6 Best Sound Cards for Music Production [2023] – First Hand Tested!

Have you ever thought that the reason behind your poor audio quality could be your sound card and not your skills or talent? If that’s the case, there’s no need to worry as we have a solution. We’ve conducted thorough research and testing to bring you the most reliable sound card options for music production in 2023, enabling you to achieve the sound quality you desire.

In this post, we’ll present you with the top sound cards for music editing on the market, so you can take action and elevate your music to the next level. Get ready to experience success and create music that will blow your mind!

TL;DR – Top 6 Best Sound Cards for Music Production for 2023

  • Apollo Twin X Quad: A high-end, premium sound card for music composing. Features a high-quality preamp with 65dB peak gain and 24-Bit recording at 192 kHz 
  • Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen.: A great, budget-oriented sound card for home studios. Features dual XLR and quarter-inch line-in inputs for connecting up to 4 devices simultaneously. 
  • Zoom U-22: A nice, little sound card that’s great for absolute pros on the go. The card features a solo preamp with 48V phantom power and can be powered with 2 x AA batteries. 
  • Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen.: An easy, simple-to-use sound card for beginners. Features an XLR input for the microphone, as well as a quarter-inch line-in for a single music instrument. 
  • Creative Sound Blaster AE-7: The best internal PC sound card for music production. Features 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound capability and be used with Sound Blaster Commander (SBC) utility. 
  • PreSonus Studio 1824C: A capable, highly versatile, 8-channel sound card for studio professionals with ample room for expandability.

Is It Worth Investing in a Sound Card for Music Production?

A dedicated computer sound card for music production is a must-have. While it’s true that almost all modern computers come with built-in sound cards, their functionality tends to be extremely limited. For example, most built-in sound cards only feature 2 x 3.5mm audio jacks for speakers and microphones. Occasionally, you might find a 3.5mm line-in audio jack on an internal sound card, but that’s about the extent of it. 

There’s usually never an option to connect audio equipment with an XLR, 6.35mm (1/4″), Toslink, or even an RCA connector either. These sound cards are also incapable of providing 48V phantom power to condenser microphones.

So, if you’re interested in music production, investing in a dedicated sound card is a must.

So, which sound card is best for music production? 

Best Sound Card for Music Recording —Reviewed!

For this review, we looked at multiple sound cards for music production Reddit threads, and various other online forums to shortlist the most popular sound cards for evaluation. In total, we assessed 13 sound cards. 

First, we tested the THD+N (Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise) of each sound card via tone tracking to evaluate distortion, noise floor, and audio gain. Next, we ran a loop-back test to evaluate the round-trip latency. And, of course, we also measured the input frequency response and output dynamic range. 

Lastly, we pushed their preamps to the limits by running CMRR (Common Mode Rejection Ratio), EIN (Equivalent Input Noise), and SNR (Signal-To-Noise Ratio) tests to measure noise levels, noise reduction, and noise rejection, respectively.

However, lab results tend to be highly objective. So, to be subjective, we also enlisted the help of enthusiast audiophiles and experienced music producers on our team for their personal opinions. After carefully considering all the objective and subjective factors, we narrowed our selection to the six best sound cards for music production.

Apollo Twin X Quad – Best Sound Card for Music Production Overall

The Apollo Twin X Quad is our favorite sound card for several reasons. First, it’s capable of up to 24-bit recording with a sample rate of a staggering 192 kHz. It features a high-quality preamp with a peak gain of up to 65dB and a dynamic range of 123 dB (A-weighted). And as expected, it’s also capable of providing 48V phantom power. 

Regarding build quality, the Apollo X Quad has a full metal chassis that doubles as a heatsink. As such, don’t be alarmed if the device feels warm to the touch, as this is an expected behavior and is perfectly safe and normal. 

The Apollo Twin X Quad features a large, multi-purpose central dial for input. At the left side of the dial are two meters for input channels 1 and 2. Just below this meter is the preamp button for adjusting microphone gain levels. 

At the right side of the large center dial are two output meters, and just below it is the monitor button. You’ll have to press it to change the output volume of the monitors. Lastly, a series of six identical buttons are located at the bottom of the front panel. These buttons provide a wide range of functionality, from enabling phantom power to a high-pass filter. 

