2 of the Best Budget USB Audio Interfaces | Decibel Peak

2 of the best budget usb audio interfaces - decibel peak

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Today, we’re going to be looking at 2 of the best budget USB audio interfaces.

I specifically selected the Steinberg UR22C 2×2 and the Mackie Onyx Producer 2×2 because of several factors which will be explained throughout the rest of this article.

If you’re shopping for your first audio interface, I know how overwhelming it could be.

That’s why I’ve used my experience to simplify your search. I hope you’ll take my recommendations seriously and start making music with one of these ASAP!!

USB 3.0 vs USB2.0 Audio Interfaces

You’ll notice that one of the audio interfaces on this list uses the USB3.0 protocol.

Does it really make a difference?

If you want a detailed answer, you’ll have to read THIS article I wrote on the subject. However, I’ll briefly go over the differences right now.

The truth is that there’s a SLIGHT difference, but it’s nothing to obsess over.

That being said, USB3.0 audio interfaces SHOULD produce lower audio latency.

It’s because of how the USB3.0 (and higher) protocol handles data polling. That’s basically how quickly the computer “refreshes” the audio interface to poll new incoming data.

In short, the USB2.0 protocol’s data polling is much slower.

The USB3.0 protocol’s data polling is controlled by the device (so it’s much more frequent).

It’s much more important to consider these things when we’re working with audio/video processing but even there, USB devices aren’t good enough.

Now, this article is targeted to beginners… 

However, you’ll definitely want to consider looking at Thunderbolt audio interfaces if you want the absolute best and industry-standard performance.

Here’s an article on that topic if you’re interested.

Steinberg UR22C 2×2 USB3.0 Audio Interface

The Steinberg UR22C 2×2 is actually one of the most impressive audio interfaces I’ve seen.

Steinberg UR22C 2x2 USB 3.0 Audio Interface with Cubase AI and Cubasis LE

You’ll understand why in just a moment…

  • I/O: 2x XLR/TRS input | 2x TRS output (L/R)
  • Connectivity: USB-C (USB 3.1 gen 1)
  • Maximum Sample Rate: 192 kHz
  • Maximum Bit Depth: 32-bit
  • Dynamic Range: 102 dB
  • High-Impedance (HI-Z) Input: Yes, on input 2
  • Phantom Power: Yes
  • MIDI I/O: Yes
  • Onboard DSP Effects: Yes

Right from the start, the fact that Steinberg used the USB3.0 protocol on the UR22C 2×2 makes a pretty good first impression.

It’s one of the highest-performing USB audio interfaces on the market because of that.

The Steinberg UR22C 2×2 can also record in 32-bit which isn’t common, even with higher-end Thunderbolt audio interfaces. However, it’s not the same 32-bit float (unlimited headroom).

That being said, the dynamic range is still pretty decent coming in at 102 dB.

It’s also possible to skip the DI box with the UR22C 2×2 because one of its inputs features a high-impedance (HI-Z) switch to accommodate electric guitar/bass.

It also includes MIDI I/O which is always great if you work with older equipment.

However, one of the most impressive features of the Steinberg UR22C 2×2 is its onboard DSP effects. If you’ve checked out Universal Audio devices before, it’s the same concept.

Instead of using your computer’s CPU to process effects, you can host manufacturer-specific plugins inside your audio interface using its own processor (DSP unit).

If you compare the pricing of the UR22C 2×2 to even the most affordable audio interface from Universal Audio, you’ll understand why this is a big deal.

If I were still using USB audio interfaces, I’d definitely be using the Steinberg UR22C 2×2.

Mackie Onyx Producer 2×2 USB2.0 Audio Interface

Alright, second on the list is the rugged Mackie Onyx Producer 2×2.

Mackie Audio Interface, Onyx Producer 2X2 USB Audio Interface with MIDI (Onyx Producer 2-2)

It’s got everything you need and more…

  • I/O: 2x XLR/TRS input | 2x TRS output (L/R)
  • Connectivity: USB-A (USB2.0)
  • Maximum Sample Rate: 192 kHz
  • Maximum Bit Depth: 24-bit
  • Dynamic Range:  N/A
  • High-Impedance (HI-Z) Input: Yes, on both inputs
  • Phantom Power: Yes
  • MIDI I/O: Yes
  • Onboard DSP Effects: No

One of the things I like most about the Onyx Producer 2×2 is the fact that each input features a high-impedance (HI-Z) switch which eliminates the need for TWO DI boxes.

It’s an improvement on the Steinberg UR22C 2×2, but do you really need two?

On the other hand, the Onyx Producer 2×2 doesn’t provide nearly as much goodies as the UR22C 2×2 such as onboard DSP effects and 32-bit recording.

The only thing that may be of interest to some of you is the Waveform OEM recording software which isn’t just a “lite” version of a DAW. It’s the full thing.

Audio interfaces usually include a bunch of free software, but this one stood out.

Once again, it’s not something I’d personally dabble with but I wanted to bring it up.

If we’re comparing the Mackie Onyx Producer 2×2 to another popular USB audio interface in the same price range (like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2), it’s much better equipped though.

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 doesn’t have MIDI I/O or high-impedance (HI-Z) inputs.

That’s why I recommend the Mackie Onyx Produce 2×2.

There’s even the Mackie Onyx Artist 1×2 if you want to save even more money.

It has one less input though.

Steinberg UR22C vs Mackie Onyx Producer

If you just want to compare the Steinberg UR22C and the Mackie Onyx Producer side-by-side, the best way to do that is to review this table…

Steinberg UR22C 2×2Mackie Onyx Producer 2×2
Inputs/Outputs2x XLR/TRS in | 2x TRS out (L/R)2x XLR/TRS in | 2x TRS out (L/R)
ConnectivityUSB-C (USB3.1 gen 1)USB-A (USB2.0)
Maximum Sample Rate192 kHz192 kHz
Maximum Bit Depth32-bit24-bit
Dynamic Range102 dBN/A
High-Impedance (HI-Z) InputYes, input 2Yes, both inputs
Phantom PowerYesYes
MIDI I/OYesYes
Onboard DSPYesNo

If you want my honest opinion, the Steinberg UR22C wins by a long shot!

The value you’re getting in this price range is unbeatable and I haven’t found any other budget USB audio interfaces that can compete with it.

The only other USB audio interfaces I’d personally use are the Steinberg UR24C and the Universal Audio Apollo USB (which is WAY more expensive).

If you’re not into all of that additional baggage though, the Mackie Onyx Produce is great.

It has everything you need and doesn’t cut any corners.

However, the relatively small difference in price makes me favour the Steinberg UR22C.

Summary: 2 of the Best Budget USB Audio Interfaces

So, which one will you choose…

The Steinberg UR22C 2×2 of the Mackie Onyx Producer 2×2?

Even if you’d look at every other budget USB audio interface, I still think that the Steinberg UR22C 2×2 is the only one I’d ever choose in the price range.

However, I stopped working with USB audio interfaces.

If you truly want the best, I recommend reading an article I wrote entitled “2 of the best budget Thunderbolt audio interfaces”.

Of course, budget in the world of Thunderbolt isn’t the same as USB…

That being said, I’m going to let you decide which audio interface is best for YOUR needs. If ever you need any assistance though, feel free to reach out through the comment section!

Thanks for reading, see you in the next one!

Steinberg UR22C 2×2:

Mackie Onyx Producer 2×2:

Sources:

https://new.steinberg.net/audio-interfaces/ur22c/

https://mackie.com/products/onyx-usb-audio-interfaces

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