Maybe you’re a singer/songwriter, and you want to make professional-quality demos of your songs. Or maybe you’re producing podcasts. And you have a limited budget. So you need to find a good audio interface and some software to record, edit, and mix your audio – something that won’t break your budget.
First, a disclaimer: A few of the best “cheap audio interfaces under $100” we’ve reviewed actually have a slightly higher retail price. But you can often find them sold at discounted prices. And because they all share many common features, we decided to include them in this comparison anyway.
All of the audio interfaces we looked at are excellent products. They may be “cheap” in price, but they don’t skimp on quality.
We’ve tried to keep the tech talk to a minimum. But If you don’t have any experience with audio interfaces or digital audio in general, you might want to jump to the Buyer’s Guide to better understand any unfamiliar technical terms.
- Top 8 Best Cheap Audio Interfaces Under $100 To Buy 2021 Reviews
- Cheap Audio Interfaces Under $100 Buyer’s Guide
- So, What Are The Cheap Audio Interfaces Under $100?
Top 8 Best Cheap Audio Interfaces Under $100 To Buy 2021 Reviews
1 Behringer U-Phoria UM2
If you’re looking for the ultimate in cheap audio interfaces, you can hardly do better than the Behringer U-Phoria UM2. It’s designed for simple operation, with the two input and main output level controls conveniently located on the top of the box. Colored LEDs that indicate an input signal and clipping are conveniently located next to the input jacks.
It has one channel with a combination XLR/TRS connector for a microphone or line input and a professional-quality Xenyx preamp. The other channel is for a high-impedance (Hi-Z) instrument like an electric guitar. A switch on the back lets you send 48-volt phantom power to a condenser mic.
There are a pair of RCA output jacks plus a 1/4-inch stereo headphone jack. A front-panel switch lets you listen to either the recorded audio or the input directly.
Once you register your UM2, you’ll receive a download code for a full version of Tracktion audio production software. Plus, you get over 150 virtual instruments and effects plug-ins. This is really remarkable for an audio interface that costs so little.
You can’t adjust the headphone level independently or get a mono mix. Nor can you hear a mix of the direct and recorded audio. And there are no MIDI ports to connect a drum machine or a MIDI controller. The maximum recording resolution is 48k/24, which might not be an issue for you.
- Very low cost.
- Nice design with level knobs on top.
- Full version of Tracktion included.
- No mono monitoring option.
- No separate headphone volume control.
2 Lexicon Alpha Studio
For a slightly bigger investment, the Lexicon Alpha Studio offers some additional features and more flexible operation. It actually has four inputs, though you can only record two at a time. Channel 1 can be an instrument or line input, while channel 2 is a microphone or second line input. The mic channel uses a real XLR connector. The maximum sample rate is 48k/24.
The Alpha Studio has a sleek and efficient design. Its modern molded case is blue and silver, with a prominent Lexicon logo embossed on the top for everyone to see.
On the front panel are the instrument input jack, channel input level controls, output level control, and headphone jack. There is also a control to mix the “direct” (input) and “playback” (output) signals, plus a push-button switch to give you a mono mix. Input peak indicator LEDs are conveniently located next to the level controls.
The Alpha includes a nice software bundle. First, you get Steinberg’s Cubase LE, an easy-to-use 48-track digital audio workstation. Also included is the Lexicon Pantheon VST Reverb plug-in, with six reverb models and 35 factory presets. All this makes it one of the best cheap audio interfaces under $100 on the market.
This is the only interface in this group that does not have a phantom power option, so it won’t work with condenser microphones. Also, there’s no separate headphone volume control and no dedicated MIDI In or Out jacks.
- Can mix the input and output for monitoring.
- Convenient peak LEDs.
- Mono-stereo switch.
- Software includes Lexicon reverb.
- Low cost.
- No phantom power.
- No headphone volume control.
3 Tascam US-1×2
The Tascam US-1×2 comes in an attractive, heavy-duty metal case that tilts the front panel slightly upwards. The angled design is very convenient for desktop operation.
