9 best external sound cards

Review of the best according to the editorial board. On the selection criteria. This material is subjective and does not constitute advertising and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.

Audio output to headphones or speakers and a microphone input are so integral interfaces of any desktop PC, laptop or wearable gadget that we have long taken it for granted. But these interfaces lead to a very specific device – a sound card. We are also accustomed to the fact that the sound module is most often not discrete, but completely soldered to the computer's motherboard. In its pure form, a sound card is a separate board that is inserted into the corresponding slot on the motherboard. All this we are talking about internal sound cards. And then there are external ones that look and connect like any other peripheral. It is about them that will be discussed in today's review from.

Which sound card is better external or internal

In a semi-professional environment, there is an opinion that “everything external is better than internal.” This is somewhat exaggerated, but conveys the general mood. The logic here is quite obvious: a separate external device is more stable, not subject to electrical failures in the computer itself, has more opportunities (corny more space on the case) to connect other devices, control means can be physical, not software, and so on. Plus, there is an established opinion that more reliable and high-quality hardware is installed in external devices.

An indisputable point in the properties of external video cards is that they load the central processor and other key computer modules much less than internal discrete or integrated ones. Besides, it just so happens that an external sound card is a kind of application for professionalism.

Today's rating is dedicated to just such devices – external sound cards. According to the first few models, it will become clear that an internal card cannot have such a range of possibilities simply physically.

How to choose an external sound card

As with most electronics of almost any kind, with external sound cards the situation is very similar: models, form factors, service obligations, drivers, and other things abound. But still, what's wrong with the built-in sound cards? Whom and why they may not suit. Let's try to briefly understand.

Why the built-in sound card in your computer is not enough

For the majority of internal and, moreover, built-in sounds, numerous limitations are inherent. For example, any of the following:

  1. only one source can be incoming at a time;
  2. glitches, pickups, background noises, signal delays;
  3. direct dependence on computer performance;
  4. sensitivity to the behavior of the internals of the system unit up to the noise of the cooler;
  5. In addition to all of the above, the internal sound card additionally loads the processor and computer memory, while the external one has its own key electronics.

Almost any external sound card is completely devoid of all of the above disadvantages.

Of course, external “sound” is far from such a device that you can buy anywhere literally “around the corner”, but still it is not uncommon. We will divide the entire available assortment into three conditional groups.

What are the external sound cards

  1. Let's start from the largest to the smallest. To be as brief as possible, for studio use, and not for individual use, you will need a serious external device with many settings, functions and 'gadgets'. So that this device does not even turn out to be called a sound card. And it may also be appropriate to combine several devices into one: a typical example is the RME Fireface UCX and RME Babyface PRO tandem, which even has a separate name. The cost of such a device is estimated at thousands of dollars, and only a studio can really afford it, and even then not every one in a row.
  2. A much more forgiving option is the 'average' external sound card for the music lover. If you want juicy bass, clear lows, surround sound with the effect of being in a concert hall, then it makes sense that you have an audio system – at least 5.1 with speakers in front, rear, subwoofer and control electronics. A special case of this approach is the option for the moviegoer, where the maximum effect of presence is ensured.
  3. Finally, the third option is the simplest models, which we will consider in the third third of our ranking. Their relative cheapness can be dictated by various circumstances – limited functionality, cheaper materials, a little-known brand, an uncertain guarantee, etc.
  4. Another important point is regulators, interfaces and additional functions. If you work in a studio and record more or less professional sound, it will be extremely inconvenient for you to 'play' with the software sound settings. In addition, in external sound cards, 6mm connectors or xlr connectors are absent as a class, and without them in the studio, nowhere.

Experts have selected nine models of external “sound” for you, guided by considerations of their capabilities, functionality, purpose and price availability. For your convenience, we have sorted all the devices by approximately the average market value.

