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The Best Sound Card for Music Production

Several decades ago, it was impossible to try and find ways to make music outside of a studio. However, in 2021, music production is easier than ever, thanks to the constant evolution of technology.  Before we get into our list of the best sound cards for music production, we’d recommend that you have a look at our list of the best laptops for music production! After all, if you don’t have the right computer, producing music on your own without a studio can be challenging. 

After researching and testing, we’ve determined that the best sound card for music is the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4. This sound card is perfect for musicians and producers working remotely and who need more connectivity, which other sound cards don’t offer. The Focusrite Scarlett comes with state-of-the-art mic preamps, low latency, and wonderfully built instrument inputs.

We love this sound card because it is affordable and the ideal tool for music producers working from a home studio or in mobile studios. The USB audio interface of Focusrite Scarlett’s newest model helps you produce excellent sound. 

If you’re unable to find the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, then we’d also recommend the Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD. The Behringer U-Phoria audio interface is perfect for musicians or producers who want to build or are in the process of building their own home studio. We’d also recommend the Steinberg UR22mkII USB Audio Interface to users working primarily with mobile devices like iPads or laptops. It’s perfect for producers working on the road! 

Don’t worry about the finer details of our top three picks because we’ll go into detail later on in this article. We’ve chosen the Behringer U-Phoria and the Steinberg UR22mkII as our lower budget picks for producers working with a tight budget. 

You’ve probably been searching everywhere for a list of the best sound cards for producing music. Thankfully, you don’t need to look any further because we’ve put this list together to help you. In this article, we’ll take you through a list of ten sound cards. We will give you an overview of each product, the technical specifications, the pros and cons of each, and whether you should purchase it or not. 

We’ll conclude our list with a short buying guide and some frequently asked questions about sound cards. 

Please keep reading for more!

The top 10 best sound cards for music production in our test

  1. Focusrite Scarlett 4i4
  2. Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD
  3. Steinberg UR22mkII USB Audio Interface
  4. Universal Audio Apollo Twin X DUO 10×6 Thunderbolt Audio Interface
  5. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2 USB Audio Interface
  6. Audient iD4 MKII USB-C Audio Interface
  7. Solid State Logic SSL2+ USB Audio Interface
  8. PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 USB Audio Interface
  9. RME Babyface Pro FS 24-channel USB Audio Interface
  10. Audient EVO 4 USB Audio Interface

1. Focusrite Scarlett 4i4

The first item on our list is the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4, whose audio interface is perfect for musicians and music producers searching for a sound card that gives them much more connectivity. This sound card allows you to record four mono sources or even two stereo line sources, like drums or synths. If that’s not enough to convince you, it comes with two Focusrite mic and instrument preamps that have combo inputs placed on the front panel. 

Before we write an entire essay on the features and specifications of this sound card, let’s just take a look at a list of the technical specifications. 

Product Tech Specifications: 

  • It comes with high-performance 24-bit or 192kHz converters.
  • As mentioned in the product overview, it also has two 3rd-generation Scarlett mic preamps. 
  • If you want your recordings to sound brighter, you’re all set because this sound card comes with a switchable air mode that adds the brightness you need. 
  • It comes with two high-headroom instrument inputs for synths, bass, and guitar. 
  • The rear panel has two balanced line inputs. 
  • The real panel also has four balanced line outputs, and an MIDI I/O.
  • This sound card comes with low latency monitoring. 
  • Low latency is guaranteed thanks to the direct monitor circuit.
  • Focusrite’s audio interface means that you can easily manage podcasting and live streaming very easily thanks to its virtual loopback feature. 
  • This sound card offers independent level control through the headphone output. 
  • It is USB-bus powered. 

You also get the following benefits as a software bundle that includes: 

  • You will get the Ableton Live Lite music making software. 
  • You will be able to use Pro Tools First Focusrite Creative Pack. 
  • You can also use Focusrite Red 2 & Red 3 Plug-in Suite. 
  • You get access to a choice of 1 of 4 XLN Audio Addictive Keys virtual instruments
  • You will be able to use the Softube Time & Tone Bundle. 
  • You will gain access to the Focusrite Plug-in Collective.
  • It comes with a free 3-month Splice Sounds subscription when you create new Splice accounts,

Advantages:

  • It is easy to connect to a computer. 
  • It has high-quality recording and audio playback. 
  • The portable interface is of good quality. 
  • It is affordable for music producers on a budget. 
  • It is long-lasting. 

