The world of music is a majestic place.
At first glance, it’s pure art. If you keep looking, however, you’ll see how many nuances music production has and how different it is for everyone.
While some people don’t mind $20 headphones from Walmart, others spend $100s, if not $1000s on their music equipment to be able to hear every aspect of the track.
If you are an audiophile, make music, DJ, etc., then you already know that finding the best sound cards for music production is essential.
The audience listens to music all the time, so stepping up the quality of your music with a professional sound card for studio recording is a must if you want to stand out. The market is becoming more and more demanding, so you have to adapt.
Every sound card out there is marketed to a different audience, depending on what hardware and software they use and how much they are ready to invest in a quality product (and a few other smaller aspects).
Clearly, the pricing of PC sound cards for music production plays the most crucial role out there – no matter how much you want the best audiophile sound card, if you don’t have enough in your pocket, you’ll likely pass on the offer.
Luckily, these days you can get a quality external sound card for pretty cheap – thanks to the lower manufacturing cost and high demand.
So you are looking for the best professional sound cards for studio recording?
Well, let’s get into it. First of all, it’s important to note that every computer out there comes with some sort of a sound card.
Unfortunately, they are hardly ever worth using to make music. It’s much better to spend some money and invest in an audio card that’s able to properly render audio tracks with precision, so you can tell all the details.
That’s a must for serious music producers and beatmakers.
Picking the best PC sound card for music production can be complex at times as you have to make sure you are getting the right conversion rate, connectivity options, portability, and, of course, a good deal.
So let’s look at the best external sound cards available out there.
Best Sound Cards For Music Production
Here we’ll go over the most popular audio cards for every budget, hardware, and software.
1) Affordable and Travel-Friendly Sound Card
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
Check out Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Review.
Let’s begin the list off the most popular budget audio interface out there. A lot of music producers go for it because Scarlett 2i2 is inexpensive, yet delivers fantastic sound quality. It’s also incredibly compact and occupies very little space on your desk. When it comes to flexibility, it can accommodate your studio monitors, headphones, a microphone, and an instrument. To put it shortly, that’s more than a producer will need at the beginning.
The interface delivers one of the best conversion and sample rates out there – 192kHz / 24-bit. The latency is minimal and is measured to be 2.74ms on average. It also comes with a phantom power button of 48V which is a must-have if you plan on using a condenser microphone. Lastly, the device comes with a few digital products bundled in – a Pro Tools DAW, Focusrite Creative Pack, and monthly deal you get as a member on their site. Overall, it’s a pretty big bang for the buck.
2) Best Bundled Sound Card For Music Production
PreSonus Audiobox 96
A lot of the time, putting the entire music studio together can be overwhelming. You have to research headphones, studio monitors, microphones, interfaces, PC sound cards, and more. It may take you hours upon hours of research, and you’ll still be worried your setup won’t bring the desired results.
In this case, you can try PreSonus Audiobox 96. Instead of a single item, you are buying a whole set of necessary music equipment. Everything in the set is already done for you – no need to worry about picking the right accessories that seamlessly integrate with your professional sound card for studio recording. For the price, you are getting a pretty sweet and quality bundle – but let’s take a closer look now.
First of all, the centrepiece is the MIDI and audio interface that comes with a built-in sound card for music production. Next on the list is the digital audio workstation Studio One Artist, which is more than enough to start. On top of that, you get HD7 studio headphones which give you pretty neutral response and only need a little bit of EQing. Also, there is an M7 condenser microphone that captures all the necessary frequencies (especially bright in the vocal range), with little EQ boost in the lower end of the spectrum. Lastly, you get cables for your MIDI keyboard and microphone to connect everything properly – no extra investment required.
The feedback from customers has been fantastic so far, and you are getting the best value for this bundle.
3) Durable and Compact Sound Card
If you are ready to invest in one of the best audiophile sound cards out there, here is one. Right away, you can tell this audio interface apart from the crowd – just look at the hybrid Firewire / USB2 connectivity. Unlike most devices on the list, this bad boy is truly something, coming with its own on-board DPS effects. Most prominent ones are probably the reverb and send / return function, which comes in incredibly handy for DJs who have to play in various environments. The product is incredibly durable and robust, which is a must when playing around people, especially at night clubs and festivals.
The audio interface is definitely one of the best sound cards for music studio recording. With 10 inputs and 14 outputs, you can record a vast range of instruments simultaneously. Imagine recording piano, drums, guitar, synths, and other MIDI devices at the same time? That’s the power that you are getting with this versatile device. It’s made to push the limits!
Overall, a gem of an audio interface with a professional sound card for studio recording.
4) No-Latency Sound Card For Digital Music Production
NI Komplete Audio 6
Choosing a sound card should depend on what you are looking to achieve in terms of music production. If you are looking to mostly use VST instruments and sound generators, then this NI audio interface is one of the best external sound cards for you! Being incredibly low-latency, the device is perfect to use with CPU consuming VST effects and instruments.
