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Soundcard advice

Discussion in 'Pete's Computer Corner' started by jbtsax, Nov 16, 2015.

  1. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    I am getting a new pc computer and would like to get a quality sound card. Does anyone have any recommendations?
  2. There are many :)

    Is it a laptop or a desktop?

    What do you want to do with it? Just listen to music? Record?
    If record, how?
    What kind of speakers do you want to connect to it?
  3. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member


    I want to do both. I have been using Audacity with a Shure 57 with a usb adapter.
    I have Klipsch THX powered speakers at the present time and Sennheiser HD558 headphones.
  4. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Administrator Staff Member Administrator

  5. I'd get a USB soundcard anyway, though you have some other options for desktops like an internal card... but I wouldn't bother with it.

    How many channels at most do you want to record simultaneously?
    I assume you want to be able to connect both PL (1/4") and XLR cables to your sound card?

    What kind of plug goes into the speakers' input?
  6. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    You guys are quickly going over my head. :) Not more than 2 channels----usually 1. There is a light green1/8" plug from the speaker with the volume control that goes into the back of the sound card. I don't necessarily need either the 1/4" or the XLR inputs on the sound card. Plugging the mic in through USB seems to work fine and is simple to do in my set-up.
  7. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Administrator Staff Member Administrator

    I have a lovely USB mic that I've never figured out how to use, so don't feel bad about the technology knowledge. Mostly it's about reading and catching from last week when you were up to date. ;)
  8. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    I also say that external would probably be best.

    I'm very happy with my Scarlett Solo ($99 new, $60ish used). It's got one of the best preamps for mics (allegedly) and you can plug in something else, too:

    It also doesn't feel "cheap" in any way. Metal case. Ranked #6 on Amazon for "Computer Recording Audio Interfaces." There's also a step-up unit that has MIDI for $175 new, $125 used.

    The Focusrite Scarlett products also seem to be one of the standard sound devices for a lot of music software, so there's that, too.

    Oh. Guitar Center coupon codes, if you're going for used.

    * Speaker connectors on the Solo are RCA and you're supposed to connect two speakers (left and right). However, you could get an adapter for the 1/4" microphone jack if you don't have separate cables for left & right speakers.
  9. OK, if you only need two channels at the same time then most of the mini USB sound cards would work. BTW if you're looking on web stores they are usually called "audio interfaces"... :)

    The outputs on Pete's card are similar on most other cards too i.e. you have either RCA or PL/XLR outputs. I don't know if any half decent sound card has anything other than that, so you'll need the correct cable anyway (e.g. two 1/4" combined into one 1/8").

    Most of the sound cards I know actually don't have USB input for a USB microphone, so I'm not sure how you would do that. I don't know if you connect the mic directly to the computer the sound card would have any effect on the recording. I'm pretty sure won't but not sure.

    If all you want to do is connect the sound card between the computer and speakers and your speakers are pretty much regular computer speakers (even if a decent type for what they are), then I'm not sure I would bother with a better sound card. It's only really worth it if you can use its advantages (recording and/or listening).

    If you do get one, a lot of companies make small ones, usually with at least two inputs, each with its on specific advantages and disadvantages (mainly in interface/controls/drivers and less important difference in sound though they vary in that respect too). some of the more known ones are Roland, Presonus, Focusrite, Alesis, Apogee MOTU, RME (and the last three are some of the better companies and might not make really small ones). There are many others so just because I didn't include a company doesn't mean it's worse, it's a random list of those I just remembered now.
    I suggest to check that whatever yo uget works with your computer (some only work with Apple for example) and read on its drivers, reviews, etc.
    I can tell you the two specific annoying things about the one I use but also why I bought it anyway. It's best to get what fits you best.
  10. jbtsax

    jbtsax Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    Thanks for all of the advice and suggestions. The main thing I learned is that I have a lot to learn. :)
  11. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    Every time I go to upgrade some piece of electronic something or another, I feel exactly the same way. Currently going through that with our smart phones. We have 2: a Blackberry that I love, and an Android that I'm not very fond of.

    All are friends are telling us to go to an IPhone, but I'm doing my research and checking out all the phones--not to mention all the carriers and their plans. It's enough to make your head go...

    Exlploding head warning sign_edited-1.gif
  12. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    TL; DR: Get an iPhone with 32gb or more. If you need a data plan, make sure you get a big enough one!


    I work for a company with approximately 20,000 users. We have 90% iPhone and 10% Android. Allegedly, 90% of the calls for phone troubleshooting come from the Android users. So, take that for what it's worth. We have maybe a half dozen Windows Phones and Blackberries. These are so unpopular, I'd never get one.

    If you don't mind a slightly wonky white iPhone 5c -- the very top of the display has white image defects, but otherwise works OK -- I can send you it, but you'd have to get your own service, of course :).

    I have an iPhone 5S as my work phone. That's two models ago, but still runs the current iOS software (9.1). While I don't particularly like the layout of the Podcast app, I do like the fact that I can press a button and tell Siri to do something and she generally does it right. I haven't even tried the Google digital assistant, which is essentially the voice control on the Android phones, but can also be used on the Mac. That might be interesting.

