When it comes to basics, you only need three pieces of gear to get started with music production in your home studio:
- A production-ready computer
- A DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software of your choice
- And a decent audio interface (also called a soundcard)
In this article, we’ve listed the 7 best cheap audio interfaces for beginners that we believe will give you solid results without breaking the bank.
Ready? Let’s get started…
7 Best Cheap Beginner Audio Interfaces For Home Studio Reviewed
Best Cheap Audio Interfaces For Beginners Buyer’s Guide
What to consider when buying a cheap audio interface for your home studio.
If you’re a beginner music producer, it can be difficult to know where to start with tech – but getting a proper audio interface is your first step. And, if you choose a soundcard that comes with software, you can be producing as soon as it’s out of the box and plugged in.
To make your choice, think about (1) what gear you already have, or will get in the near future, and (2) what sources you want to record. This will make your search easier.
What inputs and outputs are you going to need in your productions? How many and what type of connections will they need to be? Depending on the equipment you have and the type of sources you want to record, you’ll probably want at least one mic/XLR input and one ¼” line/instrument input.
If you are a DJ or podcaster, you might have different needs, such as RCA inputs. How many sources do you need to record at once? A lot of soundcards have combo inputs, but if you only have one, that means one source at a time.
Nearly all the soundcards we listed are entry-level models. If you like a model here but need an extra input, there will always be a model up from it with additional inputs – but for a higher price.
In the beginning, output options are less of a concern. All you need to check is that the soundcard will connect to your amplifier, or speakers, if you are using powered monitors. In most cases you can get a cable with different connections on either end.
If you have outboard effects units that you want to incorporate into your setup, more output options might be a requirement.
How are you going to connect your soundcard to your computer? USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt?
Most budget soundcards are USB only, and for basic setups there’s no real difference. Some have a type B (standard) connection others have type C (mini). Type C disconnects more easily, but if you’ll just use it in a studio and not move around much, that’s not an issue.
If you are looking to connect your soundcard to an iPad/iPod, your options are even more limited. There are options that connect directly, but most require extra adapters and connectors.
Interfaces with limited I/O are usually bus powered. This means they draw power from your computer. It is worth noting that the different USB ports on your computer are sometimes different in terms of power. You need to check that they provide enough voltage to power the soundcard.
Some soundcards that work with iOS devices, like the Tascam US-1×2, come with their own power supply, so you don’t have to worry about power with those.
There’s one other connection type to consider. Budget soundcards hardly ever have MIDI I/O. If you absolutely need this and don’t want to buy an additional device, your options are limited.
Specs and Extras
On basic devices, you don’t need to know much about device specifications. Minimum sample/bit resolution should be 44.1kHz/24 bit. All the devices listed here go beyond that, but there are still some cheaper options on the market whose bit resolution only goes up to 16bit. Avoid those.
If a soundcard has 2 pre-amps and only one phantom power switch, this can be an issue. Some non-condenser mics don’t like phantom power, so look into it if you have a selection of mics you wish to use.
Some soundcards come bundled with additional software. This can help you save money and get creating if you’re just starting to build your recording setup.
Conclusion & Takeaway
The best cheap audio interface for beginners is Behringer’s U-Phoria UMC202HD. The most important part of any audio device is the circuitry, and the Midas tech onboard this option is reliable and high-quality.
Those looking for something a bit extra should check out Focusrite’s Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen. This model has been around for a long time, and this 3rd generation version is a rugged little powerhouse and with fantastic pre-amps. The build quality is also solid.
For those on a tight budget, we recommend Tascam’s US-1×2. Although it only has one mic/XLR input, it’s a quality one. That’s adequate for many producers, and with iOS connectivity as the standard, this option is even more versatile.