Komplete Audio 6 is also equipped with nice and quality preamps to manage the volume levels of your track. If you record your instruments or vocals live, the direct monitoring function of this studio recording sound card will come in handy as well. By the way, you won’t notice any latency here either.
If you record mono sources like guitar and vocals, a mono switch function is also present.
The interface comes with 48V phantom power switch, so working with condenser mics and active DI boxes is incredibly easy.
5) Best Budget Sound Card
Behringer U-Phoria UMC204HD
When we are talking about budget audio cards, I usually don’t expect the best quality device. However, I have to admit – Behringer did a great job here. Their U-Phoria audio interface stands out among others due to its low price and very decent quality. It comes with 2 XLR inputs to plug-in your mic or instrument. The audio delivery quality is also top-notch at 192kHz and 24 bit. I’d say the audio recording is well-suited for any producer or sound engineer.
U-Phoria is a simple device with quite a few analog knobs to tweak the gain levels. It works with any major DAW such as FL Studio, Ableton, and Logic Pro X. The audio interface uses well-known MIDAS microphone preamps to deliver professional quality audio. The 48V phantom power on / off button lets you use any condenser microphone without any worries. Lastly, the device is incredibly affordable for most buyers who are just starting out!
For the price, Behringer U-Phoria is the best PC sound card for music production.
6) Best Sound Card For Music Production With Premium Accessories
UR22 MKII Bundle
The recording bundle is packed with everything you’ll need to start beatmaking, recording, and doing other aspects of music production. The interface audio quality is similar to the devices listed earlier and stands at 192kHz and 24-bit. It’s robust and high-quality, with a few analog knobs to adjust the gain up to your liking.
The mic in the bundle is condenser and requires the audio interface to have the phantom power switch, which it does. The pair of headphones included are made for studio recording and offer clear sound without boosting the lower end too much. Lastly, the set comes with Cubase AI digital audio workstation, so you can start working on your music as soon as possible.
This sound card works with both PC and Mac. These days you can even use it on your iPad! Isn’t that crazy? Music production has been through so many changes, but it still keeps surprising me once in a while. Overall, one of the best cheap sound cards by Steinberg that turns music production into a breeze.
7) Sound Card For Music Production With Most Features
While not the cheapest sound card out there, Audient iD22 is a fantastic investment that’s worth every penny. It’s definitely aimed at professional music producers who know how important professional sound cards are for studio recording. It’s packed with a ton of features and fully-customizable settings that appeal not only to seasoned sound engineers but also audiophiles that want their sound card to deliver the best signal possible.
The desktop interface is equipped with 10 input and 14 output ports – more than you’ll ever need in your home recording studio. 2-in and 6-out of them are high performance. The device comes with 2 preamps, so both XLR inputs are good to be used with microphones. The external sound card is connected to the PC via USB 2.0, which ensure excellent signal delivery. I was really excited when I found out iD22 supports ADAT / SPIDF, so you can add more hardware to the setup.
Overall, one of the if not the best audiophile sound card in the industry right now.
8) Best Sound Card For DJs and Audio Engineers
UA Apollo Twin
If you are very serious about music production, Apollo Twin might be the best sound card for you. While it’s definitely one of the most expensive on the list, it pays for itself if you already sell beats or record your own tracks. The quality you are getting with it is top-quality.
The sound card for studio recording is built to be portable, but don’t let this trick you. The device is packed with features like no other. Coming with a low-cut filter to record flawless vocals and gain lowering pads, this audio interface will boost any microphone’s performance. It also comes with the ability to monitor the performance in real time, which is essential for a serious music producer.
This bad boy comes with a beautiful and powerful preamp, which is clear and delivers zero extra noise, which is a must. The vocals and acoustic instruments recorded sound correctly, with no EQ added whatsoever. It’s important to note that it’s also incredibly durable, which is essential for DJs who work in busy environments such as clubs where anyone can trip over a cord of yours and push all your essentials right to the floor.
Overall, it’s the best sound card for DJs as it comes with all the features necessary.
9) Professional Sound Card With Tons Of Features
This audio interface is simple and sophisticated. Definitely pricey, but you are getting a good deal for what you are paying. No matter how big your studio setup is – RME Babyface will handle it with ease. After all, it comes with 10-in and 12-out channels, which is a very solid amount – I can’t even think of all the equipment you need to have to be using all of them simultaneously.
Despite being full of features, the audio interface is also compact, which is crucial if you are a musician who travels a lot. Babyface also comes with the new gen low latency AD / DA converters, which improves the overall connectivity of your computer, microphone, headphones, and studio monitors. Listening to the track as it’s being recorded without any delay is rare, but possible with this sound card for music production.
To sum up, not a bargain, but a high-tech device that will surpass your expectations.
10) Best Sound Card For Mac and iOS
Apogee Duet 2
If you happen to use an iMac or MacBook Pro as your computer for music production, it’s a good idea to get an audio interface that is tuned to integrate with the devices seamlessly. Did you know that it’s the first audio interface for iPad? That’s right – it was designed to become the industry standard when it comes to the portable professional audio recording.
