Note: In this report we don’t make a distinction between sound card and digital audio interface. When we talk of sound card it means audio interfaces also.

Sound card options

Budget sound cards meant mainly for gaming, comes with line in and mic in. Though the line input may be good enough, the mic input may not have the quality or sensitivity needed for serious vocal or instrumental recording. If you want to use a condenser microphone, the phantom power on the card maybe unreliable too.

I have a MOTU 828mkII. (Here is MOTU 828mk3Firewire Audio Interface). It has ten inputs. I used the inputs to plug in two mics, keyboard stereo in and guitar processors stereo in at the same time. All ten inputs were used when recording drums.

I used a MAudio Delta 1010 LT before MOTU 828. If I were to get another sound card, i would try a Focusrite.

Selecting a sound card

Selecting a sound card or audio interface depends on what you want to record with it.

To record your vocals all you need is one mic input – usually the XLR input.

Most sound cards don't come with just one XLR input; they have two xlr inputs minimum. Get a sound card with 2 XLRs, plugin your mic to one of the XLRs and you are ready to record your vocals.

Check for Motu, Focusrite or MAudio sound cards. Have a look at the features and the prices. You will notice that excellent equipment is available for affordable prices, making it easier than ever to get started with recording your music. (I keep talking about the MOTU, Focusrite and MAudio, because they are known for their quality while many of their products are accessible to us at a low budget. )

Connecting Sound cards

MAudio delta 1010 LT has a PCI connector. We need to open the CPU cabin and connect the sound card to a PCI slot inside.
Modern sound cards come with USB or Firewire connectivity which is convenient. You just plug into your USB or Firewire port, turn on the sound card, start.

Preamp

Mic connected to a preamp is the starting point of the recorded signal. Having a good preamp – mic combination has a lot of importance in the recording chain.

A good preamp

  • has plenty of headroom especially useful when used with high sensitivity condenser mics.
  • is  electrically quiet
  • has clarity and transparency as priority.

Focusrite and Motu are known for their preamp excellence.

Phantom power switch or button

Condenser mics need 48V phantom power supply. If you intend to use a condenser mic, make sure that you buy a sound card with phantom power supply. Most sound cards with preamp come with phantom power supply.

Microphone preamps

If you need just two preamps with phantom power supply, one of the cheapest options is to get M Audio Buddy, a budget microphone preamp. This is a good option if you already have a sound card with preamps and you need more preamps.

If you don’t already have a sound card and want to use phantom powered preamps, it is better to buy a sound card with midi ports and other facilities instead of a preamp box. Sound card will have midi ports which you can use with a midi keyboard if you need.

Latency value of sound card

What is Latency of sound cards?

Latency is the small amount of time it takes the sound card to carry an input, process the information and get it back out to the outputs. When monitoring a record enabled track, there may be some amount of latency.

This latency can be reduced to a level that is unnoticeable.

  1. In your sequencer, go to the device settings and choose the right ASIO driver.
  2. Then configure the hardware driver from your control panel to change the Samples Per Buffer setting allowing you to reduce the latency to where it isn't noticeable.

For example, 4ms is a relatively small latency value. This makes the processor work a little harder. The number of tracks you are playing back, amount of effects you are running, and what machine you are using, will determine the minimum amount of samples per buffer you can set while recording a effects monitoring enabled track.

Alternatively, there will be an option for direct hardware play through in most soundcards. This means the input is routed directly to it's corresponding output while allowing you to record. In this case we can’t listen to the effects we have placed on our track. In direct hardware monitoring, you will have little or NO latency regardless of buffer settings (depending on which audio interface you have).

The latency value should be low enough for the singer to feel comfortable when monitoring the output from your audio interface. Nobody can give their best performance when what's coming back through the headphones is delayed to a noticeable degree.

A buffer size of 128 amounts to a latency of around four milliseconds (by the time you've added in the delay attributable to the A-D and D-A converters) at 44.1kHz and 48kHz sample rates — roughly the time it takes sound to travel four feet. Most singers don't perceive this delay.

Most computer audio systems are happy to work with buffer sizes of 128 samples or lower, but you may need to increase the buffer size if the computer is being forced to work particularly hard.

Two settings To use the computer resources to the best, when using soft synths, or during playback, we could use 512 samples buffer sizes, with a larger latency value. When recording vocals or when latency has to be kept to a minimum, change the buffer size to 128 samples, reducing the latency value so that the monitoring is not affected.

When you schedule your work properly, you can get the work done by having to change between the two settings a few number of times.

Freeze the vst instrument plugin

Software instruments place the greatest drain on CPU. In all the main sequencers there is a feature to freeze the software instrument hence freeing the Cpu.

When you freeze, the software midi channel is recorded as a wave, and the cpu does not have to make the calculations to play the midi through the vst instrument.

There are some VST plugins which create delays from the way they are meant to work, bringing latency into the recording.

Sound cards to start with

Here are two good audio interface options to start you with :

Two preamps : Vocals + One more (guitar) : Focusrite Saffire 6 USB Audio Interface Featuring Two Focusrite Pre-Amplifiers

With two preamp inputs, you have the provision to connect two mics – you need just one for your vocals.

You can use the other for another mic if needed, to record acoustic instruments or to connect your electric guitar direct.

This sound card is one of the best choices for anyone wanting to record vocals in their modern home studio.

Vocals + one more preamp + two analog inputs Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 Firewire Audio Interface

You can connect one mic to each of the two preamps. Then you can use the two analog inputs to connect your keyboard or guitar processor stereo outs.

Focusrite products are among the best in the class.

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