Are you in the market for a low-cost audio interface for your Pro Tools studio? These days we are spoilt for choice when it comes to audio interfaces, especially in the lower price brackets. There is one small downside to all this audio interface variety... everything in the affordable range can start to look a bit samey making it difficult to pick the best interface... for your needs, of course.
You may have come across a few of these marketing terms when browsing for audio interfaces that cost less than £250:
- Delivers studio-quality sound
- Maximum headroom
- Ultra-low latency
- Low noise
Truth be told, all audio interfaces these days that cost below £250 are all pretty much the same thing. They all provide us with the means of getting quality sound in and out of a DAW at an affordable price. The differences between all the interfaces on the market today lie in their I/O feature set, connectivity and portability. The secret to choosing the best audio interface is to decide two things before purchasing:
- How much are you willing to spend?
- What type of recording will you be routinely using the interface for? - This will help you decide how many inputs you need.
Once you have worked out those two points you can objectively browse for the perfect audio interface. To help you along your way we have put together a list of great audio interfaces that cost less than £250.
Behringer U-Phoria Range
Behringer introduced the UMC U-Phoria USB audio interface range a few years back. These interfaces provide great value for money. The entry-level UM2 (2 in 2 out) interface costs around £29 through to the top U-Phoria interface, the UMC1820 USB/MIDI (18 x 20 USB2.0 audio/MIDI interface with ADAT I/O) costing £239.
- UM2 (2 in 2 out): £29
- UMC204HD (2 in 4 out): £75
- UMC404HD (4 in 4 out): £93
- UMC1820 (8 MIDAS pres rack mount): £239
We use both the UMC202HD and UMC404HD interfaces in our studios. The microphone preamps are MIDAS and sound clean and crisp. These two interfaces have enough I/O for singer-songwriters, recording artists and home studio mixers.
There was a time when if you told a friend you own a piece of Behringer gear you would either be laughed at or told without doubt that the gear would expire within a week... I like to think those days are behind us as these interfaces and the mighty Behringer X32 Live console prove that quality, value for money and reliability are standards now at Behringer.
I haven't experienced any problems with either of these interfaces. Both are extremely simple to set up, require no drivers and sound great. You only have to live with the outdated stigma of owning a Behringer.
Focusrite Scarlett Second Generation 2i2 & 6i6
In mid-2016 Focusrite released the second generation range of Scarlett interfaces. The interfaces that fall within a £250 price range are:
- Scarlett Solo: £79
- Scarlett 2i2: £109
- Scarlett 2i4: £145
- Scarlett 6i6: £182
We like the Scarlett range. They look the part in any studio setup, but looks don't matter when it comes to choosing a low-cost audio interface. The Scarletts and other Focusrite interfaces use a desktop application called Focusrite Control which enables users to run and configure Focusrite interfaces on computers and in DAWs. It's a simple application, setting up a Scarlett is easy, no need to even read the manual.
The Scarlett Solo and 2i2 interfaces are bus-powered via USB, great for laptop users on the go. The 6i6 and interfaces that break the £250 budget require mains power and ship with PSUs.
The Scarlett 2nd Gen range of interfaces provides users with a lot of options, ultimately the choice comes down to how much I/O you need and what you can afford. The only downside to the Scarletts is in the headphone output department. The 6i6 and 2i2 that we tested vigorously both struggled to provide us with suitable headphone monitoring levels which made it difficult for us to hear the Pro Tools session in the headphones when tracking loud sources such as drums and electric guitar cabs.
Tascam US Series Of Audio Interfaces
The numbers within the model names represent the number of inputs and outputs on each device:
- US 1x2: £89
- US 2x2: £110
- US 4x4: £169
- US 16x08: £219
Tascam US series of low-cost audio interfaces provide a no thrills approach to recording. If you invest in any of these interfaces you'll get great sounding mic pres in a device that has been very well built. The US 16x08 is by far the cheapest interface around that features 8 mic pres, so if you're looking to record multi-track drums on a budget then consider this range.
Mackie Onyx Audio Interfaces
Mackie launched the Onyx series of audio interfaces fairly recently. Two models are available:
- Onyx Artist (1in/2out): £89
- Onyx Producer (2in/2out): £125
Both these interface include all the basic features you find on the vast majority of audio interfaces within this low-cost range such as phantom power, line outs, a single headphone out and MIDI The Onyx Artist and Producer are great value for money and worth considering if you fancy something a bit different from the norm.
Audient ID4 & ID14
If you are a plug and play recording artist that demands high-quality sound coupled with ease of use from an interface then you must consider either the iD4 or iD14 from Audient. Both have Class-A mic pres that Audient use in their expensive flagship interfaces. For the money, you get a great deal, though the mic inputs are located on the back of the unit which may be not to everyone's liking. These are however very elegant compact desktop devices that resemble monitor controllers. James really likes these interfaces, he claims they make recording fun again.
There is one main difference between the two devices. The iD14 features ADAT that enables users to expand up to ten inputs via an eight-channel mic pre, such as the Audient ASP800.
- Audient iD4 (2 in/2 out): £110
- Audient iD14 (2 in/2 out - includes ADAT): £199
Zoom's UAC-2 audio interface is the only interface in this list that is equipped with USB 3.0 (compatible with USB 2.0). It is a two channel 24-bit/192 kHz device for Windows or Mac computers. It even works with iPhones & iPads. The UAC-2 would be best suited for users on the go that travel around recording and mixing in different locations. The design is also quite unique, just look at how the master volume dial sinks into the casing! For £179 you can't really go wrong.
Line 6 POD UX2
Line 6, makers of the guitar pod series and Helix, also offer a low-cost audio interface. The POD UX2 appears to be aimed at the home guitar recording crowd as it includes, what Line 6 claim to be, extremely quiet guitar inputs and high-quality mic preamps. This interface has gain pots located on the top of the device which may or may not be to everyone's liking. Just look at those VU meters, how cool are they? If you shop around you can buy one of these for around £135, not bad value for money, especially as it ships with a free copy of Cubase LE, but that's not important to us... we're Pro Tools users!
Have We Missed Any?