14 best PCI & USB sound card for music production For 2021

The rating includes only high-quality sound cards, selected by the price/quality ratio, and only reputable manufacturers. Our cards are suitable for sound engineers, musicians, and music lovers. Several models work well for a laptop, others for a desktop computer.

Not every built-in sound card in a laptop or computer motherboard delivers high-quality sound. What can we say about the creation and processing of music and sound production? The Best PCI & USB Sound Card For Music Production with the external and internal audio interface will turn your computer into a powerful home studio for recording and processing music, dubbing videos, audiobooks, voice communication, and games.

Best PCI & USB Sound Card For Music Production

Which sound card should I buy?

When buying an audio interface, you should pay attention to:

  • connection type;
  • number of inputs / outputs;
  • availability of additional ports;
  • sampling rate;
  • software compliance;
  • DSP availability.

The characteristics are determined depending on the equipment already available and the needs of the studio.

Connection type

  • internal – looks like an expansion card, connects to the PCI-E slot on the motherboard;
  • external – supplied in its own case and connected via USB.

An external sound card is connected via:

  • USB;
  • FireWire;
  • Thunderbolt.

FireWire is a reliable type of connection that is suitable for studio recording in good quality, but it is difficult to find equipment with this type of connection. Thunderbolt connectivity is available on virtually all Apple products. It is also a reliable option for the studio, but the best option is a USB connection. Such ports are installed everywhere, so there will be no problems with connecting the card.

Number of inputs/outputs

The audio interface is selected for specific needs, so the number of inputs/outputs must match the number of connected equipment. To record only a voice or a voice + a musical instrument, a sound card with 2 inputs-outputs is sufficient in a home studio.

Additional ports and connectors

There are several types of connectors:

  • MIDI;
  • DATA;
  • RCA;
  • TRS;
  • XLR;
  • TDIF;
  • S/PDIF;
  • AES/EBU;
  • BNC etc.

A standard sound card does not contain all types of ports and connectors at once, since specific inputs are not always needed. For example, MIDI is used to connect keyboards, XLR is used for a professional microphone. If there is no equipment with a specific type of connection, this characteristic can be neglected.

Sample rate and bit depth

  • DAC frequency – determines the frequency of discrediting (quantizing) the audio signal. For built-in audio cards, this is 48 kHz, for studio sound – 96 or 192 kHz. Professional models work with audio signal at 384 kHz.
  • The ADC / DAC bit depth is responsible for the audio quality, usually equal to 24 bits.

Thanks to the high sampling rate, the sound is not mixed, so every instrument in the track can be heard clearly. The higher the score, the better. But not everyone can hear the difference. When it comes to arranging a home studio, the sampling frequency should be from 96 kHz. For a full-fledged one – around 192 kHz.

Soft and DSP

Most sound cards are compatible with Windows and MacOS. It is very difficult to find a model that is compatible with Linux. In addition, it is necessary to take into account the availability of drivers for working with equipment.

The DSP is an external effects processor that does some of the work outside of the PC. This option is much better than the standard set of audio drivers and utilities. But it is not often required, so its presence is optional.

Sound cards for music Production

Music audio interface makes music listening more colorful. But this only applies to tracks of appropriate quality. There will be no difference when listening to demo versions on a regular sound card and a card for music.

Attention! The sampling frequency of the sound card for music is 48 kHz. It is also recommended that you choose good quality headphones.

External sound cards for microphone

The audio interface for recording music should be of better quality than for listening. Higher sample rates, ports, etc. are required. Additional ports help reduce noise when recording various musical instruments. They can be used to compose up to 8 tracks.

Attention! The recommended resolution is from 96 kHz. A good quality microphone is also required.

Sound cards for PC

Any sound card is suitable for a PC or laptop. Together with it, the sound quality will improve when watching movies or playing games. These are mainly cards for games that create an immersive atmosphere through surround sound. With a good sound card, the gamer will be able to hear the noise of the rain and the quiet footsteps of the enemy.

Differences between sound card for games and card for music

For the layman, there is no difference between a sound card for games or music. In both cases, the playback quality is extremely high. But the audio interface for games is more voluminous. 3D sound allows you to fully immerse yourself in the game. In addition, such a card has a convenient sound transmission format and microphone control.

What else should you pay attention to?