An Ultra-HDDA mic preamp with an XLR connector provides up to 57 dB of gain. The second input is a switchable line or instrument input. Each input has its own front-panel gain control, plus LEDs to indicate signal presence and overload. Also on the front are the main output volume control so that you make sure your best studio monitors are set correctly, and a 1/4-inch headphone jack with a separate volume control.
The US-1×2 can record and play back audio sampled at up to 96k. This is the cheapest audio interface we reviewed that can sample at this rate.
On the back are two line inputs with a switch to select them instead of the front inputs, plus the two main outputs. These are less sturdy (and unbalanced) RCA jacks. Also, a slide switch lets you select direct monitoring of the input source, while another enables 48-volt phantom power for the microphone.
The monitor switch, in particular, feels small and inconveniently located, since you might want to use it frequently.
The US-1×2 doesn’t provide a switch for mono output, and there are no MIDI jacks. It comes bundled with Cubase LE and Cubasis LE software.
- Ergonomic case design.
- 96k sampling.
- Top-quality electronic components and excellent preamps.
- Separate main and headphone volume controls.
- Inconvenient monitoring switch.
- No mono/stereo output switch.
4 PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 2×2
The PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 2×2 has a lot to offer for its modest price. For starters, it provides two microphone/instrument inputs with high-performance mic preamps for connecting high-end or the best cheap mics. As its name suggests, it can record and play back audio at up to 96k.
You can monitor a mix of the inputs and the outputs. Also, there’s a separate volume control for headphones. One missing feature we’d like to see is a switch to enable mono output.
It has a clean and efficient design with all the gain controls and the mic phantom power switch on the front panel. The output jacks are 1/4-inch TRS, not the cheaper RCA connectors found on several other models we looked at. And it has MIDI in and out jacks.
The only significant minus is the headphone jack, which is in the back of the box. Also, there’s no mono output switch.
The AudioBox USB 2×2 comes with an outstanding software bundle. It starts with Studio One Artist, an excellent digital audio workstation. Also included is the Studio Magic plug-in suite, a 6-gigabyte package of virtual instruments and effects with offerings from Arturia, Izotope, Brainworx, and other leading plug-in developers.
- Two microphone preamps.
- All controls located in front.
- MIDI In and Out connectors included.
- No mono output option.
- Headphone jack on the back panel.
5 Steinberg UR12
The Steinberg UR12 is the “cheap audio interface” entry from Steinberg, a Yamaha brand. It has one dedicated microphone input and one dedicated high-impedance instrument input. In other words, you can’t use the mic input as a second instrument.
This is the least expensive audio interface we reviewed that can record and play back audio at 192k and 24-bit resolution. You can also use it with your iPad, with the purchase of the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit.
The UR12 offers Yamaha’s D-PRE discrete mic preamp, which touts a very wide, flat frequency response. A switch to enable 48-volt phantom power for a condenser mic is in the back.
A single volume knob controls both the main outputs (with RCA jacks) and headphones. A front panel push-button switch enables direct input monitoring. On the downside, the UR12 doesn’t include a mono monitoring/output option or MIDI connectors.
The UR12 comes with Cubase AI DAW software, plus a nice selection of plug-ins. These include Guitar Amp Classics, Sweet Sport Morphing Channel Strip, and REV-X reverb.
- Sample rate up to 192k.
- Can work with an iPad.
- Excellent software included.
- Inputs not flexible.
- No MIDI.
- Does not have mono monitoring.
- No separate headphone volume control.
6 Focusrite Scarlett Solo
The Scarlett Solo is the entry-level product in Focusrite’s extensive Scarlett audio interface line. Like the Steinberg UR12, it provides one microphone input with optional phantom power and one instrument input. The third-generation Scarlett mic preamp, with its locking XLR connector, is perhaps its biggest selling point. It has an “air” switch to reproduce the effect of Focusrite’s original ISA mic preamp. The maximum sample rate is 192k.
The line outputs have balanced 1/4-inch connectors. The headphone output on the front panel does not have a separate volume control. A push-button switch enables direct monitoring of the input. Mono monitoring or output isn’t available, and there are no MIDI In/Out connectors.
