In shopping for the best audio interface, buying the most expensive one you can afford is not necessarily the best option for your application. It’s an art form, balancing which features you can live without and which ones you need to have.
There’s a dizzying number of competitively priced and similarly featured audio interfaces, especially for the sub $200 range. Just take, for example, the ongoing battle for supremacy between the rising star iD4 and the reigning champion and bestseller, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
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The Focusrite 2i2 has been a home studio bestseller since it was released. The dual preamp XLR to 1/4” combo has become a staple in almost all modern audio interfaces.
Sound Quality Specialist
Going against the grain has paid off for Audient because the iD4 has become the default choice for a powerful niche in the audio interface market. It focuses on sound quality rather than versatility.
Best Audio Interface for under $200
The 2i2 and iD4 Aren’t the Only Compelling Choices in the Sub-$200 Audio Interface Market.
There are, of course, other audio interfaces from reputable brands that offer slightly different feature packs in the same price range. Now, all we have to do is look at the best ones to determine which one will work best for our home studios.
It’s a crowded market, but the fact of the matter is that there’s only one that’s perfect for you and your project or application.
In this article, we’re going to be recommending the best audio interface for under $200
- Important feature sets that are offered at this price range.
- 10 examples of outstanding audio interfaces.
- The pros and cons of each of the 10-top audio interfaces.
1. Audient iD4
The first thing you’ll notice about the iD4 is that it’s incredibly well made. The aluminum chassis shouldn’t look out of place next to a sexy new Apple computer or a Windows-powered Ultrabook.
It also feels sturdy enough to handle a couple of falls from desktop heights. This should come in handy if you like to move around to play your instrument or record your vocals.
Compared to others on this list, the Audient iD4 is also one of the smallest in terms of the footprint, so it shouldn’t be a problem even if you’re not given much desk space to work on.
With the combination of all these physical features, the Audient iD4 makes an excellent case for being the default audio interface to take with you when you travel.
Furthermore, it performs excellently. For instance, the AD-DA converters on all of Audient’s products are always top of their class. The company’s experience in the field shows in this regard. The AD-DA converters on all Audient devices are especially of high quality, and you can expect the same for this relatively inexpensive interface.
You might also be interested in our Audient iD4 vs. iD14 review here.
Pros of the Audient iD4
- Superior build quality that is also aesthetically pleasing.
- Knobs are top notch and the button presses are crisp which adds to a premium feel that used to only be seen in higher-end audio interface market.
- High performance AD-DC converters.
- Genius physical DAW control built into the iD button/knob.
- The two headphone outputs espouse collaboration.
- Compatible with iOS for a truly on-the-go experience.
- Built-in meters is a rare feature in such a small interface.
Cons of the Audient iD4
- The excellent performance makes you wish that you had more than two microphone inputs.
2. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen
Focusrite built its reputation on the Scarlett USB interface series. The 2i2 is probably one of the most popular ones out of all of them.
As you would expect for something that’s become somewhat of an industry standard, the 2i2’s performance is excellent. Focusrite produces the best mic preamps in the market, so you really can’t go wrong with the 2i2 when recording vocals.
It would not be a resource hog in CPU usage, even if buffer settings were set to a minimum. It uses direct monitoring, so latency is next to non-existent if you want.
However, even if this setting is off, you’re barely going to notice the difference, even if the sound still has to get processed through the computer and back to the monitors.
3. PreSonus AudioBox USB 96
The best audio interfaces, especially professional-grade ones, can cost north of $500. However, you might be surprised at how high above its class some interfaces can punch at a fifth of the price.
One such example is the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96. It’s one of our cheaper audio interfaces on the list, and it performs much like its more expensive peers like the 2i2 and the iD4.
The preamps are surprisingly versatile for their price. It’s going to do decent job recording vocals, guitars, or even drums.
Pros of the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96
- Packed with features that other more expensive interfaces don’t have.
- Punches way above its price range which can prove to be an excellent starter interface for cash-strapped beginners.
- USB-C Connectivity makes it a little bit more future-proof.The built-in DSP mixer can help bring latency down to almost zero.
- The presence of a full-sized 5-pin MIDI I/O is a feat that interfaces worth twice the price don’t have.
Cons of the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96
- Lack of a meter can be a dealbreaker.
- Preamps don’t have a tendency for clipping when recording passive instruments.
4. Focusrite Scarlett 2i4
The second entry of Focusrite in this list shows just how down to pat the company has this segment. The 2i2 used to cost a little under $200, but now, the Scarlett 2i4 replaces it at that price point. While some shops still sell it above our price limit in this list, some shops are already discounting to under $200.
The 2i4 is just a little bigger than its little brother, the 2i2. It’s got everything it has to plus some more features that you may decide is worth the extra $40-$50.
There are, for example, full 5-pin MIDI I/O ports. Finally, you can plug-in synthesizers and keyboards to a budget Focusrite audio interface.
Check out our Scarlett 2i2 vs. 2i4 comparison here.
Pros of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4
- 4 unbalanced RCA outputs makes for a versatile listening experience.
- MIDI I/O gives users more control over their music via keyboard controllers.
- USB-C Connectivity makes it a little bit more future-proof.The built-in DSP mixer can help bring latency down to almost zero. Preamps give off the same sound quality as the best in the category.
Cons of the Focusrite Scarlett 2i4
- Sacrificed the “Air” circuit for the MIDI I/O
5. Apogee Jam+
When it comes to portability, the Apogee Jam Plus probably takes the grand prize.
