Advice Wanted on External USB Sound Card for Voice and General Recording

I do quite a lot of speaking, and I like to record the audio to my notebook computer. When I had a Sony Vaio, the internal sound card did a very good job – certainly broadcast quality. However, since I bought a new Samsung notebook computer, the internal sound card is horrid for recording – far too much hiss. I can play about with settings and turn the hiss down, but the overall quality is not acceptable.

Therefore, I want to buy an external sound card. Sadly, prices range from under £1 to infinity, and I just don’t have time to look at them all.

What I want is something that costs about £40 and that will give reasonably clean recorded sound. I want good voice recording, but also want to be able to connect a record player and other external devices at some point in the future. Since this will be bought for me as a Christmas present, I want something that works out of the box and lets me look nicely grateful.

All advice gratefully received.


28 responses to “Advice Wanted on External USB Sound Card for Voice and General Recording

  1. I’ve got one of these

    Good and cheap, does what it says on the tin, out of the box.

  2. Ah no, it doesn’t do those toy microphone things, sorry. Thought you just wanted a line in. 1/8″ jack sockets are a bit amateur. What sort of mic have you got? You ought to have somethign with a balanced XLR on it, then you could use something like one of these-

    • Ooh, I don’t fancy the look of all those red buttons and slidy things. I’ve a lovely Sony stereo microphone I got for £10 on E-Bay. I just want to plug that ine.

  3. Behringer stuff is scraping the bottom of the barrel: It works, but it really is entry-level stuff. I would suggest that you look at M-Audio or E-MU but beware that neither of these companies are good at releasing updated drivers. If you are running the 64 bit version of Windows 7 then drivers for many external USB sound card are a problem.

  4. He’s looking for cheap, and Behringer stuff is perfectly reasonable quality for the price. I’ve got a Behringer mixer sitting next to me that’s still doing fine after 10 years. I wouldn’t tour a rock band with one, but for domestic and light use they’re fine.

  5. If you’re running windows XP, or the 32 bit version of Win 7, I can recommend the M-Audio Transit as a simple USB interface that does have a 3.5mm jack mic input, and like the Behringer is USB powered. They are sadly not made any more and I’m certainly not selling mine, it’s much too useful, but there are quite a few about. The quality is excellent. They only came with XP drivers, so you would need to ask one of your techie friends to download the Windows 7 driver for you.

  6. Sean.
    You are aware that the mic port on laptops is (almost) always mono only aren’t you? To get a stereo mic input you’ll have to use an external sound card.

  7. For a good recording I would look out for an XLR rather than a jack input. Jack inputs always give you much more hiss. XLR is needed if you ever want to plug in proper mics with phantom power. In that very low price category it is hard to find though. If you can spend a few pound more, maybe something like this is good.

    It has XLR and jack input. You can’t plug in a record player though.

  8. I’m not quite seeing the application here. If you’re public speaking, you ought to be close miked or lapel miked, so I’m not quite clear why you’ve got a stereo microphone. Where do you put it?

    Of course, if you’re already being amplified through a PA, you should take a line out from that anyway.

  9. Ask


  10. If you need a mike buy one of these, you will be astonished at the quality. I would try it before even bothering with an external sound card, you will probably find the results more than satisfactory.

  11. Sean, The ebay one looks fine. My son persuaded me to buy one for his musical exploits as he had similar problems to yours, a cheap soundcard built in to the motherboard of his PC. When he demonstrated the mike to me I was surprised by the excellent quality, the best I have ever heard from a PC. I’m no afficianado but it sounded like studio quality to me, a real voice as opposed to a recording. He did quite a bit of research and these mikes came highly recommended by people in the amateur music world. I don’t usually take much notice of such things but I was impressed by this bit of kit. I don’t think you would be disappointed.

  12. I would seriously consider a high quality dedicated stereo recorder with a built-in crossed-pair of cardiod microphones. Have a look a the Zoom H2 for example. Don’t confuse this sort of recorder with the ubiquitous digital dictating machine, they are much better and record full 48kHz sampled, 16-bit .WAV files onto an SD card. You can either remove the SD card and pop it in your laptop to transfer the audio files, or download via a USB cable.

  13. After more consideration, I now think that a USB stereo microphone, as suggested earlier is probably best for you rneeds. I see that ‘Blue’ are well respected. I don’t know if the very ‘retro’ looking one suggested is stereo, but if it is, I’m sure that will do the job.
    Do you use a free program like ‘Audacity’ for doing the recording, allowing you to set the recording level and other things? It may be that there is s/w out there for recording, having a sophisticated automatic gain control function so that you get a decent level for both quiet and loud input signals. Some-one else here might know about that.

  14. A Yahama Audiogram 3. Has balanced mic inputs (you can plug XLR and 1/4″ jacks) and nice chunky volume dials.

  15. There’s no need for a stereo microphone, indeed it is counter-productive in a voice recording situation. Sean doesn’t want to pick up the ambience of the room, audience memberfs farting, and dogs barking next door, he just needs a mike that’ll record his voice which, unless he is a remarkable mutant, is mono.

    I’ve no experience myself of USB microphones, but since they do not use analogue microphone inputs, which are notoriously noisy on computers (all that RF, under very high amplification) they should be much less noisy.

    • Earlier this evening, I plugged in a cheapo webcam. Sound quality from the microphone was vastly better than a microphone plugged into the 1/8″ socket.

      Therefore, I’ve given up on an external sound card. It’s a USB microphone for me. I’m already lurking on E-Bay.

      Many thanks to all for discussing this with me, and for the advice.

  16. A USB Microphone is a mic and a sound card in one device. So it does not use your internal sound card. But both the mic and the sound card are of course very low quality. If you are close to the mic, and you just want to understand what you are saying, then it should work.

  17. My relative tells me hhe has just bought this for me for Christmas: