An audio interface is a hardware unit that connects your instrument to your computer. A solid singer/songwriter audio interface will have either one or two inputs, a L/R output to connect to your external speakers and a headphone output. Input connections should have either a 1/4" and/or XLR jack to plug in an instrument and vocal mic. Some of the recommended ones here also offer a world of software amp and sound emulation to refine your recordings. When you're ready to expand and add more instruments and players for live recording or permanent connectivity, several of the units listed below offer multiple channel inputs and output connections. Here are the best recording audio interfaces under $500 in 2021.
If you’re looking for a quality audio product, you need to shop around for the best audio interfaces around. There are multiple types, with each having its own pros and cons. Integrated and standalone, the two main interfaces are the bread and butter of the recording studio. But with so many on the market, how do you know which type to choose? We've compiled this buying guide to help you decide.
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Testing Your Audio Interface
To confirm that your audio signal is perfectly transmitted to your speakers, it is important to test your interface with a recording device. Keep in mind that you need to connect your computer to the internet first. Make sure you have a test device connected to each port on your card.
Connect the USB cable from the computer and plug it into the port you’ve just tested.
Then, plug in the other end of the cable into your device, and listen to what your system is playing. If the audio is transmitted perfectly, then everything is set up correctly.
Testing Your Sound Quality
A good audio system will have excellent sound quality, but it's not as important what it sounds like as it would be if you were to get a sound interface that was just good enough for use with your laptop.
To make sure that everything will sound great from your new audio card, you should test it with multiple programs that are designed to allow you to record with the best sound. Some of these programs include Audacity, which is a free program that will allow anyone to create MP3 files of their voice; Audition, an audio editing program; and the Audigy 2, a more expensive option that is designed specifically for those who want to work with DTS-HD Master Audio.
Considerations When Buying a Recording Audio Interface
If you’re not already familiar with our favorite Bluetooth-enabled devices, here are some of the top things to know about our shortlist.
First, the Bose SoundLink Wireless Headphones are a superb choice for anyone who wants to listen to music while they‘re driving, exercising, or even sleeping. As close to perfect as you can get, these headphones are designed to work with the Apple Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, which means you won”t lose any of your music if your phone is lost or stolen.
If you prefer to stream music, we love the JOYFISH Mophie Music Streaming Media Player because it's a sleek, beautiful, easy-to-use media player that‼s an ideal fit for charging multiple devices at once. It's got all the audio formats you could hope for, including FLAC, ALAC and DSD.
We're also big fans of JVC's Bluetooth Smart Receiver for Smartphones, because not only does it play music from your Android or iPhone, but it also powers several of its smart TVs.In addition to our top picks, there are several more models that we also love.
The Yamaha RX-V386U Bluetooth Multimedia Receiver is a perfect all-in-one receiver for the home. Featuring a 15-band equalizer and FM radio, it can stream from over 100 online radio stations.
And the Audio-Technica AT2020 High-Fidelity Receiver packs enough power to power up to eight speakers at the same time.
Recording Audio Interface Price-Ranges
The price of an audio-video interface isn’t a direct indicator of its quality, but there are some general guidelines that can help you compare different options.
The most inexpensive audio interfaces cost $50 to $100. These interfaces may have modest sound quality or be limited to 16-bit/44.1 kHz sound. The interface may not include all of the features that you want, such as HDMI inputs or a USB port.
Audio interfaces that cost between $125 and $300 offer better sound and more features. You“ll find a wide variety of inputs, including DVI, HDMI, USB, and soundbars.
For audio in the $350 to $500 range, you'll get a reliable audio system with high-quality inputs and headphone outputs. Audio quality is superior to the lower end of this range.
Premium: If you spend $600 and above on an interface, it‘s likely a high quality device that works with all audio sources.
Important Features of Recording Audio Interfaces
Most modern audio interfaces come with both a 2.0 and a 5.1 audio port.
These are the simplest interfaces and work with a single cable. With a two-ch cable, you can plug in a headset and listen to your music without having to buy a second cable or carry a separate phone adapter.
Audio inputs on these interfaces can be daisy- chained to add even more channels. This is the most common type of audio input on an audio system, so it’s the one you”ll usually find on a computer. Some interfaces also include a headphone jack for use with headphones.
Many audio-video interfaces include an analog-digital converter chip. These chips enable video to be converted to analog, a quality that was previously impossible.
Facts About Recording Interfaces
Audio interfaces come in a few different forms. We’ve already looked at the professional audio interfaces you‘ll see in stores. From there, you can choose a simpler, more basic, no-frills, and generally less expensive interface that works with line-in, line out, or analog (RCA).
The most basic of these interfaces can connect to two monitors and connect directly to your computer via a USB cable.
The next step up from this is a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), which allows you to connect two or more audio sources, convert the digital signal into an analog signal, add some digital effects, such as reverb and delay, via digital to analog conversion (Digital/Analog Converter), and send the result back to the source via an audio cable (USB).
If you want to take your sound to another level, we recommend getting a high-end, professional-grade audio device.
Recording Audio Interfaces FAQ
Q: What is a recording audio interface?
A: Audio interfaces are a type of computer interface that allows you to connect your computer's audio output directly to your sound system. They are typically equipped with an analog line output and an optical digital input, which allows for high-quality audio to be played back through your speakers. The audio interfaces on this list are all excellent examples of this technology, and the average price ranges from $100 to $400. However, the best audio inputs on the market are much more expensive.
Q: Why should I get an interface with a USB port?
A: A USB interface is a great choice for anyone who has a lot of music and video files that they want to transfer over the internet. Many of the audio formats supported by USB interfaces include lossless audio, video, picture, text, documents, Office documents and more. USB is also a universal interface, so you can connect to an Apple computer, Windows computer or Android device and transfer files between them seamlessly.
Q: Why do I need a microphone?
A: If you're just starting out, you might find a mic easy to use. But if you plan on doing more work in the studio, a good mic will make recording easier and allow you make more precise sounds. A good microphone is essential if your main goal is to record vocals, acoustic guitar, drums or other instruments. If the mic you choose doesn't offer enough control, though, it might not do you any good.
By Jack Stoneybrook
Jack has been a touring guitarist for almost 20 years, playing in a number of country music and rock bands. Jack loves the road and defines himself as a never-ending student of the guitar and other important instruments or tools that make a musician.