If you’re looking for a budget USB sound card, then you’re in the right place. We’ve compiled a list of five of the best cheap audio interfaces under $100. You won’t need to spend a fortune to get amazing computer recording and playback quality, any of these five pieces of audio hardware will offer you lots of connectivity options, decent sample rate & bit depth, portability and, let’s mention again, affordability.
5 Best Budget USB Sound Cards Under $100 – Table of Contents:
- Lexicon Alpha Studio
- Miditech Audiolink III
- Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD
- Steinberg UR12
- Presonus AudioBox USB
Lexicon Alpha Studio
If you are very tight on budget but don’t want to spend it on toys, take a look at Lexicon Alpha Studio. It was released many many years ago, but that does not matter, it is still present and able to compete with younger “sisters”. For its price range, the specifications are simply amazing! Two stereo line ins and two line outs with RCA and 6,3mm jacks, instrument and microphone input (XLR in the back). But sadly, there’s no phantom power – this might be limiting since you’ll probably want to plug a condenser mic to try some recordings.
The chassis is plastic but it feels sturdy and high-quality. Lexicon Alpha Studio delivers an excellent quality signal with 24-bit/48Khz and has a very low latency. There are no led lights to monitor the signals, only clipping LEDs for volume knobs of the microphone and instrument channels.
Lexicon Alpha Studio costs around $55 (even cheaper in the US), it goes without saying that’s a killer price. Highly recommended if you want something cheap but good enough to get rid of that annoying latency.
Miditech Audiolink III
But what about Audiolink III from German company Miditech? Its price is little less than $100, but with some “investigations”, you can get it for $70-$75. The first thing you will probably notice is the aluminium case – but it depends on the model you pick – more or less visible with the grey, respectively black version. The design is quite spectacular for this price range.
As the specs, this 16-bit/48kHz USB sound card brings two combo inputs XLR/6.3mm jack with independent gain knobs for microphone(s) and/or instruments (guitar, keyboard synthesizer etc), 48V phantom power with on/off and LED indicators for both two channels, signal & peak LEDs. Further, there is a line in to connect your turntables, tape decks etc, and line out to connect the monitors, a mixer etc. No driver needed, just plug it and start creating.
Miditech Audiolink III is not the cheapest here, but is one of the most interesting option for you to consider, with big pluses in term of connectivity and build quality.
Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD
Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD might be the best choice, especially as it comes with two combi inputs XLR/6.3mm jack to plug your microphone and instrument. Speaking of the microphone, U-Phoria UMC202HD has a 48V phantom power switch in the back, so you’ll be ready to record within a few seconds.
Given the price, this audio interface has some impressive features, for example, the real MIDAS-Design mic-preamps, as well as the pad switch per channel and instrument/line selector. As great plus it the independent level control for headphones. It also offers direct monitoring (you can listen to the input signal with near zero latency), but keep in mind that it will be mono, the sound will be heard only in one ear, depending on the microphone input you use. This sound card has 6,3mm jacks for headphones and back outputs, don’t forget to buy the cables and adapters (if you don’t have them).
Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD has the best price per quality ratio, for around $70 you get a USB sound card with impact resistant metal chassis and capable of notable performances. Did we mention it offers 24-bit 192kHz audio quality?!
Steinberg UR12 is not just another metal framed USB audio interface, is the most affordable version coming from one of the best software and equipment company in the world. So expect a high-quality build.
The UR12 features a single XLR microphone input with phantom power and an unbalanced 6.3mm jack for the instrument; each of both inputs comes with its own gain knob. Speaking of high-quality components, the XLR input feeds into a Yamaha D-PRE preamp. Other highlights are latency-free monitoring, iPad connectivity, studio grade A/D converters up to 24-bit/192kHz quality. Further, we find line and headphone outs, direct monitoring and peak LEDs.
In terms of connectivity, Steinberg UR12 may not be the best option here, but the build quality recommends it as the best solution for amateur recording.
Presonus AudioBox USB
Presonus AudioBox USB comes with two dual inputs that work with both XLR and 6.3mm jacks. These have separate gain knobs, and you will use them to plug your microphone and/or instruments. Next is a 48-volt phantom power switch that, once enabled, will provide the phantom power to both channels simultaneously.
The headphones have a separate volume knob situated near a mixer selector which sets the balance between microphone/instrument input and line in. At the back, there are MIDI in and MIDI out connections, main out and the slot for the headphones.
The construction of this little USB sound card is sturdy with side metallic grill and brushed aluminium finish. Presonus AudioBox USB costs $100, a very good price for what it offers.
External USB sound cards are a must for a decent home music production setup. At this price range, there aren’t notable differences in terms of sound quality, the only differences are found in connectivity and build quality. The “what you pay is what you get” idiom is applicable here too, but pricing is not the only factor to be considered. Before making any purchase, do some research about the ease of use, durability and most important, software support. Some sound cards are plug and play, some require software/driver installation so make sure you won’t get any compatibility issues.
We have listed five of the best budget USB sound cards for home music production in 2017, now is your turn to pick the one just perfect for you.