To choose the right audio interface, you need to focus on the scope of its application. When choosing, you should pay attention to the following indicators:

  • Duplex support – function for simultaneous recording and playback of audio (useful for bloggers, musicians, streamers).
  • Simulation of three-dimensional sound – emulates the location of sound sources around the user, this option is useful for movies and games.
  • Support for standards and codecs: DTS, Dolby Digital, EAX and others.
  • The maximum number of simultaneously used channels.
  • The number of preamplifiers, their quality – a good preamplifier does not distort the sound at high volume.
  • Design – depends on personal preferences, in gaming solutions there are backlights, gold-plated connectors, regulators for external models.
  • The casing – preferably metal – protects against interference.
  • Support for ASIO – a software interface for transferring information between an application that works with audio (player, editor) and a sound driver bypassing the OS sound subsystem.

Best PCI & USB Sound Card For Music Production

External audio cards are placed in their own case, equipped with controls (volume control), indicators, and, sometimes, displays.

11 Best USB Sound Card For Music Production

RME Fireface UCX – Professional Sound Card

RME Fireface UCX - Professional Sound Card
  • USB interface
  • analog audio outputs: 8
  • ASIO v. 2.0
  • DAC 24 bit / 192 kHz

The professional and most expensive audio interface in the review, designed for live recordings and use in recording studios. High-quality sound is guaranteed by a low latency of 0.4 ms at a sampling frequency of 48 kHz, proprietary microphones and 4-channel preamps.

Equipped with 36 interfaces: 18 inputs and outputs. The TotalMix mixer supports independent mixing and routing of each input, and audio feed to all outputs. Equalizer and separate effect settings are available for each channel up to 192 kHz.

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Peculiarities:

  • 18 input and output channels;
  • remote control;
  • ASIO v 2.0;
  • TotalMix program;

Steinberg UR44

Steinberg UR44
  • USB 2.0 interface
  • multichannel audio output
  • analog audio outputs: 4
  • ASIO v. 2.0
  • DAC 24 bit / 192 kHz

Sound card for home studio. German instrument for recording voice and vocals, equipped with 6 inputs and 4 outputs. 32-bit DAC / ADC records sound without the slightest distortion, without losing low frequencies or distorting high frequencies. With the new driver, unlike analogs, it gives Windows users a couple of modes:

  • Stability – for stable operation on old hardware;
  • Low Latency – for high-performance computers with latency up to 3ms.

Comes with Cubase AI music production software with 17GB of loops and samples. The DPS chip includes FX effects and guitar amp emulators.

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Peculiarities:

  • DSP effects;
  • almost zero latency;
  • driver with two modes of operation in Windows;
  • compatibility with macOS and iOS;
  • USB 3.1 connection;
  • complete set of Cubasis LE and Cubase AI.

Hearing iD14

Hearing iD14
  • USB 2.0 interface
  • analog audio outputs: 4
  • CAP 24 bit / 96 kHz

One of the cheapest mini sound cards with full-size console functionality. Equipped with a pair of Audient-designed mic preamps and high-quality Burr-Brown DACs and ADCs. An integrated DSP mixer with minimal latency lets you control your monitoring.

Equipped with a JFET interface for connecting musical instruments. The ScrollControl universal scroll wheel lets you select plug-in options, adjust volume, and scroll through your iTunes library.

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Peculiarities:

  • virtual scroll wheel ScrollControl;
  • miniature all-metal body;
  • JFET instrumental input;
  • renowned converters and preamplifiers;
  • a number of free plugins and software with ARC.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2nd Gen

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2nd Gen
  • USB 2.0 interface
  • analog audio outputs: stereo
  • ASIO v. 2.0
  • DAC 24 bit / 192 kHz

Upgraded external sound card for home studio with a pair of XLR / TRS inputs and miniscule latency. Comes with a couple of DAs and a number of additional software tools: emulators, samples, plugins. It features compatibility with Core Audio and ASIO platforms, as well as phantom-powered mic preamps for supplying power in parallel with the desired signal. Headphone and monitor levels are controlled by separate controls. Through OTG it connects to a PC, console, smartphone, TV.

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Peculiarities:

  • discrediting frequency – 192 kHz;
  • phantom microphone power;
  • powerful software part;
  • OTG switching with Android devices.

Zoom UAC-2

Zoom UAC-2
  • USB 3.0 interface
  • analog audio outputs: stereo
  • DAC 24 bit / 192 kHz

Sound card with USB interface for recording musical instruments, sound from a microphone, listening to songs, playing video games and organizing broadcasts. The Loopback option will combine the signal from a microphone, musical instrument, or line-in with background audio on a PC for streaming. Lightning-to-USB adapter connects to iPad.

