The best budget sound cards

The best budget sound cards

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Gear up to record has never been easier – all you need is a computer, an instrument, a microphone and a good audio interface. With all the budget braces available now on the market, we thought it was time to style a list of the most popular audio interfaces by consumers, staying in the price range under 200 euros .

All the appliances we have included in this list are “USB Class Compliant” , which means they work with all major modern operating systems (Windows, MacOS, iOS, Linux, Android) without the need for a driver . This way you won’t have to wait for the manufacturer to release new updated drivers in the future and avoid your audio interface from becoming an expensive hassle.

Most of these audio interfaces also have exclusive drivers for Windows and Mac that allow you to access additional features. However, it is good to know that users of iPad and iOS they will need a Apple Lightning to USB Adapter with which to connect the device and an external power supply or a USB hub, because the iPad does not supply enough power through the USB power supply.

What to consider when buying a sound card

Number of channels

The 1-channel and 2-channel audio interfaces are sufficient for most home recording studios, since you have the option of record voice and instruments one at a time, to mix them later. But if you are planning to register more than two audio sources simultaneously , then it will be better to focus on audio interfaces with 4 or more channels.

Entrance doors

Most audio interfaces use “combo” inputs which are good for both XLR and 1/4 ”jack cables. Therefore, since they are 2 in 1 doors, these devices maintain a compact shape and have a low cost. This, moreover, simplifies the connection , and the use of microphone and instruments is much easier for the user. It should be noted that some manufacturers use traditional XLR and 1/4 ”ports, especially for older sound cards. In this list we have listed quantity and type of inputs available on each appliance to help you choose.

Instrument Level and Line Level inputs

Beginners often overlook this, but it’s always good to know if your audio interface supports the line level (low impedance) and instrument level (high impedance) . Line Level sources include keyboards and other electronic instruments, while Instrument Level ports are ideal for guitars and basses without an active preamp. Although it is possible to use a Box DI with an interface that does not support the instrument level, it is more convenient to have a device to which an instrument can be connected directly. Therefore, if you are going to record different types of instruments and microphones , it is best to purchase an audio interface that allows you to choose the suitable input for microphone, instrument or line level.

Microphone preamp quality

When using microphones, the preamp plays an important role in the final result of the audio quality. For a more versatile recording in your home studio, transparent preamps are preferred, so that the sound will be reproduced as accurately as possible. We have included audio interfaces of this type in our list, but there are also devices that can make the sound slightly more colorful.

Phantom power

If it hasn’t happened to you already, sooner or later you will find yourself using a condenser mic while recording. These microphones usually require a phantom power between 11V and 48V to work, so it is essential to verify that the audio interface you are purchasing is capable of providing adequate phantom power.

Analog / Digital Bit Rate and Sample Rate

This is the bit rate at which the analog signal is converted into digital data. As a rule, the higher the sample rate, the more details will be captured. However, this does not necessarily indicate that the recording quality whether it is good or not, as it is the preamp that determines the quality of the sound output. Currently the resolution standard is 24-bit and between 44.1 and 96kHz , and is more than enough for any home studio recording.

Compatibility with Computer and iPad

If you want to be sure that your audio interface works with most operating systems and that you don’t have any nasty surprises in the future, then it’s good to choose one that is USB Audio Class Compliant . Also known as “plug-and-play”, these interfaces do not need a driver created by the manufacturer to work with the wide variety of operating systems current and future. Especially iOS, Android and Linux users should pay attention to this detail as drivers are not provided or cannot be used. But even Mac and Windows users are likely to remain on foot if a new version of the operating system is developed but the manufacturer of the audio interface does not make the updated driver available. Although the drivers patented by the manufacturers can provide some additional features , it is more useful to have an audio interface that can continue to work for a long time even after the drivers are no longer provided.

If you have an iPad and want to use it for mobile recording, you should consider the audio interfaces that can be connected directly to the iPad . To use the USB interfaces you will need to purchase a CCK from Apple (Camera Connection Kit) or a Lightning to USB adapter to convert a common USB cable into an iPad compatible port.