    My opinion on Android phones is that you should get either a Samsung, because they make almost everyone's cell phone guts, or what's specifically mentioned on Google's Phones page. The Google-authorized phones and tablets are generally (always) called "Nexus" and generally have a couple numbers or letters after that. These should be the most compatible with the current version of Android -- called "Marshmallow" or 6.0 -- and will probably do just fine with Android 7 and 8 when those come out. After that, it's more or less your preferences: do you want a really big screen? Sharper screen? Better camera? Fingerprint scanner? Etc.

    I do recommend that you get at least 32gb storage. Just the operating system and the built-in apps will total almost 16gb. Data plan? I really don't use my phone for web browsing much, but I do use the GPS quite often. My usage is currently at 8.2gb this month. I do have an unlimited/unlimited plan through work. I'm fairly sure it's $140 a month. We also have the "warranty" where if the phone breaks, you get another of the same make/model. There is a sensor in iPhones that will trip if it's dunked in water, so that's not covered. My wife, who doesn't work where I do and has a different cell provider, has some breakage protection plan, and can get a new phone after 2 or so years. My daughter got an iPhone 6 from her grandparents and broke it. She's going to have to get the screen replaced because there's no breakage plan. That's about $100. Yes, I could replace it myself for a lot less, but I don't want to. Those screws are really, really small.

    FWIW, I hate the phone call quality on ALL smartphones. When I had a Motorola flip phone several years ago, it was an awful lot clearer and an awful lot cheaper than my iPhone.
  13. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    Thanks Pete for the wealth for info!

    Yes, I'm looking at the 5S. Good to know about the 32gb storage. Yeah, I'm not big on using it for web browsing. Personally, I must say, I do like the Blackberry. It has incredibly clear sound. It sounds like I'm talking on a landline. The problem is that the phone is approaching nearly 4 years old--in March--and if I don't get another Blackberry now, chances are, I might not be able to get one if I opt for a different brand. I'm thinking of the Blackberry Classic. I do like the keypad for texting.

    The sole reason for the iPhone is their apps for communicating with other iPhone users. I have friends in other parts of the world--most notably Africa--who don't have access to wifi. I can Skype with my European friends and family, but with Tanya who is constantly be moved from one African country to another for her job, iPhone communications is really the only way to stay in touch.

    What annoys me is that I currently have an old plan with Virgin, and if I get a new phone, I have to get a new plan. Any new plan wouldn't be nearly as good as what I have now... Isn't it always the way? Yah, I'll have more data--that I'll never use--but I'll have to pay more for unlimited long distance. My charges with Virgin will basically double per month... And that doesn't count the cost of the phone. If I go with a different carrier for double what I pay now, I'll get 2 phones plus unlimited long distance and a shared data bucket.

    I'm waiting for the Black Friday sales. Apparently there are some good deals coming, so we'll see...
  14. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Administrator Staff Member Administrator

    Helen, I loved my WinFone. When I became a social media contractor (yeah, I know, what is that?) I *had* to go to iPhone to get the apps I use daily to do my job. The iPhone just works for me, I'm on a two year old 5s. I do get the dreaded "Sim failure" message once or twice a week, actually it been popping up more than that lately. But then I just do a hard reboot and I'm fine. If I don't happen to see the SIM failure error message, I get no more phone calls until I reboot. My phone is on 24/7, and I have a very limited data plan, but I just don't travel that much so I'm on wireless 99% of the time. Since I only get 3 to 4 calls a day on average, my battery never goes below 50% which is nice. I do look up stuff a lot and YELP two or three times a day. So maybe my usage is really low compared to yours. Good Luck.
  15. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

    It will soon be impossible for BlackBerry to lose more market share. That's literally the first link I saw when I Googled "Blackberry Market Share." I really can't recommend a device from a company that might close its doors, like, tomorrow. Unless, of course, Virgin will personally transfer your BB data to a different smartphone if your BB dies. (FWIW, I had two or three BBs during my time at my current job. I liked the idea of the little trackball. Sucks that it kept breaking.) That's the same thing I can say about Windows Phone, even though the four people I know that have 'em love 'em.

    Helen and Jim, the 5S is two model versions ago (superseded by the 6, then 6S). The 5C I mentioned above -- and will be happy to ship out, BTW -- is essentially a 4S in a different plastic case. 5S is free with your plan? Good deal. Have to pay $100+? Shoot for a 6.

    Apple tends to make significant upgrades in the speed of their iPhones and iPads. If you use the iPad 2 as the base, the iPad 3 is about twice as fast, and the iPad 4 is about twice as fast as the 3. You get the idea. That can make a lot of difference. Also, the batteries have been getting better and better -- and old batteries are designed to hold a charge for less and less time.
  16. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

    Quite frankly, for the amount of browsing I do on my phone, a "dumb phone" would do me fine. I am OK without being able to connect. That said, texting would be a bi#!*. Of course, a flip phone would also not get me to the iPhone's communications apps... :emoji_rage:
  17. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

    (back to the original question)
    For what it's worth, eg the Zoom H1 can be used independently, or as an USB microphone (which does the analog-digital conversion for you), hence you don't have to rely on your (built-in) audio card's accuracy.
    Per the output, I found out that most sound cards (when combined with reasonable speakers) do pretty well, so no need to for a top-end playback device, unless, of course, you are a hi-fi freak who has thumb-thick speaker cables made of virgins' hair and whatnot.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2015
  18. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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