Top 7 Best Audio Interfaces Under $500 – Mid Range Super Stars

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Shopping for a good audio interface is easier than ever. Even in the budget segment, you can find great models that bring all the right features. However, when your budget is not so restrictive, you can really get the good stuff. Today we are going to show you some of the best audio interfaces on the market, all of which can be yours for $500 or less. Once we get that covered, we will look into just what kind of performance you can expect at this price. As it turns out, there are some pretty good looking models out there.

Top 7 Best Audio Interfaces Under $500

ImageStudio Headphones / RatingSummaryCheck Price
+ - Roland Octa-Capture 10X10 Roland Octa-Capture 10X10

Total of 4.60/5  

One of the most advanced and most versatile models on the market.

+ - Focusrite Clarett 2Pre Focusrite Clarett 2Pre

Total of 4.65/5  

Next gen audio interface that shows how far this tech can go.

+ - Resident Audio T4 Resident Audio T4

Total of 4.45/5  

Simple design paired with Thunderbolt speeds makes for a really awesome interface.

+ - PreSonus AudioBox1818 VSL PreSonus AudioBox1818 VSL

Total of 4.47/5  

A very different member of a pretty uniform family of audio interfaces.

+ - Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 Focusrite Scarlett 18i8

Total of 4.47/5  

One of the most versatile Scarlett models that retains a compact format.

+ - M-Audio M-Track Eight M-Audio M-Track Eight

Total of 4.47/5  

A versatile, no-nonsense audio interface that brings analog simplicity and numerous inputs.

+ - Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6

Total of 4.38/5  

Well designed interface that is packed with solid hardware and awesome software.

Roland Octa-Capture 10X10

Roland Octa-Capture 10X10

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Those who are dwelling in the world of audio gear have probably heard of Roland because of their mixers, keyboards and similar, more robust equipment. However, this legendary brand also offers some of the most interesting audio interfaces you can find on the market. Roland Octa-Capture perfectly describes what we are talking about. It's a highly flexible platform that brings 10 inputs and 10 outputs. These include both digital and analog. On top of that, it comes with a few proprietary features that really make recording music easy. Most importantly, the hardware inside is top tier. They have used mic preamps fromtheir popular mixers, thus ensuring absolute quality of sound. It's one of those gifts that keeps on giving.

Focusrite Clarett 2Pre

Focusrite Clarett 2Pre

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After long years of Scarlett series dominating the market, Focusrite has come up with the new generation of audio interfaces designed for home studio use. This time around, we're looking at a Thunderbolt based platform that brings a whole bunch of features and goodies to the table. For starters, Focusrite Clarett 2Pre features almost zero latency. New Clarett preamps are powerful, clear and transparent. More importantly, all that additional bandwidth makes it possible to add effects to your inputs in real time. Whether you are a guitar player or a passionate vocalist, this interface can be a real game changer. Focusrite has made Clarett 2Pre fully compatible with both Windows and Mac OS, so everyone can enjoy the new performance.

Resident Audio T4

Resident Audio T4

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When you're limited by your budget, it may seem like your options are few at best. However, interfaces such as Resident Audio T4 prove that to not be true. What we have here is a simple, clean looking interface that packs a lot of versatility at a reasonable price. Not only do you get four outputs, but Resident Audio T4 uses the Thunderbolt connection, which has serious implications on performance. For one, the latency is reduced to a near zero value, allowing you to do direct monitoring even when you load up your signal with a bunch of plug ins. Resident Audio T4 also brings a set of great preamps and converters to the table.It's an awesome interface altogether.

PreSonus AudioBox1818 VSL

PreSonus AudioBox1818 VSL

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PreSonus is one of the most respected names when it comes to the audio interface market.Their AudioBox series have been around for a long time, but are still near the top of the food chain. If you're wondering why, just take a look at PreSonus AudioBox1818 VSL. This massive, rack friendly interface brings a combination of awesome hardware solutions andgreat software at a price that is hard to beat. It's so versatile and consistent, that you can rely on it to get the job done every time. On top of that, it gives you access to digital inputs and outputs, which really tend to expand your maneuvering space quite a bit. At this price, it's hard to beat.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i8

Focusrite Scarlett 18i8

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Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 is definitely one of the more interesting members of the Scarlett series. It's essentially a professional grade piece of gear that is packaged into a user friendly format. The most distinctive feature of this interface is its optical input channel. It allows you to create 10 new channels using ADAT platform. Aside from that, there are 8 analog inputs and outputs which should be a familiar sight to anyone who has used Scarlett series interfacesbefore. What has also remained the same is the performance and durability. Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 is every bit as rugged as its predecessors, all while delivering that same clear sound. This model is a perfect choice for those who need more connectivity.

