As an up-and-coming music producer, you know that it’s important to listen to your music at only the highest quality.
It would follow then that getting a quality soundcard would be a smart investment.
But what features are needed in a soundcard for music production?
And is it possible to get a good quality product without breaking the bank?
Today we’ll answer those questions and work hard towards setting you up to make some educated decision.
Let’s get started...
Internal Soundcard Or External Soundcard?
Many new music producers are confused between the differing roles of an internal soundcard and an an external soundcard (audio interface).
Let’s break that down real quick:
An internal soundcard is a device inside your computer that converts the digital signal of the computer’s audio into an analog signal that can be sent to speakers or headphones. In addition, these soundcards typically have simple microphone inputs.
An audio interface does many of the same functions as a soundcard but is external to your computer and connects via USB or a similar plug (eg, Firewire, Thunderbolt, etc). It converts the computer’s audio signal from digital to analog, but also comes with a much more extensive set of inputs and outputs.
If you’re just starting off as a producer, using headphones with your computer’s built-in soundcard is probably perfectly sufficient.
However, if you’re serious about moving forward with music production we would suggest investing in an audio interface and bypassing the internal “soundcard” altogether.
- Output needs. One of the most important tools used by any music producer is their studio monitors (or speakers). Studio monitors generally use balanced ¼” or XLR inputs, and most soundcards do not have these as available outputs.
- Digital-to-audio conversion. Sound quality is one of the most crucial elements in any music production and consequently, maintaining the quality in the digital to audio conversion is a critical component. Audio interfaces are designed for this purpose and make the conversion at a far higher quality than many soundcards.
- Versatility. Soundcards are limited in the feature-sets they offer, but interfaces can grow with you as you develop as a producer. For example, most audio interfaces come with microphone and instrument inputs, so if you decide you want to record at some point down the road, you already have the tools you need to do that.
5 Best Budget/Entry-level Audio Interfaces For Music Production
Now that we’ve established why you should choose an audio interface for your music production setup, let’s take a look at five of the best options available for you.
These interfaces are selected as some of the best choices for producers that are just starting off since they are affordable but still high quality.
The UMC22 from Behringer is a simple little interface with all the basic features you need. It comes with L & R ¼” outputs to power your speakers as well as a headphone jack.
For the digital-audio conversion, it boasts 48 kHz resolution.
Additionally, this interface comes with two inputs (one dual microphone/instrument and one instrument-only) in case you want to do some recording too.
Bottom line: When it comes to entry-level interfaces, the UMC22 offers you unmatched value for your money. The UMC22 has all the features you’d want in an entry-level interface but is also the cheapest on this list. Wile generally well-reviewed, this interface does have some user complaints on Amazon for sub-par quality.
Mackie prides itself on the quality of their products, and the Onyx Artist 1-2 interface is no exception. It is made with analog circuitry, uses high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz digital-audio converters, and features Mackie’s “Built-Like-A-Tank” hardware design.
This interface comes with L & R ¼” outputs plus a headphone jack. If you decide to include some recording in your music production, it comes with one microphone input and one instrument input.
Bottom line: Even for an entry-level interface, this is a high-quality product that you can count on for the long run. This product seems to be a particularly high-quality option and is backed by a 1-year manufacturer’s warranty! Just be aware that it is one of the most expensive options on this list.
This next interface is a bestselling option from Focusrite. It features 24-bit/48kHz digital-audio conversion and a unique super-low latency technology that is cutting-edge.
For outputs, this interface comes with L & R RCA outputs and a headphone jack. If you’re inclined to do some recording, it comes with a microphone input and an instrument input.
Bottom line: This is a great entry-level interface, but the lack of ¼” or XLR outputs for your speakers is a serious shortcoming. The super-low latency technology is a great asset for anyone that wants to include recording in their music production. However, this interface only comes with RCA outputs for your speakers, which limits you from using many higher-end studio monitors. Additionally, it’s one of the more expensive interfaces on this list.
This interface from Peavey is an entirely different sort of option. It features no recording inputs whatsoever but only focuses on the digital-audio conversion for sending audio your speakers.
What’s more, the outputs on this interface are XLR, which generally are the preferred input for high-end studio monitors.
Bottom line: If you need an uncomplicated interface just for the purpose of sending audio to your XLR studio monitors, there isn’t a clearer choice than this - this interface is extremely simple and functional! The Peavey doesn’t include any of the recording functionality of the other interfaces, so you’ll be limited if you decide you do want to record sometime in the future. Additionally, this interface only works with speakers with XLR inputs and there is no headphone jack.
Lastly, we look at one more standard-type audio interface, this one from manufacturer ART. It comes with a feature-set similar to most of the others on this list, starting with L & R ¼” outputs for your studio monitors.
It comes with two recording inputs, though notably both of them are dual inputs so you can plug in either microphone or instrument cables.
Bottom line: While a practical option for an introductory interface, this one doesn’t stand out as anything special. Based on user reviews on Amazon, it seems that this interface isn’t as high-quality as the other interfaces on this list. This is a simple and straightforward interface at an affordable price.
So What’s The Best Choice For Me?
We would recommend the Behringer U-Phoria UMC22!
This interface has all the basic features you need to start off as a music producer but comes at a price tag that is a fraction of all the others.
Even though it’s a simple product, it can definitely get the job done and will take you well on the way towards being a successful music producer.