Often, manufacturers of laptops and ultrabooks for the sake of compactness of their equipment and saving space under the device case do not install the most powerful sound cards, which makes it difficult to work with sound, play and even just watch movies. For this reason, so-called external sound cards were developed, which are connected to the computer using the USB connector. They allow you to significantly improve the sound quality.
Recently, more and more similar models have started to appear on sale. Choosing the most suitable and optimal one in terms of cost and quality of manufacture may not be too easy, especially if a person does not have special knowledge in this area. That’s why we decided today to dedicate our review to the best external sound cards of 2021. However, let’s first look at what you should pay attention to when buying such devices.
- What qualities are important for an external sound card?
- Best external sound card models of the year
- 10. ESI U22 XT
- 9. TASCAM US-2×2
- 8. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2nd Gen
- 7. Audient iD14
- 6. Creative Sound BlasterX G5
- 5. BEHRINGER UMC22
- 4. M-Audio M-Track 2×2
- 3. Zoom UAC-2
- 2. STEINBERG UR22 MKII
- 1. ROLAND RUBIX24
- In conclusion, a useful video
What qualities are important for an external sound card?
First of all, you should decide whether this equipment is really necessary and whether it is worth buying it. So, an external sound card will be useful for users if they need good and high-quality sound on a portable personal computer. Users may say that you can connect speakers or headphones, but this approach is fundamentally wrong. Additional speakers will allow you to increase the volume of sound, but the quality will remain at the same level. An external sound card is also useful for laptop owners who have an integrated part that is out of order.
In most cases, such a device has insignificant overall dimensions-the size of an ordinary flash drive or card reader. More expensive designs have a larger size-with an external hard drive. The most productive models have even larger dimensions, which are quite comparable to the portable computer itself. The capabilities of such equipment allow you to make the sound clearer and stronger than that of an integrated element. You can use this card to connect multiple microphones, speakers, headphones, and so on at once.
The most expensive models are equipped with various indicators, buttons and volume controls, and they have various kinds of interfaces – analog and coaxial outputs. An external sound card allows for almost professional audio recording. Often, this design is attached not only to a personal computer, but also to a tablet or phone. The setup is very simple, using buttons and controls directly on the case.
When choosing such a product, it is quite necessary to take into account certain product qualities. For home Amateur use, a card equipped with a single input and audio output is enough. For a small, compact movie theater, devices with two similar pairs are suitable. If the product is intended for professional use, then these outputs must be at least 4.the external sound card must have at least 24 bits. If you plan to connect musical instruments, then appropriate sockets should be provided for them.
It will be very good if the card supports the Digital Theater System or Dolby Digital sound standards, which allow you to work with multi-channel audio and video. This is important not only when watching movies or playing games, but also when editing music. The external sound card should not support the ASIO transmission Protocol, but if such a function is present, it will be very good.
EAX technology, which adds sound effects to the environment, doesn’t hurt – this will be a good advantage for a computer game lover who prefers applications that support multi-channel sound. When compiling our rating of the best external sound cards of the year, we took into account all these points, as well as addressed the feedback of users and professional employees with sound. We tried to take into account the ratio of price and quality of models, so that the most expensive products are not included in our review. It’s time to analyze the performance of these products.
Best external sound card models of the year
10. ESI U22 XT
By and large, this model is an external analog of the widely used ESI MAYA 44ex sound card. There are only two physical channels that are independent of each other, but there are two additional virtual channels that are used for Internet broadcasting. The interface of this equipment is quite interesting, especially since it is one of the most budget-friendly. The case is made of metal, has a lacquered coating that looks very much like copper-a rather original design solution. One of the main achievements of this device is the availability of various twists for line-out and headphone output. As users note, this is a very convenient and correct approach.
Another important point that the developers added here is the presence of a hardware FRONT-BACK switch, which allows you to calculate whether to use the guitar plus microphone front inputs or digitize the RCA stereo signal from the input on the back panel, and it does this automatically. For such a budget product, the presence of balanced TRS outputs. You do not need a separate network adapter when connecting this product, just as it does not need a network power supply. Just connect it to a personal computer, and it can work with tablets and phones thanks to the support of UAC1 mode.
