Looking for maximum quality at the lowest price?
The interface market is saturated with inputs, outputs, phantom power, monitor mixing and more recording features than you can shake a stick at. If you're just starting out, dipping your toe in and for the moment sticking to virtual production work entirely 'in the box' then most of those things are irrelevant to your needs.
You want solid quality, and perhaps a little flexibility if the time comes.
So we've hunted down the 5 best affordable, no frills audio interfaces that are built around good quality DAC's and implement solid ancillary components to give you the best bang for your buck.
NB. Prices correct at time of writing.
1. Audient iD4
Minimising it's feature set and focussing on core functionality and quality, this 2 in/2 out interface is built around AKM Converters and sounds fantastic, providing a very natural and open sound.
Featuring a useful Class AB dual headphone output, the Audient exclusive Scroll Control feature and a dedicated Instrument input using the traditionally lower noise and more efficient JFET technology.
All wrapped up in an all metal enclosure supporting USB 2.0 and supporting up to 24bit/96khz.
2. M-Audio M-Track 2x2M
Yet another 2 in/2 out USB 2.0 interface. Standout features at big dial volume control, front panelled headphone socket and the aesthetically clean layout.
If you need midi integration then make sure you opt for the 2x2M As unlike the Focusrite and Audient the M-Track also features midi in/out for only little more in cost.
It's integrated circuit design is centred around the Wolfson DAC notable for it's pleasingly warm, balanced sound quality whilst supporting sample rates up to 24Bit 192Khz.
Software includes Steinberg Cubase LE, and AIR Plugin bundle featuring 20 FX processors.
3. Focusrite 2i2 2nd Gen
Another 2 in/2 out interface. Supporting sample rates from 44.1 kHz, all the way to 192 kHz this unit is based around the Cirrus Logic CS4272 chip which provides a clear, crisp neutral sound.
Most notable hardware features are single headphone out, dual instrument/line in on the front panel and an easy access volume control.
Also worth noting is it's good initial software bundle which includes Ableton Live Lite, ProTools FIRST and Softube's Time and Tone bundle comprising TSAR-1R Reverb, Drawmer S73 Intelligent Master Processor, Tube Delay and Saturation Knob. Quite the package!
4. Steinberg UR22
Steinbergs robust UR22 taking on a very industrial look. This no nonsense interface is based around the Cirrus CS4270 converters and due to well designed supporting hardware punches above it's weight in sound quality, often cited as beating it's older cousin the UR28M in listening alone.
Feature wise it supports a busy if not muddled front panel with dual line in, single headphone out quick but fiddly access to independent main out and headphone volume control.
On the back we have midi in/out, dedicated 5v DC in and main outputs. A lot of feature for the money.
Supporting up to 24Bit 192Khz sample rate it's only let down by it's slightly cluttered front panel design.
5. Zoom U-22
The most unorthodox looking interface in the line up.
This no frills interface whilst awkward in styling however it's rugged and hefty in the hand.
Ideal as part of the producers on the move kit list or as an absolutely bare bones easily integrated desktop interface.
Featuring 2 inputs from a line in 3.5mm and a mic input sitting below the easy access volume and gain control it's definitely cutesy.
Regrettably Zoom would not comment on the internal hardware simply stating "We do not release these specifications on our internal hardware" however its well put together with the sound quality being solid for it's price point, featuring good transient detail and overall reproduction.
Whilst not as top shelf in terms of output quality as some of the above products, it is the cheapest on our list and will offer a clear advantage over your computers integrated sound card.