DJ Sound Cards Under $130: Top Models Reviewed & Rated

The Mixvibes U-MIX44 is typical of DJ sound cards.

The Mixvibes U-MIX44 is typical of DJ sound cards.

DJ Sound Cards Under $130: Top Models Reviewed & Rated

New digital DJs often get all confused about sound cards. What are they for? Why do I need one? Why isn’t my computer’s sound enough? Why do some DJ controllers need sound cards and some not?

Once they’ve worked out what they need, they then have to make the right choice. How many outs and ins do I need? Do some sound better than others? What’s “latency”? Do I need to worry about it? If I want to use four decks on Traktor, do I need a different card than if I want to use two? What if I want to use a microphone?

So with the needs of beginners in mind, here we’ll run through quickly what you need and why, before showing you 6 great value cards to choose from.

What you need to know about sound cards

For a more thorough discussion of sound cards, take a look at All About Sound Cards for Digital DJing. But here’s a quick resume:

Your laptop already has a sound card built in! Trouble is two-fold: first, its quality is probably not up to DJ standards, and second it has one output, meaning just one place where you can plug something in to listen through – typically computer speakers or headphones. (If you don’t plug anything into the little headphone socket, it’s that same sound card that plays through the tinny little built-in speakers.)

To DJ you need TWO sound outputs. The first one – the “Master out” – goes to your speakers. At home you may just use good computer speakers or powered monitors, and in a club you may plug this one output into the mixer and then on to the PA, or straight into the PA amplifiers – but whatever, the first output is the one the audience hear.

The second, though, is the one YOU listen to on your headphones. Typically you’ll use it to listen to the next record and get it read to play, but whatever you choose to listen to through it, the point is that you’re listening to something different to what the audience is. Hence, you need TWO stereo outputs, that are separate from each other, to DJ with.

The fact that all laptops have only one stereo output is reason why you need a sound card.

What the sound card does is disregard totally the computer’s built-in sound and replace it with at least the 2 high-quality stereo outputs you need for DJing. It is connected to your computer (usually by a USB cable) and more often that not powered by the PC too.

Common questions answered

Do I need a sound card at all?
Increasingly, digital DJ equipment comes with a sound card built-in, so check before you buy. There are loads of ways of telling: They tend to be called “DJ interfaces” rather than “DJ controllers” (although the latter applies to both types); and they’ll have audio-style sockets round the back (and often a microphone socket on the front),

If you’re not sure whether the controller you’re considering comes with a built-in sound card, just look it up in our DJ Midi Controllers: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide 2011; they’re all clearly marked one way or the other.

Why might I want a separate sound card?
If you have a DJ controller that doesn’t have one, you’ll need one.

If you want to DJ with DJ software but using your laptop keyboard (ie with no external equipment), you’ll need one.

You may want the flexibility that a sound card offers you for expanding your set-up later.

Or you may be one of these people who thinks the sound cards in DJ controllers sound so bad that you’d rather have an external card!

I want to use DJ software with four decks. Do I need a sound card with more outputs?
Not if you want to control those four decks through a DJ controller. You could have 99 decks (you actually can with Virtual DJ Pro 7!) and still not need a sound card with any more outputs than a simple two stereo output model.

(By the way, a “four-out” sound card has got four channels going out of it, but they’re divided effectively into two x stereo outputs. So a “four-out” sound card is the minimum you need for DJing.)

What is “latency”? Need I worry about it?
All computer sound has “latency”, which just means “unwanted delay”. Delay between a command being given and the thing happening. For all the digital whizzing to go on and then the sound to finally appear in your speakers, there will be a few milliseconds’ delay.

It will depend on your sound card, the drivers (all these card have modern Mac and PC drivers as applicable), and the system you’re running it all on. All of these sound cards have low enough latency for you not to have to really let that enter your thinking when deciding which one to buy.

What to expect at this price point

At the bottom end of the market, you get the basics. They all sound great, but there are few frills. Having said that, we’ve managed to find various extras that represent real value at this price point. Why you might want to do all these things is explained as we go along. They all have what you need, though: two separate outputs, one you can plug your headphones into and one you can send off to the public speakers.

None of these sound cards needs separate power – they all take their power from the PC.


The sound cards

Native Instruments Audio 2 DJ

The Native Instruments Audio 2 DJ is a small, simple plastic box – and it works well.

Native Instruments Audio 2 DJ

Price: US$99 / £79 / €94
Rating:


Max. audio resolution: 24 bit / 96kHz; Stereo outputs: 2 (1/4″ jacks); Stereo inputs: none; Microphone input: no


They say: The Audio 2 DJ fills the need for a high quality, ultra-mobile audio interface for digital DJs using Traktor or other DJing and performance software. Even though it’s the smallest DJ USB sound card in the world, its two stereo outputs plus the ultra-loud output level and professional sound quality have enough punch to rock the world’s biggest clubs.

