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?
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.