At just 0.25lbs, you can easily forget you put it in your bag in the first place. And when you realize that you brought it, you’ll be glad you did because the sound quality is right up there with the best of them in this particular price range of under $200.
Pros of the Apogee Jam+
- Extremely compact and lightweight so you can bring it around absolutely anywhere.
- Mobile-friendly means you can also use it absolutely anywhere. Pairing with an iOS device lets you record at exactly the moment inspiration strikes you.
- Being bus-powered, you also don’t need to plug it in a power outlet.
- Overdrive mode gives it a little gain boost and makes your guitar sound a bit thicker.
- Low latency mode blends direct monitoring and listening to the music through your DAW.
Cons of the Apogee Jam+
- Limited preamp can be a let-down especially when jamming with a bunch of other musicians.
- Lack of simultaneous I/O makes it difficult for singer-songwriters to record full songs in one go.
- $159 can be a tad bit expensive for a one-trick pony.
6. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
What it’s got going for it is all in the name. It’s a complete audio interface with all the basics.
The Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2 boasts a minimalist aesthetic which is echoed in its performance as well. It’s even got a 5-part input metering system which is arguably essential for some music producers.
But, with a market that offers the likes of Audient’s iD4 and the Focusrite 2i2, is being complete enough to make a dent in the market?
Pros of the Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
- Some audio interfaces with loud colors can get distracting, such as the sports car red on the Scarlett series. The black on black aesthetics of the Komplete Audio 2 is just stunning.
- 5-part input metering makes it so much easier to monitor.
Cons of the Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
- For some weird reason, direct monitoring is available to the headphones.
7. Mackie Onyx Producer 2-2
Speaking of minimalistic designs, the Onyx Producer 2-2 is another stunning audio interface. It’s predominantly matte black with subtle hints of grey in the output volume knob and labels at the back, and some labels on the front.
The preamps on the Onyx Producer 2-2 are one on par with the best in the market. They record a dynamic range and fidelity that’s equal to and maybe even better than the rising star iD4 and the industry-standard Scarlett 2i2.
Pros of the Mackie Onyx Producer 2-2
- All the basics are covered.
- Latency is superb even when listening through your DAW.
- Clean sounds from the studio-grade preamps.
Cons of the Mackie Onyx Producer 2-2
- You’ll feel this one in your bag because it’s a little on the heavy side of this list.
8. Steinberg UR22C USB
The combination of the excellent Yamaha D-Pre preamps and the feature pack of the UR22C lets it compete with the other audio interfaces in the under $200 category.
It’s a full-featured interface that gives the Scarlett 2i2 and 2i4 a run for their money at a reasonable price.
It also comes with software optimized for iOS devices, making it an excellent mobile music production device. To add to this feature, they also included an additional 5V DC port, so you’ll be able to power this up and not sucking up power from your host device.
You can record even without any available power outlets because of this feature.
At this price point, these features are a steal.
Pros of the Steinberg UR22C USB
- An additional power source makes it one of the best interfaces you can grab if you’re going on the road.
- The Yamaha D-Pre preamp can hang with the big boys in terms of warmth.
- The software that it comes with is optimized for iOS devices so you can chuck the laptop and just work on your tablet or smartphone.
- Mix knob is a welcome feature that the Scarlett and other top dogs don’t have.
Cons of the Steinberg UR22C USB
- The Yamaha D-Pre produces quite a bit of noise especially compared to the rest of the items on this list so it’s difficult to set the gain so high on a dynamic mic.
9. M-Audio M-Track 2×2
There’s a lot to like on the hardware side of the M-Track 2×2. The large output knob that’s prominently featured on the device, for example, is inviting to use.
It’s not only large, but it’s well-made as well. There’s no wobble to it like some of the others on this list. This gives you a sense that M-Audio took the time to engineer the M-Track 2×2 properly.
Pros of the M-Audio M-Track 2×2
- The USB C inclusion is a great start for future proofing.
- Meters are always a welcome addition to help avoid clipping.
- The knobs are of high quality – no wobble.
- The conversion is top notch.
Cons of the M-Audio M-Track 2×2
- There are reports that latency can be an issue and leave users to miss a mix knob.
- USB C might not deliver enough power to a low gain mic.
10. Behringer UMC204HD
There’s a lot to like when a product is almost 70% cheaper than its competitor yet has enough firepower to challenge it legitimately. This is exactly what the Behringer UMC204HD does.
This inexpensive audio interface has all of the bells and whistles and more of its $200 counterparts but offers them a lot cheaper (check current price).
Pros of the Behringer UMC204HD
- The MIDAS preamps are quiet so even low gain microphones shouldn’t be a problem to use with this interface.
- Well-constructed chassis means it can take a beating inside your bag or even out on your desk.
- The MIDI I/O can help in making up for what the preamps lack.
- Inexpensive yet can last a couple of rounds in the ring with heavyweights like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
Cons of the Behringer UMC204HD
- Latency leaves a lot to be desired but for a $59 machine, it may be forgivable.
Since it’s such a competitive market for a sub-$200 audio interface, choosing the best one will be an exercise in deliberateness. You’ll have to consider what you need and how much of it you need.
But, if you need a durable and straightforward interface that you can either use at home or on stage, you can’t go wrong with the Focusrite 2i2. It’s an industry standard for a reason.
Some audio interfaces with all their complications can be challenging to work with. The 2i2, on the other hand, works.
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