9 Best Audio Interfaces Under $500 In 2021

An audio interface is the key to high quality recordings of any home studio or podcast station. The audio interface connects to your computer and facilitates high-resolution recordings of instruments, vocals and even voice-overs.

It converts analog signals to digital signals for your computer, and at the time of playback it converts the digital signals to analog audio for listening on speakers and headphones. There are audio interfaces which also connect to an iPad and you can comfortably control your recordings on the iPad.

Table of Contents

Our Top Picks

  • Best Overall: Roland OctaCapture
    It is a masterfully engineered audio interface that can help you record high quality sound and music.
  • Best Compact: Apogee ONE
    It is sleek and compact, but highly functional and reliable.
  • Best Portable: Resident Audio T4
    It is one of the best performing lightweight bus-powered audio interfaces.
  • Best iPhone Compatibility: Tascam iXR
    With a lightning connector and specially designed iPhone/iPad compatible features, this is the best audio interface for iPhone users.
  • Best Software: Native Instruments Komplete A6
    It comes with a number of bundled software and tools, which are very useful for optimum recordings.

Top Audio Interface Reviews Under $500 In 2021

1. M-Audio M-Track Eight

The M-Audio M-Track Eight is a no-frills audio interface that is very high on efficiency. Priced under $500, this audio interface offers great versatility and can channel inputs from a variety of sources. The audio interface has 8 preamp inputs, with two microphone preamp inputs placed at the front panel. The other 6 preamplifier inputs are XLR/TRS type which can be used both for instruments as well as for microphones.

A very clean display on the front panel flashes the channel meters. The system comes with two headphone input options with individual volume control and source switch. There are two separate 48-volt phantom power buttons on the front panel as well. The audio interface connects to the computer with a USB connection port at the rear panel. The system includes many utility features like the Pro Tools First software, Eleven Lite plugin, XPand2!, and award winning technology like virtual drummer assistant and virtual acoustic piano.

With a 24-bit analog-to-digital conversion and a sampling rate of 96 kHz, this is a great audio interface for full-fledged professional recording experience.

Features

  • 8-channel balanced XLR high-headroom inputs.
  • Two headphone jacks.
  • 8 balanced output.
  • 111 dB dynamic range.
  • Control room output.
  • Zero latency monitoring.
  • Virtual instruments by AIR Music Technology.
  • Windows and OSx compatibility.

Pros

  • Multi-channel input facilitates connection with all types of sources.
  • Professional grade audio recording and superior pre-amplification.
  • The LCD display ensures proper monitoring and engineering during a recording session.
  • Built-in guitar plugins allow creative exploration of many sound effects.
  • The Touch Loop feature allows mixing two music recordings.

Cons

  • Slight heating issue which needs to be managed with a cooling fan.
  • Does not come with a thunderbolt connection.

The M-Audio M-Track Eight is a sensibly designed audio interface with all necessary controls and features. The placement of input and output lines is very convenient. Overall at its price, the 8 channel audio interface is a fantastic option for a recording of a large musical band, drums set etc.

2. Resident Audio T4 Thunderbolt

The Resident Audio T4 Thunderbolt is a bus-powered audio interface, which means that it doesn’t need an external power supply. This is a huge advantage in terms of portability and flexibility, making it indispensable for live-recordings and outdoor recordings.

The utility software drivers built-in with this audio interface include auto-detecting multi-channel output and smart monitoring technology, which are worth every musician’s time and money. All the 4 channel inputs are XLR combinations allowing all varieties of source input options. There are many other features which offer immense versatility to the audio interface including MIDI connectors, gain controls, and dual headphone jacks.

The control knobs have a 3-color LED-light level indicator around them, which allows ease of controlling levels even in low-light environments. The audio interface has an input mix control and instrument / line switch which also allows greater control and monitoring while recording. The system can operate in multi-channel mode as well as in stereo mix mode. And of course, the thunderbolt interface is much faster and better sounding than a USB audio interface.

Features

  • Bus-powered.
  • Dual headphone outputs.
  • Microphone preamplifier and ADA converters.
  • Thunderbolt 2.0 connection.
  • 48-volt phantom power button.
  • Automatic switch between mono and stereo with Smart Monitoring feature.
  • Zero latency recording.
  • Compatible with Windows 8 or higher versions, and OSx 10.9 or higher versions.

Pros

  • Thunderbolt interface yields low latency and very good sound quality.
  • Light, portable and flexible audio interface.
  • The LED-light signals around control knobs are very convenient.

Cons

  • Requires Thunderbolt enabled computer system.
  • Slightly higher price range for a 4-channel audio interface.

The Resident Audio T4 Thunderbolt comes with leading technology and enviable features. The audio interface is portable and highly versatile, making it the best resort for recording on-stage music performance or DJ mixes. This is a highly reliable audio interface for smooth professional recording experience.

3. Behringer U-phoria UMC1820

Behringer U-phoria UMC1820 is one of the most affordable 8-channel audio interfaces in the market. The audio interface has XLR/TRS combination inputs that can connect to microphones, instruments and MIDI devices. All the input channels are fitted with microphone preamplifiers and yield ultimate professional quality sound recordings.

This audio interface is very convenient since it pairs up with most of the popular music recording software, and you don’t need to get used to any new software particularly for this audio interface. The controls and switches on the interface are well designed for zero-latency and effective monitoring. You can download free software for unbelievable effects and features. A total of 18 inputs and 20 outputs ensure that your recordings are hassle-free with super smooth connections for every imaginable device and multiple headphones.

There is an option to expand to further 8 microphone amplifiers too. Priced at around $300 only and with high resolution converters and multi-format support, this is one of the best devices for high-quality recordings and DJ mixes.

Features

  • 8-channel audio interface with microphone preamps
  • Expandable for 16 microphone preamps
  • Mix control and Mono/Stereo switch
  • 18 input and 20 output options
  • Dual headphones jack
  • Dedicated main level control
  • Free software for enhanced recording, editing and podcasting
  • Ultra-low latency
  • 3-year warranty

Pros

  • Superior design and engineering and durable construction
  • Many input and output line connections makes it very handy for a full band recording
  • Compatible with music recording softwares like Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase etc
  • Extremely affordable 8-channel audio interface

Cons

  • Does not support Thunderbolt connection

Behringer U-phoria UMC1820 is the best selling “made in Germany” audio interface that offers the greatest advantage of numerous channels often sought after by top musicians and recording artists. It looks classy and has a highly durable construction. With expandable features and downloadable softwares, this audio interface is highly recommended and great value for money.

4. Roland OctaCapture

Roland OctaCapture is a USB audio interface with 8-channel microphone preamps. The superior quality components on this audio interface generate high quality recordings while offering amazing ease of controls and monitoring. This is a portable audio interface with 10 input, 10 output options and 4 direct monitor mixers.

The dedicated direct mixer control allows independent settings for different mixes and the LCD displays meter levels for monitoring the output. The auto-sens feature automatically adjusts input levels for perfect recordings. The 8 digital microphone preamps come with XLR inputs, individual phantom power buttons, low-cut filter and digital converters. Price just under $500, this audio interface promises quality and performance well worth the price.

Features

  • 8-channel premium microphone preamps
  • 10 input and 10 output channels
  • Auto-Sens feature
  • 4 independent software controlled direct mixers
  • Compatible with Windows 7 and higher versions, and OSx 10.6 and higher versions
  • Low latency
  • Cakewalk Sonar X1 LE software included
  • Rack mount angles included

Pros

  • Numerous input and output connections are suitable for a full band recording
  • 4 direct mixers allow independent mixing
  • Superior quality preamps which yield very good recordings

Cons

  • The bundled software only facilitates use of only 4 input channels, and you need to purchase a full version for complete usage.

Roland OctaCapture is a one-stop solution for recording drum sets and large music bands. The direct mixers and in-built preamps are a huge bonus and guarantee a truly satisfying recording experience. Although on a higher budget, you will get the trusted quality and performance of the Roland band.

5. Focusrite Clarett 2Pre

Focusrite Clarett 2Pre is a portable 2-input channel audio interface with microphone preamps. It also comes with MIDI in/out ports and four balanced output. There are two USB ports, one type C connection and the other one can be used as bus-power supply. There are dual headphone connection jacks with control knobs for adjusting headphones level.

There is a control knob for monitoring output level, and a gain control knob. The analog to digital converter has a 24-bit depth and 192 kHz sampling rate. The USB Type-C interface gives clear latency free recording output. Overall this is a highly recommended audio interface for song recordings for individual artists.

Features

  • USB audio interface with two microphone preamps
  • 119 dB dynamic range
  • +57 dB gain range
  • Two USB ports
  • ADAT expandability
  • Dual headphone outputs
  • Reliable Focusrite plugin, EQ and control
  • Ableton software included
  • Plugin Collective feature for updating tools

Pros

  • Air feature preamps give exceptional sound quality
  • Expandable to more channels
  • Multiple output connections are ideal for tracking recordings

Cons

  • High price for two microphone preamps

Focusrite Clarett 2Pre is a costly audio interface but the sound quality is exceptional and other cheaper audio interfaces do not match anywhere close to the AIR preamps. The software and tools package included in this audio interface are also much desirable features.

