budget usb stick soundcard

Greetings folks.

Intro: My current working computer is a Gigabyte Brix (one of those mini-pc’s). Doesn’t have monitor/keyboard/mouse, but I have all those both at work and at home so this is much smaller and lighter to carry than a laptop. Major downsize: internal soundcard kinda sucks…

What I’m looking for: I want to stay light, so I’m looking at one of those small/tiny soundcards on an usb stick with a headphone output to listen to music while working. A mic input could come handy, but it’s not a must-have, I’ll need that mostly for skype calls and the Brix already has a built-in one (crappy yes, but for skype it does its job).

From a quick search I found these to be fairly popular:

  • Asus Xonar U3
  • Creative X-Fi Go!
  • Creative Play 2!

There’s also BlasterX G1 from Creative, but seems to be more tailored at gamers, which I’m not. I’m also not going to watch movies or the like, so the dolby surround stuff doesn’t matter much.

The Behringer UCA-222 gets good reviews, but starts to be a bit bulky (though it’s still light).
koz you’re an expert on those, how’s the headphones output on those for listening to music?

I have an Art USB Dual Preamp, the quality of the headphones monitor output is good enough for my needs, but it’s too bulky and definitely too heavy to carry around.

Oh, most importantly… it must work on Linux :smiley: Steve, any insight? :wink:


I’ve not used any of these (I use a UCA202), but the Xonar U3 is said to work on Linux (http://askubuntu.com/questions/104697/is-the-asus-xonar-u3-supported)

Thanks Steve.

I have an old pci-e Xonar essence on my old desktop pc and I can only say wonders about it. So the “Xonar” name on the U3 is appealing, though names can be deceiving sometimes… :wink:

Anything C-media based should work on Linux.

Quality wise, it’s a bit hard as this chipset powers most of the no-brand 1.95$ USB sticks. The chipset itself is fine, the board design and power supply filtering not always. Sometimes even DC blocking capacitors are left out, resulting in bad sound on very good and very bad equipment.

If you look on Amazon and the bay, most sellers list the chipset.

If you want good headphone amps, I’d look at the new Behringer U-phoria UM2:


I haven’t put my greasy fingers on it myself, but have a couple of friends who bought this as “cheap enough to tow around” and they’re all quite surprised by the quality of this plasticky thing. It’s only 9 € more than the UCA202 and it comes with a real mic preamp and an instrument input. Don’t know if you need those, but it also has a real 6,35 mm headphone jack, which I personally appreciate a lot. And it’s USB audio class compliant, so it works with Linux.

The UM2, as of recent testing, can be configured for overdubbing. So that’s not a dreadful I/O device.


THE UM2 weighs 11 oz, (317 Grams). I think the USB cable weights more than the UM2. Put a rock on it so the wind doesn’t blow it away.

Since it will convert from almost anything to almost anything else, works from USB and doesn’t whine. It would be very hard to beat for field operations or a small studio.

More camping?

Most of the good microphones are heavy, though.


I’m going to back away from the headphone thing. I can’t wear most headphones for long periods including the Hollywood Standard Sony MDR-7506. Their claim to fame is not that you can comfortably listen to four movies back to back, but they will show you everything you’re doing wrong—before anybody else hears it. I borrowed a pair from an engineering supervisor and tried them compared with other samples. If I had to shoot live sound in the desert, that’s no question what I would be using.

The two Koss’s Pro3 and Pro4 are OK. The Pro3 lacks a little on sound quality but are lighter. I’ve shot sound with them. The pro4s are perfect except they weigh as much as a Land Rover.

Both of my go-to headphones are accidents.

The Sennheiser eH 150s are rescue puppies. They were left over in an edit suite when we moved out and it turned out to be trivial to repair the broken wires inside. This was several years ago. Oh, yes, I can sit through a movie with these.

I have an original set of Sennheiser HD414s. Still running. I bought them the year after they came out. They have traditionally been gutless because they didn’t have very good bass management. I bought a new set of pads (yes, new, thankyouverymuch) and got the wrong ones. They sounded terrific!!! I have no idea what I bought. I have since got the right ones (bright yellow) and they don’t sound nearly as good.

I think Waxy has thoughts on headphones. I mean useful ones.


Hi Bruno,

I still highly value my Sennheiser HD 25-1 headphones. I bought these to pair with my portable Minidisc recorder (sadly taken by a scrote burglar one night) - and they have provided good service ever since - light, comfortable and nicely detailed sound.