At the front left is a quarter-inch audio jack for instruments, while on the left is another quarter-inch jack for zero-latency monitoring. At the rear of the device are two XLR combo jacks, a dual quarter-inch balanced output for the monitors, and two line-level outputs for DAW.

You’ll also find a 12V DC power input, an optical input for ADAT or SPDIF connectors, and an On/Off power switch. Lastly, the Thunderbolt 3 connector connects the sound card to the PC or Mac. 

In testing, the Apollo Twin X Quad was easily our favorite. It’s a capable, highly versatile sound card with top-notch audio quality, some of the best DAW plug-ins, and an internal quad-core CPU. Because of the onboard CPU, the processing is offloaded from the computer to the sound card for a loop-back latency of just 1 ms!

The only downside of the Apollo Twin X Quad is its price. It’s easily one of the most expensive sound cards on the market. But if you have the money to spend, it’s arguably the best external sound card for music production to invest in.

Universal Audio Apollo Twin X QUAD Heritage Edition
  • A special edition of UA’s acclaimed Apollo Twin X interface — with a premium suite of 5 award-winning plug-in titles from Teletronix, Pultec, and UA — a $1,300 value
  • Elite-class A/D and D/A conversion derived from Apollo X rackmount interfaces paired with 2 Unison mic preamps deliver stunning models of classic tube and transformer-based mic preamps and guitar amps
  • 2 Unison mic preamps offer stunning models of classic tube and transformer-based mic preamps and guitar amps

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen.) – Best Budget Sound Card for Music Recording

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 needs no introduction. It’s one of the most popular, budget-friendly sound cards available and one of the best audio interfaces for home studios.

Despite being a budget-oriented product, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 doesn’t compromise on features. It’s capable of 24-bit audio with a sampling rate of 192 kHz. The preamp of the 2i2 is also surprisingly powerful for the price, with a 56 dB gain and a dynamic range of 111 dB. 

At the front of the sound card are two XLR hybrid combo jacks, which can be used for both an XLR microphone and a quarter-inch instrument. Both audio channels feature independent gain knobs with a halo meter light around them that flashes red when the sound is clipping. 

Aside from the knob, each channel has its own instrument (INST) and gain boost button (AIR). The ‘INST’ button is for switching between line and instrument levels. The AIR buttons boost the upper frequencies, giving your recordings an ‘airy’ feeling. This is a nice feature to have in case your microphone has a lackluster top-end. 

In the middle of the front panel is a 48V phantom power button that simultaneously provides phantom power to both audio channels. We just can’t help but wish there were two phantom power buttons for each channel. Certain instruments, notably ribbon microphones, can get damaged if you accidentally provide phantom power to them.

Below the phantom power button is a direct monitoring On/Off switch. A large volume dial controls the monitors’ volume at the front panel’s left side. And lastly, there’s a quarter-inch headphone jack for zero-latency monitoring, complete with its own separate volume dial.

In testing, we were certainly impressed by Focusrite Scarlett 2i2’s performance. The preamp audio was surprisingly clean, even while nearing max gain. We also encountered no clipping issues while recording instruments, especially electric and acoustic guitars. 

The only downside we can think of is the build quality. The entire unit is made of plastic. And while it doesn’t feel cheap, it’s easy to get scratched. However, we can’t complain too much about it, given the 2i2’s price. Overall, it’s a great sound card for studio recording. 

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen
  • Pro performance with the finest pre-amps – Achieve a brighter and a more open recording thanks to the best performing mic pre-amps the Scarlett range has ever seen. A switchable Air mode will add extra clarity to your acoustic instruments when recording with your Scarlett 2i2.
  • Get the perfect guitar and vocal take – There’s no need to sacrifice your tone with two high-headroom instrument inputs to plug in your guitar or bass so that they shine through. Capture your voice with clarity and your instruments in all their glory without any unwanted clipping or distortion thanks to our Gain Halos.
  • Low-noise for crystal clear listening – Two low-noise balanced outputs provide clean audio playback. Hear all the details and nuances of your own track or music from Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. Plug-in your own headphones via the output for private listening in high-fidelity.

