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Sound cards and audio interfaces are vital for music production. The default sound cards which are included in most computers or laptops aren’t advanced enough to perform all the tasks required for producing music.
Whether you’re recording audio or producing in your chosen DAW, a high-quality sound card is essential. It is responsible for converting the analog audio signal into digital audio signals and has a large impact on the production process.
We’ve identified the best sound cards for music production, with options to suit all styles and budgets.
What are the Best Sound Cards for Music Production?
Music Production Sound Cards Reviews
With almost half a century of manufacturing audio equipment under their belt, Solid State Logic has gained a reputation for being one of the leading producers of high-end gear.
The Solid State Logic SSL2+ allows music producers to enjoy the brand’s iconic sound and functionality in a home studio setup. This sound card and audio interface combo have a clean, pristine sound, making it a worthy addition to music production or recording rig.
I was particularly impressed by the clarity achieved by the pair of input preamps, which can be used to capture microphone, instrument, or line-level signals.
Furthermore, the SSL2+ boasts several performance-enhancing features. The 4K switch is designed to increase the prominence of high-end frequencies, polishing a dull-sounding recording.
Also included with this sound card for music production is a bundle of software from both SSL and other manufacturers. You also gain access to a large sample pack so that you have more options when producing your tracks.
- Microphone preamps capture recordings with stunning detail and clarity
- This sound card/audio interface is very easy to set up, thanks to USB connectivity
- 4K switch allows you to instantly add definition and brightness to the two preamp inputs
- Only includes two inputs, making it difficult to record instruments like drums kits which require several microphones
Ideal for Windows users, the Apollo Twin USB DUO Heritage Edition is an exceptional sound card for recording, with all the qualities needed for top-tier music production.
The first thing you’ll notice after hooking this device up to your PC is how it instantly increases the performance speed. This is due to the integrated DSP, which shares the burden of running plugins with the computer’s CPU.
If you like to use a variety of VST plugins in your tracks, but often feel frustrated by the draining effect this has on your device’s CPU, this high-end sound card can instantly solve that problem.
Regarding sound quality, this Universal Audio recording sound card and audio interface left me awestruck by its stunning clarity. The input preamps make instruments and mics sound warm and natural, without overly processing them.
The manufacturer has also generously included a suite of their top-of-the-range UAD plugins with this sound card, which include analog compressors, versatile reverbs, and many more.
- Significantly speeds up the performance of a computer thanks to the integrated DSP
- Delivers an incredibly smooth and accurate sound when recording mic/line/instrument level signals
- Comes with an array of top-end VST plugins to incorporate into your productions
- Very few cons besides the expensive price tag. But some of the advanced features may take some time to understand due to their complexity
Despite being one of the lowest-priced music production sound cards featured in our guide, the Audient EVO 4 wouldn’t be out of place in a professional recording studio.
Initially, I thought that this USB audio interface may be limited in terms of its functionality, simply due to its compact size.
However, Audient has crammed a range of features into the EVO 4 so that it can perform every necessary task for music production. For example, the innovative Smartgain function makes optimally setting input levels a quick and easy process.
With many music producers choosing to expand their audience by streaming their creative process online, Audient has included loopback functionality on the EVO 4. This means you can easily mix the incoming audio from mics with the output from your DAW.
Sonically, I was pleasantly surprised by this small device’s detail and transparency. It’s a great choice for producers who are on a budget, or have limited space but still want to experience high-end sound quality.
- The loopback feature makes live streaming your production process straightforward
- This sound card keeps latency to a minimum so that MIDI and instrument recordings aren’t hindered by delays
- With a compact design, this sound card takes up very little space in your home studio setup
- When adjusting the monitoring levels on this sound card/interface, you must first unplug your headphones from the output
With its intuitive control layout and high-performance circuitry design, the Audient iD44 is well equipped to handle the rigors of modern music production.
Central to the performance of this sound card/audio interface is the four class A Audient mic preamps. If you share our love for analog warmth, you’ll enjoy the slightly vintage sound that these inputs achieve.
Latency is often a thorn in the side of music producers. Thankfully, Audient has combatted this issue with a sophisticated DSP mixer, which streamlines the sound card’s performance.
In addition to the high-quality mic preamplifiers, you also gain access to a pair of DI inputs. Ideal for direct instrument recordings, these inputs emulate the harmonically rich sound of a tube amp.
Another standout aspect that we noticed when analyzing the iD44 was its extensive connectivity. It supports S/PDIF and ADAT, making it possible to incorporate up to 16 microphone preamp channels into your setup.
- This sound card/audio interface can be extended to 20 inputs and 24 outputs making it suitable for recording large ensembles or live performances
- A high-end DSP mixer ensures that latency doesn’t interrupt your music productions
- Preamp inputs provide the perfect amount of vintage coloration to microphone recordings
- The device lacks MIDI connectivity
Each version of the Focusrite Scarlett sound card and audio interface combo has consistently ranked amongst the best sellers on the market. The 3rd generation model features some notable improvements upon previous editions.
Firstly, the inputs can handle an incredible amount of heat from guitars, basses, or other instruments. If you prefer direct recording to use an amplifier with a mic, I’d recommend the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
The onboard mic preamps deliver a solid and clear sound, and Focusrite has equipped them with their popular Air Mode, which is inspired by their iconic mixing consoles from the past.
Air mode allows you to instantly brighten up recordings without needing to spend time adjusting EQ settings in your DAW.
The visual aspect of the 3rd Gen Scarlett has also been improved, with colored indicators providing real-time monitoring of the gain settings of each input. This feature makes it easy to see when a channel is clipping, to avoid having to re-record takes.
- Air mode makes it easy to add a new lease of life to recordings that sound a little dull or dark
- Halo indicators allow you to monitor the levels of each input and avoid digital distortion due to clipping
- Upgraded microphone preamps deliver a clear sound with plenty of headroom
- The limited number of inputs makes it difficult to record large groups of musicians simultaneously
Music Production Sound Card – Buyer’s Guide
When establishing a music production rig, we often focus on components like studio monitors, microphones, and VST plugins.
Sound cards are commonly overlooked, but in reality, these devices are pivotal for ensuring smooth functionality and sound quality when producing music. Here are some of the key things to consider when choosing the best sound card for music production.
The Importance of Sound Cards
All computers and laptops come equipped with an inbuilt soundcard. While they may be capable of performing some of the tasks required for music production, they are often very basic and have several limitations.
Using an external soundcard like Solid State Logic SSL2+ USB Audio Interface, Universal Audio Apollo Twin USB DUO Heritage Edition and Audient EVO 4 USB Audio Interface for music production is the best way to ensure that your rig performs optimally.
DSP and Latency
Sound cards like Audient iD44 USB Audio Interface and Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface don’t only allow you to capture audio from instruments and microphones with pristine clarity. They also minimize many of the issues that come with basic sound cards which aren’t designed specifically for music production.
One of the essential components in a sound card for music production is the DSP (digital signal processor). This device is responsible for quickly processing audio signals so that you can produce music quickly and efficiently.
Having a high-quality DSP minimizes the common problem of latency, and improves your computer’s ability to handle heavy workloads caused by VST plugins or other taxing tasks performed in your music production software.