Today we’ll be reviewing 7 of the best USB audio interface for all those who are on a tight budget but don’t want to use the on-board sound card. We’ll be looking at anything that’s good quality for less than $300, feel free to spend $500 or even $1000 if you can afford it.
I also don’t recommend anything that is less than $100 if you’re serious about your music production, rather stick to your on-board sound card till you have invested some more cash.
All the interface I’m going to review will work on both pc and mac, even with things such as an iPad. They’ll also work on all reputable music software such as ableton, cubase, logic, garageband, fl studio etc. and you should be able to record multiple sounds with them including drums as well as percussion.
They’re great entry level and affordable as well. The best way to choose an interface is to check what you want to use it for and how many channels you’re going to need. These days all companies are using the same technology so sound quality is more or less the same, the most important thing to look out for is the features.
The AIs below are not high-end audio interfaces but you should definitely expect something professional and they have a really good lifespan.
Let’s get started with the reviews. I’ll also add an amazon button below each AI review for you to get the best price possible.
But note that these are not sorted in any particular order.
1. M-Audio 2-Channel M-Track 2X2
This one is a 2 Channel Portable USB Audio and MIDI Interface that has Digital I/O. It also comes with Avid Pro Tools Express and Ignite music software for your studio.
It has phantom power with guitar level switching and it’s usb which makes it mobile convenient. The M-Track Plus also offers MIDI and coaxial S/PDIF connections.
The only problem comes when you have to install iLok and Avid Pro-Tools, this is really hard to figure out. Avid and M-Audio support is not really good either, this can get really frustrating.
But the hardware is really good quality even for recording things like electric guitar to professional condenser microphone. It’s a great product for the price.
2. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 USB Audio Interface
The Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 is becoming the favorite AI for most studios.
It’s a great AI that helps a lot with latency for virtual instruments and effects. One of a kind Mono input switch for recording vocals, guitar or other mono sources.
This bad boy has some High-quality pre-amps with individual gain controls.
But the interface needs a lot of getting used to because it creates pops, hissing sound and can easily distort audio. Installation instructions are also confusing.
So be prepared to have a small battle before getting everything right. To solve the noise problem that a lot of people complain about online, you have to leave the audio adapter inserted half-way into the device to eliminate the “noise”.
Another fix that doesn’t come with the manual.
But the product is really awesome when it works, I highly recommend it even though it has some minor factory issues that can be fixed.
3. Roland QuadCapture Audio Interface
This baby comes with a graphical control panel software which provides fast and intuitive control of the VS Preamps. Another portable and good design USB 2.0 interface.
It has digitally controllable mic preamps (VS Preamps) made from the same preamps found in Roland’s V-Studio 700 and M-400 digital mixer. It has automatic input level adjustment for high quality recordings.
The Quad-Capture comes with ground lift feature which allows you to get rid of any hum sound. It also comes with Direct-Box functionality for noise free live recording.
You’ll also get the SONAR X1 LE music software for PC. The recorded audio is really top quality. The problem is that it keeps disconnecting itself. It has a ground lift switch for a reason, it keeps creating a hum noise so you have to leave the ground lift switched on all the time.
There’s also NO separate volume control for headphones, which becomes a problem when you’re recording. Another problem is that you have to disconnect the device each time you reboot your computer then plug it in again once the computer has loaded the operating system.
But besides that, this has a really good sound and it is definitely worth the price.
4. M-Audio Fast Track Ultra
This is what I use, and I really love it. The only audio interface that has never given me any problems at all. It is a high speed 8×8 USB 2.0 audio interface.
It uses MX Core DSP technology, it has 4 preamps with award winning M-Audio Octane technology. Works well on both Mac or PC and comes with 6 balanced analog outputs.
Features both analog as well as digital I/O, you can also record on all eight channels simultaneously with this baby.
The price for the fast track ultra is over $300 but I had to include it on this list because it is what I use and I highly recommend it 🙂
5. Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 (2nd Gen)
The 2i4 (2nd Gen) has 2 award winning mic pre-amps with dual microphone/line instrument inputs and 4 high quality audio outputs. A great interface for digital DJs and musicians.
It also has a Pad function which is useful for loud guitars or microphones. The ‘Direct Monitor’ control comes in handy for a low latency mix for input as well as playback signals.
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 (2nd Gen) comes with an authorization code for the Ableton Live Lite music software and Focusrite’s Scarlett plug-in suite for audio mixing. It’s a great product and has really good sound.
But when you buy an AI you expect it to save some cpu power, not this one. You also have to get the right settings for the buffer or else you’ll get an irritating pop and click noise. This is not mentioned in the manual, which sucks because you have to figure out a manufacture’s problem on your own.
It also keep disconnecting, after some research I found that it does that because it overheats. It also has a problem with windows 8 drivers. But it works really well on Mac and was not disconnecting at all so I don’t think it does overheat, I think it was a windows 8 drivers problem.
Another great audio interface I would recommend is this one and it’s worth the price. If you can’t afford this one you can get the 2i2 it’s also a great AI.
6. Steinberg UR22MKII 2-Channel USB Interface
This is another great sounding 2 Channel USB 2.0 Audio and MIDI Interface. It has 2 TRS inputs, 6 TRS outputs and 2 Neutrik combo inputs.
It also has pad switches and high impedance input. Its onboard dspMixFx technology offers DSP powered, latency free monitoring with effects and it comes with the latest Cubase AI DAW for making music.
It comes with 2 pre-amps which are developed by Yamaha. A great AI for mixing, maybe some mastering and music playback. It is portable and it has 48v phantom power.
The recorded sound it produces is really worth what you pay for. It is noisy and the pre-amps are not bad neither great but just good. I’m a hardcore Cubase user and the included Cubase DAW is not for professional musicians.
Overall it’s a good product for someone who doesn’t do professional recordings and it’s worth the price.
7. Mackie Onyx Blackjack
The Blackjack has 2 quality Onyx microphone preamps and it comes with Tracktion 3 music production software. It also has some High end AD/DA converters.
It has built-in DIs, true analog hardware monitoring which makes hassle free with zero-latency recording in both mono and stereo. The outputs for both studio monitor and headphone have independent controls for maximum flexibility.
It it is built like a tank with coated all-metal. You can even use it as a hammer to hit the vocalist with it if they’re not singing well.
But it has a hiss sound and doesn’t work on windows 8, you’ll have to downgrade which really sucks. Their drivers are not compatible with most PC but works flawlessly on Mac. It is worth the price though and produces a good sound.
These are the best usb audio interfaces for under $300 and will definitely give you a professional sound. In the near future I’ll do another review with some high-end audio interfaces for those who have a good budget of $500, $1000 or more. I know these are not cheap, but they’re really affordable and it’s what I would recommend as an entry level AI.
That’s it for today, leave your comments below I would like to hear your thoughts and what you’re using for your studio recordings. See you again tomorrow with another great music production tutorial.