A monitoring front end - and back end too
Why do we record on computers these days? Because they're cheap, that's why - no other reason. The amount of trouble they cause would be an excellent reason to ditch them in favor of dedicated hardware, but then that might cost tens of thousands of dollars - maybe more - to achieve the same end result.
So, given that we are almost obliged to use computers for recording, and particularly for detailed editing, what can we do to make our lives easier?
Firstly the usual yada yada about dedicating a computer to recording - always backup before installing new software, and try to change the configuration as little as possible and just get on with your music.
But next, we could consider the parts of the process that the computer doesn't handle - input signal conditioning and monitoring. These are two aspects of recording that are impossible to handle with software alone.
So now we are seeing a new concept in the market, which I don't think has an official name yet. Some manufacturers have ventured the term 'recording front end', but actually their products feature a 'back end' too, so that isn't quite right.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, as Shakespeare said, and what these devices provide is genuinely useful - a microphone preamplifier, processing such as EQ and compression, and a monitoring controller with outputs for headphones and a power amplifier. And of course a volume control.
Connecting this one unit to your sound card creates a logical easy-to-use system, and at least some of your interaction with the audio is through a knob and button interface rather than mouse and keyboard.
I predict many more of these units to come. In fact, every manufacturer should have one!