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The Press Desk 18th September 2016 03:58 PM

Top Five Audio Interfaces Under $300
 
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We asked our members to nominate their favourite audio interfaces under $300 and here is what the Gearslutz community told us!


Disclaimer: The provided I/O counts consider how many simultaneous input and output channels are offered. All the listed interfaces are USB 2.0 compatible.

 iD14

Audient iD14

More widely acclaimed than any other interface in this price range, the iD14 follows the trail of the highly regarded iD22, but it trims down the features to deliver a more affordable box while maintaining all the quality one expects from Audient. The iD14 is a very concise 10x04 I/O interface presenting premium preamps, 24bit/96khz Burr-Brown converters for pristine quality and an optical port to add up to eight more input channels. The iD14 is packed into a rugged metal enclosure, with two combination microphone/instrument inputs and outputs (balanced TRS) placed on the rear, while a headphone output and a JFET instrument input are conveniently placed on the front. On top of that there are two aluminium knobs for setting the analog input gain, switches for +48V and a big rotary encoder that not only sets the main output or headphone volume but also controls software parameters on your computer - just enable the “iD ScrollControl Mode”, hover the mouse cursor over the desired target and use the dial to adjust. The encoder and iD button can also be mapped to other parameters on Audient’s software, such as DIM, CUT, Polarity Reverse, Mono Sum, Talkback or Cue Mix monitoring. Speaking of software, the ID14 offers console-style mixing for inputs and outputs, providing configurable monitor mixes with very low latency to monitor recordings with ease. Audient came up with a very clever feature set for the iD14, delivering great bang-for-your-buck right out of the box with high quality preamps and converters but also enabling future expansions with the digital ADAT/SPDIF input, so it’s no surprise that it quickly became a top choice in this product category.



 UR44

Steinberg UR44

Steinberg expands the successful UR series (and your options) with the UR44, an interesting 6x4 I/O interface that can do well in the studio with great sound quality and also serve "on the road" with its sturdy metal chassis. The UR44 presents four Class-A Yamaha preamps on combi microphone/instrument connectors, two balanced mono inputs (TRS) for line-level signals, 9-pin MIDI I/O connectivity, four balanced mono outputs (TRS), stereo balanced monitor outputs (2 TRS) and two ¼” headphone outputs. The preamps, main stereo and headphones outputs all have independent volume knobs placed on the front along with the +48V buttons for easy and quick access. With up to 24-bit/192 kHz of resolution, the UR44 offers latency-free monitoring with onboard DSP to provide monitor mixes with EQ, high-pass filter, compressor, reverb and guitar amp simulation, which all are all editable through the DSP Mix FX software. The UR44 ships with Cubase Ai7, making it a well-rounded package at a very reasonable price tag.



 Scarlett 6i6 (2nd Gen)

Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 (2nd Gen)

The Scarlett range of interfaces has recently received the “second generation” treatment from Focusrite, with updated converters now delivering 24-bit/192kHz resolution, more headroom on the instrument inputs, power surge protection circuits, and they can now achieve even lower latencies that make tracking with inline effect plug-ins a very viable possibility. The Scarlett 6i6 provides two combi microphone/instrument (with +48V/gain pads) and two ¼” headphone outputs inputs in the front, while the back houses four balanced mono outputs (¼”-TRS), digital I/O on SPDIF (coaxial) and 9-pin MIDI I/O. The two combi inputs, headphone out and main stereo outputs all have dedicated gain/volume knobs in the front panel for very smooth operation. On top of that there is an interesting software package that includes 'Pro Tools First' DAW software with a custom bundle of effects, Ableton Live Lite, the Novation Bass Station VST/AU virtual synthesizer, plugins from Softube (VST/AU/AAX) and 1GB of Loopmasters sample content. It doesn’t stop there - with the lower latencies provided by the hardware update, this unit offers its users even more options with Focusrite's 'Plugin Collective' initiative, where owners of Scarlett interfaces have access to exclusive offers from some of the world's best plugin developers so they can expand their collection. If you don’t care for said inline effects but instead prefer true direct monitoring with zero latency, then don’t worry - the Scarlett has that covered with the software mixer, which has also been redesigned for more intuitive use. Overall this is a very enticing solution for recording and producing music that won’t dent your finances.



 Komplete Audio 6

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6

One of the most recognised and acknowledged software developers of our age is also present on the audio interface market with the Komplete Audio 6. This 6x6 I/O interface features two combi inputs for instruments and microphones, four balanced mono ¼” TRS inputs and outputs, coaxial SPDIF and 9-pin MIDI I/O. The front panel offers the XLR/TRS inputs with gain knob and line/instrument switches, main output volume knob with a “mono” button and a headphone output with its own volume control that can be assigned to get signals from outputs 1-2 or 3-4. Komplete 6 also brings a slick top panel with a big main volume knob and a handful of status LEDs to indicate activity on all inputs and outputs. Despite being a company with strong focus on production, Native Instrument hasn’t left recording out of the equation and direct monitoring (zero latency) is available on inputs 1 and 2. As expected from NI, this interface ships with a large software package that includes Traktor LE, Cubase LE and Native’s Komplete Elements plug-in/virtual instruments bundle, making it a very interesting option for producers "keeping it in the box" without bigger I/O needs.



 U-Phoria UMC404HD

Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD

The latest generation of UMC HD audio interfaces from Behringer promises to step up the quality while keeping costs low. The UMC404HD sits in the middle of the UMC HD range and provides 4x4 I/O, four MIDAS preamps, zero latency monitoring and up to 192kHz resolution. The front panel has four combi mic/instrument inputs (each with their own gain knobs & pad & line/instrument buttons), a main output volume control with stereo/mono options, playback/input monitor blend control and a ¼” headphone output with dedicated volume knob and A/B source selection. On the back there are two female XLR outs for the main stereo buss (which is also available on 2x¼” balanced TRS), four ¼” connectors for adding inserts to the front inputs, a pair of stereo playback outputs through four balanced ¼” TRS (or unbalanced RCA), 9-pin MIDI I/O and a +48V phantom power switch. It’s amazing how many features Behringer have managed to squeeze into a box at this price point and they’re putting a lot of effort in to raise their standards, so don’t overlook this new batch of UMC interfaces!



Want to read or discuss more about audio interfaces? Please visit our Music Computers forum!

funknroll 31st October 2017 04:53 AM

My new recent Audient iD14 can resist to at a glass drop of coca cola and water it still sound very good but i want wash sugar on the circuits i love this DAC with my new alpha 80 with mind blowing bass (better than in club). I'm not a pro just normal consumer who likes black music and house too much. Thank you gearslutz for your precious advices i can't live without you ^^

Soul Train for the win hooppie

Dallon426 25th December 2017 01:25 PM

Tascam
 
Tascam 4x4 and 2x2 should be on this list

Joe Porto 26th December 2017 06:59 PM

I'd put the M-track 2x2 on there too. Decent build quality. No drivers required, works on iOS devices. Not need for direct monitoring app because it has a built in analog mixer to monitor inputs. $99.

RKeefe1032 1st February 2018 06:30 PM

The Audient is the first interface that I've used the built in mic preamps direct. Throw in a little Slate 73 and you get top quality without a separate preamp. The convertors are top notch and everything from mixdowns to just playing music on the computer sound lots better than any of the other interfaces I've tried. It would have been nice to have a little DSP chip with a monitoring reverb on board but for "one man band" recordings, it doesn't get much better.

norfolk martin 1st February 2018 09:58 PM

I am currently using a Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD for some functions, and think it sounds pretty good.

Let the abuse and insults begin . . . . !

foxwaves 7th February 2018 09:25 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by funknroll (Post 12933033)
My new recent Audient iD14 can resist to at a glass drop of coca cola and water it still sound very good but i want wash sugar on the circuits i love this DAC with my new alpha 80 with mind blowing bass (better than in club). I'm not a pro just normal consumer who likes black music and house too much. Thank you gearslutz for your precious advices i can't live without you ^^

Soul Train for the win hooppie

I'm considering the Audient ID4, but have read and watched a lot of reviews that mention a latency problem. Any latency issues with yours? Thanks!

elcct 7th February 2018 09:54 PM

I have Scarlett 18i8 and it is quite "problematic" in the sense that it picks up interferences like a radio - for example from graphics card - every move on the screen is audible. I don't think it is a faulty interface because on another PC it works just fine, I don't think it is a faulty PC either because different audio interface works just fine (I assume better built quality).
It seems like USB isolator is needed for this interface which is another cost...

drezz 8th February 2018 12:31 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by elcct (Post 13126885)
I have Scarlett 18i8 and it is quite "problematic" in the sense that it picks up interferences like a radio - for example from graphics card - every move on the screen is audible. I don't think it is a faulty interface because on another PC it works just fine, I don't think it is a faulty PC either because different audio interface works just fine (I assume better built quality).
It seems like USB isolator is needed for this interface which is another cost...

a ground loop isolator will fix that particular problem.