Supply

The possibility of being powered via USB it is a very convenient and currently common feature in most audio interfaces. Although there are still interfaces on the market that use wall power, the ability to charge with USB cable is an advantage, both because there is no mess and clutter with the cables, and because it allows you to use the appliance with a power bank when there are no power outlets nearby. Some audio interfaces have the option to be battery powered , making them even more portable.

Software and drivers included

In order to use an audio interface you will need it a good DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Thankfully even the cheapest interfaces are sold with different types of DAWs included, which, though with some limitations , they prove to be very useful. Also because most of these free applications have enough features to meet all needs recording and mixing of conventional music.

And now let’s move on to our list of best cheap audio interfaces of 2019

  1. Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD – See price or buy

Features:

  • Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

  • Preamp: 4 x MIDAS

  • Channels: 4

  • Input: 4 x XLR / TRS, 4 x 1/4 “

  • Output: 6 x 1/4 “, 2 x XLR, 2 x RCA Stereo, 1 x 1/4” (headphones)

  • MIDI: In / Out

  • Power supply: AC adapter, USB

  • Phantom Power: 48V

  • Software included: Tracktion, 150 downloadable instrument / effects plugins

The Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD is an inexpensive 4-channel audio interface, which stands out among many in the price range under 100 euros thanks to the many input and output options and impressive features and functions. Combo inputs with Midas preamps allow you to record up to 4 sources simultaneously. Each channel has dedicated controls, which include Pad selectors, Line / Instrument selectors, and Gain knobs.

To make monitoring even easier, Behringer has equipped the UMC404HD with selection A / B monitor source, Stereo / Mono switch and Input / Playback Mix control . Other noteworthy features are the multiple LED indicators and MIDI compatibility. It comes with software and plug-ins to use for recording and mixing.

With its 4 dedicated preamps and 4-in / 4-out configuration, the Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD offers great value for money, as user reviews prove. But it’s not just about the technical characteristics, since even the sound quality is to be appreciated . Many users, including podcasters, voice over artists, bassists, guitarists and keyboardists, describe the preamp as very quiet, especially when compared to other more expensive equipment.

Many users have had to update the driver to make it work with DAW software, so we recommend that you download the latest version of the driver from Behringer’s website before installing the unit. Some users have reported interference issues, possibly due to external factors, as most buyers find the UMC404HD to be super quiet.

  1. Shure MVi 

Features:

  • Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

  • Preamp: 1 x Class A Shure

  • Channels: 1

  • Input: 1 x XLR-1/4 “Combo (Line / Hi-Z Level)

  • Output: 1 x 1/8 ”Headphones

  • MIDI: USB

  • Power supply: Bus with iOS or USB

  • Phantom Power: 48V via USB, 12V with Pads

  • Software included: ShurePlus MOTIV app downloadable

Dynamic users will appreciate the portability and the plug-and-play compatibility Shure MVI with iPad and other iOS devices. Of course it is also compatible with Android, Mac and PC. Being a compact audio interface, it comes with a single XLR combo jack , but works with 48V phantom power when powered via USB and 12V when powered by iPad.

It has 5 DSP modes (Speech, Singing, Flat, Acoustic Instruments, Loud) to quickly optimize settings, and a MicroB-Lightning cable to connect it to iOS devices easily. The entrance of the class A preamplifier ensures maximum sound clarity and there is a touch panel to adjust the Gain, Mute and Volume of the headphones.

Reviews of this sound card especially extol the combination of quality and portability , but also the structural solidity. Among both musicians and podcasters, the Shure MVI continues to gain acclaim, proving to be a reliable device. Some complain about the poor durability of the included MicroB-Lightning cable, recommending that you have a spare cable as a precaution.

However, given the excellent user ratings and being a quality brand, we recommend the Shure MVI to anyone involved in mobile recording.

