Sound cards creates a bridge from the live
performance of an instrument to your digital recording system. As such it's a
very important component of your overall recording environment.
have a sound card included with your PC then you should seriously consider
replacing that with one designed specifically for use in recording applications
- since the bundled PC cards fail to come close to even CD standards of signal
to noise ratio.
This article covers 7 key factors you must know about
selecting an audio interface card if you want to avoid throwing your money down
Computer Sound Cards
If you do need to use the PC sound
card, at least to start, here's what to look out for.
Many PC cards come
with line level miniature jack connectors for use to connect to computer
speakers or to an external amplifier.
There may be a separate headphone
socket, or you may be expected to use the same output for either speakers or
Typically, you'll find 3 types of input:
This is designed for use with computer microphones.
Don't use it with a recording microphone. This may be a surprise to you. The
reason is that your precious sound may become rather distorted - because most
recording mics are not matched to the input specification of a computer sound
* Joystick or MIDI port
With an adapter you can hook
up a keyboard or other MIDI device to it
* Line input
this input can be used for recording, at least with some suitable sources.
o it will generally not be compatible with recording microphones of any kind, or
low level outputs from instruments (Guitar and Bass), or any instrument
amplifier speaker outputs.
o it can however be used with anything
that has a line level output (Keyboard line output, instrument amp line outputs
(Guitar, Bass) CD player outputs etc. To use this, you'll probably need an
adapter to convert your 1/4" connectors to fit the 1/8" sockets.
as you can afford it, buy a professional sound card. You'll get much better
quality recordings as a result.
Professional Sound Cards
when you are researching which sound card is suitable for your needs, ask
yourself about the kind of use you'll put it to:
What will you use it
1. The overall number of inputs you will need for recording?
Will you record with any microphones? If yes, consider whether you also need a
3. What is the maximum budget you are willing to spend for that
What Technical Specifications Matter most to you?
Sound card specs are typically summarized in terms of:
* sample rate
* interface or connection type
1. Sample Rate
* if your sound card is rate locked at 48 kHz, and you
want to record at 44.1 kHz (standard sampling rate for music CD's) the soundcard
has to perform 2 conversions - on both input and on output before the sound
reaches your ears.
* On each conversion, there is a loss of quality of
the sound. Also, these additional steps can cause recording problems with tracks
sounding out of time.
Avoid rate-locked sound cards
* Professional sound cards don't become out-dated as fast as
their consumer equivalents.
* So you must consider your likely future
plans for recording, and take account of this in you buying decisions.
Think in terms of a five year equipment life time.
3. Quality balance
with other critical components
* No point in spending a large amount
on a top-end sound card, yet skimping in other areas such as monitors, mics or
recording software. You won't get professional sound quality that way, and you
won't be able to tell the difference!
* Marrying a high end sound card
with low end recording gear will prevent you from realizing its potential by
producing an inferior quality signal.
Aim for consistency of quality
through out the components you select for your recording studio.
an "Audio Interface" suite your needs better?
Software developers like
Digidesign and Steinberg offer audio interfaces that are becoming the preferred
option among musicians instead of a standard soundcard. So what's the
* Audio Interfaces have what's called a breakout box,
hardware separate from the computer but attached to it via a PCI slot or
o Major benefit - you don't have to crawl
around under the desk to reach the connectors!
* An audio interface
contains a variety of connectors to handle multiple connections from
microphones, instruments, and mixers of monitor system.
* Some audio
Interfaces also feature balanced inputs, meaning you don't have to get that XLR
to 1/8" Jack adapter to plug into your sound card, which will never produce as
clean of a recording. You can just plug it in normally into the audio interface.
* Audio Interfaces will usually also include a microphone preamp and phantom
power (required for Condenser Microphones)
So - to create the
cleanest recording environment, go for an audio interface, with balanced
1. Make sure the sample rate spec is adequate
for the output media you plan to use; avoid rate-locked products.
your investment by selecting professional products rather than the consumer
3. Keep component choices in balance throughout the overall
4. Consider audio interfaces for the benefit of easier
connectivity, and additional functionality.
About the Author
For more great
sound card tips, click the link. Still wasting hard-earned cash buying the
wrong gear? Ken's website
Home Music Recording is a gold-mine of practical help on building or
operating your recording studio. Ken helps people make better choices of gear
for your music style and budget.