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In 2020, shopping for a high-standard audio interface has never been so easy. Whether you’re a home recording studio owner, an aspiring musician or a podcaster, you don’t have to break the bank just to get the best equipment to achieve your recording needs. With the best audio interface under $500, aspiring musicians can now record their vocals and guitar on the computer easily using these analog/digital (AD) converters.
When it comes to choosing the best audio interface, the number and quality of the output are what dictates the price. The number of analog outputs and the quality of the input channels are other factors that play a huge role in the price.
So, if you’re here and you’re looking for a quality interface for your home studio, this guide has reviewed 12 of the best models that will never disappoint you. In addition to that, we’ve discussed some useful tips that will help you through before making your purchase. Please read on.
- Top 10 Best Audio Interface Under $500 Reviews:
- 1. PreSonus Studio 1824c USB-C Audio Interface
- 2. Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
- 3. BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC1820, Black
- 4. Roland OctaCapture USB 2.0 Audio Interface
- 5. M-Audio AIR 192|14 – 8-In 4-Out USB Audio / MIDI Interface with Recording Software
- 6. IK Multimedia iRig Stomp I/O USB pedalboard controller
- 7. Apogee One – Audio Interface for Vocals and Instruments
- 8. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2
- 9. Audient iD14 High-Performance USB Audio Interface
- 10. MOTU M4 4×4 USB-C Audio Interface
- 11. Rode RODECaster Pro Podcast Production Studio
- 12. Tascam US-16×08 Rackmount USB Audio/MIDI Interface
- Buyer’s Guide:
- What Is an Audio Interface?
- FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions
Top 10 Best Audio Interface Under $500 Reviews:
1. PreSonus Studio 1824c USB-C Audio Interface
If you’re in dire need of an audio interface, you won’t have to spend too much time in the audio market before hearing of PreSonus. Known for producing legendary mixers and keyboards, this manufacturer has released the PreSonus Studio 1824 that has really excelled to become a chart-topping audio interface.
On the front of this unit, you’ll find 8 ¼ “ TRS balanced DC outputs, 2 ¼ “ TRS balanced mains outputs and two headphone outputs and a power button for easy on/off.
If you turn the unit around, you’ll find that the back has 6 more mic/instrument/line output ports that make the total number of these ports to be 8 (when you add the 2 in the front). However, the 6 mics/instrument/line input ports at the back are quite different from the ones in the front as they have XMAX Class A mic preamps with +48V phantom power.
Still at the back, there are 8 channels of ADAT Optical I/O four of which have channels that range at 96 kHz. The headphones have a working range of 32Ω to 600Ω which according to most recording studios is the best for aspiring musicians as they create less interference from other instruments when recording, composing and producing.
- An LED metering display
- 24-Bit/192 kHz rack-mounted audio interface
- USB-C interfaces are compatible with both macOS and PC recording software
- 2 mic/instrument/line inputs at the front and 6 at the back with XMAX Class A mic preamps
- 8 channels of ADAT Optical I/O
2. Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
The Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 is another 8 channel audio interface that provides a large amount of value to your hard-earned money. Designed with an aluminum body, this rack-mountable 3rd Generation audio interface is a versatile option that makes your music-making endeavor more fun and realistic.
The first thing you’ll love about this audio interface is the high performance. This is enhanced by the incredible 18 inputs and 20 outputs that offer superior sound quality to make your recordings and playbacks sound clearer and more pronounced.
One of the distinctive features of the Scarlett 18i20 is the incredible A-D and D-A conversion that plays clear and pronounced sounds up to 24-bit/192kHz. There are two high-headroom instrument inputs at the front that let you record guitar and other instruments without experiencing any distortion.
There’s a talkback mic that lets you talk to your producer when recording as well as a speaker switching technology that lets you switch between the main and alt monitors when mixing. The available USB port lets you pair this audio interface with your Mac and PC for easy recording.
It also has virtual loopback inputs that allow you to capture hardware inputs and software playback channels making streaming, podcasting, and sampling much easier.
