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The best budget audio interface | 3 Solid Options!

Hi friend and Welcome!

When I think of the best budget audio interface (What does an audio interface do?), a couple of great options come to mind. Before we get into what they are, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…

You’ve come to the right place!!

The best budget audio interface

The best budget audio interface

What I will bring you in this review

I will outline my top pick, and then give an honorable mention towards the end. For the top pick:

  1. Ratings/Price
  2. Specifications
  3. Summary
  4. Build Quality
  5. Sound
  6. Pros
  7. Cons
  8. Video Review
  9. Who this interface benefits?
  10. Consensus/Conclusion
  11. The differences between each
  12. Final Word

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Ratings/Price (subject to change)

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Specifications

Front panel

  • 2 line/mic/instrument combination inputs – high quality XLR/¼” TRS Jack Combo. What is XLR?
  • 2 Line/Instrument switches
  • 2 Gain knobs
  • 2 Gain halo signal indicators
  • 48V Phantom power switch
  • Direct monitor switch
  • Large monitor level dial
  • USB Connection LED indicator
  • Headphone output – ¼” TRS Jack
  • Headphone level knob

Rear panel

  • 2 balanced monitor outputs – ¼” TRS Jack
  • USB 2.0 Port
  • Kensington Lock slot

Summary

I really love this interface. Over the last couple of years it’s become somewhat overrated, but for good reason. It’s just an amazing little unit. It’s about as simple as a sound card gets, and does it’s job wonderfully. If you’re wondering, yes it is an external sound card, aka an audio interface which is just it’s technical name. What is a Soundcard? Check out Preamp vs. interface and find out the differences! Also check out my page on Your audio interface for some general information if you’re unfamiliar with them.

Basically it replaces a mediocre to poor internal sound card that your computer or laptop provides, and dramatically increases sound quality.

There are three main uses with this one in particular:

The best budget audio interface

The best budget audio interface

  1. They will power your studio monitors. What are studio monitors?
  2. They will power your XLR condenser microphone. What is the difference between a USB microphone and an XLR microphone?
  3.  You can plug in your headphones as long as they come with a 1/4″ adapter. Most entry to mid level cans come with one nowadays. This makes the 2i2 great for monitoring and referencing back and forth. There’s a small volume knob for your headphones as well as a large one for your monitors.

When you purchase an interface like this one, you will need a couple of different types of cables. Luckily for you I’ve made it easy! When I was first searching for interfaces, I got overwhelmed trying to figure out how to hook it up. The two cables that are generally used:

  • XLR cables.
  • TRS cables.

Check out my page on Cables & Wiring for some more info!

Build Quality

As for build quality, it’s phenomenal. It’s not heavy nor light. I would say it’s in between, but feels solid. Fortunately you’re not really going to be moving this around a lot unless you want to take it on the go, but it’s rugged enough to hold up. I’ve had mine since 2014 with no issues at all. I literally plugged it in and haven’t looked back since.

Sound

I don’t have much to compare it to, but I’ve read a lot about this unit and it pairs up well with so many different microphones. I have mine joined with the JBL LSR 305’s and they sound remarkable powered by the 2i2. Perfect entry level combo! Check out my JBL LSR 305 Review!

Pros

  • Great value.
  • Price to performance ratio is remarkable.
  • This unit is built to last.
  • Very quiet, pairs nicely with The JBL’s.
  • Also pairs well with a variety of affordable microphones.
  • Records acoustics very nicely.
  • Build quality is solid.
  • Flexibility. Combo units enable TS (instrument cable) as well as XLR (microphone, etc.)

Cons

  • Static can be heard when turning up and down the volume. No effect on sound.

Check out this super informative review!!

Who this interface benefits?

  • Those looking to record guitar
  • Those looking to record vocals
  • Those looking to pair this with a nice set of studio monitors
  • Those looking for exceptional value
  • Those who are new to home recording and need an affordable, reliable solution to their dilemma.

