you.

Combo inputs are great for switching between equipment, but if your interface only has two combo plugs, you’re limited to one vocal and one instrument, or two vocals, or two instruments at a time.

Imagine if you had an interface that has two XLR and two instrument inputs instead—then you could record four lines simultaneously. Make sure to read the fine print and review images of the product before you buy it.

Output

Thinking about your audio interface output needs is similar to your input needs. Instead, this time, we’re thinking about how many speakers we have and how many headphones we need to be plugged in at a time.

If you work alone in your studio most of the time you probably only need one headphone jack and an R/L speaker output setup. Especially if you’re building your studio for the first time, that should be enough.

You’ll need more than one headphone preamp if you work with other recording artists. Make sure these outputs can be controlled independently, though.

And if you want to DJ, having four line-level outputs is a good idea: two for the house and two for your headphones.

Your output needs will be unique to your situation. Think about the equipment you have, the equipment you plan on buying and do a bit of basic math.

Software

Not all audio interfaces come with software—but all the above do. This is a great selling point for interfaces, since DAWs (like most things associated with audio production and editing) are expensive, too.

The truth is that some software isn’t as easy to use as others.

For example, the software bundle that comes with the Focusrite Scarlett Solo requires a lot of time to set up (although they claim it’s fast). You need multiple accounts across various platforms, so if account management is not one of your strengths, this software might be more of a pain than a pleasure to use.

Take your preference for the software included into account. Read reviews and know that not all software is the same.

Sources:

https://www.presonus.com/products/audiobox-usb-96
https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/AudioBx96Stu–presonus-audiobox-96-studio-usb-2.0-hardware-software-recording-kit
https://www.amazon.com/PreSonus-AudioBox-Interface-Software-Instrument/

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