Matching your production studio with the right sound card (or audio interface) is often a challenging task. Factors include input channel class, DAW compatibility, form factor, and Input/Output (I/O). I’ve reviewed the best sound cards for music production.
Summary: For quality audio processing, I recommend either the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) or the Apogee Duet USB that will effectively render audio tracks (using converter software) with top detail, cut audio processing latency and improve your audio quality.
Reviews: 7 Best Sound Cards For Music Production 2019
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Gen) takes the top spot as my best sound cards for music production – great for both home & semi-pro studios. You can use it with a desktop computer or the best laptop for Music Production First, Scarlett 2i2 has direct monitoring which will bypass your PC to allow the real-time hearing of the vocals.
Luckily, Scarlett 2i2 has a preinstalled Ableton Live Lite (a popular and up-to-date DAW), which makes it super easy for beginner music producers. Despite not coming with MID ins or outs, the audio interface is powered through USB and thus you can use a dongle.
On connectivity, Scarlett 2i2 has a variety of pre-amps (2), inputs (2) and outputs (2), in addition to the lasting microphone pre-amp. It also allows a 96 kHz sample rate and 24-bit resolution recording, which will give a producer the best quality recordings.
However, if you still need FireWire connectivity and MIDI ins or outs on your audio interface, you may try the Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 8 In / 6 Out FireWire Audio Interface. Finally, regardless whether there are low buffer sizes, this audio interface will prove light on your CPU. Scarlett 2i2’s amp quality makes it popular in comparison to premium interfaces, and systems in ribbon mics or most condensers.
Apogee Duet 2 audio interface came as an upgrade to the previous Apogee Duet, particularly having changed to USB support from FireWire (just like Apple is doing away with FireWire ports) and having improved sound quality.
Duet 2 also allows ¼” balanced outputs plus the ¼” & XLR inputs. Further, it has a sample rate of about 192kHz and recording with 24-bit (just 3.6 ms minimum latency) and works well as a headphone amp.
For the MIDI controller, this audio interface shows low playback latency. In addition, I got clear audio during vocal recordings via the Rode NT-1A mic. It has OLED display to show the various levels of speakers out, best headphones for Music production, instrument and mic input. It will support CoreAudio (compatible with MacOS) and its preamps allow a 75 dB gain range.
Second on our list is the Audient iD4, which also has a solid built quality (with thick metal casing). Also, Audient iD4’s volume wheel allows infinite scrolling and the knobs will be easy to tun due to having some amazing resistance. With its JFET D.I input, the Audient iD4 is amazingly a plug and play. Also, you can simply plug the drum machine, keyboard, bass, or guitar – all plug and play.
Audient iD4 has Microphone Preamps with the class-A build. It includes an RF-immune input stage and has no transformer, which will give your recording a detailed resolution. It has top performing AD-DA converters to give you clear audio quality. Further, you can easily preserve the transient detail with the interface’s wide bandwidth.
Also, you’ll note that the audio interface has 30,000 multiple lower noise floors as compared to the signal level. Audient iD4’s Monitor Mix combines the DAW playback and iD4’s inputs, which will allow low latency monitoring, which simplifies your music recording.
Audient iD4’s volume encoder is also a virtual-scroll wheel (via ScrollControl), which allows the producer to scroll the iTunes library, plug-in parameters, and change DAW hosts. The audio interface comes with the dual-headphone output (including the jack & mini jack), which allows easier teamwork in the studio recording.
M-Track Plus MKII offers an audio resolution of roughly 24-bit/96 kHz and sturdy metal casing that will be great for your studio and on-the-go music recording.
It has amazing DAWs – Waves Audio plugins, Ableton Live Lite, and Cubase LE. Further, with the monitor mix knob, you can easily add or record new parts to your current composition.
Luckily, the audio interface allows various versatile inputs such as a condenser or electric guitar. Its single USB cable will allow data connection and power. Every channel provides balanced 1/4″ & XLR input (for Lo-Z sources and microphones). Further, you can change the 1/4″ input to receive instrument level source such as electric guitar or make it readily receive the line level signal.
You can get 48V to your XLR inputs from the phantom power switch that’s great for professional condenser mics. The audio interface provides zero-latency monitoring for your input signal. Also, the LED metering will give you direct visual feedback for your input levels.
5. Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools
6. Focusrite Clarett 2Pre USB 10-In/4-Out Audio Interface
IK Multimedia iRig PROl is a highly durable audio interface – very hardy. It’s compatible with mobile various devices (Multimedia’s) and can record 2 audio channels at the same time.
Other differentiating features for the IK Multimedia iRig PROl are combo XLR or Hi-Z, signal metering, direct monitoring, phantom power, and MIDI.
Luckily, the interface will have multiple cables (such as the MIDI breakout) to allow you to connect to your different devices. However, this IK Multimedia iRig PROl interface may lose some stability if its battery goes down on power. Therefore, if you’ll be recording music away from the studio or mains connection, it’ll be helpful to carry some extra battery.
Functions of External vs Internal Soundcard
1. First, an external soundcard is popularly known as the audio interface in the music production arena. Internal soundcards (with mic inputs) change digital audio signal to analog signal ready to land on your headphones or speakers.
2. But, the audio interface serves similar purposes like an internal soundcard but will connect to your computer through ports like Thunderbolt, Firewire, or USB. Also, the audio interfaces have more output and input options. Here’re the reasons you need an audio interface.
3. Audio interfaces allow seamless digital-audio conversion to allow any producer to achieve top quality sound compared to the internal soundcards. Also, Audio interfaces allow XLR or balanced ¼” inputs (not available on soundcards) that you’ll find favorable for your studio speakers or monitors. Finally, an audio interface has more feature such as instrument and microphone inputs.