These are the best audio interfaces for under $200. Let’s look at how they are each different and decide which one is right for you…
At the end of the video above, you’ll hear a side-by-side comparison and you might be surprised by what you hear.
Inputs & Outputs
I want to break this Blog into three parts – one microphone, two microphones, and more than two microphones.
In my opinion, it’s best to have at least two microphone inputs so that you can record more than one source at a time. However, you may be ok with using only one mic at a time, so we will start there with the Universal Audio Volt 1, the Focusrite Scarlett Solo, and the Audient iD4…
Each of these interfaces has the ability to record one microphone at a time, with a headphone jack and two line level outputs on the back for connecting to studio monitors. Let’s look at the details that set each interface apart.
You’ll notice that the Universal Audio Volt 1 has one input on the front. This can be used to record a microphone OR to record an instrument connected with an instrument cable.
However, you’ll see that the Focusrite Scarlett Solo and the Audient iD4 each have a separate microphone and instrument input.This means you can record an electric guitar and vocal microphone at the same time, keeping each recording on a separate track in your DAW.
If you’re a livestreamer or a solo musician and you’re sure you only need one input at a time, the Universal Audio Volt 1 might be a good choice. But if you need the ability to record your guitar and voice at the same time, you’ll want to go with either the Focusrite Scarlett Solo or the Audient iD4.
The reason the Audient iD4 costs considerably more than the Focusrite Scarlett Solo is that they use generally higher-quality components, like the microphone preamp and headphone amplifier. I want to be clear – you can make professional-sounding music with either one of these. But if you’re serious about sound quality you may want to invest a bit more for general quality, the Audient iD4 is a great choice.
Each of these interfaces still only records one MICROPHONE at a time, though.
The second two can record a microphone and an instrument simultaneously . But you’ll need an interface with 2 microphone preamps in order to record two microphones simultaneously.
I think this is one of the biggest mistakes beginners make when choosing an audio interface. They think, “I’ll just get a ¼-inch microphone and connect that to the instrument input.”. I had this exact thought when I was first getting started. And I tried it out…
But you cannot connect a second microphone to the instrument input like that. If you think you will want the ability to record 2 microphones at once, check out these next few interfaces.
For interfaces with two-inputs, I have the Audient EVO4, the Universal Audio Volt 2, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, and the MOTU M2. For most people recording their own music in a home studio, these will be the best fit. Each one has two inputs that can record either a microphone or an instrument. Each one also has a headphone jack and outputs on the back for connecting studio monitors.
The Universal Audio Volt 2, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, and MOTU M2 each have physical knobs, which I prefer compared to the Audient EVO4. But at the same time, the Audient EVO4 costs considerably less than the others.
Like I said, an interface with 2 mic inputs is a good starting point for recording and building songs in a home studio. But if you are planning to record a full band at the same time, I’d recommend getting an interface with even more inputs. That way, you can keep the drum track, the bass track, the guitar track, and the vocal track separate during the mixing phase.
The Audient evo 8 technically exceeds the $200 budget, but only by a small margin. It gives you 4 microphone inputs which is the lowest I would recommend if you’re recording a live band.
You may even want to consider an 8-input interface like the Behringer UMC1820.
Aside from the physical inputs and outputs on the interface, there are a few feature differences that you’ll want to know about.
The Audient evo interfaces and the Focusrite Scarlett interfaces each have a cool feature that sets the input pre-amp gain levels for you. You just press this button, play your instrument, and the interface automatically sets the preamp knob to the appropriate level. This is really helpful for beginners or solo musicians who want some help setting levels while performing.
The Focusrite Scarlett interfaces also have a feature that will turn down the preamp level if you clip, which won’t stop the clipping from happening the first time but it will protect you from clipping twice in one take.
The Universal Audio Volt 2 and MOTU M2 interfaces each have a MIDI input and output. I don’t personally use this because my MIDI controller connects to my computer via USB. But if having MIDI in and out is important to you, make sure you choose one of these interfaces.
The Universal Audio Volt and Focusrite Scarlett interfaces also have a vintage preamp emulation mode, which adds some harmonic richness to the signal.
Each of these interfaces has a direct monitoring feature which allows you to hear the input signal in real time with no latency or delay while recording.
Another essential feature shared by all of these interfaces (except the Universal Audio Volt interfaces) is loopback. Loopback allows you to route the audio from applications on your computer back into a DAW recording software as an input. This is very important if you need audio for a screen recording or if you are playing back audio in a live stream.
The loopback function of each of these is a bit different though. While each one will allow you to select loopback as an input, only the MOTU and Audient interfaces will allow a software mixer to determine what is sent to that loopback channel. In the other cases, it’s just whatever is send to your analog outputs. I personally find this feature very helpful as a content creator, because it gives me more flexibility.
The meters on the MOTU M2 really stand out to me. They are much more useful than any other interface meter in this lineup. Although, I usually focus more on the meter within my DAW anyway…
One last point before we get to the audio examples: The Audient EVO8 has 2 headphone outputs for creating a separate mix for two people AND it has 2 additional line outputs on the back. This additional IO becomes useful when you want to start accommodating additional gear into your setup or recording multiple performers.
But if you’re just working on your own songs and you’re working within your DAW recording software, these additional features probably won’t be very important to your workflow.
As you’ve seen in the video above, there are some features that may or may not influence your decision, but in my opinion, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (4th generation) is probably my top choice for someone who needs 2 mic inputs. The MOTU M2 is right up there with it, though, and so is the Universal Audio Volt 2. You really can’t go wrong with any of these interface that I’ve chosen for this list.
The Audient iD series is really nice upgrade with a general step up in quality – and there are even more benefits when you get to the Audient iD14 and Audient iD24 with ADAT inputs for future expansion. But those are $300 and $400 interfaces respectively and they don’t really belong in this particular list.
The Audient evo interfaces on the other hand seem a bit lower-quality but offer a lot of value for a lower price.
Be sure to use the links in this post when you buy – that’s one of the best ways to support Audio University.