Consensus/Conclusion

I have nothing but good things to say about this puppy. The build is solid, it looks great in studio, it’s quiet, and it powers my monitors with no problems. My computer also recognized it immediately upon hook up, and there hasn’t been one driver issue or malfunction since I purchased it. I record vocals with it beautifully as well.

In the open I talked about a bad times with the M-Audio Fast track pro. My experience with the Scarlett 2i2 has fortunately been the complete opposite! Highly recommended.

*Honorable Mention*

Steinberg UR22

Steinberg UR22

Steinberg UR22

Ratings/Price

Specifications

  • Converters: 24-bit
  • Sample Rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192 kHz
  • Analog In: 2 x XLR Combo Microphone/Line (front panel), 2-pin hot
  • Analog Outputs: 2 x 1/4″ TRS phone Line
    1 x 1/4″ TRS phone Headphone
  • Digital Input Connectors: No
  • Digital Output Connectors: No
  • MIDI In/Out: 2 x 5-pin DIN MIDI In, Out
  • Other Connectors: 1 x USB
  • Headphone Output: 1 x 1/4″ TRS phone with volume control
  • Maximum Input Level: Microphone: -10 dBu, Line: +16 dBu, Instrument: -4 dBV
  • Input Impedance: Microphone: 4kΩ, Line: 20kΩ, Instrument: 470kΩ
  • Gain Range: Microphone: +16 dB to +60 dB, Line: -10 dB to +34 dB, Instrument: -8 dB to +52 dB
  • Maximum Output Level: +10 dBu
  • Output Impedance: 150Ω
  • Meters: 2 x LED peak indicators
  • Power Requirements: USB bus powered
  • Temperature (Operating): 32 to 104°F (0 to 40°C)
  • Dimensions (WxDxH): 6.2 x 1.8 x 6.2″ (158 x 45.4 x 158 mm)
  • Weight: 2.2 lb (998 g)

System Requirement:

Mac

  • Intel Dual Core CPU
  • OS X 10.5.8, 10.6, 10.7, 10.8
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 4 GB of free HD space
  • 1280 x 800 display resolution recommended
  • CD-ROM drive
  • USB component port
  • Internet connection required for installation, activation, account setup and personal / product registration

PC:

  • Intel or AMD Dual Core CPU
  • Windows XP SP3, Windows 7, Windows 8
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 4 GB of free HD space
  • 1280 x 800 display resolution recommended
  • CD-ROM drive
  • USB component port
  • Internet connection required for installation, activation, account setup and personal / product registration

The Steinberg UR22 is a very similar option to the Scarlett 2i2. There are a few main differences between them:

  1. The UR22 has MIDI capabilities while the 2i2 doesn’t. So if you were planning on using a MIDI keyboard, you may want to go with the UR22. What is MIDI?
  2. It’s also said to have higher quality preamps, which is an improvement in sound overall. Bit depth and sample rate is also a bit different. Just know that most people record in 44kHz or 48kHz, so you really won’t be able to tell a huge difference in each. 96kHz is more than enough. My article on Bit depth vs. sample rate goes into this stuff more in depth (no pun intended). 😛
  3. Latency is said to be a bit lower on the UR22. What is latency?
  4. UR22 comes with Cubase while the 2i2 comes with Ableton Live lite.
  • Focusrite Scarlett 2i2: 24 bit/96kHz sample rate
  • Steinberg UR22: 24 bit/192 kHz sample rate

Other than that they are in the same class, and come in at roughly the same price with very similar star ratings.

Audient id14

Audient id14

Audient id14

Ratings/Price

Specifications

  • Computer Connectivity: USB 2.0
  • Form Factor: Desktop
  • Simultaneous I/O: 10×4
  • A/D Resolution: 24-bit/96kHz
  • Built in DSP/FX: Yes
  • Analog Inputs: 2x XLR/TRS combo, 1 x 1/4″ (DI). TRS vs. TS
  • Analog Outputs: 2 x 1/4″
  • Digital Inputs: 1x ADAT/S/SPDIF
  • Number of Preamps: 2
  • Bus Powered: Yes
  • Depth: 4.72″
  • Width: 6.81″
  • Height: 2.44″
  • Manufacturer Part Number: iD14

Summary

I had to add this one after seeing so many positive reviews about it. The build and features you get for the money are simply outstanding, and most reviewers agree that it’s worth more than the price tag would indicate.