Disadvantages: 

  • There’s a reason that we’ve listed this product at number one, and it’s because there are no disadvantages to write about. All you need to do is plug it in, and you’re ready to go. 

2. Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD

The second best sound card on our list is the Behringer UMC404HD. Now that world has gotten used to working remotely, and music producers have started to put together studios in their homes. If you’re one of those people who’s been searching for the perfect external sound card, then you needn’t look any further. 

Let’s take a look at the specifics of these Behringer music production sound cards to find out why. 

Product Tech Specifications:

  • Its microphone preamps are MIDAS-designed. This means that they deliver high-quality audio reproduction. 
  • It also has 24-Bit and 192kHz resolution, thus ensuring professional audio quality. 
  • This sound card has direct monitoring for zero-latency cue mixes.
  • The headphone output has a level control. Therefore, it can monitor the A/B source select for cueing. 

Advantages: 

  • The preamps come with +48V phantom power, which means that you can use whichever condenser microphones with this sound card. 
  • Zero-latency monitoring means that you can clearly hear yourself, and there are no lags or delays in the signal. 
  • It is affordable for producers on a budget. 

Disadvantages: 

  • Once again, we have nothing negative to say about this sound card. The USB audio interfaces of these Behringer sound cards are of the highest quality, and they are both affordable and easy to work with. After testing them out, we did some research online and discovered that reviewers all over the internet appreciated that this is a high-quality audio interface. 

3. Steinberg UR22mkII USB Audio Interface

Next up on our list is the Steinberg UR22mkII USB Audio Interface. Thanks to Steinberg’s brilliant technology, you can simply record vocals and produce music using only a laptop or iPad!

Product Tech Specifications: 

  • This sound card has a 24-bit/192kHz USB 2.0 audio interface.
  • It also has two Class-A D-PRE mic preamps. The preamps +48-volt phantom power.
  • It has two combo inputs. These are Hi-Z switches on input 2. 
  • It comes with two TRS outputs.
  • It comes with a headphone jack that has an independent level. 
  • You can easily use it on your iPad. This is because of its CC Mode and an additional USB mini socket. 
  • Its zero-latency hardware monitoring comes with mix balance control MIDI input and output. 
  • The loopback function is perfect for streaming performances live. 
  • It also includes Cubase AI DAW software. This software comes as a download for both Mac and PC. 
  • It also comes with Cubasis LE DAW app for iOS, which is also included as a download. 
  • It is compatible with Windows, OS X, and the iPad. Please note you may need to use an Apple iPad camera connection or a lightning to USB cable. It requires external power input when connected to an iPad. 

Advantages: 

  • It has the best audio interface for music producers working in a mobile or remote studio. 
  • The audio interface offers sound engineers the flexibility to perform various tasks, such as recording vocals or turning an idea into an entire album! 
  • The low cost of this audio interface makes it affordable for music producers with varied budgets. 

Disadvantages:

  • The software sometimes tends to lag. 

4. Universal Audio Apollo Twin X DUO 10×6 Thunderbolt Audio Interface

We’ve come to the conclusion that the Universal Audio Apollo Twin X Duo is the perfect audio interface if you’re a music producer in search of a sound card that revs up your productivity. It’s ideal for project studios, and its Dual Unison makes it extremely easy to work with the industry’s hardware. 

Let’s look at the specifics. 

Product Tech Specifications: 

  • This sound card has 10-in and 6-out Thunderbolt 3 audio interfaces. 
  • It is compatible with Mac or PC. 
  • It has onboard UAD-2 DUO Core processing.
  • It has an AD/DA conversion.
  • It has a signal path. 
  • The signal path has a 127dB dynamic range. 
  • It comes with two unison preamps.
  • Its integrated talkback, making communication and recording multiple takes easier. 
  • It also has Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.
  • It has a real-time Analog Classics UAD plug-in bundle that comes with 16 plug-in emulations. 
  • It also features track and monitors through plug-ins without any latency. 
  • It is compatible with UA’s LUNA software. 
  • It is also backward-compatible with Thunderbolt 1 and 2 Macs. Please note that it does not support Thunderbolt 1 or 2 on Windows and that the adapter is sold separately. 