- Focusrite control lets you sync your iDevice, Mac, and PC
- Built-in talkback mic
- Intuitive user interface
- Speaker switching technology
- 24-bit/ 192kHz resolution
3. BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC1820, Black
Just like our previous two audio interfaces, the BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC1820 is a budget-friendly console that has managed to bridge the gap between creativity and performance. As one of the best impact-resistant rack-mountable masterpiece, the BEHRINGER has everything you need to make your recording and producing tasks to sound exceptional.
In terms of inputs and outputs, this audio interface has 18 inputs and 20 outputs at its disposal. In the front interface, there are two XLR/TRS inputs with MIDAS Preamps and gain control knobs to enhance the clarity of the instruments. There’s also a power on/off switch, a PAD button switch and LED indicators that show the performance of the recorded music.
Still, on the front interface, you’ll find the stereo/mono switch, two microphone ports, SPDIF/ADAT switch and a mix monitoring switch to make your recording work much easier.
At the back of this console, there are 6 more XLR/TRS inputs, 8 line outputs, SPDIF In/Out ports, USB port, and power in port.
Other outstanding features you’ll love about this audio interface include the A/D resolution of 24 bits with a sampling rate of 192 KHz for amazing sound quality. This console is also compatible with Mac and PC and can be paired with major recording software such as Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live, and Steinberg Cubase among others.
- 8 channel audio interface
- USB port allows compatibility with Mac and PC
- 18 inputs and 20 outputs
- SPDIF In/Out ports
- 192 kHz resolution for added accuracy
4. Roland OctaCapture USB 2.0 Audio Interface
By just staring at it, the Roland OctaCapture seems to be a small audio interface. However, when you dig deeper into it, you’ll be amazed to discover how powerful it’s actually is. Manufactured by a reputable Japanese brand, this console is a captivating prospect that’s best suited for professionals and starters aspiring to become expert producers.
Measuring just 6.2 x 11.2 x 2 inches, the Roland OctaCapture has a similar layout to most contemporary audio interfaces in the market. However, there are some minor upgrades with this console that has allowed it to stand out from the rest.
To start off, there are 10 inputs and 10 outputs under its belt. Speaking of the inputs, there are a total of 8 XLR/TRS inputs both in front and at the back and two coaxial inputs at the back. When it comes to the outputs, there are 8 balanced TRS outputs at the back, 2 coaxial outs and MIDI In/Out ports also at the back.
Other features that have given the Roland OctaCapture some bragging rights include the Direct Mixer control knob that enhances clarity of your mixes, an AUTO-SENS feature that offers automatic leveling, a USB connection and a software suite that comes alongside a Cakewalk Production Plus package.
- 24-bit/192kHz resolution
- USB connection
- An AUTO-SENS feature
- 10 inputs and 10 outputs
- Mac and PC compatibility
- LCD display with Cursor/Value control knob
5. M-Audio AIR 192|14 – 8-In 4-Out USB Audio / MIDI Interface with Recording Software
M-Audio is a respected brand that has managed to showcase its hardware capability by releasing the M-Audio AIR 192ǀ14. Unlike most ordinary audio interfaces in the market, this model has taken a totally different route by using the top panel to house all the controls and the LED indicators for easy usability.
Two features that truly make this console to stand out are its remarkably super lightweight metallic chassis/body and the unusually shaped stylish body that gives you a great feel to the controls.
The input/output connections are imperative right out of the box and they include; four XLR+¼” TRS combo inputs at the back and 2 ¼” instruments and headphone inputs in the front. About the outputs, there are 2 ¼” assignable auxiliary and headphone outputs at the back and a ¼” output with direct stereo/mono switch.
The M-Audio AIR 192ǀ14 is also designed with a fast USB/USB-C circuitry that lets you connect your Mac or PC computer. There’s also a 5-pin MIDI in/out connection that lets you connect other musical instruments when recording your music.
Last but not least, we can’t forget to mention the user interface. Unlike other audio interfaces, this one has a large interface that houses the USB direct knob, the main volume knob and the VU LED meters.
For those looking to pair this audio console with top of the range audio software, you won’t be disappointed as it’s designed to sync with popular software such as Pro Tools, DB-33, Strike, Hybrid 3, Ableton Live Lite, Eleven Lite and AIR’s Creative FX Collection among others.