M-Audio M-Track Eight

M-Audio M-Track Eight

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M-Audio's most popular interfaces are among the stylish few on the market. However, this brand isn't afraid to tackle on professional studio gear where style and design have very little value, if any. Their M-Audio M-Track Eight proves that point perfectly. This is a rack mounted interface with 8 analog inputs and equally as many outputs. Every channel features its own graphic metering cluster and can be finely tuned for optimal performance. Then we have M-Audio's famous Octane Preamp Technology, which is one of the best on the market. Given that max sampling rate is limited at 96kHz, these preamps are still extremely relevant in the world of 192kHz audio. Overall, this is a serious piece of recording studio gear.

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6

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Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 is one of those audio interfaces that does things its own way. They've taken the standard design which you can see pretty much everywhere these days, and added a refreshing spin on it. For example, the top side of this device is covered with LED indicators that tell you which ports and features are in use. Then we have the rock solid hardware on the inside, which delivers crystal clear audio no matter what. The software they ship with Native InstrumentsKomplete Audio 6 is extensive to say the least. Not only do you get two awesome DAWs, but there's a whole array of plug ins and VSTi. In short, this is a complete package.

Connectivity – USB, Firewire Thunderbolt

One of the absolute best things ab out investing a bit more into your audio interface, is the choice of connectivity. Most budget models, up to the $200 segment, usually run only on standard USB 2.0. With that said, we need to say that most of these devices run just well on this platform. However, modern interfaces are really pushing that USB 2.0 standard to its limits. With USB 3.0, things are looking a lot better although it is going to be some time before we see it standardized.

When you are sinking in $500 into your audio interface, you will find a few Thunderbolt models on the market. These may not necessarily have some super fancy features, but in all honesty they don’t need to. The mere fact that you get a Thunderbolt speed is good enough on its own. If you were to put a Thunderbolt interface next to a USB 2.0 one, you’d see up to 20 times higher speeds. Sometimes it is even higher than that. In practical terms, this translates to a much lower latency even when you load the signal with all kinds of effects which eat up that bandwidth. The only downside to using Thunderbolt is that you have to have a matching motherboard. Otherwise, you won’t really get much done.

What Can You Expect From A $500 Interface?

There are plenty of upgrades in this price range, which you won’t see in the budget segment. We can divide these into several different categories, but almost everything comes down to versatility. Keep in mind that we are just going to ignore the connectivity aspect, since we have already covered that. In short, we can see tangible improvements in the I/O segment, internal hardware, software and application-specific designs.

I/O Segment Upgrades

This one is probably the most obvious one. More inputs and outputs means a much more flexible recording setup. But wait. You can find plenty of I/O options in the budget segment, right? That is true, but the type of I/O matters as well. Budget segment usually offers a number of analog inputs and outputs, which may or may not go up to 8 or so. With models in this price range, you are looking at up to 18. Out of those 18, some 8 are usually analog while the remaining 10 are digital. These include SPDIF ports, and ADAT links. Whether or not you need the digital I/O cluster is completely up to you and your needs. However the fact that these are available makes the interface in question that muchmore attractive.

Internals

Mic preamps and A/D converters are the core of any audio interface. As you can imagine,there are better versions of this hardware and those which are mediocre. The stuff that is generally put into models in this price range is up there with the best. You will see many brands use their flagship preamps, much like Roland with their Octa-Capture. They took the hardware straight from their popular mixers, and integrated it into the interface we have shown you above. If you are serious about recording music and you need the best quality possible, stuff like that matters.

Software

The impact of software on your recording experience can be huge or marginal depending on what you’re doing and what interface you are using. When you dwell into more seriousdevices, you will find that having proper software is half of the experience. Most of the models on our list come with at least one DAW, as well as a whole array of additional plug-ins, VSTi and other stuff. If you think these tools are just something to get you by until you get the real stuff, you might be mistaken. Depending on the brand you go with, the software can be top notch.

Application-Specific Designs

Last but not least, we have the actual design or format of the interface. Up until now, most models were designed to be used on a desktop. However, when you raise that price point a little, you start seeing interfaces which are application-specific. In other words, rack mount designs. Racks are one of the best ways to organize your audio gear, period. Just about anything that is not an amp or a mixer can be put in a rack these days. If you have a large studio and you’re running racks, getting a rack friendly audio interface mightbe the way to go.

Conclusion

The best thing about audio interfaces is how they tend to scale naturally. The affordable range is awesome for smaller home studios, but as you go up, you start seeing devices suitable for professional use. Models we have listed above are a great example. We have tried to get you a little bit of everything, including some rack mount models as well as those running on Thunderbolt. Ultimately, you can expect to get top tier hardware and lots of versatility. For those who are looking for a decent home recording setup, the models listed above should be more than enough.


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