Laptops are among the most necessary gear for a music producer, beatmaker, DJ and musician. Their portability enables the user to play or record his music remotely, whether he is doing live performances, or just working in multiple professional recording studios.
In order to function properly and deliver high sound quality, you need to acquire the right audio interface, which will help you improve the process of beatmaking or recording. You should look for an interface with the appropriate compact size, which will not compromise sound quality for portability.
Fortunately, nowadays there are many such audio interfaces available in the market. Most of them use USB connectivity, which is a major advantage as most laptops and personal computers have USB ports on them.
For more advanced, yet a little more expensive options, you could check Firewire and Thunderbolt audio interfaces. Although such interfaces have higher prices than the ones with USB connectivity, they tend to have more advanced specifications and uses, while they deliver better sound results depending on their price.
A nice price range, within which you can purchase an audio interface for your laptop, is between $100 and $300. Most peoples’ budgets, no matter how tight they are, usually allow such purchases, and you have the ability to acquire a high sound quality audio interface. More importantly, it is going to be completely portable and easy to carry for your remote recordings or live performances.
There are many things a music producer should take into serious consideration before purchase an audio interface. Overall. He should focus on a very efficient interface, with connectivity and features that will enable him to do his work comfortably, without functionality issues that will cause problems during touring or individual live performances.
What you should consider when buying an audio interface under $300
The audio interface you are about to purchase has to function perfectly. You should take your time and study all the specifications described on the product package and manual, read helpful reviews regarding the interface, and finally test the device yourself.
You need to make sure that the audio interface has all the knobs, switches and filters that you need in order to do your job efficiently. Check out for USB, Firewire, or Thunderbolt connectivity, and decide which one suits you best. Make sure that your laptop has all the appropriate ports before you decide.
Find out the total number of inputs and outputs the audio interface has. If you are a producer that works with multiple instruments or microphones at once, this is going to be one of the most important factors that will determine your purchase. Make a case of checking the headphone outputs too.
Search and find audio interfaces that have additional features. It is always very helpful when interfaces come with extra items, such as microphones, cables, power suppliers, isolation pads and more. This way, you can purchase them altogether and save significant amounts of money, than if you purchased them separately.
The quality of the product itself is a key factor for its proper functionality. Make sure that both the unit and the carrying case it comes with have a solid structure. This way, you can ensure that your audio interface will be kept secure while travelling in the case, and that it can handle scratch or overuse.
The price is a very important thing when it comes to purchasing an audio interface. Most beginner producers are on a budget, so it is essential that they acquire a high quality audio interface within a logical price range. The interfaces recommended below, are at the price point of $300 or less, which is easily accessible by most music producers.
Best audio interfaces under $300
1 – Digidesign Mbox 2
The Digidesign Mbox 2 is an audio interface that works with Pro Tools, which one of the best Digital Audio Workstations available in the market. The music software, is going to be fairly advanced, especially for beginners, and it takes dedication, lots of practice and experimentation to learn how to use it properly.
The audio interface delivers great sound quality, which is the desired result when you purchase an interface. This particular one, is not compatible with VST’s and will only run RTAS plugins, so keep that in mind. In order to work with VSTs, you need a VST to RTAS wrapper hosted in your music software.
The Digidesign Mbox 2 has a magnificent structure and a very solid build, which gives the impression of a very tough device. The knobs and switches of the interface work great, and they feel very smooth with the appropriate resistance when used. The jacks give the same impression too.
The sound quality of the audio interface is significantly great. It works great with vocals and instruments, especially when you combine it with the advanced specs of Pro Tools, which makes the process of music production and recording, an awesome experience, both for beginners and for professionals.
There are some very helpful DVD tutorials included in the package along with the Digidesign Mbox 2. They cover the basic functions and techniques Of Pro Tools LE, in order to help you make your first steps with the software.
The interface works great with laptops, has almost zero latency. Keep in mind that you need a pretty strong laptop to use the Digidesign Mbox 2 with Pro Tools, as the DAW requires a lot of CPU. The audio interface is one of the best of its kind, and it comes with great online support, as well as many helpful online tutorial and guides.
2 – Behringer F-Control Audio Fca202
The Behringer F-Control Audio Fca202 is an audio interface capable of running large amounts of instrument plugins at once. It works great with laptops and VSTs, without lagging problems, and is a great tool for demanding beginner and professional music producers.
The audio interface comes with drivers, which are very easy to install on your laptop. In the case that you use a Mac and you have a Firewire input, things get a lot easier, as you can plug the device into your computer, and you can start using it right away.
In order to use the Behringer F-Control Audio Fca202 through your DAW, you have to go to settings and choose it as your main input and output source. If you use Logic, the software will automatically recognize the device once you open the program, so you can start using it immediately.
