In today’s audio recording market, there are many options available when choosing a sound card. In this recording arts blog, we will learn some Audio Engineering Tips about choosing a sound card that'll be right for your recording studio!
First, let me suggest that you purchase an interface and not a strict sound card. The term 'sound card' typically refers to a PCI audio card that is installed inside of a PC. There are sound cards, such as Sound Blaster, still available, but these are not typically the best routes to go when purchasing studio gear.
What most people in the recording industry tend to use is called an interface. An interface typically has A/D (analog to digital) and D/A (digital to analog) converters, several different audio inputs and outputs for connecting speakers and studio gear. Many times, they have built in mic preamplifiers, and they usually connect to your computer with USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt, or some other peripheral connector. This means you don’t usually have to install any physical parts in your computer.
A Million Different Choices…
Now that we have some recording arts terminology to work from, let’s talk about choosing an audio interface and which might be best for you. As with anything in the recording industry, your choice should be based on what you need and where you are going.
One thing to consider when choosing an audio interface is that most of your sound quality in digital recording is at the mercy of the interfaces A/D and D/A converters. That is to say a really cheap converter typically results in a really cheap sounding recording. When you listen to professional recordings, the converters used are very high end and many times, very expensive.
How Many Inputs Are Enough?
A good thing to keep in mind when choosing an audio interface is how many instruments or vocals you need to be able to record at once. Are you recording bands, singer/songwriters, solo vocalists, choirs, etc.? If you are just recording one vocalist at a time or a rapper making a mix tape recording over mp3 beats, you will only need one input. On the other hand, recording a band or choir will take many microphones at once. A drum kit alone can easily take up 8-16 inputs, luckily there are interfaces with 24 or even 32 inputs, and many others can be chained together.
Along with inputs, you may want to consider if the interface comes with mic pre’s for all of the channels or if you will need to get your own pre’s to record multiple signals. If you only need one or two inputs, then there are many interfaces on the market that can easily be demoed at your local music store. If you need 8 or more inputs, there are still many choices, but the price will obviously go up with the number of inputs and outputs.
Speaking of outputs, that is another big factor in choosing an interface that works for you. Are you mixing “in the box”, using a console, mixing in surround, or sending stems to some other analog summing gear? These are all questions that will help you find the best audio interface for your studio.
What’s In A Name?
Now that we have a good idea of how to determine the type and size of interface we want, we can take a look at some common brands used in the recording industry. An interface can cost thousands, so obviously you get what you pay for. I really don’t like giving exact recommendations, because opinions on gear and recording techniques are very subjective, but I will list some very competitive products and industry standards.
Apogee has become a recording arts industry standard over the years. They once were only accessible through high end recording studios and well beyond the price of most home studios. Now, Apogee offers several budget minded interfaces that offer great portability matched with the famous Apogee converters and a decent pre amplifier. Check out the Duet and Solo here.