If you want to be able to record into your computer you are going to need an audio interface. This is basically a bit of gear which allows you to plug real world audio devices such as microphones and guitars into your computer, as well as send audio from your computer to external monitors. However, there’s usually a bit more to it than that and there are a variety of audio interfaces available which have slightly different functionalities and build. In this article I’ll list a few of the best low-budget audio interfaces on the market to get you started recording at home.
Note that most of these interfaces will come with access to some form of recording software. However, if you’re looking to produce full tracks you will want to look at a suitable DAW.
First is the interface that I wanted to buy, although I never did in the end…
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a very attractive little interface that comes highly recommended. It was sitting in my shopping cart for a while, just waiting for me to push the button, but I didn’t buy it in the end for two reasons; firstly because I decided I wanted more than the two inputs available and secondly because I was lucky enough to get a very sweet deal on the interface I’m currently using. That said, I do eventually intend to buy one of the larger Focusrite interfaces, such as Scarlett 18i20. Anyway, back to the point! The Scarlett 2i2 is an ideal beginners interface as it’s affordable, well built and comes with high-quality, award-winning Focusrite mic preamps. It also has cool little coloured lights around the inputs that let you know when your signal is good or too hot.
Although the Focusrite range would be my choice of interface there are other great options on the market. The following three interfaces each offer slight variations on the small audio interface theme and may be preferable to you, even if only because of how they look. As with this next one…
The Mackie Onyx BlackjackMackie Onyx Blackjack is a very cool looking desktop interface. The angled control surface may suit your set-up, or it may not, so that’s worth considering. There’s also the fact that the inputs are on the rear. This is another two input interface and includes pre-amps and phantom power.
The PreSonus AudioBoxThe PreSonus AudioBox is another very low cost interface which two inputs, pre-amps and phantom power. This has the extra benefit of coming with Studio One Artist which is a complete DAW you can use for recording if you don’t have one already. That in itself makes this an awesome beginner’s interface.
Finally, if you’re interested in using MIDI for your music then you might want to check out…
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 is yet another two-input interface but this one also includes MIDI inputs, which means you can use it to connect certain MIDI instruments to either control or be controlled by your software. This is great if you use synths and virtual instruments in your music. Of course, a lot of controllers are connecting by USB these days but I still have a Yamaha keyboard which connects via MIDI. As I didn’t get an interface like this I have to use a separate MIDI to USB interface. Something like this would be perfect for someone starting out who wants to not only record but use MIDI in their projects.
What interface do I currently use?
Well… As I mentioned earlier in this article, I was very keen to get my hands on the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 to replace my Behringer 302USB Xenyx. I’d read very good reviews and the company has a great reputation. You also get a suite of plugins when you buy the interface, which is always an attractive bonus. So it was literally sitting in my shopping basket, waiting for me to have the funds to buy. However, before I could do that a friend came to me with a job lot of audio gear he wasn’t using and wanted to sell. Never one to turn down the chance of a good deal I checked out what he was offering and was very pleased to find that it included a Zoom R16, which is primarily a portable 8 track recorder, but also functions as an audio interface with 8 inputs and control surface. The deal I got was ridiculously good and included a few mics, guitar pedals and cables too, so I walked away very happy! The Zoom R16 has been an invaluable addition to my home studio setup and means that I’ve been able to put my money to other uses, such as software and monitors.
An honorary mention goes to my first interface. Although not the best interface in the world, it’s very cheap and did the trick for me when I first started learning about recording.
Behringer 302USB XenyxBehringer 302USB Xenyx is so small you can fit it into your pocket. And it’s really cheap… as such, it’s not exactly a really high-end piece of kit and it only allows you to record one instrument at a time. But when I got mine, that was all I needed, and it served me well. It can take an XLR or standard guitar cable and has it’s own gain and basic EQ controls. Though it claims to have built in phantom power it isn’t enough to power a condenser mic, as I discovered, so you may need a separate phantom power source. I would say this is definitely a good bit of kit for when you first dip your toes into home recording, but you will want to upgrade after a while.
So there you go. That’s my article about affordable audio interfaces for your home studio. Please do let me know your thoughts. Did I miss any good ones? Should I have left any out? I really appreciate all feedback so please do feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments below or via the contact form. Please also give the DIY Music Facebook page a ‘like’ and follow me on Twitter to keep up to date with my latest posts, articles and tutorials.