For travelling (diving holidays mainly) I used my little fold-up Sennheiser PX-100 headphones. Given that they are about 1/3 the price of the HD 25s they are surprisingly good
soundwise, but obviously lack the over-ear cushions so let in more external noise (but it’s normally quiet enough on the deck of a dive boat).

Watching BBC outside broadcasts it clearly looks as though they are using Sennheiser cans, which for me is a good endorsement, Wimbledon will be on soon - watch Mac in the commentary box.

I used to like the Koss Pro-4As but as Koz says they are heavy. I did many years ago have a pair of AKG cans which were very good too and lght/comfortable - but that was long ago so the quality may be different these days


Thanks koz, wax and cyrano.

Regarding headphones, I actually already have quite a few, so not really looking for new ones…
wax, I also have a pair of Senn PX100 which are the ones I’ll probably be using most with the usb stick I’m looking for.
I also have equivalent model from Koss (don’t remember the model name, cheaper than PX100 but not as good) and some nice IEM - Radiopaq Jazz - which I’m quite fond of (and which I almost exclusively use with my portable mp3 player while traveling).
At home, with equipment capable of driving them properly, I use a pair of Senn HD595 (the old model, with higher impedance, 120 Ω if I’m not mistaken).

Anyway, back to the topic… 300g is heavy :stuck_out_tongue: the computer weights about 500g or 600g :smiley:
UCA-222 is lighter (100g it seems), but both that and the UM2 are almost the same size as the computer.

UM2 looks interesting, but also, if I got it right, pretty much the same as the art usb dual pre that I already own, not really what I’m looking for.
Though an USB heaphone amp, for driving the HD595 might be something I could be interested in the future (but not a priority right now).

Putting good dc filtering inside a tiny usb stick is not an easy task, I’m aware of that, but I was/am hoping to find something decent enough in a tiny package :slight_smile:

BTW, this is how the computer looks like:

(and yes Steve it’s running Debian :wink: )

So you reached the I/O limit. You can hide the computer behind a cigarette pack (remember those) but you can’t get in and out.

What task is that doing you can’t do on your smartphone?


Everything :slight_smile: (except phone calls, unless I use skype or similar of course). And doesn’t have a display…

It’s a normal desktop computer, just smaller…
It has 4 usb ports, hdmi and mini-dv ports, ethernet port, wifi, internal disk (ssd), etc…

Oh and it’s quite! very quiet! I can only tell it’s on by the blue light around the power button :smiley:
It has an internal fan, but even when it turns on it’s still very quiet…

Boots linux in 5 seconds or less :slight_smile: maybe 10 seconds for windows 10 :stuck_out_tongue:

The biggest problem with these USB stick audio things is that you never know what you’re buying. Manufacturers change chipset without changing the box or the model number…

OTOH some are so cheap it’s doable to buy a dozen and choose the best one.

A really good one is the Alesis Core 1 (49 €/34 £). It’s also very small, 4.4 cm x 4.4 cm x 8.9 cm and weighs 140 g. Because it is aimed at iphone and ipad users, it is audio class compliant, so it should work with Linux too. It’s 24 bit/48 kHz.


Still bigger than a USB stick, tho :unamused:

I’ve read some comments about the X-Fi that suggest that… some say the old version of the non-pro is actually better than the new version of the x-fi pro…

That one I think is small enough for my needs :slight_smile:

Found this round-up of usb headphone amps: http://www.trustedreviews.com/best-usb-headphone-amps_round-up

The Dragonfly looks interesting, except for the price…

FiiO E10K is a bit more in the budget and also seems to get some good reviews…
I should put this in the list too. :slight_smile:

Over the years I’ve had several Audigy products on the bench here. They are some sort of half USB audio class compliant and work on a Mac. But there’s always a problem, like clocks that seem to be way off. And of course, as there is no software for the Mac any extra functions don’t work. That’s why I stay clear from all Creative’s products.

I’ve heard good things about FiiO too, but I haven’t seen one in the flesh. A colleague bought one of their headphone amps and he’s very pleased with it. Still, rather expensive, especially compared to the Alesis…

After reading a few reviews of the Dragonfly I started to feel really compelled to get one :slight_smile:

The original version (as opposed to the new 1.2 version) can be found on amazon (uk) for £89. The new 1.2 version is at £115.
Some people claim both versions are very similar and some even say they prefer the 1.0 version…

No mic input, but like I said that’s not that important… and it’s really tiny!!

£89 is more than I was willing to spend, but from all I’ve read it seems to be quite worth the money. I’m feeling tempted :smiley: