Most companies in the recording studio space offer audio interfaces below $200 and are considered “desktop” devices. So you’re probably asking yourself, audio interfaces under $300…why not the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or the PreSonus Studio 24c, which are both under $200 and considered desktop audio interfaces. Well, those interfaces have the controls on the front of the device, not on top. This method of control is extremely convenient for solo artists, project home recording studios, or podcasters. Unless you have a rackmount interface directly in your view or a “desktop” interface high enough for the perfect viewing angle, you’ll never experience true control on the top of an audio interface. We’ve compiled the top 5 desktop/tabletop audio interfaces for under $300. In no particular order, here’s our list.
PreSonus ioSTATION 24c 2×2 USB-C Audio Interface and Production Controller – $299
New in this space, the PreSonus ioStation 24c is a two in one device. It’s an Audio Interface and Production Controller. This device can control your DAW with its transport controls and Session Navigator. You generally see these features in more expensive mixing boards. Oh, and did I mention that those same controls will work across multiple DAW’s, Pro Tools, Ableton, Logic, etc. With two studio-quality XMAX Class A preamps and the PreSonus FaderPort technology, the ioStation 24c is an awesome small-format audio interface perfect for the bedroom recording studio or podcasters, and its portable as well. The ioStation 24c features high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz performance, 115dB of dynamic range, high-quality motorized 100mm long-throw fader (just like the FaderPort). Studio One Artist and the Studio Magic plug-in suite are included. It’s a complete studio in the box solution.
M-Audio AIR 192|14 USB Audio Interface – $299
M-Audio’s flagship AIR192|14 audio interface has eight channels of 24-bit/192kHz audio, ultra-pristine A/D converters, and multiple I/O solutions. With four low-noise Crystal preamps with +62dB of gain for any condenser or dynamic mics, along with two TRS and two hi-Z inputs of direct-routing for your keys or guitars. There is also a 1/8″ MIDI in and out to interface controllers and drum pads with your ITB virtual instrument libraries. “Fast 2.59ms round-trip over USB-C gives the AIR192|14 the edge over most units in its class.” The software suite includes Pro Tools First and Ableton Live Lite, Avid’s Eleven Lite guitar suite and effects plug-ins, AIR Music Technology virtual instruments, and 2GB of Touch Loops content.
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2 USB Audio Interface – $249
Full disclosure…Native Instruments dropped the ball with its Traktor DJ software, so it has been tough for me to get over that hiccup. But with that said, you can’t deny the fact that Native Instruments have always made solid music production gear, and DJ gear for that matter. And the Komplete Audio 6 MK2 will not disappoint. The second-generation Audio 6 has better resolution, multiple I/O solutions, and 48V Phantom Power. The 6×6 USB audio interface has the connectivity, functionality, and tools for any live and recording studio environment. The bus-powered Komplete Audio 6 Mk2 has four analog ins and outs plus two channels of digital S/PDIF I/O and MIDI capability to interface with all your instruments and sequencers. The Komplete also offers a suite of software that includes Native Instrument instruments effects and Ableton Live 10 Lite.
Audient iD14 USB Audio Interface – $299
Audient took its world-class large format console and shrunk it down into its Audient iD14 audio interface. The iD14 has two of Audient Class A mic preamps, Burr-Brown converter technology, console-style monitor control, JFET direct input, and Audient’s ScrollControl mode. Eight-channel ADAT input increasing your input capabilities up to ten channels. The Audient iD14 does not include any suite of software. However, with its separate headphone amplifier output stage, console-style monitor control with mono, polarity, cut, talkback, and cue mix, Balanced 1/4″ main outputs and virtual scroll wheel, the Audient iD14 is extremely capable.
Solid State Logic SSL2+ USB Audio Interface – $279
Unless you’ve been living on planet Mars, you’ve heard of the SSL sound from its iconic mixing consoles, the SSL 4000 and SSL 9000. As a studio head, I’ve always wanted and made sure that my final product sounds like an SSL console, be it via plugins or mixing on the actual consoles in a professional recording studio. This audio interface is built like a tank. Rugged, solid build quality and excellent sound. The SSL2+ boost 4 line outputs, 2 front/back panel headphone outputs, and MIDI I/O, 24-bit/192kHz AKM converters, heavy-duty chassis, Neutrik connectors, and Alps pots, and of course the 4K Legacy mode which imparts 4000 series analog console sound. The SSL2+ includes Pro Tools First, Bomb Factory plug-ins, Ableton Live Lite, Hybrid Keys, Komplete Start SSL Native software bundle with Vocalstrip 2, and Drumstrip, and 1.5GB of samples from Loopcloud. And if you don’t want to spend $279, check out the Solid State Logic SSL2 2×2 USB Audio Interface for $229.
You can’t go wrong with either of these excellent desktop/tabletop audio interfaces. Sound quality, functionality and bundled with included software (except the Audient iD14), desktop/tabletop audio interfaces are an excellent choice if you’re a home recording studio producer, podcaster, or just on the go. It’s a great time to be creative…go for it.
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