A good audio interface will make all the difference whether you make songs, podcasts, streams, or just like to listen to any of these things. The sound that comes with your Mac or PC will be fine for most everyday jobs, but if you are a creator, it probably won’t be enough.

The good news is that there are a lot of choices that are made for different needs and uses. The bad news is that it can be hard to figure out which one will work best for you. So, we made this guide to show you the best choices, whether you just want to record a guitar or play live in front of thousands of people (or just sound good while you work on that number).

And don’t worry about being overwhelmed by jargon; we’ll focus on the job at hand instead of the kHz and decibels so you can know which is best for the results you want without feeling like you just got out of math class.

Best for people on a tight budget
Audio devices aren’t only for people who make music. You might work from home and want to use a good XLR microphone for work talks. Or maybe you’d rather have buttons on your headphones and mic? Or maybe you just like the way a specialized device sounds better than the one that came with your PC. If so, you probably don’t need to spend a lot of money. Here are three options that won’t break the bank.

M-Audio M-Track Solo

The M-Track Solo ($49) isn’t the most attractive item on this list, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for in how well it works for the price. The M-Track Solo is hard to beat if all you want is something to plug a microphone or guitar into, or both at the same time.

For new podcasters or people who want to start one, the M-Track Duo ($70) adds a second XLR microphone link so you can record guests on their own channel. This makes editing a lot easier, and you won’t have to get too close to them since you’ll be sharing a microphone. There aren’t many extras like MIDI or effects, but it’s a good choice for the price.

Presonos AudioBox iOne

Digital sound, unlike things like graphics cards, has natural boundaries. This means that older devices can still be useful today, and they are often cheaper. One of these is the AudioBox iOne ($70) from Presonos. It’s mostly for people who make music software, but it’s a great all-around audio interface that now costs less and has all the connections you need.

The AudioBox iOne also works well with iPads, which isn’t always the case at this price. Some people might find that the headphone volume isn’t very loud, if that’s something that’s important to you.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo

Focusrite’s Scarlett line of interfaces are on a lot of best-of lists, including two on this one, and there’s a good reason for that: they offer a good balance of performance, reliability, and price. The Solo isn’t the cheapest option, costing around $130, but it will get you started with streaming, podcasts, and more. In fact, if all you need is an XLR mic port, better headphone amplification, and easy speaker hookups, the Solo could be the only interface you ever need, even if your needs change over time.

Best for streamers

Streaming is one of the most popular types of audio inputs, which might not be a big surprise. That’s because most Twitchers and YouTubers have to handle more than one audio feed at the same time. So, goods in this category include software that lets you send the sound from your microphone, your group chat, and your game to different places. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, at least not if you use one of the following tools.

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