- Compatible with major software
- 24-bit/192kHz resolution
- VU LED meter
- MIDI In/Out connection
- Pristine A/D converter
6. IK Multimedia iRig Stomp I/O USB pedalboard controller
If you’re used to guitar multi-effects floor units, then the iRig Stomp I/O Pedalboard Controller might interest you. Unlike all the other audio interfaces we’ve already reviewed here, this one is the most unique as it’s designed to be operated using your feet.
IK Multimedia is a well renowned Italian brand that has earned its acclaim by releasing some of the best software, plug-ins, and apps in the guitar world. Despite their dominance in the virtual world, this brand has gone beyond its confines to produce an audio interface that has way outperformed most of its close competitors.
To do that, IK Multimedia simply combined their USB pedalboard controller audio interface with a MIDI I/O for PC, Mac and iDevices. To make your recording and producing experience more fun-filled, this floor controller unit is bundled with multiple guitar, vocal and recording apps that provide a more creative and comprehensive capability when recording.
When it comes to the inputs and outputs, the iRig Stomp I/O is equipped with a headphone output, a USB port, MIDI I/O ports, 2 ¼ “ balanced outputs, 2 ¼ “ external controller ports, ¼ “ XLR combo input port, and a 48-volt phantom power switch.
Since the iRig Stomp I/O is designed to be used both in live events and in the studio during recording, IK Multimedia has designed it with 4 metal stomp switches that can be controlled by your feet. It also has a textured expression pedal with optical switches which can be adjusted by your feet to achieve the best sound quality.
- Pedal controller inputs
- USB port with cable included
- 24 bit/96 KHz audio interface
- Compatible with PC, Mac and all iDevices
- Class A preamps with 48V phantom power
7. Apogee One – Audio Interface for Vocals and Instruments
If you’re a musician or a podcaster looking for a super lightweight audio interface to pair with your PC, Mac or any other Apple device, the Apogee One is exactly what you need and for a good reason. Weighing just 0.16 ounces with dimensions of just 6.4 x 0.8 x 2.2 inches, this audio interface is indeed sleek and cannot be compared to the rest of the consoles we’ve reviewed here.
Now, despite its small size, the Apogee One has not disappointed its fans at all. It comes with 2 ins and 2 outs that include a built-in omnidirectional mic, an XLR mic, a ¼ “ instrument connector and a 1 1/8 “ stereo output for headphones and speakers.
There’s a USB port and a cable for easy pairing of this audio console with your computer and a 24 bit/96 KHz AD/DA conversion that lets you record pristine music, podcasts and voice-over recordings with the best sound quality.
In addition to that, the built-in omnidirectional microphone allows you to use the Apogee One as a microphone and still lets you pair your guitar to use the two simultaneously. The D/A converter also allows you to enjoy your iTunes library even more once the Apogee One is paired to your computer, Smartphone or tablet.
- Compatible with Mac OSX and Windows 10 computers
- 2 in and 2 out audio interface
- Housed under a strong aluminum chassis
- 24-bit/96kHz AD/DA conversion
- Comes with apogee Maestro software
- Built-in mic
8. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2
Another audio console that has bulldozed its way in our list of the best audio interface under $500 is the Komplete Audio 6 Mk2. By just staring at it, this six in, six out audio interface may seem to be sleek and quite basic.
However, the moment you get closer, you’ll be welcomed with high-quality robust features that include high-definition recording, flexible connectivity and ability to pair multiple instruments such as guitars, mics, drums and synths to achieve the best audio quality.
With a weight of just 1.87 pounds and dimensions of 7.9 x 5.3 x 2.2 inches, the Komplete Audio 6 is clearly small and can easily be fitted in your bag alongside your laptop and other music stuff.
Speaking of the performance, this audio console has not disappointed its loyal fans at all. Although it can’t perform like some of the high-end 8 channel audio interfaces we’ve reviewed previously, it has several key inputs and outputs that allow it to pair with multiple instruments and software to achieve the best recording and producing performance.
The 6 inputs and outputs include; MIDI In/Out, 4 analog In/Out, SPDIF digital stereo (RCA) In/Out, 2 headphone outs and a USB 2.0 bus power. Just like the M-Audio AIR 192ǀ14, the Komplete Audio 6 has a top panel that houses the main output level knob, phantom USB indicators and 5-parts input meters single multi-color type.