It’s preamps seem to be superior to those of the 2i2 and UR22. They are very musical, clean and transparent.

Pros

  • Great preamps with quality converters. Very clean.
  • Phenomenal clarity with no hiss or noise. Natural sound. Crisp and clean, but not harsh, clinical, or sibilant. What does Sibilant mean?
  • Solid build. Metal construction.
  • Easy to use software interface.
  • Honest reproduction of sound.
  • Very low latency and plenty of headroom.

Cons

  • Drivers for Windows 10 questionable. I’ve read a couple people having issues in Windows, so be aware of this. It doesn’t seem to be a widespread problem, and both driver and firmware installations from Audients website should do the trick.
  • No MIDI inputs.
  • No On/Off Switch.
  • No RCA outputs.

Video Review

Who this interface benefits?

Some notable features:

  • It has a great DI unit that allows you to plug instruments right into the box and record.
  • Has ADAT input, which basically allows you to add an additional 10 channels to your rig with one single cable connection. So what would the chain look like?

id22 > Rack of your choice > Mic.

That’s it! Your id22 simply hooks up to the rack via the optical cable.

  • Scroll Control. Use the knob on the interface for your PC tasks.
  • Built in headphone amp. Drives your headphones to full potential.
  • Has an S/PDIF input which allows you to hook up your external hardware racks.

A good match would be:

  • Audient ASP800.
  • Focusrite ISA828.
  • Behringer ADA8200.

A good software match would be:

  • Pro Tools 12 (or later version).
  • Logic Pro X (or similar).

Fantastic for:

  • Guitar
  • Bass
  • Voiceover

Thoughts from Stu’s notepad

  • Folks are saying that if you crank up the volume with nothing playing, the only think you’ll hear is the noise floor from the microphone itself.
  • The sound has been described as “embarrassingly good”, which may make you realize that you will need some Acoustic Sound Treatment. The detail revealed is astounding.
  • Works great for PC or Mac.
  • The preamps are so good that you will likely realize how much work your vocals or instrument playing need.
  • Inspires creation.
  • The converters are made by Burr-Brown, a corporation solely known for it’s analog and electronic signal processing.
  • I’ve talked a lot about my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and how great it is. This thing is light years better than that. What?! Yeah, it’s kind of a big deal. Don’t get me wrong the 2i2 is still good, but it’s outclassed here. The id14 simply delivers cleaner and better sounding recordings.

Consensus/Conclusion

Night and day difference in quality vs. other interfaces. Amazing preamps. Great DI unit and added flexibility with ADAT input. Reveals a startling amount of detail. No On/Off Switch.

Final Word

If you need MIDI capability, the obvious choice is to go with the UR22. An added bonus of course is the fact that the preamps are said to be a little better/cleaner. There is a MKII version of this model, but I would stick with the original as the MKII is kind of hit and miss.

CHECK OUT THE UR22 FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!

Because I own the Scarlett 2i2, and have had zero problems with it since 2014, it seems like the obvious go to choice. It’s been extremely solid for me, and it powers my LSR 305’s with ease. It also works well with a plethora of different microphones, so you can upgrade and what not when you want. The bottom line is that people go back and forth on which of these interfaces is best. Before you purchase, know exactly what you will be using it for. That will make the decision a bit easier.

SEE THE 2i2 FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!

The Audient id14 will run you a bit more, but it’s a better unit all around. That’s not to say that the other two aren’t good, but Focusrite has not updated their drivers since late 2014. For me this isn’t an issue as I have not upgraded my PC or OS. For you it may be different. The id14 has really garnered a lot of praise lately and is somewhat of a newer model. Apparently Audient does regularly update their drivers so that wouldn’t be an issue. It’s preamps are also said to be of a higher quality.

