The best audio interfaces to buy in 2021: 8 best audio interfaces under $500

If you’re working with any external audio equipment, an audio interface is essential. We’ve rounded up some that will be sure to give you your money’s worth.

Following on from our list of best audio interfaces under $300, we’re slightly stepping up the price bracket to see how much more power you can get on a budget. If you’ve got a small band to record or a few of your own instruments to hook up to your DAW, these audio interfaces are ideal. Best of all, most of these are portable and come with production software bundles, so travelling between studios and capturing high-quality audio is still easily achieved.

Here is our list of the best audio interfaces you can get your hands on for less than $500.

The best audio interfaces under $500 at a glance

Universal Audio Apollo Solo

UA Apollo Solo
Photo: Universal Audio

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With the legacy of Bill Putnam Sr. behind it, Universal Audio knows a thing or two about creating stellar audio products. The UA Apollo Solo is an update to the revered Arrow interface, featuring the brand’s proprietary Unison preamps that model vintage gear for recordings with more character. UA’s new recording system, LUNA, is bundled in with the interface along with emulations of Marshall Plexi Classic Amp, Pultec Pro EQ, UREI 1176 Compressor, Ampeg SVT-VR Classic Bass Amp and more.

Apollo Solo lets you hook up three instruments using two combo inputs (XLR / 1/4″ jack) and a Hi-Z instrument input on the front panel – ideal for guitars, synths and keyboards. It’s pretty compact, so it’ll sit nicely on your desk and sports a straightforward layout with clear visual displays to keep an eye on levels. This interface is a great all-round solution and gives you a comprehensive music production package, so you can get creating straight away.

Price: $499 / £439 / €499
Inputs: 2x combo inputs (XLR / 1/4″ jack), Hi-Z instrument input (1/4″ jack)
Outputs: 2x combo outputs ( XLR / 1/4″ jack)
Preamps: Unison preamps
Connection Protocol: USB Type-C (USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen 1)
Headphone Outputs: 1x 1/4”

Find out more at uaudio.com.

Audient EVO 8

Audient’s EVO 4 made an appearance in our last audio interface guide, and its big brother is just as deserving of a spot in this list. The British brand is renowned for its high quality, intuitive audio interfaces. EVO 8 upholds this reputation in a small form factor with impressive versatility. You’ll get four inputs with high-performance mic preamps and four outputs, plus a host of smart features to help streamline your set-ups.

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EVO 8’s Smartgain automatically sets the gain levels when it picks up the signal from your sources, while two smart touchpoints grant control over speakers, headphones and channels with one volume encoder. The USB-C compliant interface also has SmartMuting, which automatically mutes your speakers when connecting headphones. Audient’s interface is ideal for home producers and content creators looking for a bit more flexibility. If you want more inputs and outputs, read on…

Price: $199 / £160 / €199
Inputs: 4x combo inputs (XLR / 1/4″ jack), Hi-Z instrument input (1/4″ jack)
Outputs: 4x TRS outputs (1/4″ jack)
Preamps: 4x Mic, 1x Instrument
Connection Protocol: USB Type-C (USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen 1)
Headphone Outputs: 1x 1/4”

Find out more at evo.audio.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i20

Focusrite Scarlett

Focusrite’s audio interfaces are some of the most popular on the planet. This is mostly due to their affordability and vast range of sizes available on the Scarlett and Clarett ranges. Focusrite’s crimson champion boasts 18 inputs and 20 outputs – including ADAT I/O – as the name suggests. The Scarlett 18i20 weighs in right on the money at $500.

In our review of the Scarlett range, we said: “As the quality of the Scarlett range has now clearly taken a step up – in terms of the preamps, the dynamic range and lower latency – it now appears to sit closer to the more expensive Clarett range with similar specs but using USB. The 18i20, for example, now looks more than a match for the Clarett 8Pre, but costs a lot less”.

Price: $499 / £395 / €424
Inputs: 8x combo inputs (XLR / 1/4″ jack), 1x S/PDIF input, 1x MIDI input, 1x ADAT input
Outputs: 10x TRS outputs (1/4″ jack),
Preamps: 8x Scarlett preamps
Connection Protocol: USB Type-C (USB 3.0 / 3.1 Gen 1)
Headphone Outputs: 2x 1/4”

Find out more at focusrite.com.

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6

NI Komplete Audio 6
Image: Native Instruments

Native Instruments’ 6-in/6-out interface was listed in our best audio interfaces under $300, but it’s hard not to award it a place here, too. The Berlin-based audio manufacturer is renowned for its catalogue of pro-grade software, which is always neatly integrated into its intuitive hardware. With Komplete Audio 6, you’ll get a handful of plug-ins, lite versions of Ableton Live and Traktor DJ software, plus Komplete Start to give you a taster of NI’s wider offerings.

Recording into the interface is achieved via two mic/line combo inputs, two 1/4” inputs with two preamps and 2 SPDIF digital inputs. Phantom power is included for when you’re using a condenser mic. Four TRS outputs, two SPDIF outputs and two headphone outputs should be plenty of options for the average bedroom studio. This is a major bargain for beginners and pros alike.

Price: $249 / £179 / €229
Inputs: 2x combo inputs (XLR/1/4”), 2x 1/4” inputs, 2x SPDIF digital inputs
Outputs: 4x TRS outputs (1/4”), 2x SPDIF digital outputs
Preamps: 2 Mic
Connection Protocol: USB-B
Headphone Outputs: 2x 1/4”

Find out more at native-instruments.com.

Audient iD14 MKII

Audient id14 MkII

Audient’s newest interface is the iD14 MkII, a 10-in/6-out interface that builds on the success of its predecessor. Powered by USB 3.0 and USB-C, iD14 MkII features two Audient ASP8024-HE Console mic preamps with ADAT expandability and a JFET instrument input. You’ll get 120db of dynamic range from iD14’s A/D converters for serious clarity in your recordings. Audient says that the iD14 also boasts ultra-low noise and low distortion with a touch of analogue warmth.

With a plug-and-play approach, Audient’s all-metal iD14 is designed to be an easy recording solution for musicians. It also replicates the input of a classic valve amplifier, which guitar players might find useful. The interface comes with Cubase LE and a range of plug-ins and virtual instruments to instantly lay down comprehensive ideas.

Price: $299 / £176 / €239
Inputs: 2x combo inputs (XLR/1/4”), 1x 1/4” input, 8x ADAT optical inputs
Outputs: 3x TRS outputs (1/4”), 1x ⅛” TRS output
Preamps: 2x Class A mic pre
Connection Protocol: USB-C
Headphone Outputs: 2x 1/4”

Find out more at audient.com.

Steinberg UR44C

Steinberg’s UR-C series comprises a range of USB-C-equipped audio interfaces aimed at musicians and bands in need of a portable high-quality recording solution. The UR44C sports enough inputs for a small band with four combo inputs and two TRS inputs. Thanks to its high-quality converters, you can record at an impressive audio resolution of 32-bit/192kHz.

iOS compatibility means you can take advantage of the UR44C’s Class A preamps in seriously minimal setups. Built-in digital signal processing allows you to monitor your performance with effects with zero latency. The interface comes bundled with Cubase AI music production software, Cubasis LE mobile DAW, dspMixFX mixing app, and an effects plug-in suite.

Price: $350 / £219 / €296
Inputs: 4x combo inputs (XLR/1/4”), 2x 1/4” TRS input,
Outputs: 2x 1/4” TRS main 4x 1/4” TRS line out
Preamps: 4x Class-A mic pre
Connection Protocol: USB-C
Headphone Outputs: 2x 1/4”

Find out more at steinberg.net.

Solid State Logic SSL 2+

SSL2+

The legendary SSL sound was previously only achievable in high-end studio equipment – until the SSL 2 and 2+ were released in 2020. The SSL 2+ brings the feel of classic recording to an affordable package with a simple, compact interface. Hit the 4K Legacy mode buttons to apply the sound of SSL’s 4000 series analogue console. Two combo inputs and four outputs are onboard, plus MIDI In/Out connections.

You can record to your laptop with USB-C connectivity in 24-bit/192kHZ resolution. In our review, we said: “Whether you’re just getting started with music-making or you’re looking to kit out a portable or work-from-home rig without breaking the bank, the SSL 2 and SSL 2+ will fit your needs fabulously. There’s a great deal of choice in this area of the market but the bundle that SSL has put together here makes these interfaces a match for beginners and experienced producers alike.”

Price: $280 / £185 / €259
Inputs: 2x combo inputs
Outputs: 2x 1/4” TRS main out, 2x RCA out
Preamps: 2x Class-A mic pre
Connection Protocol: USB-C
Headphone Outputs: 2x 1/4”

Find out more at solidstatelogic.com.

PreSonus Studio 1824c

Those looking for as many input and output options as possible can check out PreSonus’ 1824c. Primed for full bands and professional project studios, the audio interface can record up to 18 inputs equipped with XMAS Class A mic preamps. Its 20 outputs should provide ample flexibility in routing and recording, all in 24-bit/192kHz quality.

Zero-latency monitoring is achieved with the DSP-based monitor mixer, with mute, mono and level controls to manage your mix. 10 ladder-style LED meters let you keep an eye on your levels, too. With the inclusion of Studio One Artist and UC Software, you’ll get control room integration and unlimited tracks to actualise your musical vision.

Price: $500 / £349 / € 467
Inputs: 8x combo inputs (XLR/1/4”), 8x ADAT, 1x SPDIF, 1x MIDI
Outputs: 2 ¼” TRS main out, 8x ¼” TRS line out, 8x ADAT,1x SPDIF, 1x MIDI
Preamps: 8x XMAX Class A mic pre
Connection Protocol: USB-C
Headphone Outputs: 2x 1/4”

Find out more at presonus.com.

For more buyer’s guides, click here.

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