- 6 inputs and 6 outputs
- Compatible with major software
- Easy channel switching from mono to stereo
- Compatible with PC and Mac computers
- USB 2.0 bus-power
9. Audient iD14 High-Performance USB Audio Interface
The Audient iD14 is another compact desktop audio interface that offers you a superior audio performance similar to most large format consoles we’ve already reviewed here. Although it looks small and quite binary, this audio console has a few features to be proud of that have made it to truly stand out from the crowd.
Some of the features that have made this audio interface to truly stand out include; 8 channel ADAT that’s expandable to 10 channels, 1 discrete JFET instrument output, 2 Class A console microphone preamps. 2 in/4 out High-Performance Burr Brown AD/DA Converters, speaker output, Low Latency DSP Mixer, and 2 Neutrik combo connectors for your mic and line inputs.
Finally, the Audient iD14 is equipped with two gain knobs at the top panel, a large central volume knob, 8-parts input meters single multicolor type, and a USB host port for connecting your PC and Mac computers.
- One JFET DI instrument input
- USB host port for easy pairing with Windows and Mac computers
- 2 Class A console microphone preamps
- Burr Brown AD/DA Converters
- 2 Class A console microphone preamps
10. MOTU M4 4×4 USB-C Audio Interface
The MOTU M4 Audio Interface is one of the few interfaces that have managed to bridge the gap between price and high-performance. Whether it’s recording, producing, or podcasting, this audio interface has come to ensure that everything is achieved at the highest standard.
First off, this audio interface is equipped with 4 inputs, 4 outputs, 2 microphone preamps with individual gain, phantom power and a USB-C port for fast connections with your PC, Mac or IOS devices.
Now, the reason why MOTU has dominated the home studio market is the ability to offer its loyal diehards superb sound and top-notch performance. The MOTU M4 Audio Interface is no exception as it’s packed with a top-notch sound that improves sound clarity when recording.
The Renowned ESS Sabre32 Ultra DAC technology is one of the features that have allowed this audio interface to deliver a high dynamic range for all your analog/digital signals.
If you’re doing live streaming or podcasting, the MOTU M4 Audio Interface has a loopback functionality that blends your input signals with the output signals from your computer for easy editing. There’s also a built-in 1-touch hardware monitoring that allows this audio console to reduce latency and lag time when recording and producing your music.
- A mix knob for balancing your live input
- USB-C for fast connection with your PC, Mac or IOS devices
- Full-color LCD provides front panel metering
- 120dB dynamic range
- 6+GB of free content
11. Rode RODECaster Pro Podcast Production Studio
Music recording has never been so easy with quality audio consoles such as the Rode RODECASTER Pro Podcast Audio Interface. Unlike all the other interfaces we’ve reviewed in this guide, this is the first fully integrated audio interface that has everything you need for all your production, recording and podcasting tasks.
First off, this audio interface is equipped with 4Class A mic preamps that handle most types of mics including studio condenser and dynamic mics. You can connect multiple microphones then use the 1-touch recording feature to record all your podcasts in an SD card within minutes.
Now, what really makes the Rode RODECASTER Pro to truly standout is the addition of 8 pre-programmable pads. With these pads at the disposal, adding sound effects, jingles, and applause to your audio has never been as easy as you only need to adjust the pads to meet your needs.
If you’re a professional or a starter, RODE has offered an impressively updated firmware that lets you perform full multitrack recording while saving your projects straight to the SD card.
For those that wish to connect this console to PC or Mac computers, you can simply use the USB port. Otherwise, this console has a Micro SD slot that lets you fit an SD card to save your work. Its also Bluetooth enabled meaning you can pair your Smart devices to conduct other tasks such as making phone calls with good quality sounds.
- Echo-free phone connection via Bluetooth or TRRS
- 48V phantom power
- 8 fades for high-quality sound effects
- Color corded record buttons and pad illumination
- 4 Class A mic preamps
- Bluetooth, USB, and SD card for fast connections
12. Tascam US-16×08 Rackmount USB Audio/MIDI Interface
Our last USB audio interface that has really made a name in this industry is the Tascam US-16×08 Rackmount Audio Interface. Whether you’re a starter or a professional, this audio console lets you hook up to 8 microphones leaving extra input/output space to connect other stereo instruments.