AlxR0u 8th February 2018 08:11 AM

What about Zoom UAC-2 ?
I'm searching for a good USB audio interface under 280$ with good sound and low latency for guitar recording through amp sims and I read VERY good things about this device.
I was certain it would be in the top five here.
???

elcct 8th February 2018 11:00 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by drezz (Post 13127174)
a ground loop isolator will fix that particular problem.

Yes, but I realised that after some research - time needlessly wasted. I think that should be included inside the box or at least have some visible information that such thing is needed and what kind of isolator would have worked best.

RKeefe1032 8th February 2018 01:45 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by elcct (Post 13126885)
I have Scarlett 18i8 and it is quite "problematic" in the sense that it picks up interferences like a radio - for example from graphics card - every move on the screen is audible. I don't think it is a faulty interface because on another PC it works just fine, I don't think it is a faulty PC either because different audio interface works just fine (I assume better built quality).
It seems like USB isolator is needed for this interface which is another cost...

I'm done trying to slay the latency dragon with my current computer. I can live with not hearing/using plugins on my input track. It's usually a vocal track and even some of the lower latency throws off my singing.

I don't think latency is any worse or better with the Audient/others in this price range. Used the Steinberg UR44 for a year and the reverb available on direct monitoring is really nice but the Audient has better conversion so it's always a trade-off. Audient ought to team up with Valhalla and have Sean make them a nice monitoring reverb on a small DSP chip, raise the price $25-50. It's no doubt more complicated than this electronically and maybe not feasible. Singing "dry" isn't fun but manageable when the conversion is this good.

UnderTow 8th February 2018 02:00 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by foxwaves (Post 13126823)
I'm considering the Audient ID4, but have read and watched a lot of reviews that mention a latency problem. Any latency issues with yours? Thanks!

They have high measured latency and low performance. Best avoided IMO.

Alistair

foxwaves 8th February 2018 02:25 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by UnderTow (Post 13128028)
They have high measured latency and low performance. Best avoided IMO.

Alistair

Thanks, UnderTow. Unless the new drivers help, I think the Audient may be off my list.

Brent Hahn 8th February 2018 05:04 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by elcct (Post 13126885)
I have Scarlett 18i8 and it is quite "problematic" in the sense that it picks up interferences like a radio - for example from graphics card - every move on the screen is audible. I don't think it is a faulty interface because on another PC it works just fine, I don't think it is a faulty PC either because different audio interface works just fine (I assume better built quality).
It seems like USB isolator is needed for this interface which is another cost...

That could be a grounding issue with your computer. I don't normally recommend ground lifters, but in a situation very much like yours I put a ground lifter on my laptop's power supply and it completely eradicated the problem.

Diogo C 8th February 2018 06:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by elcct (Post 13127858)
Yes, but I realised that after some research - time needlessly wasted. I think that should be included inside the box or at least have some visible information that such thing is needed and what kind of isolator would have worked best.

Have you tried different USB cables? Different brands, different lengths, with or without that "lump". Worth a shot as all USB cables are not made equal, my Babyface Pro won't ever power up with some of them.

kasami08 9th February 2018 01:46 AM

"with updated converters now delivering 24-bit/192kHz resolution"

The converter chips has not changed as they are the same Cirrus Logic CS4272-CZZ from the 1st gen Scarlett and Saffire range.
The CS4272-CZZ chip is capable to record up to 192k frequency but the analog circuitry limited it to 96k on the 1st gen Scarlett. The Analog circuitry and staging was just enhanced as that effects to performance of the chip. Aside from improved analog circuitry, the drivers and XMOS chip was tweaked.

http://www.mouser.com/ds/2/76/cs4272_f1-43250.pdf

drezz 9th February 2018 04:23 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by elcct (Post 13127858)
Yes, but I realised that after some research - time needlessly wasted. I think that should be included inside the box or at least have some visible information that such thing is needed and what kind of isolator would have worked best.

