The 5 Best Sound Cards for Music Production (2023)
A sound card (or audio interface) is a crucial component of music production. This unit has enabled the possibility of music processing through the modern computer in every home and studio across the globe.
Default sound cards that are already integrated with most computers and laptops cannot compare to a fully-fledged sound card or audio interface. Luckily, there are great options out there in terms of technology, hardware, usability, and affordability.
My top pick is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen. This is a highly popular audio interface that includes a great software bundle.
My budget pick is the Behringer UMC404HD. This is a beginner-friendly and affordable option for a good sound card/audio interface.
The 5 Best Sound Cards for Music Production (2023)
Let’s compare these in more detail.
1. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen
Focusrite has conquered the market with the Scarlett range of soundcards. The 2-in/2-out Scarlet 2i2 is an integral part of the legacy they’ve built in the past decade. The soundcard is bundled with supporting software that includes Ableton Live Lite, Focusrite Red plugin suite, and Avid Pro Tools First.
The 2i2’s 3rd Gen avatar boasts of an upgraded preamp with better headroom and “Air mode” for top-end detail. Besides this, it retains all the great design elements of its predecessors. This includes the gain knob, inputs, outputs, phantom power (48 volts), and USB-C port.
I’ve picked this unit as my “Top Pick” based on the exemplary audio quality. This is evidenced by the low noise, low latency, and excellent clarity in its performance. The new Air feature elevates the 2i2 into a new league of impressive audio quality, especially when you record vocals in a home studio.
The highly detailed audio quality, thoughtful upgrades, and long list of features make the Scarlett 2i2 a formidable option for new and experienced recording artists alike. The 3rd Gen 2i2 is proof that Focusrite is at the top of its game of great quality interfaces that won’t break the bank.
2. Behringer UMC404HD
The UMC404HD has a 4-in/4-out config that is loaded with four dedicated preamps, a rarity in this price bracket. The preamps are quiet and transparent and the overall sound quality is great for the price.
The panel gives you access to Line/Instrument switches, gain knobs, pad switches, and jack inputs for the designated in/out channels connected to Midas-designed preamps. Each channel has dedicated controls that are easy to access and tweak.
Behringer has equipped it with A/B monitor switching, monitor mix, and a stereo/mono switch that will come in handy when you want to audition your mixes. It also includes MIDI compatibility and LED indicators.
This feature-packed unit punches above its weight and the incredulous value for money has prompted us to pick Behringer as our best budget option. The UMC202HD includes a software suite that includes recording software and plug-ins. Overall, it is a fantastic option for musicians, producers, podcasters, and recording enthusiasts, especially if you are just starting out.
3. Universal Audio Apollo Twin X Duo
Universal Audio has been in the game for 70 years and its superior design and technology are evident in the highly desirable Twin X Duo. This audio interface is a compact and portable 2-in/4-out Thunderbolt-3 device with a built-in DSP and 2x UAD-2 processing cores.
The minimalist control panel sports a handful of buttons and a large dial. The data-entry dial works as a volume and/or input gain control. The side buttons allow you to toggle the phantom power, mute the monitors, and control the preamps.
The Twin X’s audio I/O delivers fantastic signal paths that are paired with reliable and easy-to-use software. The real gem, however, is the UA Console software which has an intuitive UI and offers intricate control. You can also check out the Apollo Twin X Quad if you need more processing power.
Overall, the UA Apollo Twin X Duo is a feature-laden beast that is rife with all the reasons we love Universal Audio’s Apollo range. From pro performance to power to exemplary preamps, it ranks as one of the best audio interface a producer or recording artist can aspire to own.
4. Steinberg UR22 MK2
Riding on the success of the UR22, the MK2 is the 2nd Gen version that features iPad compatibility. This 2-in/2-out unit is a great investment for recording enthusiasts at any level of expertise. The product includes a USB 2.0 cable, Cubasis LE (App Store), Cubase AI, an installation disc, and a manual.
The UR22 was famous for its “built like a tank” character and the MK2 is an equally robust unit with an all-metal chassis. Apart from the top-shelf construction, it is highly versatile and reliable. When we say versatile, we mean drivers that support Mac & PC and are fully compatible with WDM, ASIO, and Core Audio formats.
The front panel tidily hosts a vast array of its features, including the TRS/TS inputs that have independent gain controls. It also includes +48V phantom power and a Hi-Z in for recording the bass and guitar, which is much appreciated. You have a USB 2.0 on the front that can be used to connect to an iPad or a host computer.
Performance-wise, the UR22 MK2 is as good, if not better than its predecessor. The Class-A preamps are clean and musical. There is tough competition in this price bracket, but the MK2 emerges as a versatile unit with excellent performance and a rugged build.
5. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 2
Native’s new range stands on the shoulders of giants – their fabulous technology, impressive hardware, and massive software bundle. All this is thrown at you for a ridiculously low price tag. Based on value for money, the KA2 obliterates the competition.
The sound card’s tiny panel features two mic/line combo ins with a headphone out and jack outs. Additionally, you also have input selector controls and a plus level on the tiny for easy access on the front panel.
The KA 2 is primarily designed for portability and is as light and compact as it gets in the laptop target market. Despite the size, it is fully loaded. Performance-wise it can serve music producers, podcasters, songwriters, or home-recording enthusiasts.
If you didn’t think this was enough value, the purchase includes a content bundle comprising Maschine 2 Essentials, Ableton Live 10 (Lite), Replika delay, Phasis Phaser, Monark Synth, and Solid Bus Compressor.
How important is a good sound card for music production?
A reliable sound card is essential if you plan to produce music and achieve a professional sound. It allows you to record instruments like the guitar, bass, keys, and vocals at home or in a studio. It also enhances the audio quality of the playback of recorded audio.
Whether you are a producer who solely makes electronic music or a songwriter who needs to consistently record live instruments, you’ll need a consistent and capable sound card. Your choice of an audio interface will dictate the efficacy and quality of your workflow.
Does a soundcard matter for recording?
You can avoid getting an external sound card if you are into music production. However, this means you will use the basic soundcard on your laptop or PC. This will cause latency issues when you produce or mix your tracks. On the other hand, a good sound card will allow you to record external sources like microphones and instruments into your DAW and computer.
Does a soundcard improve the audio quality of recordings?
Audio quality is closely associated with the quality of your sound card or audio interface. Moreover, the inputs and outputs of your device will also determine how many instruments you can record simultaneously. In fact, the sound card also improves the audio that you hear from your speakers and/or headphones as you play files and videos.
What are the key features to consider while buying a soundcard?
Generally, recording enthusiasts should factor in the sound quality, preamp, price, Digital I/O, and connection format before choosing a sound card. Everyone has unique needs, so identify your application and budget, which will narrow down your choices before you compare other features.
Whether you’re a curious novice or a seasoned recording artist, today’s market has a plethora of choices to bewilder you. I hope this article has helped you find the right sound card for your needs and budget.
My top pick is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen, a highly popular, best-selling audio interface that includes a great software bundle.
My budget pick is the Behringer UMC404HD, a beginner-friendly and affordable option for a good sound card/audio interface.