There are MIDI I/O for connecting onboard keyboards and controller as well as additional inputs to connect your guitar, bass and other switchable instruments for high-quality recording.
For those keen on sound clarity, there are 4 band equalizers on each channel to deliver polished sound during recording. For those performing live recording and podcasting, the built-in DSP mixer will help to reduce low-latency by improving the speed.
Just like all other audio interfaces, the Tascam US-16×08 Rackmount Audio Interface is equipped with a USB port that lets you pair the console with your Mac, Windows or IOS computer, or device.
- Angled design for excellent usability
- Separate volume controls for headphones and line/speaker output
- 8 Ultra HDDA mic preamps with 56dB
- +48V phantom power
- Built-in DSP mixer
- USB port for easy pairing with Mac and Windows computers
One common question most people ask when it comes to a computer-based recording is—why do I need an audio interface? After all, my computer has a built-in sound card that can also play the same role. Why can’t I use it then?
Well, if you have ever thought the same, then you’re “demn” right about it. But, your computer sound card is quite limited when it comes to recording and mixing. Most of these sound cards only offer a consumer-grade stereo line output that only allows you to connect your audio players.
When it comes to professional recording works, a computer sound card is totally inappropriate as it offers limited connectivity that limits its usefulness. Remember, professional recording will require you to have an XLR input for the mic, a high-Z phone plug for the guitar and quality outputs that will help you monitor your recordings via the speakers and headphones.
So, with that in mind, an audio interface is truly a centerpiece to your home studio as every sound that goes into the computer and out via the speakers/headphones must first pass through the audio interface.
Since an audio interface is such an important part of your home studio setup, it’s highly paramount that you choose the right audio console that will take care of your home studio. Here are some key pointers that will help you make an informed decision.
1. Your Specific Recording Needs:
The first thing you need to think of when buying an audio interface is your specific recording needs. Remember, there are so many models of audio consoles already in the market. Most of these audio devices are identical but what makes them different is the amount of audio work they’re designed to handle.
Therefore, if you’re looking to do stereo mobile recording, making quick song demos, composing songs using virtual instruments, or recording guitar/vocal overdubs, choosing an interface that’s designed to handle your specific recording or producing tasks is very critical.
2. Connectivity Format:
With the advancement in technology, recording using computers such as PC, Mac and IOS devices havebeen in the font run in most home studios. Due to this reason, most audio interface manufacturers have kept the pace with this modern trend by engineering audio consoles that work seamlessly with these computers and the various apps and software these computers and IOS devices run.
Now, some of these connection protocols you’re likely to come across include;
USB: Most of the new generation computers use the latest USB 2.0 and 3.0. Due to their excellent transfer rate and high bandwidth that makes them the best for audio applications. To reduce the bulk, most audio consoles are now designed to draw their power from the computer through the USB line.
FireWire: This is another connection protocol that’s primarily found in most Mac computers such as Laptops and desktops. Unlike the USB 2.0 and 1.0, this one offers an excellent high-speed data transfer that makes it the best for multi-channel recording tasks.
For PC users looking to enjoy the high-speed services of the FireWire, you need to install an expansion card to your computer for you to use it.
Thunderbolt: This type of connection protocol is the latest and the fastest type of connection that’s currently second to none. Currently available in the newest Mac computes, this high-bandwidth Intel technology offers the fastest data transfer rates making it the best for performing demanding computer-based recording tasks.
Although this feature is currently available for Mac devices only, all is not lost for PC users as they can use Windows computers equipped with Thunderbolt option cards.
PCI Express: Also known as PCIe, this type of connection protocol is primarily found in desktop computers in the form of an internal card-based connection that’s plugged directly into your computer motherboard.
With such a connection in your desktop computer, your PC will be able to provide high-speed bandwidth that will allow your audio interface to handle multiple simultaneous inputs and outputs. One thing you need to understand though is that your desktop must have a PCIe slot for you to install it.
