A personal computer a decade and a half ago turned from an ordinary workstation into a full-fledged device designed to work with multimedia files. In addition to visiting websites and chatting on social networks, this equipment can be used to watch videos, listen to music, process audio, play games, and so on.
To fully output the signal to headphones or speakers, the computer must be equipped with a sound card. Many aspiring musicians use a computer to record their tracks. For this, special sound cards are designed, the parameters of which largely exceed the user ones. Unfortunately, not all people know which sound card is suitable for recording voice or music of a certain direction. Today we decided to fill this gap by ranking the best sound cards of 2020 for the home studio.
Before proceeding to a direct analysis of the useful characteristics of specific models, let’s see what you should pay attention to when buying this equipment, especially since there is a very wide selection of similar devices on the shelves of computer equipment stores. With this we will begin our review.
How to choose a sound card?
The key task of this element of a personal computer is to convert a digital signal into an analog one and then transfer it to headphones or speakers. Almost all motherboards have an integrated sound card, but its power may not be enough for full-fledged sound recording. In addition, an integrated device will adversely affect the overall performance of a personal computer.
More and more users are inclined to purchase an external sound card, which will be connected to a computer or laptop using a special high-speed interface called FireWire. Due to this solution, it is possible to significantly reduce interference, which has a positive effect on sound quality.
Currently, there are two similar standards — IEEE 1394, which provides a throughput of 400 Mbps, and IEEE 1394b — it has a data transfer rate of about 800 Mbps. There are also external sound cards that can be connected to a computer via a traditional USB connector. Such products usually have an output for speakers or headphones, as well as the ability to connect one or more microphones. Unfortunately, their maximum throughput does not exceed 480 Mbps — this may not be enough for professional sound recording.
On sale you can also find more powerful studio sound cards. Their main distinguishing point is the presence of a large number of various outputs that can be used to connect a variety of musical instruments: electric, acoustic and bass guitars, microphones, synthesizers, and so on. In addition, such devices are capable of capturing high-quality sound from a drum set. One of the distinguishing features of such products is the absence of the need to install drivers, but you still have to install the software. It will be very useful when working with the equalizer and other settings.
When choosing models to include in our rating of the best sound cards for studio recording, we were guided by all these parameters, however, we also took into account user reviews, including professional sound engineers and musicians, and also took into account the price-quality ratio. We have tried to include not too expensive models in the rating so that each of our readers can afford the purchase of this equipment. Now it’s time to analyze the useful characteristics of such products.
Ten models of studio sound cards
10. Lexicon Alpha
By and large, this device is not a sound card, but a full-fledged studio designed for sound recording and dubbing films. The model has a multi-profile software. A USB mixer and a dedicated Lexicon Pantheon reverb plug-in are provided. There is also one XLR microphone input, TRS and RCA inputs and outputs. On the front panel, the user will find a quarter-inch universal instrument input allowing direct recording to a personal computer. In addition, there is a headphone output. In general, the operating parameters are quite modest, but the price of the device is also quite acceptable, so the model is perfect for home use.
The design has a reliable body made of silver and blue plastic with a matte finish, which gives the product an extra style. The handles are also plastic, corrugated, rotate quite smoothly and moderately tight, which allows you to set the most accurate parameters. A rather long USB cable is supplied with the sound card, you still have to install the drivers, otherwise the computer may not see such an external device. In addition, this process has a positive effect on the overall performance of the equipment.
- For home studio work, it delivers pretty decent sound quality;
- All adjustments are mechanical, which allows you to adjust to the specific acoustic characteristics of the room, change the parameters directly during the recording process;
- There are all the necessary connectors for connecting microphones and musical instruments;
- You can record voice along with music.
- When using a microphone connected via an XLR connector, recording will only take place in mono.
9. Focusrite Scarlett Solo
A fairly easy-to-use and very small-sized device that provides high-quality sound recording even at home. You can work with it on various platforms — MacOS and Windows. If necessary, the sound card can work completely offline, that is, without being connected to a personal computer. You can take such a model everywhere with you: just connect it to the mains through a special connector, connect it to a microphone and a guitar, and then start recording. Interfaces are optimal for working with any musical equipment. If necessary, the instrumental part and vocals can be recorded simultaneously. In addition, the function of activating effects is provided — to impose amplifiers on the guitar channel, as well as add reverb to the vocals.
Audio output delay is minimal. The user can download the specific software for the product, so that the customization options will be greatly enhanced. There are various overdrives, plug-ins, amplifiers and other additions. Initially, this model was developed exclusively for guitarists, however, musicians who play keyboards or drums will be able to appreciate the capabilities of such a sound card.
- Minimum time delay of the output signal;
- Excellent sound quality;
- All physical controls are carefully thought out;
- When various effects are activated, special LEDs will light up.