Zoom U-22 – Best Portable Sound Card for Music Production

The Zoom U-22 is a portable USB sound card for music recording that can be easily carried around anywhere. And despite its portability, it doesn’t compromise on features, as long as you’re willing to live with a few limitations, of course. 

First thing first, the Zoom U-22 is a dual-channel audio sound card. At the bottom of the device, you’ll find a solo XLR hybrid jack that you can use to connect either a microphone or any instrument with a quarter-inch jack. The XLR hybrid jack is accompanied by a 3.5mm line-in jack.

And that’s the first limitation of the Zoom U-22’s portable design. You can only connect a single XLR or quarter-inch audio device with the sound card. So, for example, if you want to connect two microphones, you’re out of luck. 

Secondly, you’ll likely have to use a 3.5mm stereo male to dual RCA female or a quarter-inch female adapter cable to use the 3.5mm line-in. The reason is that few music instruments or audio mixers use the 3.5mm TRS stereo headphone jack for output. 

On the right side of the sound card is the power source selector. Here, you can choose either USB or Battery / DC power. To run the sound card on battery power, there’s a battery compartment at the bottom that takes 2 x AA batteries. 

There are also 48V phantom power and ‘Direct Monitor’ toggle switches below the battery selector. In our testing, the device lasted nearly 4 hours on two AA batteries with 48V phantom power turned on, which was surprisingly impressive. 

At the top front of the device are two dials. The smaller dial is for microphone gain control, while the larger one is for output volume control. There are also three LEDs to indicate power, 48V phantom power, and audio clipping through the main XLR hybrid input. 

Finally, at the top are dual RCA outputs, a USB-B port, and a micro-B for 5V DC power. For recording, the sound card is capable of up to 96 kHz recording with a 24-bit depth. While the 96 kHz sampling rate is sufficient for both vocals and instruments, it isn’t as high as most other devices in this test. 

Build quality is another area that slightly concerns us. Just like Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, the entire device is made of plastic. Doesn’t feel cheap but definitely makes the audio interface prone to dings, dents, and scratches. 

The device’s weight is kept low at just 150 grams. As a result, you can easily carry it around while traveling, and the standard AA batteries ensure the utmost convenience.

The compact form factor, super off-grid performance, and the ability to connect with your iPhone or laptop make Zoom U-22 our top pick for the portable audio interface category. 

Zoom U-22 Handy Audio Interface, 2-Channel Portable USB Audio Interface
  • Innovative stereo USB audio interface for PC, Mac, and iPad
  • Mic/line input with high-performance mic preamp
  • High-quality recording and playback at resolutions up to 24-bit/96 kHz

Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen.) – Best Beginner Sound Card for Music Production

It’d be far from a stretch to call the Focusrite Scarlett Solo the baby brother of Scarlett 2i2. Both devices have the same deep red exterior and all plastic build. However, certain features make the two devices stand apart. 

The biggest feature that differentiates the Solo from the 2i2 is the preamp – or lack thereof. As the name implies, the Solo has a ‘solo’ preamp, while the 2i2 features two separate preamps. As such, the Solo features a single XLR input at the front, alongside a quarter-inch jack. 

Another thing worth mentioning is that unlike the 2i2, the Solo’s XLR input isn’t hybrid or a “Neutrik” combo input. And that means you can only connect one XLR microphone and one musical instrument simultaneously. Nevertheless, it’s still a great sound card for recording vocals with a single instrument. 

But aside from these limitations, the rest of the Scarlett Solo is indistinguishable from the 2i2. There are two separate gain knobs for both XLR and quarter-inch. The XLR connector is compatible with 48V phantom power and also features Scarlett’s iconic AIR mode for a top-end mic boost. 

At the right side of the front panel is a large dial for output volume and a quarter-inch headphone jack for zero-latency direct monitoring. At the device’s rear are dual RCA line outputs and a USB-C port for connecting the sound card to a PC. 

All said and done; the Scarlett Solo is a remarkably simplistic and minimalistic device. Beginners often get overwhelmed by the number of buttons, knobs, ports, and dials on most sound cards, but the Solo is as simple as it gets. 

Despite its simplicity, it brings all the features of the 2i2 to the table with the same 24-bit audio depth at a 192 kHz sampling rate. So, if you’re a beginner looking for an easy-to-use sound card and want to record a single instrument with vocals, the Scarlett Solo is the best choice.

Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface
  • Pro performance with the finest pre-amps – Achieve a brighter and a more open recording thanks to the best performing mic pre-amps the Scarlett range has ever seen. A switchable Air mode will add extra clarity to your vocals when recording with your Scarlett Solo.
  • Get the perfect guitar take – There’s no need to sacrifice your tone with the high headroom instrument input when recording your guitar and basses. Capture your instruments in all their glory without any unwanted clipping or distortion thanks to our Gain Halos.
  • Studio quality recordings for your music and podcasts – You can achieve professional sounding recordings with Scarlett’s high-performance converters which enable you to record and mix at up to 24-bit/192kHz. Your recordings will retain all of their sonic qualities so that you can sound like the artists you admire.

Creative Sound Blaster AE-7 – Best Internal Sound Card for Music Production

The Creative Sound Blaster AE-7 is the best PCIe sound card for music production. It’s a high-resolution PCIe DAC that features a dedicated AMP. 

Powering the AE-7 is an ESS Saber 9018 DAC. There’s also a discrete Xamp bi-amplifier with a 127dB audio stream. In addition, it features a THD+N of -120 dB and 32-bit PCM at 384kHz. It also supports DSD (Direct Stream Digital) audio streams to sweeten the deal. 

The Sound Blaster AE-7 supports a maximum impedance of up to 600 Ohms for headphones. There’s enough power to drive even the most demanding headsets available. 

For output, the Sound Blaster AE-7 features native Surround Sound 5.1 support and Surround Sound 7.1 virtualization. The sound card also comes with a unique Audio Control Module (ACM) that you can place on your desktop. In addition, it features volume control, 3.5mm TRS headphone, and microphone jacks. 

Installing the sound card is as simple as inserting a cartridge into an old console. First, ensure your computer’s motherboard has a vacant PCIe x1 slot. However, installing the card in a full-length x16 PCIe slot is also possible. Finally, install Sound Blaster Command (SBC) to control the sound card via software. 

The SBC utility is simple to use and is quite intuitive. It features equalizer presets, SBX profiles, line-in and microphone recording, an encoder, and a dedicated mixer. If you don’t like the EQ presets, there’s also the option to make custom presets. 

The only downside of the Sound Blaster AE-7 is that you can only connect a single instrument via a 3.5mm line-in. Also, you’ll need a 3.5mm TRS male to dual quarter-inch female adapter or a splitter cable to use the soundcard for studio recording. 

Overall, this is the best internal sound card for music production.

Creative Sound Blaster AE-7 Hi-Res Internal PCIe Sound Card
  • Pristine Audio Output | Supreme Audio Fidelity With 127 Db Dnr Hi-Res 32-Bit / 384 Khz Playback Via Ess Sabre-Class 9018 Dac And Dsd64 Playback Support That Satisfies Even The Most Demanding Needs Of Audiophiles For Incredibly Clean Audio
  • Massively Powerful Headphone Audio | Custom Xamp Discrete Headphone Bi-Amp Powers Each Earcup Separately With 1Ω Output Impedance And Drives Studio-Grade Headphones Of Up To 600Ω, Including High-End Planar-Magnetic Headphones. And With The Audio Control Module, Gain Quick Access To The Volume Control Knob, As Well As The ¼” And ⅛” Mic And Headphones I/O Connectors – All Within Your Fingertips
  • Theatrical-Grade Discreet And Virtual Surround | Supports Discrete 5. 1 On Speakers With Dolby Digital Live / Dts Connect Encoding, And Up To 7. 1 Virtual Surround On Headphones And Speakers. To Top It Off, We Have Also Integrated Sound Blaster’S Surround Virtualization Technology Onto Ae-7 So That You Can Conveniently Enjoy Surround Sound On Most Form Of Media

PreSonus Studio 1824C – Best Sound Card for Professional Studio Recording

Looking for a high-end audio card for music production? If so, the PreSonus Studio 1824C should be at the top of your list of considerations.