- Reasonable price;
- Convenient location of both entrances and all controls;
- Very attractive appearance;
- Easy to connect and use.
- The volume controls are smooth, not very convenient to use;
- The quality of recorded audio could have been better.
9. TASCAM US-2×2
This is a fairly convenient model in terms of operation, which has two inputs and outputs. The product was released for wide sale back in 2014, but the performance characteristics were so good that the product is still widely popular, and it also has an excellent price-performance ratio. The design is equipped with two Mic/Line inputs that work with XLR/TRS connectors-this allows you to use even condenser microphones. At the same time, each of them can be used to connect instruments – the switch is located on the front panel, so you can safely connect an electric or bass guitar to this external sound card.
The headphone output is a classic 6.3 mm, there are two balanced line outputs of the same type. The device supports recording and playback of audio in 1624-bit mode, the frequency range is from 44.1 to 96 kHz. According to users, this sound card provides excellent sound, distortion and noise are minimal. Such indicators were largely achieved thanks to the installation of two ultra-HDDA preamps at once. On the front panel, you can find the main controls of this product, the signal levels for headphone output and line outputs are adjusted separately. The device is connected to a USB 2.0 connector, and it is very easy to configure it. This equipment also has an input/output for MIDI, which allows you to connect a wide variety of devices and musical equipment, such as a synthesizer or drum kit. The sound card is perfectly compatible not only with laptops, but also with personal computers, including MacOs, and works well with other Apple products-the iPad. The case is made of high-quality aluminum, made in a stylish industrial design. Overall dimensions are compact, the weight is small – just a little more than 1 kg. You can remove the side panels.
- High-quality preamps for microphones are installed;
- Musical instruments sound at a professional level;
- Compact product;
- The Assembly is high-quality, not a single detail of the case does not play;
- Attractive appearance.
- On a computer, sometimes you have to suffer with drivers.
8. Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2nd Gen
This is a new generation of external sound cards, the quality of which goes to a fundamentally new level. Under the metal case, you can find new developments in microphone preamps and converters. The device supports sampling rates up to 192 kHz, the audio signal delay has been minimized, and the software package included with this sound card has also been increased. The case is made of metal, looks quite elegant, the controls are metal, grooved, which helps the operator to perform more fine-tuning of the product and get the sound of the highest quality and clarity.
Microphone preamps are equipped with linear gain control. The converters have a dynamic range of up to 109 dB. The audio transmission delay is only 2.74 MS, so all the effects can be detected literally in real time, the same is done during recording or monitoring. Analog circuits are equipped with special protection that does not allow devices to fail in the event of voltage drops. Here is the Focusrite Creative Pack software package, which additionally contains 12 plugins.
- Small overall dimensions;
- Slight delay in audio transmission;
- High-quality sound when recording voice and instruments;
- Almost complete absence of noise and other recording defects.
- It happens that the sound card starts to freeze, but this happens quite rarely.
7. Audient iD14
This is the product of a British company that develops audio equipment, in particular, microphone preamps. This equipment is compact in size, so you can work with it even on the road. It is placed in a high-strength metal case, it has rubberized legs that do not allow sliding even on perfectly smooth surfaces. This sound card is ideal for use in a home recording Studio. There are two instrument inputs, as well as two line and microphone inputs each. In total, this design has ten inputs and four outputs, and support for the sampling rate reaches 96 kHz. The feature set, according to the manufacturer, is universal, which ensures excellent sound quality, which is almost impossible to distinguish from full-size devices.
Microphone preamps are class A, which helps you achieve a truly world-class sound experience. You can directly connect an electric guitar, bass guitar, and other similar instruments, even the most basic ones equipped with a simple pickup. The card has a DSP mixer with minimal latency. Manufacturers have installed iD ScrollControl mode here, which allows you to work with iTunes libraries and change various plugin parameters. The device is powered from the USB connector or from an external adapter supplied with the equipment. The adjustment handles are made of aluminum with fluting.