We say: A small plastic box with a couple of LEDs on it and a USB socket, two 1/4″ headphone-style jacks with volume controls. Plug one into your speakers, and one into your headphones, and you’re away. It is tiny, and sounds great – and that really is about it. The simplest sound card in our test – only we’d have liked a microphone input.

See it at: Amazon.com, Juno (UK), Juno (rest of Europe & world)


 

Numark DJ IO

The Numark DJ IO is cheap and simple but has everything 90% of DJs will ever need from a sound card – and sounds great.

Numark DJ iO

Price: US$79 / £69 / €82
Rating:


Max. Audio resolution: 24–bit / 88.2 kHz. Stereo outputs: 2 (RCA jacks); Stereo inputs: none; Microphone input: yes


They say: DJ iO is a compact, portable audio interface expressly designed for DJs, mobile music producers and other musicians who work with computers. You’ll find DJ iO to be a convenient missing link in your setup because it connects easily with a standard USB cable to the computer and supplies extremely high-quality, 24-bit audio to output systems.

We say: Bit bigger than the Native Instruments sound card, and has RCA outputs instead of 1/4″ jacks (arguably more convenient). Also adds a microphone input with adjustable gain control. If you think you’ll ever need a microphone too, this is the one for you. Otherwise similar functionality and spec to the Native Instruments model.

See it at: Amazon.com, Juno (UK), Juno (rest of Europe & world)


ESI Maya44 USB

The ESI Maya44 USB adds two stereo inputs but only has an 1/8in headphone jack.

ESI Maya44 USB

Price: US$116 / £75 / €85

Rating:


Max. Audio resolution: 24-bit / 96kHz. Stereo outputs: 2 (RCA jacks); Stereo inputs: 2 (RCA jacks); Microphone input: no


They say: Maya44 USB is a powerful, yet affordable, USB audio solution for home recording – a perfect solution for mobile live and recording applications! In its compact case Maya44 USB provides four analogue input and four analogue output channels with RCA connectors and a combined optical S/PDIF digital output / stereo headphone output.

We say: Optical output is maybe useful for digital recording, but only 1/8″ headphone socket is a minus (although we’ve yet to buy a pair of DJ headphones that don’t convert to 1/8″). If you’re looking for a budget 4-in/4-out card, this is it. Would like to have seen a 1/4″ microphone input. No problems with sound quality – sounds great. Originally meant for recording, not DJs.

See it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Thomann (rest of Europe & world)


 

ESI Gigaport HD

The ESI Gigaport HD swaps the 2 stereo inputs for 2 extra stereo outputs over the Maya44 USB.

ESI Gigaport HD

Price: US$118 / £119 / €129
Rating:


24-bit / 96kHz; Stereo outputs: 4 (RCA jacks); stereo inputs: none; Microphone input: No


They say: Perfect for digital DJs on the road working with notebook computers. Simply use your favourite DJ software and Gigaport HD’s eight outputs as up to four different stereo channels, enabling you to mix, cue and add effects! Monitor and pre-listen to your signals via the two built-in headphone outputs.

We say: No driver required for Macs. If you want four stereo outs so you can use four decks (for instance) through an external mixer, and you want it at a bargain price, this is your card. The second headphone out is of dubious value, and a microphone input would have been nice.

See it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Thomann (UK & rest of Europe)


Mixvibes U-MIX44

The Mixvibes U-MIX44 is fully featured, well made and well-tuned for DJs.

Mixvibes U-MIX44

Price: US$94 / £72 / €87

Rating:


Max. Audio resolution: 16-bit/48 kHz; Stereo outputs: 2 (RCA jacks); stereo inputs: 2 (RCA jacks switchable line/phono); Microphone input: Yes


They say: In its compact case, the U-MIX44 provides two stereo analogue input and two stereo analogue output channels with RCA connectors. It is a great tool for every DJ who owns a MIDI controller without a built-in sound card. The stereo headphone output, connected to Channel 2, provides a professional monitoring for DJ applications.

We say: Best mix of features for the DJ at a great price of all of the sound cards here. Hardware volume for headphones, a microphone input, and switchable RCA inputs. A ground is always nice to have, and it’s in a robust case too. A bargain.

See it at: Amazon.com, Thomann (UK & rest of Europe)


 

Reloop Play

The Reloop Play is a no-nonsense compact sound card which does the basics well.

Reloop Play

Price: US$93 / £79
Rating:


Max. Audio resolution: 24-bit/96 kHz; Stereo outputs: 2 (RCA jacks); stereo inputs: no; Microphone input:no


They say: With this small but powerful interface Reloop presents one of the smallest DJ soundcards that can be found on the market. The signal status LEDs allow a visual monitoring so that everything remains in view and under control. Small, professional and always present: Plug and Play.
We say: Choice of RCA outputs or headphones and an RCA is switchable, and independent volume controls is welcome. Shame there’s no microphone input though. Still this is a competent and compact sound interface for the DJ who just needs the basics.

See it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

Conclusion

For complete simplicity, the Audio 2 or Reloop Play are your choices. If you need a microphone as well, then look at the Numark. If you think you’ll ever need four stereo outs (probably to use complex software on an external mixer) your only choice here is the Gigaport HD. If you want two stereo ins as well as two outs, and nothing else, then the Maya44 is for you.

The best all-round card for us, though, is the Mixvibes U-MIX44. It has a lower spec of sound resolution, but you can’t hear any difference in real life, and it has lots of neat features like mic and monitor volumes, switchable line/phono on the RCA-ins and a ground attachment that show a lot of thought. However, that card is the winner among winners. Make sure the one you pick has the features you need and you really can’t go wrong with any of these.

What is your opinion on any or all of these cards? Do you think external sound cards are a good idea, or would you rather have your sound card built in to your DJ controller (or mixer…)? Let us know in the comments.

Comments

  1. Which would you recommend for the new Virtual Dj Pro 7?

  2. I have had the gigaport for a few years always found the ouptut too quiet and sound quality a bit muddy but other than that its been ok,
    Having said that just got a NI audio 8 its loud and the sound quality is far better than gigaport!

  3. Phil Morse says:

    Thanks for the input, Tony. Some cards definitely benefit from being put through the house mixer when playing in clubs for a final gain /EQ tweak.

    Dakk, it doesn’t make any difference what software you’re using with which card. As long as the drivers are functioning correctly, you’ll be able to select the card in your software audio settings.

  4. Ill go for the Audio 2, I use the big brother Audio 8 for my DVS Setup and I own the Audio2 for on the road gigs. The Audio 2 workes perfect 2 stereo outs, heck you can use it in 2 deck external mode if your using a club mixer. Traktor Pro/Audio2/Kontrol X1 + DJM Mixer and youre ready to rock the crowd.

  5. question, NI soundcards have a low headphone volume.
    does the Numark soundcard or Mixvibes card have a better headphone volume?

  6. I currently use the Numark Dj Io, and I have to say; it’s never failed me. Great sound output, easy to use. As well, Numark keeps the drivers up to date, and free for download. I just wish they made a four channel, stereo output version.

  7. Phil Morse says:

    To Donpaco: They’re all about the same. This is normally due to having headphones that aren’t sensitive enough.

  8. The Numark DJ IO is very dependable. I’ve use it for all my gigs and no problems at all. I would say that an input would be good for the time you want a CDJ or something but it really puts it over the top for the mic input which the others don’t really except the Mixvibe U mix44.

    I like having a seperate soundcard to use for other applications or other peices of gears like an MPD for triggering when I’m not using the Mixtrack. Although as we already are starting to see all controllers starting to come with the soundcard. Good either way though.

  9. Phil Morse says:

    E-MU has just released this card: E-MU 0204
    at $129, it looks great value – it’s a shame the 2-in doesn’t have a phono pre-amp because otherwise this would be the bomb. Still great value though.

    • Guillaume says:

      Hi Phil
      What do you think about this external soundcard :
      http://www.thomann.de/fr/hercules_dj_trim_46.htm

      • Phil Morse says:

        Not familiar with it, looks good though – it looks like it needs external power to operate which is one more plug to plug in.

        • Guillaume says:

          Just a last (and beginner’s) question :
          I am a beginner DJ only playing in parties and not clubs.
          I have a macbook pro and virtual DJ. I already have an external (not digital) mixer.
          I would like to mix with Virtual DJ with a better sound card than the internal one (for less than 150 Euros) and I want to be able to plug in this external soundcard the computer AND the external mixer (using it to mix CDs). I hesitate between two options :
          1) Only buying an external sound card (which one ?) with enough outputs to plug the computer and the external mixer and later (say next year) buying a DJ controller without soundcard since I do not really need it this year.
          2) Buying right now a DJ controller with a good sound card included (maybe also with inputs to plug the external mixer for the CDs), i guess the mixtrack pro in this case.
          What
          Sorry if the question sounds really stupid but with a low budget and the use of a beginnner DJ I really hesitate between external sound card this year (less than 150 Euros) + dj controller next year OR dj controller with sound card included (less than 200 Euros if possible)

        • Guillaume says:

          Thanks Phil,
          The thing is I must be the only one on earth not having a facebook page (maybe one day but not now). So it is impossible for me to leave a message on the facebook page. Any other suggestion ?

