5 Best Sound Card For Music Production

Having trouble deciding which is the best sound card for music production? With our buying guide, you will be able to make a quick decision.

by Derrick Reeves | Updated: September 15, 2021

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It is simply indisputable that the best sound card for music production does make a huge difference. While the usually integrated card can work, it has too many drawbacks. For example, the I/O setup is lacking, making it nearly impossible to record any performance properly.

That is why we put together this list of the 5 best options available on the current market for music producers, both novices and professionals. The main criteria that we use to evaluate the listed candidates are the audio quality, the I/O setup, and the preamps.

In-depth Reviews of Top 5 Best Sound Card For Music Production

Here are 5 of the current best audio interfaces we have carefully selected out of thousands available options. Each has its unique strengths and weaknesses. So let’s dive right in!

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Generation USB Audio - Best Audio Sound Cards For Music Production

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface 3rd Gen 

Editor's Rating

Audio Quality: 9

Audio I/O: 7

Preamp: 8

Best Overall: Audio Quality

There are many things to pay attention to when picking a dedicated sound card for music production. However, the most vital characteristic is always the audio quality, as it is the core feature that sets this product apart from regular ones.

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Generation USB Studio Recording Audio Interface shines the most in this aspect. From its excellent clarity to its next to zero latency, this gear is simply unbeatable in this particular department.

Preamps

The preamps also play a huge part in us declaring that the Focusrite Scarlett has the best audio quality. This external sound card received a huge upgrade in the form of two amazing mic preamps. Thanks to them and the new switchable Air mode, you get more open and brighter sounds.

There are also the analog control protection circuits that the manufacturer wired into the input and output channels. The main function of these circuits is to protect your home studio while you are recording music. If they are not there, a small power surge can destroy the basic soundcard.

Problems With This Product

The biggest issue you will notice regarding this product is the fact that it utilizes a USB Type C cable. As this type of USB cable is a fairly recent development, it may not work with lots of older gears. You can solve this problem with a converter.

We also want to note that the Focusrite Scarlett can be a little flimsy. As a result, it is best if you can be extra careful while using it. Believe us; you do not want to drop this gear at any height.

Advice from Experts and Users

If you are starting out on the path of becoming a music producer, we strongly recommend getting the Focusrite Scarlett Solo interface. After all, you can build your whole studio recording setup revolving around it with ease, avoiding the risk of having something not working.

PreSonus Audio Box 2x2 USB 96 Audio – Best Compatibility Interface

PreSonus AudioBox USB Audio Interface

Editor's Rating

Audio Quality: 7

Audio I/O: 8

Preamp: 7

Best Overall: Compatibility

An audio interface is practically worthless if it cannot connect to the right hardware and software. For this reason, it is incredibly vital that an audio card can connect with lots of things on its own.

The PreSonus AudioBox 2x2 USB Sound Card is an excellent choice if you want to focus more on this aspect. It is compatible with almost every single recording software there is, be it from Windows or Mac.

Audio I/O

You don’t want to overlook the high-quality audio I/O of this item either, as it can deliver a fantastic signal path. This path has the lowest potential latency, infinitely approaching zero, thanks to the high-quality cables and powerful connectors.

The setup of the inputs is also quite smart, as the manufacturer made use of the new 2x2 system. There are 2 high-headroom instrument inputs that you can use for basses or electric guitars. If you want to connect with line-level sources, the 2 balanced line inputs will be especially useful.

Problems With This Product

The most noticeable problem with this piece of gear is the lack of guidance for the accompanying software.

As a result, it is a trial-and-error process to know which software is for which feature. The only way to combat this issue is to manually go through every software and give them labels.

Another issue is the fact that each software has a unique activation code, which you will be asked randomly. For this reason, you must find a way to store them and remember the storage location. Our advice is to make a document titled "PreSonus key" and search it each time you need.

Advice from Experts and Users

Due to its incredibly versatile compatibility and its complicated additional software, this USB sound card is only suitable for experienced users. If you know what you are doing, you will draw out the true strength hidden inside it.

Behringer UMC22 Audio – Best Value And Great Sound 

behringer audio interface (UMC22)

Editor's Rating

Audio Quality: 7

Audio I/O: 7

Preamp: 7

Best Overall: Value For The Money

Not all people starting on the path of becoming a music producer are loaded with money. In fact, most of them need to cut all kinds of corners, as audio gears are among the most overpriced things.

That is why the Behringer UMC22 Audio Interface, with its feature-packed nature, is here. From audiophile resolution to seamless DAW integration, you will get a whole lot out of it for a uniquely affordable price.

Direct Monitor Capability

A unique thing that this audio home studio device offers is the capability to monitor your performance directly. You can experience your performance in real-time. As such, your recording will undoubtedly get better, as you can fix your mistakes almost immediately.

