Sound Card Recommendations.

September 2, 2015 7:56 PM

I'm running Windows 7 Professional 64 and I'm looking for a decent sound card to replace the RealTek onboard audio.

I'm just looking for decent sound and the ability to monitor/record without bouncing tracks by default. Multiplexing, I guess is what I'm talking about. The onboard audio apparently can't do this, or I haven't found a way to get it to work, in any case (any tips or advice on that would be welcome, too.)

Computer's a Lenovo desktop (M90p) with available PCIe slot. I'd like to be able to do 96/24. Here's the old Newegg page about this systsem:

I've been reading about various cards there (and elsewhere) all evening without coming away with a solid sense of what would be a good choice, so thought I'd throw the question our here. I'm willing to pay a couple or three hundred dollars at this right now, but could sure use a little guidance. Thank you.
posted by metagnathous (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Talk to me about what you're trying to do. Record into what exactly? What music software are you using?

Even without knowing this, I'd strongly recommend that you consider a small outboard audio interface, which is a little box that plugs in via USB2, rather than a consumer soundcard. They tend to have instrument and mic jacks, with pre-amps to make them sound cleaner than going directly into a generic "mic input" on a sound card, as well as multiple digital and analog inputs and outputs. They'll phantom-power your mics too, if you have or want one that requires it.

These can be used for everyday Windows sounds too, YouTube, anything that makes sound on your computer can use this instead of the onboard audio, and you just plug speakers or headphones into it, and everything sounds beautiful. It's basically just a "step up" from consumer-level internal cards.

I use this little guy for EVERYTHING, including every piece of mine uploaded to MeFi Music. I can plug in 1 or 2 guitars and microphones, or a guitar and bass. It's all I need for high-level professional work, because I'm just composing and not recording / mixing entire bands. It was $250. Maybe the most trouble-free piece of gear I own!

I've also had really good luck with similar interfaces from Focusrite (Scarlett series) and MOTU, but M-Audio products have been nothing but driver issues and crashes for 10+ years, so I avoid them now. Really though, the Roland is freaking perfect.

The fact that it's USB and not PCIe doesn't matter -- audio is incredibly low bandwidth compared to e.g. graphics, and I regularly multitrack 100+ tracks in a single song with zero skips or glitches. Latency (meaning the time from when I pluck a guitar string to the time the sound is actually heard out of headphones) is under 5 milliseconds even with full effects and processing, which is important, because playing on a laggy audio setup is like talking on the phone when there's a delay in the connection. So you want the lowest possible latency when you're working in a digital audio workstation (including Garageband or Reason!) and a professional interface will solve this problem!

And yes, it'll let you hear everything as you record, either "clean" or "processed." Lets you bounce what you're hearing back into a pair of the inputs, internally without any cables, but that isn't a requirement in the workflow!

Good luck! And lemme know what you go with.
posted by jake at 1:04 AM on September 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thanks, jake. I do have a USB interface similar to the one you linked to (a Native Instruments Audio 6) I guess I need to spend more time familiarizing myself with it. I'll be using it to record electric guitar and bass, mostly, though also some computer generated sounds and samples as well.

In terms of software, right now I have Audacity and Reaper on this system, as well as the NI Elements programs that came with the USB interface. Just thought a better sound card might be a good investment, so I've been looking into the bewildering array of those available.

The RealTek onboard audio mixer seems limited to "stereo mix" and "line in" so that I can't seem to monitor a track without having it recorded onto any new tracks. I've been away from recording for a while, though, so much of this may be user error on my part. I'll try rerouting back through the NI and see how that works out.

Appreciate your response.
posted by metagnathous at 4:55 AM on September 5, 2015

I would agree with Jake here that a quality audio interface is your best bet (I like the focusrite scarlet series) and the NI 6 is a wonderful little device. You can monitor with a nice set of headphones AND a pair of monitors which is likely a better investment than a soundcard, there are outputs for both.

Monitoring music is what those things are designed for. You can tell easily audacity and reaper that your audio goes out to the NI box instead of your computer audio out.
posted by remlapm at 8:29 AM on September 14, 2015

Thanks, remlapm. I'll go with that recommendation and work to learn my way around the NI 6. Many thanks for both of your responses.
posted by metagnathous at 5:58 PM on September 14, 2015

Make sure you've got the ASIO drivers installed. If that doesn't sound familiar, just go here and search for "Komplete Audio 6." Download both the Device Updater and the driver and install them. Follow the instructions - usually it says to not plug in the KA6 until you are instructed to - and after everything is set up you should see the device show up in your Reaper audio preferences. At that point you will have all 6 inputs and outputs available simultaneously.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:17 AM on September 30, 2015

Thanks grumpybear69. I had downloaded the updater and tried it out, but didn't realize that the A6 needed to remain unplugged until prompted and just got a bunch of hangs and error messages. I'll give that another shot. Yeah, I'd love to have all the i/o working. Again, many thanks.
posted by metagnathous at 5:59 PM on October 25, 2015

I have the NI 6 and it's great, but be aware that you can't direct monitor inputs 3 and 4, even though it looks like you should be able to. You can probably get the computer to monitor them for you but there might be some latency.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:31 PM on October 29, 2015

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