F-Control Audio FCA202
One of the best ways to improve the sound of audio recording is to use a FireWire or USB audio controller instead of an internal solution. Expect for the highly shielded pro-level gear, internal audio cards almost always introduce noise into recordings because there's a ton of electronic crosstalk happening inside your PC with all the fans and wires crammed into a tight space. The downside to FireWire solutions is they tend to be expensive.
Behringer breaks this mold with their F-Control Audio FCA202 FireWire Audio Controller, at a street price of around $80, with the next closest competitor starting in the $150 range. The controller includes 2 1/4-inch unbalanced inputs and 2 1/4-inch outputs, with an optional power supply (bus power is supported) and headphone jack on the front face. The compact size of the unit makes it perfect for traveling, but equally suited for a more permanent location in a podcast configuration or small recording studio. 24-bit 96Khz recording is more than enough headroom for most applications.
I only have two small complaints about the unit. There's no phantom power option, which means I can't plug in a microphone without an additional power source. The other missing piece is XLR connections, but considering the highly portable UB502 and UB802 mixers from Behringer lacks XLR outs, this probably won't matter in most cases (and you're still below the cost of competing solutions).
A Behringer Edition of Ableton Live Lite is included, which is an awesome audio app, along with a few other software options, although it's compatible with virtually any Mac or PC software solution. I successfully tested it with both Audacity and Adobe Audition. I'm extremely impressed with the packaging, which includes the FCA202, power cord, software and two FireWire cables.
Bottom Line: If you're already using another FireWire audio solution, you're not going to throw it out to get the FCA202. On the other hand, if you want better sound than the stock internal soundcard in your PC, this provides a better price-for-performance solution than anything else in the entry level audio recording class.