3. Desktop or Rackmounted Audio Interface:
When choosing an audio interface, most people usually forget to ask themselves whether to get a desktop or a rack-mounted model. Before you make your decision here, you first need to think of your specific home studio type—is it a starter type of studio or is it a professional studio?
If you’re just starting out or maybe you don’t have lots of gear already in your rack, choosing a desktop audio interface is the best option as they’re pretty compact and budget-friendly. However, the only downside to these audio interfaces is that they take much of your desktop space due to the multiple wiring and clutter.
On the other hand, if you’re using a professional home studio with tons of gear that need multiple connections, then a rack-mounted audio interface is the best to consider as they’re more advanced and help to reduce clutter from your desktop.
4. The number of Simultaneous Inputs/Outputs:
This is one of the most important factors that need to be examined with extreme caution when shopping for an audio interface. The number of audio channels, as well as the signals its ability to handle at the same time, should be examined with extreme care.
For instance, if you’rea starter recording at a basic level, a simple two-channel desktop audio interface with a pair of mono signals or a single stereo signal is the best to consider. If you’re a songwriter looking to capture your voice and acoustic guitar simultaneously via the speakers or headphones when singing, a 4 input interface will be the best.
If you’re doing professional recording using multiple gears such as drum kits, samplers, and multi-effect units, using larger interface systems that can handle 16 or more inputs/outs will be the perfect option. Additionally, shopping for audio consoles that include S/PDIF and ADAT connectors is an added advantage as they allow you to connect external devices that require digital connections to operate.
Finally, the best audio interface under $500 should be compatible with your specific computer. Although there are some audio interfaces that only pair with specific Mac and PC computers, always check the compatibility to ensure that what you buy works with your specific computer.
5. Software Compatibility:
This is another major factor that can make a huge difference when shopping for an audio interface. With so many options available in the market, high-profile manufacturers are setting themselves apart from the rest of the pack by designing audio consoles bundled with software and onboard DSP compatibilities.
6. Sound Quality:
Really, sound quality is number six on our list? Yes. One huge reason why sound quality was not at the top was due to one reason—even the least expensive audio interfaces can now afford to deliver great quality sounds without struggling.
Although the former is true, there are several key factors/features that can directly influence the audio quality of your specific audio console.
Bit Depth: To cut the long story short, the higher the number of bits, the better the level of fidelity an audio interface has. Fidelity is simply the measure of how well a digital bitstream can capture your music’s dynamics while eliminating external noise.
For instance, a 24-bit recording that delivers 144dB of dynamic range can eliminate more external noise for smoother sound quality as compared to one with a 16-bit recording delivering a dynamic range of 96dB.
Converter Quality: This is another spec that influences the audio quality of your audio interface. A/D and D/A converters are specifically used to convert incoming analog audio signals into digital data and vice versa. Therefore, the higher the quality of your audio interface, the better the quality of the analog/digital and digital/analog converters.
Sampling Rate: Another factor that affects the quality of your output sound is the sampling rate. Without getting too technical, the higher the sampling rate of your audio interface, the higher the level of fidelity hence the better the sound delivered.
What does this mean? In case you’re working on a demo or maybe you’re working in a beginner home studio, a 16-bit/44.1KHz sampling rate is the best to consider. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with pro-level projects and commercial soundtrack works, then a higher 24-bit/96KHz or 192KHz sampling rate will be required.
this is the very last factor you need to think of after you’ve examined all the above factors. Although some people prefer to start with the price first, starting off with the rest of the factors then narrow down all your options to an audio interface that fits your bill will be the best approach.
What Is an Audio Interface?
In almost all industries, advancement in technology has let to one huge thing—efficiency. In the world of recording, DJing, sampling and music production, the same has been the case as every home studio has one specific goal—to record high-resolution sound.
But, how can you achieve this yet most modern computers are only fitted with soundcards that can’t support the high-resolution output required for professional production and DJing? Well, in such a situation, a piece of equipment known as an audio interface is required to translate the analog signals from your mics to digital ones for easy recording.
Now, your home studio may have all the equipment required for professional recording and production. You may also have a powerful computer equipped with computer-based digital audio workstation software (DAW).
