I do not need something as advanced as the PreSonus FireStudio 26x26, which can handle up to 26 inputs simultaneously. For me a one/two inputs sound card is enough. However, I do want the same level of quality and amount of features as I would get from a high end card like the one mentioned above. In other words, I want a very advanced low end card. Do these things exist? Or do I have to buy one of the over kill ones? What are some external sound cards that fit this description?
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Can you be more specific about the specific features you need?
The quick answer is the Apogee One and Duet. They are more expensive than a used MOTU 828 mk2, but have a stellar reputation.
There are also plenty of high quality single channel USB interfaces designed for plugging into a single microphone. The Blue Icicle comes to mind immediately, but you are probably better off browsing the products at a place like B&H.