- The software does not always work correctly;
- The sound in the headphones is somewhat flat.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo
8. Zoom UAC-2
It has a fairly high speed, this sound card is able to use two channels at once, and the interface was originally created for optimal use on MacOS and Windows platforms. With the help of this product, it will be possible to bring the quality of the recorded sound to a fundamentally new level. Connects to USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 connectors, can work with various mobile devices. The latest SuperSpeed technology has been used in product development to achieve the lowest possible output latency. In addition, there is a whole set of advanced features, in particular, 4x upsampling. You can connect absolutely any musical instrument, microphone or other line signal source to the sound card.
The card is suitable for playing music from the stage, it can be used as a full-fledged digital workstation aimed solely at listening. The interface is suitable for online media presentations, game broadcasts, and so on. The sound card can work with any microphone, from the simplest to the professional ones. The housing has a connector for direct connection to a household power outlet.
- Sufficiently strict appearance;
- Build quality implies a solid case;
- Very convenient to use;
- The interface functions stably regardless of the platform used;
- All inputs and parameter adjustment knobs are located on the front panel of the product;
- Drivers are reliable, updated quite rarely;
- You can work without connecting to a personal computer.
- When you turn off the computer, it still continues to work.
7 Steinberg UR44
Despite the fact that this product was developed and released about five years ago, today there are not too many models of studio sound cards that could surpass it in terms of performance. There are four inputs for connecting microphones at once, so it will be possible to record several vocal tracks. The case is made entirely of metal, but this does not in the least affect the quality of the recorded music — nothing is shielded, the depth and fullness of the sound will not be lost. The sound card is capable of operating in modes up to 24 bits at a frequency of 192 kHz. Connectors XLR/TRS combined. Like all models that we reviewed earlier in this review, this sound card is equipped with its own software. The application installed on a personal computer is a control panel that can control the built-in hardware mixer.
Each channel has several built-in effects — an equalizer, a compressor. The first is equipped with a set of factory settings, and they can be adjusted and returned to their original position. The program allows you to create your own settings when working with the equalizer, as well as save them. The reverb function here is designed for live rather than studio use. All control elements are located on the front side of the equipment. No display or submenu is provided here. The interface is also equipped with microphone preamps.
- As many as four microphone inputs;
- Works stably even in the latest versions of the Windows operating system;
- It can also be connected to a working personal computer;
- Expanded functionality of the mixer and the processor that controls the effects;
- The frequency range can be adjusted in real time if necessary.
- The microphone outputs are not galvanically connected to each other;
- Not suitable for listening to music;
- Fairly high cost.
6. PreSonus Studio 24
This is one of the newest studio sound cards that appeared on the market not too long ago — about six months ago. The model is perfect for home and semi-professional use. The device has two combo inputs, each equipped with an XMAX-L preamp, in addition, there are two TRS line outputs and a headphone output. The case is made of high-quality plastic with a matte finish — it will not accumulate various kinds of dirt and dust. It is distinguished by a solid assembly: all elements are securely fitted to each other, no backlashes and extraneous squeaks were detected even with strong pressure.
All controls responsible for signal amplification are located on the front panel, here is also a button for turning on phantom power. One of the important qualities is the presence of a liquid crystal display that displays the input levels. The dynamic range of the transducers is 108 dB. The sound card comes bundled with specialized Studio One Artist software, which includes several additional plug-ins. Connects to a personal computer using USB C/A cables.
- Compact model requiring a minimum amount of free space, which makes it ideal for home use;
- Ergonomic location of inputs and outputs, as well as parameter adjustment knobs;
- There is a direct monitoring function;
- Powered by plug
- Pretty heavy device;
- The headphone output is on the rear panel.
PreSonus Studio 24
5 Apogee Duet
It is characterized by small overall dimensions and weight, so this sound card can be easily taken with you on a trip or on a business trip. According to the company that developed this equipment, this product is the first professional model equipped with direct digital connection technology to Apple products. In addition, it is able to work with MacOS and Windows platforms. The sound card functions with the help of special Apogee Maestro software, with the help of which the user will always control the sound coming through the inputs and outputs from the products.
The sound card is equipped with a built-in battery. Mobile devices will be charged when working with it, so you don’t have to worry about the fact that the gadget runs out of power at the most inopportune moment, and you won’t be able to save your work. Connects to a personal computer via USB 2.0 interface. On the front panel you can find two analog inputs and four analog outputs, two microphone preamps are provided. On the front panel is a high-definition liquid crystal display, there are also two programmable touchpads.
- Small weight and dimensions;
- Compatible with mobile devices running on the iOS platform;
- Carefully designed software.
- High price;
- Not too easy to find on sale.
4. Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII DUO
This model has been on the market for studio sound cards for about two years. This is the latest generation of such equipment, which uses analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog signal converters, due to which it is possible to provide the highest possible sound quality, including at home. This device has quite decent monitoring capabilities, a built-in talkback microphone is provided. The sound card is based on the Thunderbolt 2×6 interface, which is supported by Windows and MacOS operating systems, and it is also equipped with the latest generation of converters — nothing better has been invented in the two years since its release.
All hardware buttons are located on the top panel, which also has a rotary frequency control. There are two liquid crystal displays. The body is made of high quality plastic. Its top side has a matte finish, the edges are glossy. Overall dimensions are not too large, so the products will be very convenient to use, including far from home.
- Very stylish and attractive appearance;
- It has all the features for high-quality work with sound of any type;
- A built-in microphone is provided;
- The assembly is quite reliable, no squeaks and backlashes have been identified.
- There are not too many plug-ins in the standard package, they will have to be purchased separately;
- The product itself is very expensive.
Universal Audio Apollo Twin MKII DUO
3.REM Fireface UCX
Finally, we have reached the top three of our today’s ranking of the best studio sound cards of the year, designed for home or semi-professional use. In general, recently experienced users in this regard can hardly be surprised by anything, but they were able to perceive and appreciate the performance characteristics of this product. By the number of connected cables, the model is practically no different from real professional equipment. The product comes with a remote control, so you can control the product from a distance. Connects via USB 2.0 or FireWire interfaces.
The design is equipped with a large number of the most modern transducers that provide a minimum level of noise and sound distortion. The delay time here is minimal. The sound card is able to work with the TotalMix application, which provides a slight delay, and also allows you to achieve convenient routing. This model also features the increased hardware processing typically found on the most powerful sound cards found in high-end studios. Up to six user settings can be stored in the firmware of the product; they are called up by a special control button located on the front panel of the equipment.
- Excellent quality of the recorded sound;
- Small overall dimensions;
- A decent number of entrances and exits.
- If you use the device for a long time and continuously, then it starts to get quite hot;
- High price.
REM Fireface UCX
Quite an interesting and original model, which won the second place due to decent functionality. From the rear there are many analog inputs and outputs — eight of each type at once. At the same time, on the front side you can find several knobs and toggle switches to control the sound quality and channels. There is also a liquid crystal display. It is quite simple, but at the same time informative, has a pleasant LED backlight that allows you to work with the device even in low light conditions. This sound card is powered by a special adapter, or by FireWire 400, it is not possible to connect power via a USB connector. If the user plans to use FireWire, then no more connection needs to be provided — power and data will be transmitted over one cable.
The device is characterized by excellent build quality, as a result, the sound is quite clear, no crackles and noises were found during operation. You can control the sound card using a special graphical interface. If necessary, the equipment can also be used offline, without connecting to a computer. In other words, the card will perform the functions of a separate switching unit.
- High level of operational reliability;
- FireWire and USB interfaces are provided immediately;
- Minimum sound delay indicator;
- The output is clear and high-quality sound, without the slightest hint of noise and distortion;
- Very easy to use graphical interface;
- You can use the sound card offline.
- There is only one headphone jack;
- There is no possibility of power supply via the USB interface.
1. RME Babyface PRO
We are pleased to present you the winner of the first place — an external portable sound card made in Germany, which is distinguished by its compact overall dimensions and rather powerful sound. It is crystal clear, no user noticed the slightest hint of sound distortion and could not hear noises. The device is housed in a small case made of high-strength cast aluminum alloy. Although the thickness of the metal is small, the case is very durable, so it can withstand significant physical exertion. This material does not shield the sound, so it will not affect the sound quality in any way. The model is connected via a USB 2.0 connector.
By connecting an external ADAT converter, you can use a very large number of analog channels: there are 24 of them in total — 12 each for input and output lines. This equipment is perfect for professional concert or studio activities. Many musicians purchase it for home use. The product has support for sampling rates up to 192 kHz, switchable phantom power is provided. Microphone amplifiers are equipped with a gain of no more than 70 dB, and the step is only 3 dB. The control here is digital, so you can easily set the exact value of any parameter.
- Excellent sound quality and high detail of the entire frequency range;
- Minimum overall dimensions of the device;
- The metal case of the increased durability;
- Can be used for both concert and studio activities, including for work at home;
- The inputs and outputs are completely independent of each other.
- High price;
- Each platform will have to download its own drivers.
RME Babyface PRO
In conclusion, a useful video
Our rating of the best sound cards for studio work has come to an end. We hope that the information we have collected will be enough for you so that you can choose the best products for yourself. If you still have some doubts or want to get additional information about a particular model, then feel free to speak in the comments. We will try to promptly respond to your comment and provide you with all the additional information in an accessible format.