If you're on a tight budget and looking for the best USB audio interface for recording vocals and instruments, then read on...
Manufactured by M-Audio, the M-Track makes it to the top of my list - it's built to last and has thousands of happy owners world-wide.
It has everything you need for home recording projects like demos. It has 2 channels in and 2 out along with XLR inputs and phantom power so you can use it with condenser mics.
You can also plug your guitars and basses straight in with no need for a DI box and it has a toggle switch to change between line level and instrument level on both inputs.
On top of that it also has MIDI in and out ports so you won't need an additional MIDI interface for your keyboards and synths.
It's been available for over a year now and most of the reviews you'll read are very positive - on top of that it's the top selling interface in it's class according to this M-audio M-track Review.
Here is an overview recorded at last year's NAMM:
It sells for $99.99 and you can get the full specifications at M-Audio.
On the surface this looks like a much better deal than the M-Track because it's really cheap at basically half the price and it has a handy little 5 channel analog mixer.
But the trouble with this one is that it only has a single phantom powered dual XLR/1/4" input for a single microphone. On top of that you will need a DI box if you want to plug in high impedance instruments such as guitar and bass.
It does have 2 line level inputs so you can record with a mic and keyboards or a guitar through a DI simultaneously, but everything has to be mixed down to 2 channels before being sent to your computer.
Unless you're certain you'll only ever need to record with one mic at a time, then I'd recommend going with the M-Track instead, however if you're interested in podcasting then this would be perfect for you to get started with.
On the plus side, it can also be used just as a simple mixer with no computer attached - and to be fair to Behringer they primarily promote it as a mixer with audio interface capabilities rather than the other way round.
Here is a video review which will give you a fairly good idea of the Behringer 302USB features:
The Behringer 302USB usually sells for $49.99 and you can get the full specifications from Behringer.
Lexicon Alpha Desktop Recording Studio
If you're primary purpose is recording music, and the M-Track is just a little too expensive for you, then this is the best alternative.
It's been on the market for quite a few years now and it's proven to be a reliable audio interface.
Although it does have 2 line inputs, it only has a single XLR microphone input (which can also take 1/4" jacks as well) on the back which doesn't have phantom power so you can't plug condenser mics directly in.
It also has a high impedance instrument input on the front so you can plug in a bass or guitar, this means you can record vocals and electric guitar at the same time.
The main drawback with this one is that it doesn't support Windows 8, but on the plus side you get a free Lexicon reverb plugin.
The following video will tell you all you need to know about the Lexicon Alpha:
The Lexicon Alpha usually sells for $59.99 and you can get the full specs from Lexicon.
These are the only USB audio interfaces in this price range than I'm comfortable recommending (an honorable mention goes to the Alesis IO2 Express which is basically the M-Track with a different name on it), although if you know of another one you'd like to know more about then leave a comment below and I'll be happy to give you my opinion on it.
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