6. Audient iD14

Audient iD14 is a 10 input / 4 output audio interface with a rear USB port. This affordable audio interface has been rated highly by users especially because it yields the best audio quality among all other entry-level interfaces. The interface uses the top notch Class A microphone preamp which is inherent in all Audient interfaces, irrespective of their cost value. The device is small and simple, but has a highly adaptable interface.

There is an in-built JFET amplifier for instrument output. The console style monitor control comes with features like cue mixing, Mono Sum, Polarity Reverse, DIM, CUT etc. The virtual scroll control allows knob-control for digital parameters. The Burr Brown converter hugely boosts the sound output. The ADAT and S/PDIF compatibility allows 10-input expandable channels. The simple software is compatible with Windows and MacOS.

Features

  • USB audio interface with 10 input/ 4 output channel
  • 2 Class-A microphone preamplifiers
  • Virtual scroll control
  • Burr Brown converter
  • JFET instrument output
  • Software controlled monitor control
  • Low latency
  • ADAT expandability
  • Software and tools included

Pros

  • Affordable and reliable
  • Durable and sturdy design
  • Low self-noise renders better sound quality

Cons

  • None

Audient iD14 is a fairly priced basic audio interface which allows professional quality recordings with Class A microphone preamplifiers. With the simple supportive software and utility features, it is the best entry level interface for beginner artists.

7. Tascam iXR

Tascam iXR is a compact audio interface that connects not only to computers but also to iPhone or iPad directly and offers the ease of recording virtual instruments from the mobile phone or tablet. The audio interface connects with iPhone/iPad with a lightning connector and comes with two XLR combo input channels and High Definition Discrete Architecture (HDDA) microphone preamps.

The Tascam iXR comes with registered Cubasis LE recording software and a microphone, desktop stand, cable and protective cover.  The system is compatible with most of the other popular recording softwares too. It operates on bus-power when connected to the computer and can also be supplied with power from an adapter, external battery or mobile battery.

Features

  • USB and lightning port audio interface
  • Dual HDDA mic preamps
  • Balances XLR/TRS input jacks
  • 57 dB dynamic range
  • Zero latency
  • Balanced output jack
  • Headphone jack
  • MIDI input/output connection
  • Mono / Stereo switch and direct monitoring

Pros

  • Clear recordings with reduced noise from unused channels with the input mute feature
  • Steinberg Cubase LE8 software is bundled in
  • Includes a microphone and works as a starter pack for beginner recorders
  • Individual controls for line and headphones

Cons

  • None

Tascam iXR is a complete recording solution for iPhone/iPad users and the best one in the market too. The input channels allow flexibility of source and also provide phantom power for microphones, which is a huge bonus in such an entry level interface.

8. Apogee ONE

Apogee ONE is a highly efficient USB audio interface for mobile recordings and music. In this ultra-compact device, there are 2 input and 2 output line connections and also a built-in microphone for recordings. Also there is an option to connect instruments with the XLR input cable. This is the ultimate portable interface with high performance AD/DA converter and mic preamp, suitable for individual artists and recordings on-the-go.

Features

  • USB audio interface with 2 input and 2 output channels
  • Low latency
  • Built-in microphone
  • Instrument input and external microphone input
  • Stereo output for headphone
  • Direct monitoring
  • 62 dB gain range
  • Compatible with MacBook and PCs, and also upgradable for connection with iPhone/ iPad

Pros

  • It serves as a portable microphone, audio interface and also headphone amplifier
  • Very reasonably priced entry-level USB audio interface
  • Comes with Apogee Maestro Software

Cons

  • Fewer control options due to its compact size
  • Single headphone jack

Apogee ONE is an amazing little device with much power and performance packed within. The sound quality of recordings is exceptionally good at this price. With an ease of use and all basic features, this audio interface is ideal for songwriters and beginner artists.

9. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 is a bus-powered 4 input and 4 output USB interface. There are 2 digital input/output channels, dual headphone outputs and a MIDI input/output. The combination input channels allow you to plugin instruments directly. With these connections and 48-volt phantom power, the Komplete Audio 6 is an ideal interface for home-studio recordings.

The Cirrus Logic converter delivers high quality recordings.  Software and tools bundled in the package include Monark, Mod Pack, Replika, Solid Bus Comp, Maschine Essentials, Ableton Live, Traktor LE3 and Komplete Start. Users also get two months free access to Sounds.com and a cash voucher.