  1. Steinberg UR22 MK2  – See price or buy

Features:

  • Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

  • Preamp: 2 x Yamaha D-Pre Mic Preamp

  • Channels: 2

  • Input: 2 x XLR-1/4 “Combo (Mic / Line, 1 switch to activate Hi-Z / Instrument mode)

  • Output: 2 x 1/4 “Line, 1 x 1/4” Headphone

  • MIDI: In / Out

  • Power supply: USB

  • Phantom Power: 48V

  • Software included: Cubasis LE (iOS), Cubase AI (Mac, PC)

Best known for music production software, Steinberg is also emerging in recording hardware. And since Steinberg was bought by Yamaha, Steinberg’s software know-how coupled with Yamaha’s hardware expertise has produced high-value audio interfaces with improved DAW compatibility .

Within this production stands out the UR22 MK2, equipped with 2 Yamaha D-Pre microphone preamps , the same ones found on much more expensive mixing consoles. To integrate the preamp section, we find a high quality A / D converter , capable of working at 24-bit and 192kHz. Furthermore, this audio interface is of the Class Compliant type, therefore compatible with various devices and operating systems. Other important features to note are the MIDI connectivity, the zero-latency hardware monitoring with Mix Balance control and mode Loopback , useful for streaming while recording.

The audio quality of the UR22 MK2 meets all expectations, but consumers appreciate it too structural quality, intuitiveness of controls and functionality . While specifically designed to work with Steinberg’s Cubase, this interface also works with other DAWs, including Audacity, Pro Tools, Logic Pro, and many more.

Some users have complained about installing the driver and the included software, but we believe the problem is due to the inexperience of the users themselves, rather than a real design problem. On the other hand, all those who use the class compliant mode did not detect any problems. If you are a avid Cubase user , or if you like to switch between DAWs, you should seriously consider the Steinberg UR22 MK2.

  1. Yamaha AG03  – See price or buy

Features:

  • Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

  • Preamp: 1 x Yamaha D-Pre Mic Preamp

  • Channels: 2

  • Input: 1 x XLR-1/4 “Combo, 1 x 1/4” Hi-Z, 2 x 1/4 “Line Input

  • Output: 2 x 1/4 “, 1 x Stereo AC, 2 x 1/4” Headphones

  • MIDI: USB

  • Power supply: USB

  • Phantom Power: 48V

  • Software included: Cubase AI (Mac, PC), Cubasis LE (iOS)

Instead of the conventional front-facing controls, the Yamaha AG03 features the controls on the top face, being in fact a mixer with USB interface , complete with knobs and faders. It is a two-channel interface, where the first channel features a D-Pre microphone preamp with 48V power supply and dedicated fader for volume control. The second channel, on the other hand, supports a high impedance input and a line level input.

This unit is USB powered and comes with DSP effects , which include high pass filter, reverb, compression, in addition to the Loopback function which allows the transmission of any audio source with background music from PC / Mac / iPad.

Users greatly appreciate the ease of use and the intuitive controls of this mixer with audio interface. Many also pointed out that the Yamaha AG03 helped them improve their productivity by simplifying setup, and everyone said they were satisfied with the sound quality.

Except a few complaints about the no MIDI input / output , there are no negative notes about this mixer. We recommend the Yamaha AG03 for its intuitive interface, excellent sound quality and solid chassis.

  1. PreSonus Studio 2 | 6  – See price or buy

Features:

  • Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

  • Preamp: 2 x XMAX-L

  • Channels: 2

  • Input: 2 x XLR-1/4 “Combo (Microphone / Line)

  • Output: 2 x 1/4 “, 2 x 1/4” (Line), 1 x 1/4 “(Headphones)

  • MIDI: In / Out, USB

  • Power supply: USB

  • Phantom Power: 48V

  • Software Included: PreSonus Studio One Artist, PreSonus Studio Magic Plug-in Bundle

With its 2-in / 4-out configuration, the PreSonus Studio 26 allows you to record two channels simultaneously and to monitor in real time. Hosts inside two XMAX-L preamps , both powered by USB bus.