SEE IT FOR YOURSELF ON AMAZON!!


Well that’s about it for today my friend. I hope you now have an idea of the best budget audio interface, and came away with some knowledge!

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Let me know down below or Contact me!!

Which of these sounds crispier to you? Let me know as well!

Until next time.. all the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Be sure to check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

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10 Comments

  1. In looking through your site I see lots of great reviews that I can immediately use in my search for a sound system set up that will support my upcoming podcasting venture.

    This particular review on audio interfaces was useful for me. Both options you mention, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and the Steinberg UR22 both seem like workable solutions for my needs.

    I like the fact also that neither of these will break the bank, yet they will provide the level of service I need. As you say, depending on whether you plan on using a MIDI device, the Focusrite will do.

    Flexibility is a concern for me, I do have some musicians around the place, so I will likely go with the Steinberg UR22. Is there any particular mic that you would recommend for this audio interface?

    • For the Steinberg UR22 (as well as the 2i2), any entry level and most mid level condensers will sound really good. It depends on what you would be using the mic for. Let me know! A good entry level overall voice-over/vocal mic would be the AT2020. A phenomenal upgrade from that would be the 2035! Hope to hear from you again!

      -Stu

  2. Hey Stu, seems we share alot of parallels with equipment (I also started out with the same exact JBLs, Samson mic [transitioned to the AT 2035] and Scarlett) and you even recently convinced me on getting the HD600 (they ARE awesome). I was wondering specifically what you meant though when you said the MKII of the UR22 was hit and miss.

    • Hey man so glad you’re enjoying those headphones. I’m thinking about upgrading interfaces soon as well. I still haven’t had any issues with the 2i2, just want to try something else lol. What I meant by hit and miss is that people seem more polarized about the MKII. Either they loved it or had a lot of problems with it. Buying the upgraded model may not be worth it, but it’s hard to say as 100% certainty.

      Let me know if that helped. Hope to hear from you again..
      -Stu

      • Thanks for replying Stu, your response helped as I have heard some negative things about the original UR22 (volume noise, feedback, etc). What are you looking into for yourself?

        I do have a question about some headphone amps though. I’ve pretty much read all your reviews and articles on them prior to and since I got the HD600. While quality definitely isn’t an issue, I’ve noticed of course I’ve had to push the volume more on my interfaces than normal (also own Scarlett Solo and Behringer UMC22 regularly used as portable options, paired with a Samson SR850). Along with your recommendations and research my top choices are the Topping NX5, Jds Labs O2, AKG HP4E and Fiio E12/E10K. As stated before I’m usually on the go so I need a semi portable solution.

        • Hey man!

          I just updated this article to include the Audient id14 which seems to get phenomenal reviews around the web. That’s one that I will probably purchase in the near future.

          As for amps, Out of those the JDS Labs 02 and E10K would be my top choices. The Magni/Modi combo from Schiit is probably my #1, as it will work with just about any headphone given it’s ridiculously low output impedance of < 0.1 Ohm. What is headphone impedance? Check out the best headphone amp for the money as well.

          So because you need something portable, the E10K is what I would suggest.

          Hope that helps! If not let me know.
          Blessings,
          -Stu

      • PS the AKG is there as a multi out option for when I’m tracking, there were some others like the Behringer HA400 and Art Headamp4 but I’m seeing that with those two the output impedance is more than the 37.5 needed for the HD600 whereas the AKG is rated at 11 ohms. Not sure if that follows the closer to 0 rule considering its a multi out.

          • It was in my previous reply, sorry for the lengthiness, I’m referring to the AKG HP4E.

          • Yeah knowing that there are amps out there with better output impedance I may not mess with the HP4E. I really appreciate you stopping by. Hope I answered your questions!
            -Stu

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