  10. DJ Shinobi says:

    For the same price I use the ALESIS io2 Express 24-Bit USB Interface. It’s also great for internet broadcasting. Has 2 CONDENSER MIC INPUTS and 2 DYNAMIC MIC INPUTS. A great sound card!!!

  11. Numark DJIO is the one I have never had a problem with it does what it ssys on the tin, its simple to use and has great sound!

  12. Phil Morse says:

    To DJ Shinobi: Yes, but no good for DJing as doesn’t have dual stereo outs.

  13. Hey Phil,
    Which soundcard would be good to use in a large club?

  14. In regards to the Alesis, if you’re using Traktor internal mode (using the mixer on the screen), you can use the stereo out on the unit and route the headphone jack to monitor. for full functionality i recommend an external controller to map to the internal Traktor mixer. i actually like the audio2DJ by Native Instruments because it has the option for both. Either two stereo outs to hook up to an external mixer OR one stereo out and a monitor out for just using the laptop and a controller.

  15. Hi Phil,

    Are these sound cards standard across all regions? I’m assuming there aren’t different voltages etc (110 vs 220) or anything like that, but just wanted to double check before buying online. Its much cheaper to ship from the USA than buying one locally

  16. Dusty Bacon says:

    Great external soundcard selection. Really like your DJ site as I’m new to digital DJing.

    Would love any personal opinions/hearsay etc. about whether some of the cheaper external cards specifically the Cakewalk UA-1G and the Behringer UFO 202 are any good …

    • Phil Morse says:

      No – remember what we say above – you need “4-out” or “2 x stereo out” and a leadphones socket for a sound card to work as a DJ interface.

  17. I am looking at the mixvibes for using a 2-channel mixer, so i guess I will need 3 outs in total. The problem is that in their web they say that the headphone output is connected to channel 2 ¿?, this means that the cue out is not independent from the 4 rcas?

    • Phil Morse says:

      No, because the two outputs from the sound card feed the mixer, and you then use the mixer’s headphones cueing which means you don’t use the headphones socket on the Mixvibes sound card at all.

  18. Soroush says:

    Hi

    since I always read your reviews, then I’m certainly sure that no one can answer my question better that your experts.

    I already have a Behringer BCD3000 controller which is working with Virtual DJ and Traktor software without any problem. But the main issue is related to the output sound quality which is very poor (maybe because the sample rate of BCD3000 built-in sound card is just 44.1 kHz). So, I’ve decided to buy an external USB Sound Card.

    Moreover, I’m going to buy also a Traktor X1 Kontrol. So, I’m thinking about using X1 as my Midi Controller, BCD3000 as an External 2 Channel Mixer and an external sound card for the better sound quality.

    Now the questions:

    1) I am in doubt between “Traktor Audio 2″ and “Reloop Play” sound cards. Reloop is obviously cheaper but from their data sheets I found that both cards’ sample rates are 24Bit, 96 kHz.
    Now, considering above mentioned setup, basically, is it possible to use above sound cards with that kind of setup or I need a sound card with more outputs?

    And, if I can use them, which one is better and why?

    2) Is it possible to use BCD3000 just as a 2 Channel Mixer (using only the mixer part: Fader, Low-Mid-High Knobs …) or BCD3000 is only a Midi Controller and does not have that kind of capability?

    Sorry for my long note; I hope to receive your reply very soon.

    • Phil Morse says:

      To start with the sample rate – while on paper affecting sound quality – is not the issue. CDs are 44.1kHz, and they sound great, so don’t think that is your problem. Check the quality of your source material – genuine 320kbps MP3s should be your minimum.

      Both those sound cards are good, and they’ll work fine with the set-up you suggest, as they both have two stereo outputs, which you plug into the BCD3000’s two external channels. If it were me, I’d go on price when choosing.

      Yes, it is possible to use the BCD3000 as an external mixer. It won’t be the best quality, because the BCD3000 is an old, low-spec unit. Why not just buy a Numark Mixtrack Pro, which is modern, popular, sounds great and will save the need to buy a soundcard and an X1?

      Hope that helps :)

      • Soroush says:

        Thanks for your information.
        Mixtrack Pro is a good all-in-one controller for sure, but the thing that is in my mind is to setup a system which could be replaceable at anytime according to my desire and off course my budget. All-in-one controllers, especially those which do not support different inputs and outputs are not suitable for this purpose (from my point of view). So, I prefer to have separate units which are mapped for a specific DJ Software.