The portability of the audio interface is incredible. It is very handy for the producers and sound engineers that use laptops for their work, and due to its size and weight, it is very easy to carry it around and work on remote environments.
The Behringer F-Control Audio Fca202 uses a lot of CPU when you load lots of virtual instruments, so make sure that you have a solid laptop to operate the device properly. Try to avoid system overload by using less instruments at once, and make a case of using the device with Logic, which seems to be one of the DAWs that can handle this interface effectively.
All in all, the FCA202 is a great audio interface that is worth the money invested in it. Is extremely easy to use, and its price is very affordable, considering its specifications and the very low to zero latency problems that you get.
3 – MOTU micro lite
The MOTU micro lite is one of the best options when it comes to audio interfaces suitable for laptops. You can use it with multiple DAWs, as it works flawlessly with most of them. It has a very solid structure and the extremely affordable price is one of the key factors responsible for the popularity of this audio interface.
Windows user will find it extremely easy to use the particular device. It has all the necessary driver supports already included, so you will find no difficulty trying to install it into your personal computer or laptop.
There is no proper recommended software for the MOTU micro lite, but you can use it with most trusted DAWs available, such as Ableton Live, Cubase, FL studio etc. The design of the interface is very simplistic and beautiful.
The interface has five input lines, a very stable timing and has the ability to keep the notes without dropping them, even when the sessions are overloaded. You can connect the interface with midis and synthesizers, and it works without any problems considering lagging and clipping.
There are no obvious compatibility or synchronization issues when using the MOTU micro lite. The installation of the drivers is very easy and fast, and you do not have to read any instructions, as the audio interface basically guides you through the process.
It is advised that you run your midi devices that are connected on the interface, through high quality USB hub for better results. This way you will avoid sync or overload issues, and you will enhance the user experience.
Overall, the sound quality the MOTU micro lite delivers is great. One of the main advantages of this device is that it is extremely effective when it to synchronizing it with midi keyboards, pad, controllers and synthesizers. A great product at an amazing price point, highly recommended for every music producer and DJ.
4 – Avid 9900
The Avid 9900 is a very small and lightweight audio interface. Due to its size, it has an incredible portability, and its very convenient when it comes to carrying it with you for your live performances, touring etc. A very useful and handy tool for every music producer.
The audio interface has 48V phantom power, which you can use to when you want to record vocals with condenser microphones. It has a headphone output, and RCA outputs to connect your studio monitors. The audio interface also has a line input for instruments and an XLR input as well.
The Avid 9900 delivers excellent sound quality, and it is suitable for podcasting shows, online radio shows and recording in remote locations, sue to its great portability. It works perfectly nice with most of the well-known Digital Audio Workstations, such as Cubase, Pro Tools or Ableton Live. You may need to download the latest drivers in order to operate the interface properly. You can find them on the official AVID website, and the installation takes only a few minutes.
The particular audio interface, is very easy to use. You can plug it in and your operating system will do the rest. You can select the interface as your main input and output sound source from the settings of the DAW that you use, and you are ready to start the recording or playback process immediately.
What is more, the Avid 9900 is powered from the USB port. It includes ASIO drivers, which are compatible with the majority of the Digital Audio Workstations available, so you will not face any problems using the interface if you change your music software.
The overall sound quality of this audio interface is amazing. It captures the sound of almost every source in perfect detail, and it has a great size for carrying it with you when travelling or performing live. The price of the interface is very affordable, especially when you consider the sound results and its high level of functionality.
5 – BEHRINGER ULTRAGAIN DIGITAL ADA8200
The Behringer Ultragain Digital ADA8200 is a very easy to set up audio interface. In order to operate the interface more effectively, it is advised that you purchase an ADAT connector. The interface has great functionality, and delivers very warm and detailed sound quality.
The interface has 16 inputs that are more than enough for one-man band music producers. You can save up time and avoid overloading your CPU, by preparing the inputs and channels in the DAW of your choice, along with their VSTs and presets.
The price of the unit is more than affordable. It is available for every producers, beatmaker and DJ no matter his budget’s limitations, and it is going to be very convenient when it comes to using it with your laptop for live performances and gigs.
The Behringer Ultragain Digital ADA8200 has great pre-amp, which is very helpful when it comes to recording sessions with condenser microphones that need that extra loudness. It can also record significantly well acoustic instruments and drums, keeping the room noise to the minimum.
Overall, the sound quality, functionality and portability are the three main advantages of this amazing audio interface. It highly suggested for electronic music producers that tend to use their laptops a lot, especially in remote locations, and you can purchase it in a very affordable price.