For what it’s worth, Focusrite interfaces look great. The futuristic metallic red case and easy-to-read color graphics stand out in a studio or on a desktop. This helps make it one of the best and most popular cheap audio interfaces under $100 on the market
The Scarlett Solo comes with an impressive suite of software, including Pro Tools First, Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time and Tone bundle, Focusrite’s Red plug-in Suite, a 3-month Splice subscription and one free XLN Addictive keys virtual instrument.
- Excellent Focusrite microphone preamp.
- Extensive software bundle.
- Sample rate up to 192k.
- No MIDI.
- Does not feature mono monitoring.
- No separate headphone volume control.
7 Behringer U-Phoria UMC204HD
Behringer’s U-Phoria UMC204HD pushes the definition of “cheap audio interface” to the limit, but its wealth of useful features makes it worth considering. Designed in Germany, it has an impact-resistant metal chassis and comes with a 3-year warranty program.
Its two inputs use a combination TRS/XLR connector for maximum flexibility. Each input can be configured for a microphone, instrument or line-level signal. The mic preamps were designed by MIDAS, a world-class mixing console manufacturer. Each input also provides a pad switch to tame inputs that are too loud. The maximum recording and playback sample resolution is 192k/24.
On the back are four “playback outputs” that are actually two input pairs from external sources such as a CD player. You can use these with the front-panel Monitor A/B switch and Mix control to select the source for DJ-style cueing. Also, a push-button switch lets you select a mono mix.
A special feature is the UMC204HD’s two insert jacks. You can use these with outboard effects such as compressors, delay units, etc.
The main outputs are 1/4-inch balanced connectors. MIDI In and Out are also provided.
When you register your UMC204HD, Behringer will provide a free download code for the full version of Tracktion, not a stripped-down version that needs a paid upgrade to access all of its features.
There’s very little not to like about the U-Phoria UMC204HD. The documentation is somewhat sketchy, with a Quick Start Guide that’s too short and somewhat confusing, since it covers four different interface models. While on the subject of the other models, if you think that two inputs may not be enough, check out our in-depth review of the 204’s bigger brother in our Behringer UMC404HD 4 channel interface review.
- Two MIDAS microphone preamps.
- 192k maximum sample rate.
- Input pad switches.
- MIDI In and Out.
- Input monitor switch.
- Disappointing documentation.
8 Mackie Onyx Artist 1-2
The Mackie Onyx Artist 1-2 features sturdy “Built-Like-A-Tank” design to survive rough handling. One input is for a microphone, with an XLR connector and a premium-grade Onyx preamp. The second input has a 1/4-inch connector and a push-button switch to accommodate an instrument or line input. It can record and play back audio at up to 192k/24.
Another front-panel push-button allows you to enable direct monitoring. The headphone output has its own volume control and can be used with any of the best studio headphones for home recording. The main left and right outputs have balanced 1/4-inch connectors on this cheap audio interfaces under $100.
The Artist 1-2 does not include MIDI ports or a mono output switch. These are surprising omissions, given its premium price.
Bundled software includes Tracktion’s Waveform OEM digital audio workstation, plus the DAW Essentials collection. This is a suite of 16 effects plug-ins, including EQ, compressor, limiter, reverbs, etc.
If you haven’t decided on which DAW is best suited to your needs yet, you’ll find lots of useful information in our best music production software DAW article.
- Sturdy case.
- Boutique Onyx microphone preamp.
- Maximum 192k/24 sampling.
- No mono output option.
- No MIDI port.
- Relatively expensive for features provided.
Cheap Audio Interfaces Under $100 Buyer’s Guide
If this is your first experience shopping for an audio interface, you might be confused by some of the technical jargon. In this section, we’ll try to demystify all that so you can choose the best inexpensive audio interface for your needs.
Inputs & Connectors
Audio interfaces typically allow you to plug in a variety of different audio sources. All the interfaces reviewed here will work with microphones, instruments, or line inputs.
Microphones produce a very quiet signal and thus require a preamplifier (“preamp”). The higher the quality of the preamp in the interface, the better your audio will sound.