Helping out with the direct monitor function is the powerful phone's output. It helps tremendously in relaying your voice or instrument as clearly as possible. Your feedback will not have any outside interference, allowing you to fix the performance perfectly on the dot.

Problems With This Product

The most obvious weakness that you can immediately see within this gear is that it does not have an XLR input. If you are inexperienced, you would need to make do with instrument or RCA cables.

Professionals, however, tend to have an XLR adapter lying around in their workshop; thus, this issue is irrelevant in such a case.

It also uses a more profound 48 kHz sample rate while recording than other interfaces on this list. For this reason, you will notice a clear and low bass in your recording. It will pollute your final result, and the only way to fix it is to carry out post-processing.

Advice from Experts and Users

As we have mentioned above, the main reason for the Behringer UMC22 to appear on our list is the value it brings. Anyone with a budget will surely be thankful for the multitude of useful additional features it offers at this price range.

It's even better if you already have a mixing console, as this console can further improve the soundcard’s capability.

Steinberg UR22MKII USB 2-Channel Audio – Good Durability

Steinberg UR22C USB Type-C Audio Interface

Editor's Rating

Audio Quality: 8

Audio I/O: 7

Preamp: 8

Best Overall: Durability

Most of us music producers need to travel a lot, be it for gigs or inspirations. However, the parts inside an audio interface are all incredibly delicate, so you need one with a strong protective layer.

This need is perfectly answered by the Steinberg UR22MKII USB 2-Channel Audio Interface. There is no other way to describe this audio interface than "built like a truck." Apart from its plastic top shelf, this best sound card for music production is built from an all-metal chassis.

Interface

We are also impressed by the way Steinberg organized the interface of this USB sound card. The manufacturer managed to fit almost all of its main features onto a single panel on the front.

Among those features is a Hi-Z, which you can use to improve the bass or guitar recording to attain perfect quality.

This front panel also houses two extremely high-tech class-A D-PRE preamps. These preamps are the newest technology development to come out of Yamaha. Their intricate design makes them capable of capturing all expressiveness and subtleties of any source of audio.

Problems With This Product

The most glaring weakness that we were able to determine from this machine is its headphones’ low volume. Due to this issue, you may overlook some discrepancies while producing music. A quick solution is to change your headphone setting to compensate.

The input and output channels are a little clustered, creating many problems if you want to utilize them all simultaneously.

The quickest way to solve this issue is by getting some extended adapters. With them, you can plug all kinds of devices into the interface without having to worry about clustering.

Advice from Experts and Users

If you are working in a hectic environment, we believe that this USB sound card will be a godsend. No amount of fall damage can break it, so that you can use it for quite a long time. It can also survive all kinds of bad weather, and you can take it alongside outdoor events.

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2 – Best Portability

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2

Editor's Rating

Audio Quality: 8

Audio I/O: 6

Preamp: 7

Best Overall: Portability

Some of us travel a lot on the job, so we need a USB sound card that is easy to carry alongside. However, due to the nature of audio interfaces requiring them to be as intricate as possible, they are rarely compact.

The Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2 does not have that kind of issue due to its breakthrough design. This soundcard for music compresses all vital features into a small 6 x 5 x 2 inches box. Also, the card's shape resembles a rectangle, making it easier to store.

Phantom Source And Quiet Operation

The card has an impressive phantom power source clocking at 48V, ensuring that it can last a full performance. This phantom source is also really efficient, so you don't need an excessively strong external source to get it going.

A general issue most music producers need to deal with is the noise their cards make while working. People in our profession tend to have sensitive ears, so it's very easy to lose focus on what we are doing due to such annoyance.

This card can alleviate that issue, as it makes almost no noise, thanks to a quiet tech that Native Instruments developed recently.

Problems With This Product

We have mentioned above that this recording music USB sound card is built with portability as the main focus. For this reason, you should not expect it to be able to record for a large group of people. It works the best for solo artists, as there are few I/O audio ports.

The software bundle that accompanies this card leaves a lot to be desired. It lacks some of the most basic and useful software. Luckily, those are not hard to get, and most of them are free. You can quickly install all the vital ones in just one evening.

Advice from Experts and Users

This card works the best for solo music makers due to its physical constraints. If you happen to travel a lot, then it fits you perfectly. After all, all of its basic features are there to make it easier for you to record and make music on the go.

A Guide To Pick The Audio Interface For Music Production With Best Audio

Here is a detailed buying guide; we hope that you can make an educated choice after reading through it.

Why Is An Soundcard Necessary For Music Producers And Musicians?

Most people who just started making music often wonder why we don't use the integrated sound card within our systems. The first reason lies in the limited I/O capability. Even the most compact external sound cards have a 2x2 I/O system, while an internal desktop interface only has a 1x1.

To be more specific, every integrated soundcard for music only has a pair of consumer-grade stereo line-level I/O. The most they can add is another headphone output.

