MJ101: What Is A Sound Card?
We here at Music Junkie want to help you to answer some of the most common questions we get asked. First up, what is a sound card? We have all the answers for you!
The world of computer recording can be an intimidating place to a beginner, and we here at Music Junkie would like to help make it as easy as possible for you by answering some of the most common questions, beginning with probably the most common of all!
What is a sound card?
A sound card is one of the integral parts of a modern computer. Without a sound card, your computer would have no audio inputs or outputs - that means no speakers or microphones. No watching movies, no chatting with friends on Skype, and, most importantly, no music production!
What types of sound card are there?
There are three main types - onboard, internal and external. Onboard sound cards are usually found in laptops and are so called because they are integrated into the motherboard - a non-removable option that takes up very little space but also offers very basic connectivity, usually just a microphone and headphone socket. An internal sound card is found in a desktop computer, ranging from very basic to incredibly advanced depending on how much you want to spend - if you build your PC yourself, thic can be an agonising decision! Most pre-built PCs come with an internal sound card with a basic to mid-level connectivity, including mic in, speaker out, headphone out and line out. External sound cards are often referred to as audio interfaces, and these are the most popular from a music production point of view. They connect to your computer via USB or firewire and allow a wide range of inputs and outputs including XLR, line, optical and MIDI depending on which one you go for.
Okay, so what type of sound card should I go for?
As I mentioned above, external sound cards (or audio interfaces) are usually te choice for the music producer, partially because of their usefulness in both studio and live settings. If you're making music at home, often you'll be playing several parts yourself. This means you probably want one of two options - either a sound card with a lot of inputs and outputs so you can leave everything set up and ready, or at the very least something easily accessible so you don't need to keep reaching blindly around to the back of your computer every time you need to swap an input over. In a live scenario, audio interfaces provide handy outputs that will be venue-friendly in a small, portable package that means you can take your laptop rather than a beefy desktop to a gig. Oh, and one other thing - audio interfaces often provide phantom power for condenser microphones, whereas internal sound cards tend not to! Without phantom power, most condenser microphones won't work at all.
Which external sound card is right for me?
This depends on what you're doing and what your budget is. If you're running a very small simple set-up at home, or just want a handy little way of getting sound out to a venue at a gig, consider smaller interfaces like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or Saffire 6 USB. If you're recording several musicians at once, the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6, Saffire Pro 24 or Akai EIE Pro offer more inputs, as well as more outputs for a more advanced monitoring set-up - easy to hear how your mix sounds on different speakers! If you've got a lot to record but also want a great live set-up for multiple musicians consider the Alesis MultiMix 16 USB 2.0, and if you're serious about your studio, check out the Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 or the Liquid Saffire 56, which offers an incredble 28 inputs and 28 outputs!
Want to know more? Drop us an email or give us a call on 01162 625 625 and we'd be happy to help you, or pop in to our flagship music store in Leicester and we'll show you our full range.