Condenser microphones also require 48-volt “phantom power” to operate. This is supplied through the mic cable. All but one of the interfaces we reviewed has an option to provide phantom power.
Musical instruments like electric guitars also output a low-level signal, but they require a different kind of input. This is usually labeled “instrument” or “Hi-Z” (high impedance).
Finally, synthesizers, CD players or mixers have a much louder output referred to as “line level.” Most of the interfaces we looked at offer this option also.
Balanced Versus Unbalanced Inputs
Without getting deeply into technical details, a balanced audio cable has three conductors. This helps to reduce hum and other noise from nearby electrical devices. Microphone cables with XLR connectors are balanced, as are 1/4-inch TRS cables used for synthesizers, mixers, or other line inputs.
On the other hand, guitars and other instruments use an unbalanced 2-conductor 1/4-inch cable. The RCA outputs are also unbalanced.
Some interfaces have combination XLR/TRS input jacks that can accept either a microphone or line input. Others have a single line/instrument input, and you select the correct type with a switch.
All the interfaces we’ve reviewed connect to the host computer via a USB 2.0 interface connector on the back. It’s fast (480 million bits per second), but not as fast as Thunderbolt, the interface standard used by many of the larger multi-channel interfaces.
MIDI In & Out
MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface to give it its full name, is a hardware and software standard that allows you to connect synthesizers, keyboard controllers and drum machines to your computer. Some audio interfaces include a pair of standard 5-pin MIDI jacks (In and Out) for this purpose.
Audio Quality: Sample Rate & Bit Depth
Digital audio quality is largely determined by two variables. The first is the sample rate. This is how often the audio interface hardware measures the voltage of the input signal and saves it as a number (sample). CDs use a sample rate of 44,100 samples per second (44.1k). This is enough to accurately reproduce sounds up to over 20,000 hertz, the limit of human hearing.
Professional audio is usually recorded at even higher rates for a cleaner sound, especially when applying effects like pitch shifting. All the audio interfaces reviewed have a maximum sample rate of 48k, and some can go as high as 192k.
The other variable is bit depth, which determines how accurately the voltage can be sampled. CDs use 16-bit samples, but professional audio applications usually use a full 24 bits. This requires 50 percent more memory but makes it easier to mix large projects.
All the audio interfaces reviewed can sample at 16- or 24-bit resolution. So, for example, if audio is sampled at a resolution of 96,000 samples per second with 24-bit samples, it’s abbreviated 96k/24.
Latency & Monitoring
When you monitor a recording on a digital interface, some amount of delay, or latency is inevitable. Latency is the time it takes to digitize the input signal, save the samples in a temporary buffer, and then reconvert them to an analog signal for monitoring. When the latency is too long, the delay can be frustrating.
You can reduce, but not completely eliminate latency by choosing the most efficient audio drivers and reducing the buffer size as much as possible without getting pops and crackles.
But for best monitoring results, all of the audio interfaces reviewed here include an option to listen to the input directly, with zero latency. Most have a switch to choose between input and output, but some have a volume control so you can mix the two.
Mono & Stereo
Another important option is the ability to mix the left and right channels into a single monaural (mono) signal. This helps ensure that your mix will sound okay when played back on a mono system.
Looking To Spend A Little More?
If, after reading through this, you want to check out the features and advantages of spending a little more on an interface, then please check out our in-depth reviews of the best audio interfaces.
So, What Are The Cheap Audio Interfaces Under $100?
The clear winner, in our opinion, is the…
It has all the features you need in an inexpensive audio interface, including mono monitoring, a separate headphone volume control, and MIDI ports. Plus, it’s the only interface we reviewed with inserts to let you use your own outboard hardware.
The U-Phoria also includes a full version of a digital audio workstation application. So you won’t have to spend more money later to upgrade from a featured-limited “Lite” version.
For the best value cheap audio interfaces under $100, we recommend the…
For its very modest cost, you’ll get a lot of functionality, an excellent software bundle, and the famous Lexicon name in your studio. If you’re not planning to record at sample rates above 48k or work with condenser microphones, this could be a good investment.