With this setup, it's very easy for radio and electromagnetic interference, excessive latency, and jitter to affect the audio signal. When this issue occurs at both the input and the output, the final result is completely different from its source.

Also, two input level channels are simply not enough to track a single drum kit, let alone a whole band. That is why you must get a reliable external soundcard if you want high-quality recordings.

Why Is An Audio Interface Necessary

Getting The Appropriate I/O System

This aspect is one of the most vital aspects to consider whenever you are picking an audio interface. At the moment, you can choose from a multitude of available options.

On the one hand, there are simple desktop interfaces that have 2 channels. These can only work with a single stereo or 2 mono signals at once. On the other hand are the larger systems, which can work with hundreds of inputs simultaneously.

That is why you need to plan your recording path clearly beforehand and equip yourself accordingly.

For example, a singer-songwriter needs nothing more than one pair of balanced outputs and inputs. They only need to capture their voice, after all, and their acoustic guitar, in some cases.

Nonetheless, if you want to simultaneously sing and record the guitar in stereo, a pair of inputs will not suffice. You would also need a high-Z input, aka instrument-level input, to connect your instrument directly to the setup.

More complicated gears such as samplers and drum machines require the help of line-level I/O. This demand is also true for most headphone amps and studio monitors.

There is also the need for a digital connector, which beginner producers tend to overlook. That is only natural, as they cannot make use of this feature yet. Nevertheless, you may want to have it ready, as it will prove to be a vital feature.

Two of the most known types of digital connection are ADAT and S/PDIF. Using them, you can connect your rig with some multi-channel preamps, increasing the number of available preamps in your system.

Doing so will also free up the analog inputs and analog outputs to connect with other gears. For instance, one ADAT input can expand a system that has 2/4 preamps to 10 or 12 inputs. It is truly one of the easiest ways to expand your rigs.

Computer Connection Of Best Sound Cards 

A Guide To Pick The Best Sound Card For Music Production

The only thing that we all can agree on regarding technology is it changes constantly for the better. There is no word closer to "obsolete" than "standard" in the world of computer-related techs.

That is why we have so many types of connections available right now, each with its unique strengths.

Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt has an amazingly low latency and high speed. For this reason, it is now the newest standard that people refer to when talking about audio interface connections.

True to this fame, Thunderbolt has been relentlessly putting out improvements. That is why the newest version, Thunderbolt 3, leaves its predecessor, Thunderbolt 2, in the dust with twice the speed.

It is also capable of supporting a maximum speed of 40 Gbps and a 100-meter cable length. Many of the professional interface manufacturers work specifically through Thunderbolt now.

FireWire

FireWire will do a much more consistent job transferring your data than USB. With this advantage, it is much more reliable than the latter, especially if you record many channels simultaneously.

You do need to keep in mind that the number of interfaces that use FireWire is fewer. Also, not many computers support the use of FireWire, so you must get a FireWire card.

USB

It is easy to guess that we will see USB here, as it is still the most used connector for PCs. The biggest advantage that this connector type can offer is the fact that more than 80% of interfaces run on its USB bus power.

This advantage is perfect for people who love to record while moving with their laptops. From USB 2.0 to 3.0, there is no device that isn’t compatible with these connectors.

PCI-E

The fourth most used interface connection is PCI-E, short for PCI Express. A PCI-E sound card is an internal interface based on the card, so there is no way that you can use it for laptops.

The main reason for the birth of the PCI-E sound card is the advantages that you can gain by installing the interface straight into the motherboard.

Doing so means you will be able to bypass most data conversion processes. Thus, there is no limit to bandwidth and latency for a PCI-E sound card. Most of these interfaces are also capable of handling high track counts.

That is why they can deal with professional studios' near-instantaneous speed. Naturally, a PCI-E sound card is much more expensive than other connection types, namely USB and FireWire.

Other Audio Tech Specs For Recording

There are 2 types of tech specs to pay attention to: sample rate and bit depth.

This spec plays a huge role when you process your audio. You can use a simple equation of 1 bit equaling 6 dB. Following this equation, the CD standard of 16-bit possesses a dynamic range of 96 dB.

As for sample rate, it is more like the digital snapshot of your captured audio.

The 44.1 kHz standard for CD means that 44,100 digital pictures of the input sound were taken with each second. This rate is more than enough for capturing and producing all sounds that our human ears can perceive.

Conclusion

After going through our buying guide and in-depth review, we hope that you can now pick the best sound card for music production. Each of the 5 options we provided can be the best option under specific circumstances.

As for our own opinion, we believe that the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface 3rd Gen is the best overall. The main reason for this choice is the fact that it has the unquestionably best audio quality.

The gear’s mic preamps working together with the switchable Air mode are simply mind-blowing. This combination provides much clearer sounds than any other mentioned option.

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