This sound care also comes with a plugin bundle, so you will get the RealTime Analog Classics bundle that includes the following: 

  • UA 610-B
  • UA 1176LN Legacy
  • UA 1176SE Legacy
  • Ampeg SVT-VR Classic
  • Marshall Plexi Classic
  • Precision Channel Strip (Precision Mix Rack Collection)
  • Precision Reflection Engine (Precision Mix Rack Collection)
  • Precision Delay Mod (Precision Mix Rack Collection)
  • Precision Delay Mod L (Precision Mix Rack Collection)
  • Pultec EQP-1A Legacy
  • Pultec-Pro Legacy
  • Teletronix LA-2A Legacy
  • Raw Distortion
  • RealVerb Pro

Advantages: 

  • You can set up a real-life console-style channel strip using the console software. 
  • These sound cards for music production have high audio quality. 

Disadvantages: 

  • It is more expensive than some of the other items included on our list, so if you’re searching for more affordable sound cards, then we’d recommend purchasing one of the other audio interfaces mentioned on our list. 

5. Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Mk2 USB Audio Interface

We’re almost halfway through our list of sound card recommendations, and it wouldn’t be complete without a Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 MK2 USB Audio Interface! The Native Instruments Komplete Audio is exactly what you need for both studio and stage performance setups. The audio channels and bus-powered Komplete Audio provide you with four analog ins and outs and MIDI capabilities that interface with all of your instruments. We’re recommending this to music producers because the software suite comes with Ableton Live 10 Lite! 

Let’s take a closer look at the specifics of this sound card. 

Product Tech Specifications:

  • It has a 6-channel audio and MIDI interface and a Native Instruments software suite. 
  • It has four analog inputs and four balanced analog outputs.
  • It comes with digital stereo input and output, specifically S/PDIF/RCA, for lossless signal transmission. 
  • It has MIDI in/out for a master keyboard, Maschine, or any 3rd-party MIDI controller. 
  • It comes with dual 1/4″ headphone outputs with independent level controls.
  • It is entirely USB powered and has a custom USB socket.
  • It has a USB 2.0 connection. 
  • Its low-latency performance is ideal for using virtual instruments and effects.
  • It has high-quality preamps with individual gain controls.
  • It comes with direct monitoring.
  • It has mono or stereo input switches for recording stereo keys or simultaneous mono instruments. 
  • It comes with a +48-volt phantom power that accepts condenser mics and powered DI boxes. 
  • This Komplete Audio sound card is packed with several gigabytes worth of instruments, effects, and sound libraries from Native Instruments.
  • It also includes Ableton Live 10 Lite DAW/performance software.
  • You get a $25 voucher to the Native Instruments online store.
  • You will also get a 2-month pass to loops and samples from Sounds.com.

Advantages: 

  • The build quality of this sound card is extremely high, which means that it works very well even though it requires a lot of processing power. 
  • Its pricing is in the mid-range, making it more affordable than some other sound cards out there. 

Disadvantages: 

  • The software sold with it tends to stop at times. 

6. Audient iD4 MKII USB-C Audio Interface

We’ve now reached the portion of the article that talks all about Audient! It comes with a USB C cable, making it compatible with more modern laptops and tablets. This is another sound card perfect for producers searching for high-quality audio interfaces that work well when they’re on the road. Its console-style monitor control makes sure that recording quality is high, and it is small and easy to transport. 

Let’s look at the specifics. 

Product Tech Specifications: 

  • It has one console mic preamplifier. 
  • The amplifier has +48V phantom power. 
  • The JFET instrument input can reproduce signals from your guitar, bass, or keyboard.
  • It has converters with 120dB of dynamic range. 
  • It is bus-powered.
  • It comes with an ARC software suite 
  • The suite includes a digital audio workstation, virtual instruments, and a plug-in FX.
  • If you use ScrollControl, you will gain access to iD4 MKII’s volume knob that allows you to adjust DAW or plug-in settings. 
  • It has zero-latency monitoring. 
  • There are left and right 1/4″ TRS main speaker outputs. 
  • It has two independent studio-grade headphone outputs.
  • It has Zippy USB 3.0 data transmission. 
  • It is compatible with macOS, iOS, and Windows. 

