Getting into audio recording has never been easier. Gone are the days when recording decent audio meant having to shell out thousands of dollars on recording equipment. These days, it’s easy to spend just a few hundred dollars on equipment, and specifically a good audio interface, that sounds almost as good as a top-level studio. Sure, there are things you can’t yet achieve at home — but by spending a few hundred bucks, you can get at least close to a professional sound.
Of course, there are dozens of audio interface options out there in the sub-$1,000 price range, and they’re not all created equal. That, however, is why we’ve put together this guide.
Before buying an audio interface, it’s worth considering a few things. For starters, you’ll want to think about the number of inputs and outputs you need from your audio interface. It’s generally a good idea to get more inputs and output than you think you’ll need, as it allows you to grow a little and record more instruments down the line. It’s also a good idea to consider how the interface will communicate with your computer — whether you need a USB-C compatible interface, or prefer to go with an interface with an older connectivity method. And, of course, you’ll want to think about price range. All of these audio interfaces are under $1,000 — but $1,000 might be a little expensive for some, so we’ve included far cheaper interfaces too.
Without further ado, here are the best audio interfaces under $1,000.
Best audio interface under $1,000: Focusrite Clarett 8Pre
If you have $1,000 to spend on an audio interface and want the best interface out there, then the Focusrite Clarett 8Pre is simply the way to go. The interface boasts a ton of I/O, a great design, and more — and we think it’s able to go head to head with interfaces much more expensive.
This is the first of a number of Focusrite interfaces on the list, and for good reason. Focusrite is known for building excellent-value interfaces, and it has pretty much cornered much of the market in the sub-$1,000 price range. The Focusrite Clarett 8Pre boasts a number of features you would normally expect on more expensive interfaces. For example, the interface offers up to a hefty 18 inputs, and up to 20 outputs, plus its preamps offer up to 119dB of dynamic range with highly-praised converters that compare with much more expensive interfaces. The interface has eight built-in preamps, MIDI support, and more. Last but not least, it connects to your computer through Thunderbolt 2 — and while that’s not the new, modern Thunderbolt 3 standard, it’s still plenty fast. Last but not least, with the interface you’ll get Focusrite’s Red 2 & 3 plug-in suite, which sounds great.
Best Thunderbolt 3 audio interface under $1,000: Universal Audio Arrow
If you do want to take advantage of the new Thunderbolt 3 standard, then there are a few options for you — though that number will hopefully be a lot higher within a few years. For now, however, there’s the Universal Audio Arrow, which is a compact, well-designed interface aimed at small studios that won’t need to use a ton of inputs at once.
The Universal Audio Arrow has two mic pros built in to it, and as you would expect from a Universal Audio device, they’re well-built and excellent-sounding preamps. On the front of the interface, you’ll get LED input and output indicators and a few monitoring controls, while on the back is where you’ll find the two preamps and outputs, as well as the Thunderbolt port. Safe to say, this preamp is a beautiful device — but it’s probably not the best choice for larger studios.
Best audio interface under $500: Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
While there are plenty of great interfaces under $1,000, you don’t necessarily need to spend that much on an audio interface. Why? There are some excellent devices under $500 too — like, for example, the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20.
The Scarlett 18i20 has a lot going for it, even in this price range. For example, you’ll get a nice 18 inputs and 20 outputs, with eight built-in Scarlett microphone preamps and two instrument inputs designed for hot pickups. Focusrite has made headlines over the years for its excellent conversion too, and the Scarlett 18i20 is no exception to that rule. In the box, you’ll also get some pretty sweet software instruments and plug-ins, including the Focusrite Red plug-in suite, Avid’s Pro Tools | First, and more.
Best audio interface under $300: PreSonus Studio 68
If you’re looking for an interface in the sub-$300 price range, then the PreSonus Studio 68 is probably the interface to go for. As the name suggests, the interface has six inputs and eight outputs, which is pretty good for a device in this price range. Those six inputs include four microphone preamps which is one of the main features that sets this interface apart from others — most interfaces in this price range are limited to two inputs.
As you would expect from a PreSonus interface, the device is well-designed, and it’s pretty compact too. As such, this isn’t only for those looking for an interface to use at home — it’s a pretty solid choice for those that want an interface for field recordings.
Best audio interface under $100: PreSonus AudioBox USB 96
Simply want to get started with recording and don’t have much cash to set aside? The PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 is the audio interface for you. PreSonus has made quite a name for itself when it comes to low-cost yet high-quality products, and the AudioBox 96 is no exception to that rule. We reviewed the AudioBox USB 96, and found that it offered excellent audio quality, with some great features like MIDI support — things that can seriously come in handy in an interface in this price range. The AudioBox USB 96 is also capable of recording audio at up to 96kHz, which is a step up from thee previous generation AudioBox, which was limited to 48kHz.