Most on board sound cards are not worth the PBC they are printed on. They are plagued with low quality chips and interference from other internal components. The best solution would be to go with an external fire wire solution. I and a lot of others in our forum use one of the Echo AudioFire series of sound cards. These primary application for this series is professional audio but they make an amazingly crisp sound experience, but for your desktop.
I guess it would be possible to tote around the AudioFire2 but it is not an elegant little device like the Turtle Beach Audio Micro USB sound card. It is small enough to almost be considered a dongle or even a larger headphone jack adapter that will rival the sound quality of the pro audio FireWire sound cards. Though there are a few caveats- read on for the full scoop.
Inside the box you get the USB sound card with removable cap, an optical adapter for digital out, and a USB extension cable. The USB card has a nice soft rubber finish with a solid build.
The Turtle (this is what we affectionately nicked named this product in our IRC chat channel) will work out of the box loading generic sound drivers, but installing the software will open up a powerful global EQ and a few other nice features.
The main speaker tab allows you to switch between headphones, speakers, or S/PDIF output. There is also pan and volume setting under this tab too. The next tab houses the 10-band EQ with presets and custom savable user EQ profiles. The last tab I don’t get too much mileage out of, it’s the “effects” settings. This allows you to simulate a plethora of listening environments like “padded cell”, “bath room”, “forest”, “carpeted hallway”, and probably about 20 others. I never have found a use for something like this, but if this is your thing it works as advertised.
The USB Caveat
All USB sound cards need to use host processes and are have a lower priority that can cause latency issues that manifest in clicks and pops in the audio playback. There are a hand full of other issues that make USB a bad platform for audio and anyone using audio as a critical application on a PC, it just won’t do. However, since the Turtle has some solid drivers and is much less susceptible to performance issues compared to several other USB sound cards I have tried. The only time I had performance issues is when I had the Turtle plugged though a USB hub- there I occasionally experienced clicks, pops, or hang ups. By contrast the Behringer UFO202 just didn’t work for me in any configuration without rather frequent sound issues.
I’m very surprised that this $30 device can put out such clean and crisp audio that rivals my AudioFire4 paired with the global EQ I can’t ask for any more in such a small portable package.
USB audio may not be the most ideal but I found that the Turtle Beach Micro Advantage to be a more than acceptable portable sound card for my needs. At $30 it’s a steal for daily use or nice to have lying around for a backup sound card.
You can pick the Turtle up from Amazon in the US for the best price and free shipping.