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sound card recommendations
there are lots of options, and they mainly depend on how much you want to spend.
In general, I'd prefer to have an external interface (USB and/or Firewire) with the following characteristics:
-Digitally controlled headphone amplifier and microphone preamplifiers (this would allow for perfectly repeatable levels)
-A SNR higher than 100 dBA
RME (Digiface and Fireface) are very good, and allow very accurate calibrations (e.g. changing sample rate outside the standard values of 44.100, 48.000, 96.000...), and also MOTU (828, Traveller) are very good, but these are mainly multichannel models, with 8+ in and out channels with DA and AD converters, so...it might not be useful for you to have so many channels (even if...in the future you might need them...you never know...).
Apogee DUET is a smaller interface...not too cheap (about 350 pounds) but the converters are very good...there is also a smaller version called ONE, which is half price and has anyway a stereo headphones output.
After these, there are many other cheaper interfaces from brands such as Presonus, M-Audio, Focusrite...I'd say that they are all ok...as said before, I'd just go for an interface with digitally controlled headphones output level, and not with a standard analogue knob, which makes it impossible to re-calibrate the levels in the same way in different sessions.
I hope it helps!
Dr. Lorenzo Picinali
Senior Lecturer in Music/Audio Technology
Faculty of Technology
De Montfort University, The Gateway
Leicester, LE1 9BH
Tel 0116 207 8051