The world of music is unique and only those who have experienced different versions of it can understand its nuances. Some users are happy with a simple headphone, whereas serious audiophiles spend on expensive equipment to hear every piano note, guitar string and drum beat. The best sound cards for music production are crucial assets for music composers, sound engineers and professionals who cater to the extremely demanding audiophile market.
Each sound card is being marketed to cater to a different audience and the quality they deliver may vary based on conversion rate, and type of hardware components used, among other aspects. The pricing also plays a crucial role as you can go for a cheaper version based on your requirement, or invest in a premium product with a maximum number of connectivity options and additional features.
Are you looking for the best sound card for music production? We are all well aware that the usual sound card which comes in our computers – even the premium ones – may not be as effective when it comes to music production. This is why sound engineers end up hunting for a good sound card which is capable of rendering audio tracks with careful details required for music production. There are quite a few things that can make a difference when choosing a good sound card. The connectivity options, the conversion rate, affordability, and portability can be important factors. Let us look at the best sound cards available in 2018.
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The Best Sound Cards For Music Production
Affordable and compact sound card
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface
The list starts off with an affordable product that most sound engineers and music composers can go for without worrying about a huge budget. The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 looks compact, occupies minimal space on your desk, yet has all the necessary ports for sound production. The device has a total of four analog inputs; two of them designed to offer natural sounding mic preamps, while the other two are contemporary instrument inputs which are capable of picking up even the most demanding guitar sounds.
The Focusrite sound card is capable of delivering conversion and sample rates measured at 192kHz / 24-bit and has the lowest latency measured at 2.74ms. It is also equipped with 1/4-inch balanced jack outputs, allowing you to easily connect professional studio monitors. A major advantage of buying this product is that it comes bundled with Pro Tools, Focusrite Creative Pack and a couple of other essential tools designed by Focusrite that you can download after setting up the product.
- Affordable and compact design.
- It comes bundled with a couple of software tools that you can download and start using right away.
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Best sound cards for music production with bundled accessories
PreSonus Audiobox 96 Studio
When you buy the PreSonus Audiobox 96 Studio, you get a complete recording bundle. It simplifies the process of having to choose between a compatible microphone, and choosing the best accessories that go well with your sound card. The manufacturer offers a complete setup at decent pricing and it even includes a plugin suite to check out your composing skills on a professional platform.
The Presonus Audiobox 96 studio uses an audio and MIDI interface with a durable cable. The bundle includes Studio One Artist recording and production software along with the HD7 studio monitoring headphones and M7 studio condenser microphone that offers flat response allowing you to capture sounds in their natural clarity. The studio magic plugin suite further enhances the experience. It has received lots of positive reviews for its price to performance ratio and is adequate even for hardcore engineers to pick up the best sound from multiple instruments.
- The bundled version includes microphone, headphone and audio software tool to easily get you going as soon as you purchase.
- The number of analog adjustments available on the sound card is adequate to fine-tune your output.
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Rugged, travel-friendly sound card
MOTU UltraLite-MK3 Hybrid Firewire/ USB2 Audio Interface
The MOTU UltraLite-MK3 uses the newly designed Hybrid Firewire/ USB 2 connectivity which sets it apart from the competition. You can use it to connect the device to your computer and it also includes onboard DSP effects such as reverb with send and return function. The product has been designed with DJs as the primary audience since they travel a lot and require different types of reverb that they can use based on the environment they are in.
The UltraLite-MK3 is one of the best sound cards for music production primarily designed to be very rugged and easy to carry anywhere without damaging the product. The MK3 has 10 individual inputs and 14 outputs that should be ample for most scenarios. You can actually connect it to a range of instruments or probably all of them including the guitar, piano, drum machines, synths and additional MIDI devices. The MOTU audio interface is versatile, robust and can be used to process live inputs without pushing the load to a computer.
- Exceptionally rugged and durable design makes it easy to carry it anywhere you like, and is meant for professionals on the move.
- The audio interface has lots of ports that lets you connect as many instruments as required.
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A perfect low-latency sound card for digital music production
Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6
How you choose a sound card is primarily based on whether you are going to record in a studio with original instruments or involve more in digital music production. The Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 is the best sound card for music production when you are planning to use software to replicate instruments. It is equipped with low-latency design to facilitate virtual instruments and effects.
The sound card is equipped with high-quality pre-amps which can be customized as required with its dedicated gain controls. The device also supports direct monitoring for live recording with literally no latency to spoil the quality. It also has a mono input switch allowing you to record mono sources such as vocals or guitar. The Komplete Audio 6 is powered by the 48V phantom power, which makes it easier to use condenser microphones or active DI boxes along with the audio interface.
- The mono input switch comes in handy when recording vocals and also when you record them individually for better sound mixing.
- The low latency makes it a perfect companion for recording using virtual instruments and also for live recording.
Price – $229
Most value for your money
Behringer U-Phoria UMC204HD
Behringer is a popular brand with a wide range of products, but the U-Phoria UMC204HD stands out with its exceptionally low price and plenty of ports, analog controls to optimize music production. The U-Phoria model has 2 USB 2.0 Audio/ MIDI interface for capturing the input from your microphone and other instruments directly from the source. The device is capable of delivering audio at 192kHz and 24-bit. The professional grade audio is a basic requirement for any sound producer or sound engineer which the audio interface offers without any compromise.
The device is simple, has a black finish and is fully compatible with all major software tools including Avid Pro Tools, Cubase and Ableton Live. It can stream up to 2 inputs and 4 outputs while the entire audio interface is powered by 48V phantom power. The Behringer U-Phoria UMC204HD uses MIDAS mic pre-amplifiers. With all the essential ports and the capability to deliver professional quality audio, the product delivers maximum value for your money and is affordable for most buyers.
- Behringer brand value and an audio interface which is compatible with all major audio tools besides housing essential ports.
- The pricing factor is a major player here as it delivers the most bang for the buck.
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Best sound cards for music production with premium build and accessories
Steinberg UR22 MKII RP Recording Pack
The Steinberg UR22 MKII RP recording pack is a surprisingly good package which comes bundled with all the essential accessories. The audio interface delivers professional audio quality at 192kHz and 24-bit while the Class-A PRE Amp mic also supports 48V phantom power. A good microphone is vital to capture the nuances in the audio and the manufacturer offers it as part of the package.
Music production has undergone a major change where some have started doing sound production on the go using just an iPad. This sound card is iPad Ready and has CC-mode with a USB mini socket. It also has a full USB port which can be used to connect a Mac or PC. The sound card from Steinberg is equipped with the loopback function which makes it easier to steam performances live on the internet.
- The loopback function is a unique addition that allows you to stream live performances to an internet audience.
- The ability to use it with an iPad makes it more portable and easy to use it outside the traditional Mac or PC setup.
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The most feature-rich sound card for music production
Audient iD22 USB Audio Interface
The Audient iD22 USB audio interface is an impressive piece of hardware which will make audiophiles and sound engineers very happy. It is packed to the brim with amazing features and a whole lot of customization into a compact body that is easy to store. The desktop card has 10 ports for input and 14 ports for output in the desktop interface making it easy to connect as many instruments as you require to record them individually.
It also has 6 output and 2 input high performance ports besides a solo JFET instrument input. The sound card also has Class-A mic preamplifiers and works using USB 2.0 connectivity. The analog sound and gain control feel great to touch. The product is solid and should last for a long time while reviews claim its on par with major branded products but at an affordable pricing.
- Great choice of customization options and multiple ports for connectivity
- Supports ADAT/SPIDF allowing you to add more hardware and a simple mix control
Other models worth buying
Best Sound Card With Great Software Packs
Universal Audio Apollo Twin
The elegantly designed Apollo Twin is a spectacular piece of equipment for sound engineers looking for intuitive software and a powerful audio experience. While the box is built for portability, you can be assured that it is very durable. The preamps are clear with no extra noise and the vocals and chords sound just the way they should. It features 24-bit/192KHz sound making it incredibly clear.
One Of The Best Sound Cards For Music With Excellent Features
RME Babyface USB 2.0 High-Speed Audio Interface
This is a highly sophisticated device that has got the approval of most of the sound engineers who have used it. The compact design of the Babyface makes it easy to carry it around. It has 10 input and 12 output channels and it features a sample rate of 192KHz. It has a USB port and a MIDI port for easy connectivity options.
Best Sound Card With Numerous Input Output Channel
MOTU Traveler mk3
If you need great technology in a compact box, then the Traveler mk3 is a suitable device for you. It is portable and powerful – a blend that sound engineers always enjoy. It can be powered through your laptop or through a separate power cord, which is good for someone who does not prefer quick battery drain of the laptop. The device features 28 inputs and 30 outputs. Great for beginners and seasoned professionals.
One Of The Best Sound Cards For Mac and iOS Users
Apogee Duet 2
Mac and iOS users will find the Duet 2 to be a brilliant device. It is built for durability, and the sleek design helps sound engineers pack this in their bags and carry it anywhere. The Ad/DA converters render a splendid audio experience that has a resolution of up to 24 bit/192KHz. Anyone who wants a premium device for their Mac or iPad will find the Apogee Duet to be good value for money.
Best Cheap Sound Card With All The Needed Features
ASUS Sound Card Essence STX II
For someone looking for a standalone sound card with great audio experience, the Essence STX II is great. It has a perfect design and brilliant performance. It enhances the sound quality for your computer and makes it a lot better so that you can clearly hear the different notes. It features low jitter and 124db SNR. Overall this is a nice sound card for the price you pay for it.
Best Sound Card Under $200 To produce Great Quality Sound
Focusrite Scarlett 2i4
The Scarlet 2i4 is an easy to use equipment which can be set up very quickly. It ensures that the sound production is great by ensuring clarity of the sound. It is compact and well-designed with a 2 in, 4 out interface. It features a 24-bit/96Hz conversion rate which is decent enough. It can be used on Macs and PCs.
Best Budgeted Sound Card For Music With Versatile Sound Interface
Yamaha AG03 3 Channel Mixer/Interface
This device has a Cubase AI Digital Audio Production Workstation included in it which ensures high-quality music production. It has a decent number of connectivity options helping you connect to any device easily. It is good for iOS, Mac and PC making it a versatile sound interface for sound engineers.
Best Cheapest Sound Card With Minimalistic Design
The Nanoface is a budgeted sound interface good for beginners who are looking for an affordable sound card. The compact design of the Nanoface makes it easy to carry it around in a bag. It features a high-speed driver but does not include an integrated mixer. Home producers will find this to be a great equipment especially at the price you pay for it. It is compact yet powerful and uses minimalism to ensure that users have just what they need. Keeping in mind that more controls can only call for distraction, this is well designed.
With so many best sound cards for music production available, a newcomer may find it a bit difficult to make a choice. In terms of performance and audio quality, all of them deliver professional grade music that can be streamed live, recorded or used to enhance music production. The compactness, pricing and additional features are the aspects based on which you can make your final decision.
Some sound cards are compact while some are rugged but each brand outsmarts another with one exclusive feature. If you find it very useful like being able to live stream sound online or use mono recording, you can pick the particular model and make the most out of it. All these brands are professionally certified and they also have other models that you can explore before making your purchase decision.
Sound cards are a great investment, but making the right choice is what matters the most. It can be good only if you choose the right sound card carefully. Depending on your needs and the kind of production work you do, you may be interested in investing in one of the premium sound cards or in going for a more affordable one. Pricing, however, is not the only factor to be considered. There are other important factors like the connectivity options, the operating system you use and the powerfulness of the equipment. While beginners may prefer something easy to use, most of the professionals choose devices with more controls. We have listed some of the best sound cards for music production so that you can easily find the one just perfect for you.
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