MIDI connectors ensure accurate synchronization between PCs and musical instruments. Phantom power, which is mostly found in more expensive models, allows the use of professional condenser microphones. Advanced DACs and ADCs implement 4x upsampling, which is not typical for budget models.

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Peculiarities:

  • USB 3.0 interface;
  • phantom microphone power;
  • fourfold upsampling;
  • productive microphone preamplifiers;
  • Loopback function broadcasts signal from all inputs to line out.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen

Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen
  • USB interface
  • analog audio outputs: stereo
  • ASIO v. 2.0
  • DAC 24 bit / 192 kHz

An inexpensive sound card for recording music at home or in an amateur studio. An innovation in the 4th generation is the AIR mode, which emulates ISA mic preamps. Improved PCB layout has raised signal-to-noise ratio, and new op-amps have widened bandwidth and reduced spurious noise.

Low noise microphone input enhances recording quality. Comes with a simplified version of Focusrite Control software for hobbyists. Three-color indication on the case will notify you of an off-scale or weak signal.

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Peculiarities:

  • rich software part;
  • AIR function;
  • Free 3-month subscription to Splice Sounds;
  • does not need drivers;
  • aluminium case.

BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC404HD

BEHRINGER U-PHORIA UMC404HD
  • USB interface
  • analog audio outputs: 4
  • ASIO v. 2.0
  • DAC 24 bit / 192 kHz

The cheapest external card with fast audio source switching. For studio recording, equipped with four MIDAS mic preamps and 48-volt phantom power for condenser microphones. Professional dubbing of video and audiobooks, recording of vocals is possible thanks to the resolution of 192 kHz.

The official website offers over 150 free software tools, hundreds of plugins and effects. The Tracktion platform makes it easy to record, edit, mix and encode audio files.

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Peculiarities:

  • 4 entrances and 4 exits;
  • compatibility with popular DAWs;
  • phantom +48 V power supply;
  • Playback Outputs interfaces for monitoring;
  • shockproof housing;
  • extensive library of sound processing software.

Creative Sound BlasterX G6 – gaming audio card

Creative Sound BlasterX G6 - gaming audio card
  • USB 2.0 interface
  • analog audio outputs: stereo
  • ASIO v. 2.0
  • DAC 32 bit / 384 kHz

CES 2019 award-winning, innovative design and DSD gaming sound card with 384 kHz sampling rate inherent in professional models. Thanks to design from the ground up and an updated component base, the engineers have brought distortion to a record level of 0.0003%.

The amplifier familiar from the previous version has acquired a hardware gain switch. The microcontroller is equipped with phase-locked loop systems for creating a sound master block, USB bus and processor. The usual hardware Dolby Digital decoder has returned to the model, the equalizer is implemented at the hardware level.

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Peculiarities:

  • game lighting;
  • work on Android smartphones;
  • virtual surround sound 7.1;
  • gaming function Scoute Mode;
  • individual amplification of audio channels by Xamp;
  • Sound Blaster Command with advanced digitized audio processing algorithms.

ASUS Xonar U7 MKII

ASUS Xonar U7 MKII
  • USB 2.0 interface
  • multichannel audio output
  • analog audio outputs: 8
  • ASIO v. 2.0
  • DAC 24 bit / 192 kHz

Miniature external sound card for listening to music, watching movies and playing games on a laptop. Supports 192 kHz sampling rate and 7.1 multi-channel audio. To minimize noise during signal processing, a multilayer substrate with special wiring is used.

The design and features of the DAC ensure crystal clear sound at peak volume due to low harmonic levels. The integrated headphone amplifier brings a new gaming experience. One-touch hardware volume control toggles between headphone and speaker level control.

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Peculiarities:

  • Hyper Grounding technology to minimize distortion and noise;
  • work with high impedance headphones;
  • 1-channel audio;
  • gaming options;
  • USB 2.0 interface;
  • 6 analog outputs and one input.

BEHRINGER U-Control UCA222

BEHRINGER U-Control UCA222
  • USB interface
  • analog audio outputs: stereo
  • ASIO v. 2.0
  • DAC 16 bit / 48 kHz

Sound card with low latency, a pair of analog inputs and outputs, one digital input and a rich set of software tools for working with sound. The mixer allows you to capture audio from two or more sources into separate audio tracks. Support for the ASIO 2.0 platform guarantees operation on most devices, regardless of the OS installed on them, and the minimum latency. The software interface is a cross-platform Audacity recorder and editor.

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Peculiarities:

  • no proprietary software;
  • four analog inputs and outputs;
  • 16-bit DAC and ADC;
  • compatibility with ASIO 2.0;
  • sequencer with a library of plugins and software instruments.

Creative SB Play! 3

Creative SB Play! 3
  • USB 2.0 interface
  • analog audio outputs: stereo
  • CAP 24 bit / 96 kHz

Sound card for a laptop with the size of a USB stick, demonstrating good sound with low latency. The built-in headphone amplifier works with telephone and professional headsets with impedance up to 300 ohms. Firmware includes templates with settings for dozens of headphone models. Equipped with a microphone input and output for a sound reproducing device without the need for splitters. Sound Blaster PLAY! will give an unforgettable experience of high-quality music, movies and gameplay thanks to a variety of settings and effects. Sound profiles transform your living room or bedroom into a theater or cinema with 3D sound.

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Peculiarities:

  • Hot plugging;
  • 11-band equalizer;
  • uniform frequency response;
  • harmonic distortion – 0.0091%;
  • support for headphones with an impedance of 300 ohms;

3 Best PCI Sound Card For Music Production

Internal audio adapters are made in the form of a board without a case, they are connected to the motherboard via PCI-E or PCI.1

Creative AE-7

Creative AE-7
  • PCI-E interface
  • multichannel audio output
  • ASIO v. 2.3
  • DAC 32 bit / 384 kHz

Affordable audio adapter with a metal shroud to protect the electronics from external electromagnetic noise and a high performance DAC. The latter provides rich sound at up to 24-bit / 384 kHz. The quad-core microprocessor will take over the digital audio processing tasks. The ultra-low impedance dual channel headphone amplifier supports professional devices with impedance up to 600 ohms. It offers immersive surround sound and virtual surround sound. Supplied with audio tuning software package. For gamers, the Scout Mode option is provided, which has become a business card of Creative.

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Peculiarities:

  • gaming functions (noise source lighting, improved 3D audio effects);
  • own processor;
  • two-channel headphone amplifier;
  • a package of tools for sound optimization;
  • RGB backlighting;
  • quick switching between sound profiles.

Creative Sound Blaster Z

Creative Sound Blaster Z
  • PCI-E interface
  • multichannel audio output
  • analog audio outputs: 6
  • ASIO v. 2.0
  • DAC 24 bit / 192 kHz

High-performance sound card for pure recording and transmission of sound and entertainment. It is a Sound Blaster Zx with dual beam-focusing external microphones. Gamers will be pleased with:

  • SBX Pro Studio – enhances the realism of spatial audio effects;
  • four-core processor for working with speech and sound signals;
  • fast switching of signal sources.

The signal-to-noise ratio is equal to 116 dB, which means that the audio stream will be 34 times cleaner than in the built-in audio card. CrystalVoice voice processing algorithm ensures crystal clear vocals and conversations in games and video calls.

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Peculiarities:

  • own processor for audio processing;
  • lower latency due to ASIO;
  • advanced speech processing algorithms CrystalVoice;
  • bright red backlight;
  • proprietary Scout Mode option.

Creative Audigy Rx

Creative Audigy Rx
  • PCI-E interface
  • multichannel audio output
  • analog audio outputs: 8
  • ASIO v. 2.0
  • DAC 24 bit / 192 kHz

The cheapest internal sound card, providing good sound for watching movies, listening to music, speaking and playing games. The redesigned E-MU chipset delivers a new cinematic audio experience without CPU overhead. A pair of mic inputs allows you to sing together. The ASIO driver reduces latency during audio recording to a few milliseconds.

The software shell allows you to customize the finest audio processing parameters, give the sound volume and apply effects during recording. Used in professional solutions, a two-channel headphone amplifier organizes the operation of a studio headset.

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Peculiarities:

  • 1-channel sound;
  • stream quality 24 bit / 384 kHz;
  • Audigy Rx utility for controlling all parameters of the audio stream;
  • amplifier for a studio headset;
  • a pair of microphone outputs;
  • a suite of applications for sound recording.

When choosing a sound card, rely on the budget, the tasks that it must solve, the conditions and features of the application. Miniature, for example, fits in a bag with a laptop.