Rating of the best external sound cards

Nomination a place Name of product price
Rating of the best external sound cards 1 RME Fireface UCX RUB 95 819
2 RME Babyface PRO RUB 45,500
3 MOTU Audi o Express RUB 31,919
4 Creative Sound Blaster X7 RUB 26 880
5 Tascam US-16X08 RUB 23,046
6 Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 RUB 10,389
7 Creative X-Fi HD RUB 6 595
8 Steinberg UR12 RUB 6,437
9 Creative X-Fi Surround 5.1 Pro RUB 4,430

RME Fireface UCX

Rating: 4.9

RME Fireface UCX

Let's start with a device that can be called a sound card only with a stretch, in a good way. This is a professional, multifunctional, easily scalable device that connects to a computer via a USB port (including the third generation), and has all (numerous, by the way) controls and indicators right on the case. This very expensive product is produced by the German company RME, well known in professional creative circles.

Of course, a device of this kind and functionality needs additional power. The power supply is included separately in the package with additional accessories and a 12-month warranty card.

This sound module supports broadcasting of multichannel audio, the DAC bit rate is 24 bits, the maximum DAC frequency in stereo mode is 192 kHz.

The device has ample opportunities for working with analog equipment both for input and output: eight output analog channels, the same input analog channels, two input XLR connectors, eight input connectors 6.3 mm, one separate headphone output. There is also a Hi-Z instrument input, coaxial input and output. There are MIDI interfaces for input.

Compatibility options with various technologies and standards are as follows: support for ADAT, external sync, AES / EBU, ASIO standard version 2.0. EAX support is not implemented.

Possibility of connection via the FireWire port is provided. Built-in phantom power function.

Remote control modules (basic and advanced) can optionally be included in the kit, but more often they need to be purchased separately.

Advantages

  • truly professional equipment;
  • studio level;
  • many interfaces focused on professional technology;
  • works autonomously, without a computer;
  • possibility of remote control.

disadvantages

  • only 'prohibitive' price, but given the level of the product, this is a dubious drawback.

RME Babyface PRO

Rating: 4.8

RME Babyface PRO

Our rating is continued by another professional device, but already much more user-friendly, and at half the price.

The sound card is housed in an elegant aluminum casing with two metallic colors with smooth curves. It connects, like the above model, via a universal USB port. The bit depth of the DAC in this case is 24 bits, the upper limit of the DAC frequency in stereo mode is 192 kHz.

The connection options for instruments and other devices with this sound card are as follows. There are four analog output channels, two separate headphone outputs. Four analog input channels, two microphone inputs and two XLR connectors (input). A separate point: headphone outputs – with high and low impedance.

Other interfaces: Hi-Z instrument input, S / PDIF digital optical connector, optical interfaces (input and output), MIDI input and output interfaces (special multicore cable included).

This device also supports ADAT and ASIO version 2.0. EAX support is not provided.

The device can be powered via the USB bus (compatible with USB 3.0) or by means of an autonomous power adapter.

The delivery set of the device includes a carrier with proprietary software TotalMix FX with versions for Mac OS, Windows and iOS

Advantages

  • availability in development and management;
  • stability of work;
  • functionality;
  • compatibility;
  • Beautiful design.

disadvantages

  • spotty, sporadic nagging on the part of professional users.

MOTU Audi o Express

Rating: 4.8

MOTU Audi o Express

The third number in our review is an external audio interface manufactured by the American specialized company MOTU. This device is even slightly cheaper than the previous one and even slightly simpler. But the functionality is quite decent.

Technologically, the device is a hybrid audio interface (combines USB and FireWire), equipped with six inputs and six outputs. Initially 'sharpened' for Mac or PC. All six inputs are concentrated on the front panel for easy mixing. So, you can easily connect to it a professional microphone, guitar, synthesizer, various digital devices, and synchronously control the mix to the center output using four physical knobs. The knobs themselves are also located on the front panel and are labeled MIC 1, MIC 2, LINE 3-4 and S / PDIF. From the same front panel, you can easily adjust the input levels.

The rear panel is used to accommodate outputs and inputs MIDI, S / PDIF, input for various physical keyboards or manipulators programmed from a computer, such as a foot controller.

Audi o Express MOTU needs additional power supply, can operate autonomously without a computer, capable of multi-channel audio output, suitable for both studio use and stage.

Sound parameters of the device: 24-bit DAC; 96 kHz maximum DAC frequency in stereo. There is an independent headphone output and two microphone inputs. There is a Hi-Z instrument input, coaxial input and output, MIDI interfaces with work in both directions. ASIO version 2.0 is supported, phantom power is implemented. EAX support is not provided.