- For its value, the sound is simply gorgeous;
- The functionality is diverse, but there are no special features;
- The software is stable;
- Very convenient parameter adjustment knobs.
- The headphone output is not very loud.
6. Creative Sound BlasterX G5
One of the smallest models in our entire review, however, the purpose of this device is quite wide, for direct use you will not need an adapter or any other additional elements. The equipment can work with USB 2.0 and 3.0 connectors, it provides high-quality sound for a personal computer, laptop, various consoles such as Xbox or Sony Play Station. Built-in microphones and other similar additional functions are not provided here, which could not but affect the cost, of course, in a smaller direction. The dimensions and weight are small.
The product has the shape of a prism, the plastic body-smooth matte top with small inclusions, stylized as polished metal. The front side is made of glossy plastic, which leaves a lot of fingerprints. It has only two outputs – one for connecting a microphone, the second for headphones. In the Central part there is a volume control, which is also stylized as metal. On the underside there is a velvety polyurethane pad, which allows the device not to slide on the surface. Both connectors can be used for both headphones and microphones – if desired, connect two pairs of headphones to the card at once. All the features of the device can only be used if it is connected to any device.
- Very compact overall dimensions;
- High performance;
- There is everything you need for comfortable use;
- Good build quality;
- Long service life.
- The background may start when two pairs of high-power speakers are connected.
5. BEHRINGER UMC22
The functionality is not too wide – it is limited to only two inputs so that you can connect two external audio sources. They are the same – under the XLR / 6.3 mm Jack. However, they have different purposes of application: the first one can be used both for connecting instruments and microphones, including condenser ones, which provide high-quality sound, primarily vocals. With their help, extraneous noise is well suppressed. This connector is equipped with a Midas preamp, although many users note in their reviews a very mediocre sound quality. In addition, a 48V phantom load is allowed to be sent to the first channel. You can do this by using a special switch located on the back panel of the device.
In headphones, you can recognize two types of signals – processed, coming directly from a personal computer, and the original, which comes from a musical instrument. The latter function is provided by Direct Monitor technology. In order to adjust the volume of both channels, only one knob is provided – this point is considered a disadvantage by many users. The audio signal is converted from analog to digital and in reverse order as 24 bits, its frequency is 48 kHz. This allows you to use the sound card for professional audio recording. Small dimensions make it easier to use the design in a small Studio and even when traveling. The case is made of metal with additional stiffeners – this allows you to protect the filling of the device well from all kinds of mechanical damage.
- Quite a favorable price;
- Easy and convenient to use;
- There is a direct monitoring button;
- It is possible to support ASIO drivers.
- During sound recording, clicks may occur due to a weak processor and overload.
4. M-Audio M-Track 2×2
The device is equipped with an aluminum housing, characterized by a very reliable and solid Assembly. All elements are tightly fitted to each other, extraneous sounds do not appear even with strong pressure. The sound card is quite stable. The interface of the model is well thought out – all the controls are arranged in such a way that they are always at hand, but do not interfere with each other. The handles have a smooth stroke, which allows for fairly fine tuning. The headphone and monitor outputs are separate, and there is hardware monitoring of the inputs. In particular, you can use this sound card to listen to the dry sound of a guitar and connect it to the sound that has already been processed. The design can be met and the four segment pickmere.
The back side is quite simple. It has a combination output, as well as outputs used for connecting monitors and a USB-C power socket. The minimum audio transmission delay is 64 samples, which means that audio is transmitted almost in real time. The card allows you to provide +48V power for microphones, which is an undoubted advantage. The sound interface is at a decent level, even heavy and powerful headphones transmit sound well, have a decent volume margin. Timbres are transmitted evenly, the bass lines are not blocked, and do not tend to stand out. The inputs do not make noise, embellish or discolor the sound, creating the highest transmission accuracy.
- Good sound quality;
- Reasonable price;
- Beautiful appearance;
- Excellent ergonomics.
- The USB-C connector is too weak, and it may start losing contacts over time.
3. Zoom UAC-2
In third place in our rating of the best external sound cards is a universal high-speed model that has two channels and is designed for use on both a computer with the Microsoft Windows operating system and MacOs. Due to this device, you can bring the quality of the received sound to a fundamentally new high level. The model is connected via a USB 2.0 or 3.0 port. it can work not only with desktop computers or laptops, but also with tablets, including the Apple brand. When developing the device, USB 3.0 SuperSpeed technology was used, which ensures the transmission of an audio signal with minimal delay.
You can connect any external sound source to this product – a musical instrument( including a percussion type), a microphone, and so on. The UAC-2 interface located here allows you to conduct media presentations, conduct podcasts, and broadcast games in real time. The data flow is stable, there will be no effect of phase jitter of the signal, so there is no need to additionally connect external sources that would act as the main clock generator. On the front panel, you can see the XLR/TRS dual inputs, which are connected to different signal sources. It is permissible to connect various kinds of amplifiers or speakers equipped with their own power source to the outputs. There is also a stereo plug on a quarter of an inch, are equipped with a dedicated volume control. There are liquid crystal indicators that make the adjustment of this equipment more accurate and faster.
- Compact dimensions;
- Good build;
- Connects without any problems;
- It functions normally;
- Contact with all sources of sound generation;
- There is built-in signal processing and the ability to record via Loopback.
- It doesn’t turn off with the computer – you’ll have to configure the BIOS to do this.
2. STEINBERG UR22 MKII
This model is located in the middle price category and has a good price-performance ratio. First of all, users note the compact overall dimensions of this product – it will not take up too much space. There are no problems connecting this model to a personal computer or other devices required for operation. The equipment is perfect for both novice sound engineers and those who are more advanced in their field. All elements necessary for the normal use of the equipment are located on the front panel of the structure. Here you can find two combined XLR inputs, which are equipped with volume controls, and there are LEDs on top of them. Each of these channels is equipped with a preamp. There is only one headphone input available.
On the back side, there are Jack connectors, a MIDI input and output, and a socket for connecting a USB power cable. The device can be connected to a tablet, and the sound quality will be no worse than when working with a personal computer. You can transfer content recorded with your tablet to your computer or laptop via Cubasis LE, and then continue working with It. The design is versatile, so it can be used not only for sound recording, but also for working in live mode, for example, at concerts. This sound card is equipped with two channels, which allows you to record instruments with 24-bit/192 kHz audio quality. According to users, the model exceeded all, even the most daring, expectations.
- Good functionality;
- Ready to use immediately after removal from the package;
- Provides superior sound quality;
- Minimum time delay.
- Small adjustment knobs, not very convenient to use.
1. ROLAND RUBIX24
Among the leaders of our review of the best sound cards of this year was a model from two years ago, but the developers have not yet been able to release any design that would surpass this device in terms of performance, service life and build quality. According to the manufacturers, this sound card is designed for fast and comfortable sound processing for modern professional producers, sound engineers and musicians. The main advantages of this equipment are compactness, good sound – even at home, you can provide almost Studio sound. The transmission delay here is minimal, and all played tunes are transmitted almost in real time. The product interface is equipped with two quarter-inch XLR combo inputs, two balanced TRS line outputs, and two additional outputs.
The sound is clear and transparent, and there is almost no noise. The drivers are very well developed, there is a built-in compressor and limiter. Loopback makes it very easy to manipulate the routing of the signal coming out of the personal computer, which will be quite useful for streamers. The delay is only 3 MS for both input and output. You can connect an iPad to your tablet, but you will need to purchase a special adapter first. There is no control panel, and all the main controls are located on the case, which is also quite convenient.
- Drivers are installed instantly on any operating system, starting from Windows 7 and higher;
- A huge number of features;
- A slight time delay;
- Four output channels at once;
- Two microphone inputs.
- High cost.