  19. Hello,

    I actually have a Little Dot DAC_1 sound card (audiophile grade).
    I suppose it’s possible to use this card as main output to speakers, and the jack on my MBP for headphone. I don’t need a microphone atm.

    Will I experience problems, or will this config work just fine?
    Tyia for reply!

  20. i am looking to buy the numark mixtrack and i see amazon has supr cheap usb sound cards for like 2 bucks does it really make a big difference btween that and the expensive ones??

    [ link ]

    • Yes, you need a 4-out DJ sound card.

      • In regard to having 4 outs I use a Creative soundblaster in a USB port to give me a second headphone out. So I use that and the built in headphone jack with splitter cables to give me 2 channels out from Virtual Dj to my 4 channel mixer. I then just configuer the audio settings in my software. So if you have some external gear already you c ould get away with it on the cheap.

        With respect to the 2 stereo outs that I have I now have 2 stereo ins.

        My question: Can I use both these inputs with splitter cables going to my cdj’s so that I can use them as timecodes?

  21. MF Pompadour says:

    I am interested in understanding about the microphone input.

    I am currently comparing the Numark Mixtrack (no mic in) and the Mixtrack Pro (has a mic in).

    If I get the Mixtrack with a sound card that has a mic in, how is this different than having a mic in directly in my controller?

    If I want to add effects on the mic input, and loop, etc. can I do this in both setups? Or do I need the mic input in my controller?

    • The Mixtrack Pro mic input can’t be routed through your computer, so even if your software can accept a mic, you won’t be be able to route it through FX etc. Whereas if you but an external sound card with a mic in, there is the possibility of routing through software.

  22. DJ CrazyTrini says:

    I like the MAYA44 USB. It comes in handy when broadcasting on the internet using traktor on a laptop. I loop the output of my Kontrol S2 to the input and encode. Plus I can rout the output to stereo for monitoring. Works great.

  23. How does the output sound quality fair on the Mixvibes unit? Could it be used in a nightclub?

  24. I prefer a control unit with a built in sound card. You`re a bit more flexible this way and won`t forget your sound card at a gig. ;)

  25. It’s possible to use 4 decks and use fones to cue with Audio 2 dj? It’s better than fast track pro for djing? It’s possible to use it on home studio with a good quality? Thanks.

  26. Reticuli says:

    Has the Gigaport HD ever been tested by any pro site or magazine to verify its audio specs with a precision analyzer and someone who knows how to use it? I know Emu’s stuff is up to spec, but I’m not sure about ESI. Emu is some serious audiophile quality, it’s just not very stable for some reason and has limited outputs.

  27. Would you reccomend the mixvibes soundcard for use with Traktor Scratch Pro using 2 turntable timecodes?

  28. Thanks for the info Phil!

  29. just a simple question 2 u buddy
    which soundcard u recommend me for 2channel stereo and 4channel stereo?

    other qestion is that when djs using cds with cdjs and other pleyers
    what is their output,punch power?
    like if i using audio 2 dj its 24bit, 96khz u say its have enough punch 2 rock the club.
    i just want to make sure the difference.
    when i use the souncard.
    do assist me .

  30. All I need to do is record my vinyl onto my laptop. I’ve tried an Edirol interface which had terrible sound. Do you still recommend the Mixvibes? Or is there a better 2012 model now? Thanks

  31. what would i need to connect a Behringer DDm4000 to a Traktor S4 and a Traktor S2

  32. Can I use “Line6 Tone Port KB37″ for VDJ or Traktor?

  33. I am looking for a sound card with 1 input for mic (not throught – to computer) and an output for headphones and monitors. under 200€… What would you reccomend?

  34. Thanks for this great and comprehensive review.

    But I am still concerned about the sound quality. Is Audio 2 so much better compared to all other soundcards? Phil – do you have any favourites in terms of sound quality?

  35. Numark’s DJ IO doesn’t work with windows 8. Any suggestions?

  36. Everybody who wants to buy a Mixvibes U-MIX44 should be warned that it isnt possible to precue with the headphone 3,5 jack because the signal is a sum of both channels (1,2 and 3,4). This way you always here both channels when trying to precue. The only workaround is to connect a RCA to 3,5 female jack to one of the RCAs and additional headphone amplifier. Dont buy this device. See this thread for further informations: http://support.reloopdj.com/mixage/no-cueing-possible-with-external-soundcard-%28mixage-contoller-edition-traktor%29/

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