Advantages

  • sound quality;
  • clear and accurate indication;
  • convenient control;
  • adequate sampling rate self-adjustment.

disadvantages

  • difficulties with installing drivers and updates.

Creative Sound Blaster X7

Rating: 4.7

Creative Sound Blaster X7

The next position in the ranking of the best external sound cards from the device follows the well-known brand Creative. The Singapore-based company Creative Technology Limited has been closely associated with sound cards since the early days of full-fledged IBM – compatible personal computers in the form in which they are well known to the mass consumer.

The device is made in an extremely expressive pyramidal form factor. Connects via a universal USB port. An additional power supply is required for operation – one USB will not be enough.

This model is still a little cheaper than the previous one and has a number of professional restrictions that make it out of the professional category. But for demanding sophisticated users, it thus becomes top-end. See for yourself.

The device is capable of outputting multichannel sound, has the parameters of the ADC and DAC bits – 24 bit each. DAC limiting frequency: when stereo mode is on – 192 kGz, in multichannel mode – 96 kGz. The maximum ADC frequency is 96 kGz. The indicator of the ratio of the signal to extraneous interference is 127 and 123 dB.

The device's interface resources are as follows: six analog outgoing gateways; four physical analog jacks; two separate headset jacks; two analog gateways at the entrance; two RCA input jacks; one microphone jack. In addition to those listed on the body of the device, there are optical input / output and digital S / PDIF interfaces.

The sound card supports ASIO generation 2.0 and EAX generation 5. There are 'native' drivers for systems of the family Windows from Vista to 10, for Mac OS at least 10.6.8, for Android not lower than 2.3.

Additional functions: support for wireless communication Bluetooth standard 4.1; 'understanding' NFC; built-in stereo microphone and amplifier (parameters – 2×35 W @ 4 Ohm); built-in Dolby Digital decoder.

Advantages

  • works autonomously;
  • easily connects to a wearable gadget with Android;
  • top-end option for sophisticated ordinary users;
  • original, expressive design.

disadvantages

  • indoors more than 20 sq. meters of bass is not felt;
  • tangible delay on Bluetooth.

Tascam US-16X08

Rating: 4.6

Tascam US-16X08

Our rating continues to be a multifunctional sound device with an external sound card function. The manufacturer is a division of the American company TEAC.

The strict form factor and appearance hints at a certain “studio” and “professional” model, in contrast to the previous solution. But this device is two times cheaper than the one described above, which to some extent symbolizes.

The unit is connected to a computer via a universal USB port and, like absolutely all the solutions described above, it needs some other power supply besides USB.

The declared physical characteristics of the sound are as follows: bit capacity of the DAC / ADC is the same as that of the previous model – 24 bits in both cases; the limiting frequency of the DAC and ADC is 96 kGz with the included stereo mode.

The device contains as many as eight analog outbound gateways and corresponding physical slots. Input balanced channels of analog type – 16, input connectors and microphone inputs – 8. Output to headphones – one only.

Additional functions and possibilities: special Hi-Z input; MIDI input and output; support for ASIO version 2.0; EAX compatibility is not implemented; phantom power. Device drivers include full support for operating systems of the family Windows version 7 and higher, OS X 10.8 and higher; iOS 7 and higher.

Advantages

  • unexpectedly 'honest' sound quality for such a budget device;
  • high-quality microphone amplifiers;
  • built-in DSP mixer as a bonus;
  • powerful positive feedback from real users.

disadvantages

  • only one headphone output.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Rating: 4.5

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Now we present you with a relatively simple external sound card in the rating, but in terms of capabilities and cost, it is still in serious separation from almost any internal sound card. The manufacturer is a British specialized company Focusrite headquartered in the town of High Wycombe (England).

This device is connected to a workstation as usual – via USB, and unlike all the models listed above, this sound card does not require additional power.

The basic measured sound characteristics here completely repeat the previous three solutions: the bit width of the DAC / ADC is 24 bits each, the limiting frequency of the DAC in stereo and ADC mode is 96 kHz.

The number of analog input channels is the same as the number of connectors – 2. Independent headphone output – one. There are also two balanced analog inputs, two 6.3mm jacks and two XLR sockets. There are two microphone inputs and an instrument input.

Standards support in this model is completely similar to the previous two: there is ASIO version 2.0, but no EAX. Phantom power is supported.

The official manufacturer's warranty is 12 months.

Advantages

  • compactness;
  • no additional food is required;
  • transparently installed on most popular operating systems;
  • handles a large chain of VST plugins in realtime play.

disadvantages

  • there may be problems with compatibility with some types of “hardware” in the computer – you should study the personal experience of real users.

Creative X-Fi HD

Rating: 4.5

Creative X-Fi HD

Now our rating goes to a completely budget external sound card, and we'll see what it can and what it can't. The manufacturer is the same Singaporean company Creative, whose products we have already reviewed.

This compact device is enclosed in a sturdy black plastic case, and in general there are no questions about the assembly. It connects to a PC via USB and does not need a third-party electricity source.

The DAC / ADC parameters are completely similar to the previous models: the bit width is 24 bits, the maximum frequency is 96 kHz. The manufacturer also specified the signal-to-noise ratio of the DAC, and it is 114 dB.

The situation with the sound card's interfaces is as follows: two analog connectors for output, one separate output for headphones, two input analog channels and two RCA connectors for input. There is also one 6.3 mm jack input and one microphone input. Other interfaces: optical input / output; digital S / PDIF interface.

EAX and ASIO are not supported. A nice bonus is the presence of an integrated phono stage.

Advantages

  • ease of installation and operation;
  • striking difference in sound quality compared to the internal sound card;
  • laconic, unobtrusive, but nice design.

disadvantages

  • there is no hardware 44.1 (just recalculation), so sometimes artifacts are heard in the music.

Steinberg UR12

Rating: 4.4

Steinberg UR12

And one more model in our rating, which from the butt is not very distinguishable externally from the previous solution. Actually, both in terms of price, and in terms of capabilities, they are almost completely identical.

The sound card is connected to the computer via USB; it does not require additional power for operation. Characteristics of spacing

The sound characteristics of the DAC / ADC are unremarkable here – 24 bits in both cases, but the maximum frequency of the DAC and ADC is increased – 192 kHz.

There are two analog output connectors on the case, corresponding to two analog outputs. There are also two analog input channels, a 6.3mm jack and an XLR connector. Headphone output and microphone input are separate. Hi-Z instrument input and phantom power.

Of the demanded third-party standards, the device supports only ASIO version 2.2. EAX is not supported at all. The driver package is written for systems Windows 7 SP1 and later and Mac OS X 10.7.5 and later.

Advantages

  • stable due to the weight and density of rubber feet (tabletop installation);
  • compactness;
  • high maximum frequency of ADC / DAC;
  • simple and convenient installation;
  • available settings and use.

disadvantages

  • individual claims of a highly specialized or strictly subjective nature.

Creative X-Fi Surround 5.1 Pro

Rating: 4.4

Creative X-Fi Surround 5.1 Pro

And the rating of the best external sound cards according to the version is completed by a compact and extremely elegant device from the same Singaporeans who have already been presented in this review – Creative.

This is the cheapest model in our review, but despite this, the sound card is quite capable of turning your computer or laptop into a complete entertainment system with rich 5.1 sound.

The board is connected via USB, does not need additional power, it is nice to hold in the hand if you control the volume directly. Otherwise, you can use the convenient remote control.

The technical parameters in this model are far from worse than much more 'older' and expensive solutions: the ADC and DAC bits are 24 bits each, the frequency limit is 96 kHz in multichannel mode and in stereo. Signal and noise are related to 100.

The device contains six analog output channels and four analog physical connectors. Two analog channels per input. One 3.5 mm jack input. Headphone and microphone outputs are independent. There is an optical digital S / PDIF output.

This sound card supports EAX version 5 and ASIO version 2.0 standards. The driver package allows you to install the sound card on systems of the family Windows from XP SP2 and higher.

Advantages

  • super compactness;
  • elegant appearance;
  • remote control;
  • excellent suppression of extraneous noise;
  • mobility;
  • the remote works with other players as well.

disadvantages

  • all software is strictly in English.


Attention! This rating is subjective and does not constitute an advertisement and does not serve as a purchase guide. Before buying, you need to consult with a specialist.

Rate article
An online magazine about style, fashion, etiquette, lifestyle, and about choosing the best products and services.
Add a comment