If you want to create high-quality recordings at home of yourself playing a musical instrument or singing, and don’t want something that will break the bank, then you are going to need the best audio interface under 500. Anyone who knows anything about home recording knows that the audio interface is at the heart of the system. It allows you to make excellent recordings of the guitar, or the keyboard, or vocal performances, for example. If you and your new band want to create a record, you are going to need an excellent audio interface to make it just that little bit special.
We have done a little research and found five great products under $500 for you to consider:
If you want a high-quality audio interface that is great for all you singer-songwriters out there, then the Focusrite Clarett 2Pre USB is the one for you. Focusrite is a trusted brand, and this audio interface does not disappoint. It is not only a great color, but it is also pro studio-grade and so much more:
- It is compatible with both MAC and PC.
- The product comes with two USB cables.
- It has two Air-enabled mic preamp features. These increase the performance and are so good they are able to mimic the original sound of Focusrite ISA mic preamp.
- It has four outputs.
- It has a gain control knob.
- There is a true line-in to bypass the preamps.
- It is equipped with precision A-D D-A connectivity and conversion technology so that you can record more, including that drum kit.
- There is no unwanted distortion, with ultra-low distortion technology incorporated.
- It is a thunderbolt interface.
- The design is ultra-linear, which guarantees clean recordings. No detail you want in the song will be left out of the final cut.
- It also comes with Ableton Live 10 Lite, Focusrite Control, XLN Audio Addictive Keys, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite Red Plug-in Suite, Focusrite Plug-in Collective, and 2GB of Loopmasters free sample music.
- No hassle of latency.
- It is straightforward to set up.
- Great value for the money.
- Can’t find any. This is a great product.
This product is powerful, easy to set up, and sounds absolutely awesome. It is a high-quality recording studio, being advanced and versatile. If you get this, you will not be left disappointed.
- This is a Japanese electronic product.
- The software works for both MAC and PC, and also most DAWs.
- It has ten input and ten outputs
- It has eight premium mic preamps, two coaxial outputs.
- There are compact in/out ports.
- It has a pristine and very well balanced sound, no matter how loud you play your music, the quality of the recording will not be compromised.
- You can record a whole band on this device as you usually only need eight inputs and output. This had ten.
- Very low latency.
- It has four independent mixing features. This means that all members of your band can mix it up the way they want.
- Auto-Sens function allows you to set input levels for all preamps intelligently and means you can start recording in seconds.
- You get Cakewalk Production Plus software with the product and Ableton Live Lite.
- This is not much of a con, to be honest, but it has a lot of inputs, some people say too many.
- Slightly more expensive than the others.
- It does not have thunderbolt technology.
If you want an audio interface that offers a lot in terms of price, then this is the product.
- It is compatible with both MAC and PC and most major DAWS.
- It has eight inputs featuring both XLR/TRS ports. These preamps are MIDAS design.
- There is a pad for each preamp.
- There is a gain control knob for each preamp.
- There is dual monitor output
- The sound quality is excellent.
- You get a mix monitoring control knob.
- It is able to stream 18 inputs and 20 outputs.
- It has ultra-low latency.
- You can use some of the most popular recording software with this product, such as Avid Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Steinberg Cubase, etc.
- The installation of this product is very straightforward, and it is easy to use.
- Great value for money, it is a great competitor for some of the more expensive products.
- Unfortunately, there is only one phantom power switch for all four channels, so either they are all on, or all off.
- You are unable to have any sound effects in your headphones during low latency.
- Occasionally you may have driver issues with your computer. You may need to install old drivers or download patches.
This product is a simple design and is built to withstand a high-pressured environment. So if you want something that is strong and at a good price, then this is the audio interface for you.
- It is compatible with both MAC and PC.
- It obviously comes with Thunderbolt technology. So it is lighting speed.
- Absolutely no latency problems, go for it.
- There are four XLR/TRS inputs, all with gain control knobs for both mic and instrument.
- It has a control cluster feature.
- The channels have M-Audio’s Octane Preamp Technology, so this makes the product robust and efficient.
- It is fully bus-powered, so it is portable.
- The sound is awesome.
- It has Smart-monitoring so you can switch between stereo and mono depending on the input.
- The chassis is die-cast
- It is a reliable little product.
- It is a great, competitive price.
- You need to have Microsoft Office 8 or above, and some customers have complained it does not work with Windows 10, and it needs MAC OS 10.9 or higher, and some people have stated it does not work with a MacBook.
- Computers need to be thunderbolt equipped for it to work properly.
- In a nutshell, do not buy unless you have a compatible computer.
- No preamps, no virtual emulators.
- Quality is not the best, but still good.
- It needs a bit of work to improve it but it could be a good little starter kit.
M-Audio M-Track Eight | 8-Channel High-Resolution USB 2.0 Audio Interface with Octane Preamp (24-bit/96 kHz)
This is a versatile product which offers you that little bit of professionalism, you and the band can record live with ease. It has some great features, let’s have a look at a few.
- It works with both MAC and PC.
- It has eight mic preamps, two on the front, six on the back.
- It has eight gain control knobs.
- It has XLR/TRS inputs, so you can record with a microphone or an instrument.
- The sound is pristine and precise. It is very professional and pretty much studio-grade you, and the band will love the recordings this little box allows you to create.
- It has zero-latency monitoring.
- The balance control is fantastic.
- Every input comes with its own line-input circuit. This allows you to track external preamps.
- The box screams quality; it works silently and is totally consistent.
- It has a phantom power option integrated.
- Great price.
- No ideal for smaller home recording studios as it is a rack-mounted box.
- A lot of customers who use Windows have complained about driver issues.
- The box heats up. It actually gets hot.
The conclusion to the product reviews
The recommended product is the Focusrite Clarett 2Pre USB 10-In/4-Out Audio Interface. This is because there are no real cons. It is fitted with thunderbolt technology so works at lightning speed, it sounds great, it is a great color, and the price is extremely reasonable. Focusrite is a trusted brand, and they have not done themselves a disservice with this product. This is our recommendation. The star buy audio interface.
How to choose the best audio interface
As you can see from the product reviews above, there are so many home audio interfaces to choose from, so how do you pick the best one for you? First, you need to think about what you are recording, is it just yourself singing, or perhaps you are a classical guitarist, so you only need a couple of inputs. However, if you will be recording music with a band, you will need at least eight inputs on the interface. If you are recording a drum kit, you definitely need at least eight to ensure quality in sound. A lot of interfaces only have two preamps, which means if you are recording with microphones and need as many preamps as mic sources, you may have to purchase extra cables and connections. You need to think about your software and the drivers you have as you may have compatibility issues, so do a little research in this area. Will you want thunderbolt technology? Think about the network connectivity issues you may have. You may need MIDI in and out, for example. What kind of sound quality are you after? You need to give some consideration to what you are going to be doing with the finished product. Will you be sending it to an agent? Or perhaps it is a recording for a music exam. How often will you be using it, and will you need to take it with you to many different places? You also need to consider the price. Obviously, you get what you pay for, so what kind of quality are you after.
What are the advantages/benefits of an audio interface?
There are many advantages to using an audio interface. If you currently use a soundcard on your computer, you will have limitations that the interface does not have. You can mix music with the audio interface. It has high-quality recording, and you can do this with ease. You can connect to many different professional recording devices. Due to the size of the audio device, it has much greater accessibility over sound cards, so you can make better use of the ports that are there. In addition, because it has so many accessible ports, you can connect different instruments and mics to it at the same time without it overwhelming the system. Most of these systems have a MIDI, so if you wanted to, you could connect a keyboard as well as everything else. You have no problem recording your band. They have a much more accurate representation of the actual sound played. Also, you have far greater control over the sounds you want to produce by the use of various knobs, such as gain control and phantom power switches. The signal through the USB is plainly sent and easily converts the sound from analog to digital data. In conclusion, the main benefit of the audio interface is the control and the quality, and unlike a soundcard, it is a purpose build device with one function in mind. There are so many different types that they are completing to be the best in terms of quality, so if you want something to sound awesome, get an audio interface.
Things to look for/attributes that differentiate these products
First, there is the computer system that the audio interface is compatible with, some of them may not work with older operating systems. There are also various problems around drivers to think about. There may be some compatibility issues between various pieces of software, so keep an eye out for this. Some have the thunderbolt technology, which speeds everything up and will ensure there are no problems with latency. There are also differences in terms of the number of inputs and outputs, so you need to know what you want before you go out and get one. Some of them have no preamps. In terms of sound, there is quite a lot of variation in quality. If you need pristine sound, not good sound, then you will need to ensure that this is what it says in the description. At the end of the day, the more you spend, the better the product, so if you can afford the high end and need high end, go for it.