It’s not much bigger than your iPhone, and you can even carry it around in your pocket! It’s incredibly easy to use, especially with the controller knob that lets you go over inputs and outputs quickly, set volume levels for them, and all while looking at the display. You may be paying a little more, but getting the convenience and sound quality that you’ll love.
11) Best Sound Card For Recording Bands
Motu Traveler Mk3
This bad boy is fascinating. I am not talking about unique design or ease of use, but rather the number of inputs and outputs it comes with. Remember me telling you how 10-in and 12-out ports were more than enough? Well, that works out unless you are recording a band, for example.
If you need to record 4-5 instruments and have a couple of mics there, plus a pair of headphones for each member, that’s when you need a powerhouse like Motu Traveler – with 28 inputs and 30 outputs! These are some big numbers for a sound card. And the device isn’t even that big – you’ll fit it in a laptop bag without any problems.
I also loved the fact that it’s powered by computer, which adds to the convenience. Of course, this may lower the sound quality a notch, but you won’t hear any noise that actually stands out. If you are looking to record more than just vocals or a single guitar line, it’s worth looking into Motu Traveler – you won’t be disappointed.
12) Best Sound Card Under $200
Focusrite Scarlett 2i4
Didn’t we see another interface from Focusrite at #1 on the list? That’s right, we sure did. However, the 2i4 version is a little different. First of all, you may notice how it’s a bit larger. That’s because it comes with 4 analog outputs as opposed to just 2. If you need more creative space and the ability to record more than just 1 instrument at once – that’s the best audiophile sound card for you.
It’s definitely the best sound card under $200 you can find on the market. And I don’t just mean the build and sound quality – but also support. For me, it’s a crucial aspect as well. And Focusrite takes the customer support to the next level! It’s also used with both Windows and Mac operation systems, so you shouldn’t worry if you happen to own a MacBook Pro, for example.
To sum up, one of my favourite audio interfaces on the list.
13) Best Stand-Alone Sound Card
Asus Essence STX II
Alright, this bad boy definitely doesn’t look like anything else on the list. Why? Because it’s not an audio interface. And because this article is focused on the best sound cards for music production in general, I think it’s only fair if we include at least one that goes directly into your PC.
By the way, it’s been praised after the release by audiophiles all around the world! It even got the first place in the Head–Fi’s sound card segment – pretty impressive if you ask me. Once installed, it takes the sound quality of your PC to the next level, and the sound becomes a lot more clear. Featuring 124db SNR and low jitter, it’s definitely a gem for a music producer who wants his or her tracks to sound truly good. Overall, Asus Essence STX II is one of the best internal sound cards for your PC.
14) Best Budget Sound Card
Yamaha AG03 3
Have you ever heard of Yamaha? It sounds like a joke these days. The company that’s been around for almost a century – it isn’t hard to recognize it. It’s because Yamaha has been releasing quality products for so many years – that’s why it’s so easy to trust this mixer / audio interface! While it may look a little complicated, you’ll get the hang of it very quickly.
If you are a DJ, you’ve found the best PC sound card for your gigs. While most DJ mixers are a lot more versatile and flexible, this bad boy can do a pretty good job as well, especially if you are just playing top 40 at your local club. It also connects to your iPad! If you have GarageBand (check out the review of the best MIDI keyboards for GarageBand) installed on it, you are good to start recording your first track
The device also comes bundled with Cubase AI digital audio workstation, so you don’t have to spend extra money on a DAW when assembling your home recording studio. Once you get the hang of all the little switches, knobs, and buttons – you’ll be golden!
15) Best Cheap Sound Card
If you were looking for an audio interface and happened to be on a budget, take a look at this bad boy. It’s very compact and stylish looking. I wouldn’t call it durable, but it won’t break on you all of a sudden. It comes with 4 inputs, 2 of which are equipped with mic preamps. Everything is controlled with the silver rotary encoder in the middle. It lets you tweak all the special features and output levels pretty easily.
Coming at such a low price, you can’t be too picky with what you are getting. While the device doesn’t have a lot of controls, you can think of this as a good thing. The fewer buttons a device has, the less time you need to spend learning what every knob, switch, and button do. Instead, you got a big encoder that takes care of everything. Being minimalistic hasn’t hurt anybody!
To sum up, it’s one of the best cheap sound cards on the market right now.
It’s hard to find the best sound card for music production, isn’t it? There are so many available, and you probably struggle to make the right choice (I sure did). You have to look at both performance and audio quality, portability and durability. And not everyone can spend $1000+ on a sound card.
It’s important to remember that sounds cards are a fantastic investment that will help you a lot along the way. But at the same time, you want to get the best bang for the buck. Depending on people’s needs and what they need the device for, the best sound card for music production will be different for everyone.
Travel a lot? Get yourself a small and robust one.
Play at the clubs? Look at the one that acts as both mixer and audio interface, and don’t forget about the durability.
Want to start making music but don’t have a lot of money? Get a budget sound card and don’t look back – invest your time into music production instead.
I’ve listed some of the best sound cards for music production for every budget and need – I am sure one of them will fit you perfectly!
Last update on 2020-06-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API