Advantages: 

  • You get clean recordings. 
  • This sound card’s size is perfect for home studios.
  • It gives you balanced outputs. 
  • It has higher headphone headroom than other sound cards out there. 

Disadvantages:

  • It tends to overheat. 

7. Solid State Logic SSL2+ USB Audio Interface

We’re more than halfway through our list! Next up is the Solid State Logic SSL2+. This sound comes with a host of wonderful features, including pro-grade preamps, 24-bit/192 kHz converters, four line outputs, and so much more! It’s perfect for recording artists or producers working primarily working recording software, and it is one of the best sound cards for music production.

Let’s take a look at the specifics of these sound cards. 

Product Tech Specifications: 

  • It comes with two microphone preamps.
  • It also has 24-bit or 192kHz AKM converters.
  • It has a headphone amp for clear monitoring.
  • When you purchase a sound card, you get the following: 
    1. Pro Tools First

2. Bomb Factory plug-ins

3. Ableton Live Lite

4. Hybrid Keys

5. Komplete Start bundle. 

  • It also comes with the SSL Native software. 
  • The software includes Vocalstrip 2 and Drumstrip. 
  • You will also get 1.5GB of samples from Loopcloud. 
  • There are four line outputs. 
  • There are also two front/back panel headphone outputs, and MIDI I/O. 
  • You can switch between two separate mixes on Headphone B output. 

Advantages: 

  • It is ideal for working from home or in a mobile studio. 
  • The pricing for this sound card is in the mid-range, so it’s affordable and high quality. 
  • The audio interfaces of these sound cards do a good job when monitoring. 

Disadvantages: 

  • You might not like the RCA outs on the 2+. 

8. PreSonus AudioBox USB 96 USB Audio Interface

Next up on our list is the PreSonus AudioBox audio interface. Like the Solid State Logic SSL2+, this audio interface is compact and easy to store and transport. It’s one of the perfect sound cards for music production because you can use it to record audio tracks on the road or in a studio, or at home. If you’re a recording artist or producer searching for a sound card to bring your vocal recordings to life, then this audio interface has got you covered. 

Let’s look at the specifics. 

Product Tech Specifications: 

  • It has a USB 2.0 interface and two channels, giving you left and right speaker sounds.  
  • It can record up to 24-bit or 96kHz level audio. 
  • It has dual preamplifiers.
  • The amplifiers have combo inputs that allow you to record microphone and instrument-level audio. 
  • It has +48-volt phantom power.  
  • The internal analog inputs mixer lets you merge input and playback signals for monitoring that is latency free. 
  • You don’t have to worry about any power supply because of its USB bus power. 
  • You can use this sound card on different operating systems, such as Windows and Mac. 
  • It includes PreSonus Studio One Artist DAW software. 
  •  You also get more than 6GB of third-party content.
  • It comes with the complete Studio Magic Plug-in Suite. 

Advantages: 

  • It is one of the most affordable options on our list. This is one of the best options for producers on a budget. 
  • It has in and out MIDI connectors in the back, which many other sound cards don’t have. 

Disadvantages: 

  • The two input lines are for instrument input or mic inputs, but they aren’t designed for higher line output from various other audio devices such as mixers. 

9. RME Babyface Pro FS 24-channel USB Audio Interface

We’d like to think that we saved some of the best sound cards for last, which is why we’ve listed the RME Babyface Pro at the end of our recommended sound cards. It has more than two analog inputs, digitally controlled microphone preamps, and MIDI connectivity. It also has a USB-C audio interface. 

Let’s look at the specifications! 

Product Tech Specifications: 

  • It has a 12-in/12-out portable USB 2.0 audio interface. 
  • It has two digitally controlled microphone preamps. 
  • There is analog, digital, and MIDI connectivity. 
  • It has a SteadyClock and femtosecond technology. 
  • It comes with the TotalMix FX which has a 288-channel mixer with a 46-bit internal resolution. 
  • Each channel has latency-free processing, which includes a 3-band EQ, low-cut filter, reverb, and echo. 
  • There is onboard metering with peak and RMS calculation. 
  • This sound card comes with a mic stand thread on the bottom. 
  • It is bus-powered. 
  • It is USB-C compatible, and comes with USB-2 and USB-C cables. 
  • It comes with a premium plug-in bundle with Scuffham S-Gear, Brainworx bx_opto, and Brainworx bx_masterdesk, a trial version of Modartt Pianoteq 6, GG Audio Blue 3 Organ, and Gig Performer. 