The PreSonus Studio 1824C is an eight-channel sound card. It features two hybrid Neutrik jacks at the front and six at the sound card’s rear. All eight inputs can be microphones or instruments, which gives you a lot of flexibility. 

At the front are eight knobs to control the gain of each channel independently. In the middle is a small LCD meter with a 48V power switch. At the right of the meter is the main volume knob and dual quarter-inch audio jacks for two headsets. You can control the volume of these headsets individually via the available knobs on top.

At the rear of the sound card are ten quarter-inch outputs so you can connect up to 5 monitors in stereo. Alongside the monitor outputs, you’ve SPDIF and ADAT in and out for external compressors and equalizers. There’s also a world clock, in case you want to sync the sound card with another. 

As expected from a studio-grade sound card, you can connect MIDI devices, and at the corner, you have the power input. 

As for the build quality, the PreSonus has a metallic chassis. The knobs feel nice and tactile with a good amount of weight. The buttons also feel nice, clicky, and tactile. For connectivity, there’s a USB-C port out at the back. However, since it’s such a large, powerful device, it comes with a dedicated power adapter and can’t be powered by USB alone. 

In testing, we couldn’t find any faults with the PreSonus Studio 1824C. It’s built like a tank, designed to last, offers ample I/O expandability, and the audio quality of the preamp is simply remarkable. While it’s indeed expensive, that’s a small price to pay for a great sound card for professional music production. 

PreSonus Studio 1824c 18x20, 192 kHz, USB Audio Interface with Studio One Artist and Ableton Live Lite DAW Recording Software
  • High-definition 24-bit/192 kHz audio with 114 dB dynamic range
  • 8 pristine XMAX Class A mic preamps
  • 2 high-headroom instrument/line inputs, plus 6 balanced line inputs to record guitar, bass, and your favorite synths

Comparing Top Sound Card for Music Making 2023

Sound Card Bit-Depth Sampling Rate Why Buy Action
Apollo Twin X Quad 24-Bit 192-kHZ Best Overall Check Price
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen 24-Bit 192-kHZ Best Budget Option Check Price
Zoom U-22 24-Bit 96-kHZ Best Portable Audio Interface Check Price
Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen 24-Bit 192-kHZ Best for Beginners Check Price
Creative Sound Blaster AE-7 24-Bit 384-kHZ Best Internal Sound Card Check Price
PreSonus Studio 1824C 24-Bit 192-kHZ Best for Professional Studios Check Price

What Audio Interface Does Billie Eilish Prefer for Studio Recording?

Billie Eilish uses the Universal Audio Apollo Twin X Quad audio interface. The sound card comes equipped with a high quality pre-amp with 65dB peak gain. It’s also our top pick for sound cards for music production. 

What Does a Sound Card Do for Music Production?

A sound card’s primary function for music production is to convert analog audio input from music instruments into a digital output. The sound card first takes a sample of the input signal at a certain frequency (44.1 or 48 kHz). After that, the signal is converted to digital so that the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software can process it.

Aside from digital-to-analog conversion, a sound card also helps minimize audio latency by processing data in real time. It also amplifies the input signal with the help of a preamp and provides phantom power (24V, 48V) to condenser microphones. Lastly, they may also feature MIDI functionality for MIDI-based sound effects.

How to Choose the Right Sound Card for Music Production

Here are the four important aspects you should consider before buying a sound card for music production:

Audio Channels

First, consider the number of microphones and other instruments you’re trying to connect with the sound card. For example, if you just want to record vocals with an acoustic guitar in mono, then any dual-channel audio card for music production would be sufficient. 

However, studio professionals prefer to record certain instruments, especially drums, pianos, and electric guitars, in stereo. So, if you want to record these instruments in stereo, you’ll have to dedicate two audio channels to each instrument. 

In that case, you may want a sound card that offers at least 4 to 6 audio channels or more, depending on the number of instruments. 


Latency is the slight delay between when a sound is produced and relayed by the sound card to a computer or an audio mixer. Measured in milliseconds (ms), professional recording sound cards tend to have an audio latency of just 5 to 10ms. 

However, it’s acceptable for budget-oriented products to have a latency anywhere between 15 to 25ms, but not higher. Try to find a sound card with the lowest audio latency at any given price point, as lower latency is always preferable. 