Features

  • USB interface with 6 input and 6 output channels
  • 24-bit/96 kHz sound resolution
  • USB 2.0 bus-power
  • Direct monitoring and mono/stereo switch
  • Dual headphone output jacks
  • Softwares and tools included in the package.
  • Compatible with Mac and PC

Pros

  • The preamps are powerful and generate superior quality recordings
  • LED signal indicators are very insightful and convenient
  • Amazing softwares and tools

Cons

  • Latency is not so good

Komplete Audio 6 is a great entry-level audio interface with reliable sound quality and functionality. With easy installation and a durable structure, this is a must have for home-studio recordings and podcasts.

Buying Guide: Audio Interfaces

The world of audio interfaces has many options and all seem very tempting at the first glance. But before you judge an audio interface on superficial grounds, there are some key pointers which must be considered before you make a decision of which audio interface you should buy.

1. Connection Type

Always find out the type of computer or device connection of the audio interface. Most of the latest audio interfaces come with USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 ports, while some also come with Thunderbolt ports. For the Thunderbolt connection your computer must have the required adapters or PCI card.

2. Number of Input Options

Audio Interfaces differ widely on the number of input channels offered. Most of the audio interfaces come with combination input channels which can be used both for microphones and instruments. In order to select the right audio interface for your needs, you must assess the number of instruments you will be connecting. For example, you may need 6 -8 input channels for a full music band, but a singer songwriter, may be comfortable with only two channels.

3. Headphone Outputs

A single headphone output may be sufficient for a single recording artist or a DJ. But for a full music band and any other comprehensive recording session, the audio interface must have at least two headphone jacks with individual controls.

4. Upgradable features

Even though you may require fewer input channels as a beginner, you may need more of them as you grow as an artist or band. ADAT expandability allows you to expand the capacity of your audio interface in future with more microphone and line input slots.

5. Software and Tools

Software and tools for operating the audio interface are just as important as its hardware components. Most of the audio interfaces come with tools for effects and mixer options. You must consider the usability and complexity of the software to judge its applicability for your requirements.

6. Warranty

Buying an audio interface is a significant investment, and soon enough the interface becomes one of your most dependable recording instruments. It is important to consider the warranty and after sale services of a product before you put your money into a new audio interface.

Top Brands: Audio Interfaces

1. M-Audio

M-Audio is one of the oldest companies in the audio interface and sound solutions business. The company is trusted for its superior engineering and technology and high quality products.

2. Resident Audio

Resident Audio is relatively new in the business, but it has made a solid mark with high quality deliverables. It is one of the leading brands for Thunderbolt audio interfaces globally.

3. Behringer

Behringer, which started as a humble venture in 1961 in Switzerland, has progressively grown into the best names for professional audio devices. The products are affordable but high quality.

4. Focusrite

Focusrite is a globally recognized British-brand which manufactures audio interfaces, preamps, consoles and EQs. Over time it has acquired some well known brands like Adam Audio, Martin Audio London, Novalton and Amplify Music.

5. Apogee Electronics

Apogee Electronics is an American company specializing in manufacture of professional audio interfaces and converters. The brand is dedicated to delivering high quality sound, functional design and good value products.

6. Native Instruments

Native Instruments is a highly revered brand among computer music producers and DJs. Native Instruments products are innovative and technologically advanced, and promise superior performance.

Frequently Asked Question About Audio Interface

Is it possible to use an audio interface without a computer?

Yes, it is possible to use audio interfaces without a computer, when it comes with dedicated on-screen controls. Most of the affordable audio interfaces require a computer connection for monitoring and control.

Is it possible to use all preamps on the audio interface simultaneously?

Yes, all preamps work simultaneously on a computer.

Can I operate the audio interface with my phone?

Yes, there are some audio interfaces which come with an iPhone / iPad connector and can be used for controlling recordings through mobile phones.

Is it possible to use an audio interface for live recordings?

Yes, audio interfaces can be used for recording live sessions. Some audio interfaces are bus-powered and lightweight which allows recordings on-the-go.

Is it possible to use the headphone output without direct monitoring?

Yes, you can use the headphone jack without direct monitoring.

Is it possible to control the gain on the audio interface?

Yes, most audio interfaces come with a gain control knob for this purpose.

Do I need an expensive audio interface for my expensive microphones?

Even lesser priced audio interfaces come with powerful preamps and converters and work well with premium microphone. You don’t necessarily need an expensive audio interface.

Conclusion

Some of these audio interfaces have the best sounding preamplifiers and converters, which make the perfect recordings highly affordable. We hope that our buying guide will help you figure out the best audio interface for your recording projects, and also use it well in your home studio for the most professional results.

About Ronald Ross

Being a seasoned musician myself, I share experiences that help other musicians on their journeys. Whether it's about musical equipment, streaming services, instruments or promoting music; I try to cover everything at Loud Beats. Learn more about me here.