How to choose your external sound card? visual

How to choose your external sound card?

For once, Moja-audio offers you today the opportunity to read a very interesting article on the choice of your external sound card, written by Bruno L'Espérance of Composersimplement.com.

If you don't have too much computer knowledge, your computer already has a sound card (internal) that leads the sound to an output (e.g. headphones or speakers). Generally, they are very basic and do not allow for good quality audio recording.

So, what's the solution? It's to get an external sound card! It will be a small box that you connect to your computer and then connect your instruments and microphones! So far, so good! The main problem is that there are tons of external sound cards on the market! So you don't really know which one to choose anymore. This is where I'll tell you about these famous audio interfaces! But just before that, let's look at the general characteristics!


The 7 main features of audio interfaces

1) Connection type

First of all, there is the connection with your computer. Of course, you must plug in your device to make it work! There are mainly 3 types of connections:
  • - USB: Probably the most common! It can be found on any computer! It has become a standard that is very stable in terms of IT.
  • - Firewire: Created by Apple, Firewire is useful for large projects that require multiple recordings.
  • - Thunderbolt: An Apple exclusive! The data transmission is larger than Firewire, but again, you will need one of the latest devices such as iMac and Macbook to have this kind of connection.




2) Power supply

In the case of power supply, your card may power itself once the connection is made or it may need another source (e. g. AC power socket). But right away, only large external sound cards with multiple inputs need additional power.

3) INs

If you have a microphone or instrument, you have to plug it in somewhere to record it! However, there are about 8 different inputs on an audio interface. The first 4 are analog (source emitted by a microphone, analog synth, etc.) and the next 4 are digital (digital data of course!).

  • - Jack: the classic guitar jack! You have some on your guitar, your bass and possibly a synthesizer!
  • - XLR: A 3-point input. It is the standard for microphones.
  • - Combo Jack/XLR: When I started learning more about home studio, I would have been surprised to see that it existed! It allows you to connect both an instrument and a microphone!
  • - RCA: White and red. That's how to spot them! Less used, but basic for small sound cards.
  • - MIDI: Even if MIDI is now mostly done via USB, you may have these inputs.
  • - SPDIF: A rather common input if we are talking about digital.
  • - AES/EBU: Improved version of the SPDIF!
  • - ADAT (optique): ADAT works by optical fiber and allows the recording of 8 simultaneous audio tracks!
Not sure what these 8 inputs look like? Here is a summary image (connection included!)!


4) OUTs

Well, I won't repeat myself, but among the 8 inputs that mainly exist, here are the possible outputs: Jack, XLR, RCA, SPDIF, MIDI, AES/EBU and ADAT.

5) Resolution (Bit depth)

Resolution is one of the 2 main characteristics of the converter. The latter will convert analog sound into digital sound. As a result, you will be able to work in your sequencer afterwards!

Now that the presentations are made, let's see what the resolution is. It defines the number of possible digital values that the measured analog value (electrical current) can take. Without venturing too far into the complexity of computing, imagine that you are watching a video on YouTube and that the resolution is 720p. This value will give a better image quality than 240p, will it not?

It's the same with music. The higher the resolution, the higher the sound quality will be. Measured in bits, the standard resolution of the audio interfaces is between 16 and 24 bits.

6) Sampling rate

The sampling rate is measured in Hertz. It represents the number of samples used per second. Once again, without venturing too far into computer science, remember that the higher the rate, the better the sound of your track will be. If there is 96 kHz, there will be a larger information processing than at 44.1 kHz.

*** For good sound quality, I recommend at least 44.1 kHz/24 bits. You can thank me later! ***

7) Preamps

The preamplifier concerns the volume level. It is mandatory as soon as you want to use a microphone, which by nature outputs a very weak signal. To put yourself in context, imagine that you are listening to a track that has been recorded at low volume. What will be your first reflex to hear better? Turn up the sound! However, the action you have just taken will have repercussions: more audible background noise and risk of sound distortion, to name a few! This is where the preamp comes in: by increasing the volume on the preamp, you will repel background noise and you can record a better sound quality of your track!

Make your choice according to your needs

Some teachers and studio advisors advise you to choose the biggest external sound card" in case" your work starts to get more serious. It's just marketing! No, I don't agree with that thought... Instead, I'll tell you to evaluate your type of studio work, your needs and then you buy! But how do you assess your needs? Here are my recommendations:

Connections to your computer: If you are working on a PC, chances are that your connection for an audio interface is USB. But look at the back of your computer to be sure.
Usage: The ultimate question! If you record track by track with your synthesizer, your needs will not be the same as a group recording all in the same room!
What are you recording?: Guitar, voice, drums, synthesizer? Depending on your goals, you will need different inputs!
Hardware compatibility: If you have a small sound card, your outputs may be limited if you have large monitoring speakers. That's an example....
Space: I don't need to add any more!
Budget: The eternal question... But assess your previously mentioned needs first.

Summary

So, we have seen that there are several external sound cards in addition to the characteristics to be taken into account. In addition, every composer who wants to have a home studio must evaluate his needs first before making his purchase. But I hope I've given you enough information to make your choice better! Is there anything else I haven't talked about? Do you have any questions? Any comments? Different sound cards to recommend? Write to me below and I will read you!