Recording Quality

The quality of the recorded audio is another important aspect to consider. It’s recommended to look for a sound card capable of capturing audio at a 24-bit amplitude with a dynamic range of 144dB. 

But it’s equally important not to go overboard as the law of diminishing returns also applies to audio recording. For example, some sound cards can have up to 32-bit amplitude with a dynamic range of a staggering 1,528 dB. For perspective, the sound of a nuclear bomb explosion is reported to be in the range of 240 to 280dB at peak. 

As for the sample rate, even 44.1kHz frequency is enough to cover the entire spectrum of human hearing (22.05kHz per the Nyquist Theorem). However, it’s recommended to find a sound card capable of at least 48kHz audio recording for superior audio fidelity with reduced aliasing. 

Digital I/O

There are several digital I/O standards, and it’s important to consider both their strengths and limitations:

  • USB is by far the most popular digital I/O standard for sound cards and is commonly found on almost all devices. USB also doubles as a power source for the sound card and can provide up to 100W of power.
  • FireWire is another digital standard commonly found on older Apple Mac computers. While this standard has been mostly phased out, certain sound cards still feature FireWire connectivity.
  • Thunderbolt offers higher bandwidth and lower latency than the USB standard. Thunderbolt ports are common in Apple’s Ecosystem, though rarely seen on mainstream PCs and laptops running Windows or Linux.
  • S/PDIF is another digital I/O standard capable of transferring audio in stereo, as well as 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound. It’s commonly found on audio mixers and sound cards for audiophiles for lossless audio transfer between audio equipment with minimal latency.

Frequently Asked Questions About Sound Cards for Music Production

How Much Does a Sound Card for Music Production Cost on Average?

Sound cards for music production may cost anywhere from $100 to $1,500 or more, depending on the audio channels, number of preamps, and other features. At the lower end, basic, entry-level sound cards for music production usually cost between $100 and $200. High-end, professional-grade sound cards start at around $500 and may cost upwards of $1,500.  

Are Cheap Sound Cards Worth It?

Yes, cheap sound cards are absolutely worth a consideration. While they may lack the number of audio channels, I/O connectivity, and preamp quality of more premium sound cards, they’re still great options for beginners. After all, not everyone ‘needs’ all the features a professional sound card has to offer. Just be sure to buy a sound card with a good preamp and 48V phantom power with low latency. 

Which Sound Card is Best for Home Studio?

The Apollo Twin X Quad is our top recommendation for people looking for the best sound card for their home studios. It comes with various features such as 24-bit depth, 192 kHz sampling rate, and a powerful 6dB preamp. As such, it’s a solid choice for home studios. 

Is V8 Sound Card Good for Music Production?

The V8 sound card isn’t meant for music production. Instead, it’s a budget-oriented sound card primarily designed for live streaming. It features various ‘cheeky’ sound effects such as reverb delay, voice change, laughter, applause, and many others. 

What is the Difference Between Sound and Audio Card?

The terms ‘sound card’ and ‘audio card’ are used interchangeably as they both mean the same. Both terms refer to an internal or external hardware component that enhances a PC’s analog and digital input and output (I/O) audio capabilities. 


This concludes our comprehensive look at the best sound cards for music production in 2023. Our top pick is, without a doubt, the Apollo Twin X Quad audio interface sound card. In our testing, it featured remarkable preamp audio quality with next to no latency, thanks to the powerful quad-core processor on board. 

Having said that, you can’t go wrong with any of the sound cards we have covered here. Each sound card we have reviewed here has its own perks, quirks and features. So, whether you’re a beginner or a professional studio producer, you’re bound to find a sound card here that fits your requirements and set of criteria.

Universal Audio Apollo Twin X QUAD Heritage Edition
  • A special edition of UA’s acclaimed Apollo Twin X interface — with a premium suite of 5 award-winning plug-in titles from Teletronix, Pultec, and UA — a $1,300 value
  • Elite-class A/D and D/A conversion derived from Apollo X rackmount interfaces paired with 2 Unison mic preamps deliver stunning models of classic tube and transformer-based mic preamps and guitar amps
  • 2 Unison mic preamps offer stunning models of classic tube and transformer-based mic preamps and guitar amps