For monitoring, the Studio 26 was equipped with Cue Mix A / B functionality which allows you to quickly switch from one mix to another. It also has the connectivity for MIDI 5 pin , a feature that appeals to many consumers.

Thanks to the balance between functionality, quality and price, the Studio 26, two years after its launch on the market, continues to receive enthusiastic reviews, with particular reference to the quality of the preamps. Many users are satisfied with the versatility of outputs and monitoring functions.

There are some negative notes regarding installing and setting up the included software, but these are likely user errors. As for the hardware, there are no complaints whatsoever.

If you are looking for an affordable, user-friendly and versatile 2-channel interface, you can’t fail to consider the PreSonus Studio 26.

  1. Audient ID4  – See price or buy

Features:

  • Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

  • Preamp: 1x Audient Class A Mic Preamp, 1 x JFET DI

  • Channels: 2

  • Input: 1 x XLR-1/4 “Combo (Mic / Line), 1 x 1/4” DI (Instrument)

  • Output: 2 x 1/4 “Monitor, 1 x 1/4” (Headphones), 1 x 1/8 “(Headphones)

  • MIDI: No

  • Power supply: USB

  • Phantom Power: 48V

The ID4 is a compact audio interface that comes with Adient Class A microphone preamp is JFET circuit . It is therefore a great all-in-one solution for recording vocals and instruments, which is what most recording studios need.

Judging by the super positive reviews the ID4 continues to get, the Audient house seems to have found it right balance between price and functionality . In addition to the two distinct input circuits, the manufacturer has equipped the ID4 with the fundamental outputs, which include two 1/4 ”outputs for stereo monitoring and two headphone outputs.

Other very convenient functions are the Monitor Mix , which allows you to listen to near-zero latency while recording, Monitor Pan and Monitor Mute. Being, among other things, class compliant, this audio interface works optimally with the most well-known operating systems, including OSX and iOS, as well as Windows of course. It’s USB powered, so just plug it into your PC or laptop to charge, but it’ll work with iPad and iPhone it needs power supply via USB hub .

The Audient ID4 collects positive acclaim for the sound quality and robustness between users of all sectors, from singers to musicians, from voice over artists to those who own a home studio. According to the reviews, its strong point is the audio quality, in second place its reliability. Another positive aspect that is detected is the fact that it is compact and handy , making it suitable for both studio and live performances. Some users complain about the excessive clarity of the mic preamps, and others have given a low rating in the reviews due to the lack of MIDI input / output.

If you are looking to get the most out of a $ 200 spend by purchasing the highest-rated product on the market, then the Audient ID4 is for you.

  1. Steinberg UR242  – See price or buy

Features:

  • Resolution: 24-bit / 192kHz

  • Preamp: 2 x Class A D-Pre

  • Channels: 4

  • Input: 2 x XLR / TRS Combo, 2 x 1/4 “

  • Output: 2 x 1/4 “, 1 x 1/4” Headphones

  • MIDI: In / Out

  • Power supply: USB

  • Phantom Power: 48V

  • Software included: Cubase AI

Being the developers of Cubase DAW software, Steinberg engineers are very familiar with the needs of a home studio. This is made even more evident by the success of their audio interfaces, and specifically the UR242.

For an extremely affordable price, this audio interface delivers four simultaneous input channels , two of which equipped with D-Pre Class A mic preamps , while the other two channels have been designed for the line level. Obviously, and it couldn’t be otherwise, the UR242 has compatibility plug-and-play with Cubase software , but it also works well with competitive DAWs.

It is no surprise that many of the positive reviews on the UR242 are written by Cubase users, but there are many other DAW users who praise the high quality of this sound card. There structural quality of the UR242 is the aspect that satisfies the most, in second place is the quality of the D-Pre mic preamps.

Some users have encountered problems with the driver and software, especially if they are using older operating systems – sometimes, however, you just need to update the software or driver before you can use the interface effectively.

If you are a Cubase user, or if you want a sound card with more than two channels, the Steinberg UR242 could be the ideal solution for you.

Audio interfaces