It is a pain in the ass, i've had it on several usb audio interfaces over the years, but in all fairness to the interface manufacturers, it's more a problem of poor shielding, screening, components and construction of power supplies, usually the brick ones that come with cheap laptops............

elcct 9th February 2018 07:56 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by diogo_c (Post 13128469)
Have you tried different USB cables? Different brands, different lengths, with or without that "lump". Worth a shot as all USB cables are not made equal, my Babyface Pro won't ever power up with some of them.

I have tried number of different cables also those with the "lump" to no avail. Only improvement I have noticed is when I have connected it through one of the USB hubs that is connected via front USB port. Artifacts are still there but not nearly as bad as using the ports on the back. I ordered USB isolator that is supposed to work with full USB 2.0 speed and I'll see how that goes.
I have another interface that I connected to this computer and it doesn't have such problem - perhaps it is isolated internally.

elcct 9th February 2018 07:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by drezz (Post 13130311)
It is a pain in the ass, i've had it on several usb audio interfaces over the years, but in all fairness to the interface manufacturers, it's more a problem of poor shielding, screening, components and construction of power supplies, usually the brick ones that come with cheap laptops............

I connect it to desktop PC and I would have thought I have rather premium PSU.
Since mostly I can hear the graphics card maybe that is the culprit.

Diogo C 10th February 2018 02:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by elcct (Post 13130797)
I connect it to desktop PC and I would have thought I have rather premium PSU.
Since mostly I can hear the graphics card maybe that is the culprit.

I've always stayed "in the middle" when it comes to PSUs. Never went for the cheap ones but also never went for the super high-end. Been using Corsairs around 500-750W for the past 10 years and they have been serving me well.

Rolling Estonian 17th February 2018 07:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by UnderTow (Post 13128028)
They have high measured latency and low performance. Best avoided IMO.

Alistair

I have never experienced any latency issues. Every review from major sources that I've read have had nothing but great things to say about the id14, especially at the price point. Never seen any info about 'high measured latency and low performance.'

M

UnderTow 17th February 2018 10:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Rolling Estonian (Post 13147264)
I have never experienced any latency issues. Every review from major sources that I've read have had nothing but great things to say about the id14, especially at the price point. Never seen any info about 'high measured latency and low performance.'

M

It depends what you do with the card of course whether it is relevant to you and your workflow or not but the the id4 performance and latency don't measure well compared to other products on the market. You can read more about it in this post: https://www.gearslutz.com/board/musi...l#post12811489

Note that that is on Windows. Are you on Windows?

As for 99% of reviews, they don't measure or say anything about the real latency of an interface as measured from AD to DA. Most just report the numbers that the controller software reports. That is much easier but also often incorrect as it doesn't take extra hidden buffers into account and/or converter latency etc. Most reviews also don't say much, if anything, about low-latency performance, driver efficiency and how that affects the performance of the whole system. That is unfortunate as many manufacturers (or their OEM suppliers) don't bother to optimize their drivers as a result. Why would they when so few users are even aware of how much the drivers affect system performance?

I think it is good to bring up latency and driver performance so that there is more awareness of the very real impact of driver quality has on DAW performance.

Alistair

elcct 12th March 2018 03:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by drezz (Post 13127174)
a ground loop isolator will fix that particular problem.

Did you mean isolator running between headphone output and headphones?

I didn't do enough research and turns out the USB isolator I bought is too slow for this interface. High Speed USB isolators cost more than this interface, so maybe it will be cheaper to sell it and buy something of better build quality.

Progger 3rd January 2019 06:58 PM

Just chiming in on this probably-defunct thread to mention that I picked up a Steinberg UR22 during the turkey-driven cyber-sales and it's pretty great. It's a very solid-feeling and well-designed little box, the preamps sound very good to my ears and they have tons of headroom. It seems like its monitor and headphone output amps are a bit on the quiet side, but I don't mind that too much, and the quality more than makes up for that. I don't like things to be painfully loud, anyway.

PavlinaA 18th November 2019 01:02 PM

Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 (2nd Gen)

Fleer 19th November 2019 03:56 AM

Maybe that new MOTU M4?