But, without an audio interface, the recording will be impossible as your computer doesn’t have the XLR Male/Female, MIDI I/O, Instrument Level DI, TRS and RCA inputs and outs that are required for connecting the various instruments.
So, an audio interface is simply used to bridge the gap between digital and analog signals. When recording, this audio console simply converts the analog sound waves from your microphone into digital binary codes that your computer can easily understand and process.
FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions
Q-1: Is a Sound card Similar to an Audio Interface?
Basically yes. A sound card and an audio interface are the same things. Their main purpose is to convert analog sound from your microphone to a digital signal that your laptop, desktop, iPhone or iPad can easily process and edit.
However though, despite performing the same task, these two audio consoles have two major differences. One is that a sound card fits inside the computer while an audio interface is used externally.
Secondly, a sound card is used for light recording tasks especially if you’re doing it alone while an audio interface is best suited for professional recording works as it has more inputs and outputs that allow you to connect more recording, podcasting, and production equipment.
Q-2: Do I Need an Audio Interface After all?
This common question has been a source of confusion for so many people. To cut the long story short, it all depends on the type of equipment you’re using. For instance, if you’re using a USB microphone, then you won’t need to add an interface.
According to most people, an audio interface is generally a box with multiple inputs and outputs for connecting various equipment such as electric guitar, drum sets, mics, speakers and headphones among others.
Although an interface provides a way to connect multiple pieces of equipment simultaneously, there are other devices that are audio interfaces themselves and don’t require an interface to operate. One such example is a USB microphone.
If you happen to shop for the best mic that has an XLR-USB cable, then you don’t need an interface as you can easily connect the cable to your computer. For the case of a headphone, you can use a headphone out to connect it to your computer then get ready to record.
Q-3: How do I Pair my New Audio Interface to a Computer?
Before we even begin, you need to understand that an audio interface is a USB soundcard. So, as long as you have a USB connection (in terms of the USB port and USB adapter), pairing the interface with your computer is easy and quite straightforward.
For quite a long time, USB 2.0 and 3.0 have been at the center of focus among most recording and production home studios. However, with the advancement in technology, newer, faster, and better connection options have emerged such as Thunderbolt and firewire.
One drawback though with these two USB connections is that they’re quite pricey. Secondly, some ports such as Thunderbolt are only available in Mac computers so you have to buy one otherwise PCs won’t work unless you have a special Thunderbolt option card.
Q-4: When do I need an audio interface?
Here, there are some questions you’ll need to ask yourself. First, are you planning to do a professional music recording? How many microphones are you planning to use? Do you need more power than what a USB port can provide? Does your microphone use XLR output?
The answer you’ll have to all these questions is what will define whether you truly need an audio interface in your home studio or not.
If you’re doing a professional recording, an audio interface will most probably be required as it can convert analog signals from your mics to digital signals that your computer can understand for editing purposes.
Q-5: Does an audio interface reduce CPU usage?
It can, but it’s not necessary. Now, this question comes amid a huge misconception that audio interfaces can take the load from your computer to give your CPU some time to breathe. On one side, an audio interface can offload CPU usage though slightly in a way that you can’t notice.
On the other hand, this may not be the case if you’re using a computer that cannot handle your DAW projects. Overall, don’t shop for an audio interface expecting it to reduce CPU usage as its main purpose is to handle and route inputs and outputs while converting analog signals into digital ones and vice versa.
Q-6: Does an audio interface improve sound quality?
An audio interface is an alternative to using an on-bound sound card when it comes to improving sound quality. Sound cards are not bad at all. However, they do have some minor drawbacks such as Electromagnetic Interference from hard drives, circuitry on the motherboard and other electric components surrounding it.
The best audio interface under $500 has taken care of this challenge by isolating itself from such electromagnetic interference by using its high-quality preamps to its advantage. If your audio interface has high-quality preamps, these preamps will take the low-level analog signals from your guitar, bass, mic, and synth then amplify them to deliver high-quality sound.
At this point, we believe you’re fully aware of what an audio interface is. We also believe that you’re now familiar with the different terms used when choosing an audio interface. So, whether you’re a starter or a professional operating an entry-level or a high-standard home studio, each of these twelve best audio interface under $500 we’ve summarized will help you make an informed decision when making your purchase.