Advantages: 

  • It is easy to set up. 
  • It is reliable, thanks to the solid converters and preamps. 
  • It works exceptionally well with the iPad. 
  • It gives you clean and sharp sounds. 

Disadvantages: 

  • The price of this sound card is much higher than some of the other items mentioned on our list. If you have a strict budget, then this one may not be for you. 

10. Audient EVO 4 USB Audio Interface

You’ve reached the end of our list! Our final recommendation is the Audient EVO 4 USB Audio Interface. It has two EVO 4 preamps, ultra-low latency performance, and Smartgain automatic level setting functionality. Like many of the other items listed in this article, this Audient product is excellent for travel and remote music production. 

Let’s look at the specifics. 

Product Tech Specifications: 

  • As we mentioned earlier, it has two transparent Audient EVO preamps. 
  • It also has a JFET instrument input. 
  • It has class-leading conversion. 
  • It offers you ultra-low latency performance. 
  • It has a 24-bit/96kHz sample rate. 
  • It has front-panel headphone jacks. 
  • There are stereo monitor outputs. 
  • It is bus-powered over USB 2.0. 
  • It comes with a Smartgain automatic level-setting feature. 
  • It comes with loopback functionality. 

Advantages: 

  • It is highly affordable. 
  • It is easy and intuitive to use. 

Disadvantages: 

  • There’s a reason that we listed this product at the end because we have nothing wrong to say about it. It’s perfect for beginners to use, and overall, it’s a great piece of equipment for any producer or artist to use. 

Buying Guide: Things to Consider When Buying a Sound Card

The best sound cards help you produce music and make you sound highly professional. They can help you record vocals, strings, and keys in both a studio or when you’re working from home, and they help enhance your sound when it’s recorded. 

Here’s what you need to consider when buying a sound card. 

  1. Input and Output Configuration 

The input/output configuration is the most important thing to keep in mind when buying a sound card is the input/output configuration. Depending on what you want to record, make sure that you have enough I/O lines. If you play an instrument, make sure that there is at least one instrument input. If you’re a vocalist, make sure that is at least one headphone output. Ultimately, your sound card must be compatible with the operating system that you use. 

  1. USB Ports 

A few audio interface connection types are industry-standard, such as FireWire, Thunderbolt, and USB. Make sure that the sound you purchase has USB indicators, and make sure that your sound card is compatible with the system you’ve purchased. Additionally, you need to make sure that there are enough audio ports and that the audio resolution is high enough. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Difference Between a Sound Card and Audio Interface?

A built-in sound card has fewer inputs and outputs than an audio interface, which has jack inputs, more dedicated controls, and XLR connections. 

The Difference Between 24-bit at 96 kHz and 16 bit at 44.1kHz

24bit at 96kHz is a higher sampling rate than 16bit at 44.1 kHz. 24 bits gives you a better dynamic range. Additionally, 96 kHz gives you a better frequency response than 16 bits at 44.1 kHz.

Is a sound card worth it for music production?

While a sound card is incredibly beneficial for music production, we’d recommend purchasing an audio interface instead. They are much more functional.

Does a sound card improve sound quality?

Yes, it does. It can improve both sound quality and audio resolution.

Conclusion 

In this article, we took you through a list of the best sound cards for music production. Next, we shared a short buying guide for sound cards that will help sound engineers who are just starting and music enthusiasts who aren’t sure about how external sound cards benefit music production. We answered some frequently asked questions as well. 

Ultimately, we’ve concluded that the best sound card for music production is the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4. Suppose you’re unable to find the Focusrite Scarlett sound card. In that case, we’d also recommend the Audient iD4 MKII USB-C Audio Interface and the Solid State Logic SSL2+ USB Audio Interface as well. 

While sound cards are essential, you must also make sure that you have the right monitor for music production. Don’t forget to check out our list of the best monitors for music production and how much ram do you need for music production!