Friday, November 21st, 2008...5:54 pm

Tracks 101 – Soundcards: WDM, ASIO, GSIF, Core Audio, JACK and ALSA

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L.A. Proper Tracks 101 LogoRound 2: Fight! Sound cards, the ins and outs of your digital studio. a Sound card is the main way of getting audio into an computer in a digital medium. your basic sound card can handle mono to 7.1 sound and usually has a joystick port which will take in midi, with the right adapter cable.

Your basic sound card also is not capable of recording and playing back at the same time, at least without special software, such as ASIO, GSIF or JACK.

Some sound cards have DSPs (small processors dedicated for audio conversion) which work in conjunction with their software drivers to provide digital conversion on both the in and out signals of the sound card. Some DSPs also have software VSTs and effects to work in conjunction with them, and are usually pretty good.

When looking for a sound card features you want to investigate are:

Thats a lot of stuff to investigate, so lets first figure out what type of sound card you need to get started.

Here are some questions im going to ask a lot in the Tracks 101 series; What do you want to accomplish/what are your goals? Do you want to be a Producer or MC? What is your Budget?

if you are just an MC, you might not even need a good sound card, this is because you more then likely will be buying a USB microphone, which will take care of almost everything you need in the recording department, however it will not let you monitor in Real-time. Plus you wont be able to use many effects plugins.

If you are a beat maker, and do not plan on making anything more then just a few beats here and there, then you can go with a basic ASIO based soundcard. (most high end consumer sound cards will have what you need)

if you are planning on Recording live bands with multiple audio inputs and/ or becoming a hardware based beat maker, then you will want to go with a high end pro-grade sound card. this sounds expensive but this sometimes is the most cost effective route to go.

Now the other major factor to consider, is your budget. if you do not have much money, you will want to go with a cheap sound card and software ASIO/JACK drivers, or a used pro-grade sound card. however if you have the money, dont cheap yourself. get something that you will be happy with and will work out of the box.

if you want a protools rig, you can get an mbox series interface, however did you know you can also run protools LE /M-powered on other m-audio soundcards?

the M-audio Delta 66 and Delta 1010 are available for about $100-200, they are PCI based cards and have great digital audio converters, they however do not have XLR connectors or for that matter mic-pres. So while this would be great for a hardware based beat maker, a recording engineer or producer wouldn’t do so well with this as a out-of-the-box solution.

So that being said, what type of instruments/devices are you planning to connect to your sound card?

if you want to use instruments, samples, keyboards, amps or some microphones; then include a TRS jack for each channel/instrument you want to record.

if you want to record from a microphone, or mixer, or want a balance output for monitor speakers, then you will want to see if your sound card has XLR inputs and/or outputs.

Now these days, you can get a mixer with a mic-preamp, a usb audio connector and 12-16 channels of input for around $150. The reason why most of the time this will not work, is because these setups take those 12-16 channels of audio and mix them down to stereo out, or 2 channels out. There are some mixers out there that do not do this stereo downmix but they are more expensive. This setup will work for MCs who just want to record a mic and do not have a usb microphone. you can get a simple TRS to 2x TS cable for the main out of your mixer to the line in port of your regular sound card. that hardware setup plus ASIO4all or some other open source ASIO driver is a great startup setup for an MC.

Ok, so you dont want a basic system, you want a system that provides you with all the basics for producing that next hot track. you will be looking for these features:

powered XLR input, TRS input and output, an onboard DSP, ASIO drivers, USB 2.0, Firewire or PCI computer interface, and at least 24bit DACs.

you will be looking to spend at least $100 for used pro-grade equipment and $100-200 for new prosumer grade equipment. you can find a decent used prosumer grade sound card for under $100 on ebay, but i wouldnt recommend that route unless you have no money to spend, and can not deal with software ASIO drivers.

here are a few cards i would recommend for MCs and small setups:

Emu 0404used these cards are as low as $20 on ebay

M-Audio Fast Track – compatible with protools m-powered. and i have seen deals with this device and two MXL mics for $99 at guitar center.

MBox 2 based packages – by themselves they usually are overpriced, but through in the rest of the studio for only about $150 and then its worth it.

-Musicians friend has one going for $400

Other good sound cards include:

Emu 1212m

M-Audio Audiophile 192

M-Audio Delta 1010LT

And lastly, i would look for these sound cards used:

RME HDSP 9652

MOTU 2408 Mk3 (although mk2 is also a great product) – was able to get two 2408 mkIIs for $150

Digidesign 003 LE (or 002)

RME Fireface 800

Digidesign Digi 003

Echo Layla 3G

Now with most of these cards i would get a small mixer with a microphone preamp and phantom power.

the reason why, is because you more then likely will get a better preamp in the mixer, you get phantom power, you will have a balanced signal and because you have the most control over your sound this way.

So, now that you have an idea of what to look for when selecting a sound card, here are a few sound card lists from Tweakheadz.

PCI Based Sound Card Comparison

Firewire Based Sound Card Comparison

USB 2.0 Based Sound Card Comparison

and lastly, a FAQ about sound cards from Tweakheadz.com

i included the last link, because they go into more detail about specs and because they have a lot of great information.

I hope my sound card rambling has helped point you in the right direction, and as always remember Protools isn’t always the answer, but it isn’t a bad alternative.

-Proper

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22 Responses to “Tracks 101 – Soundcards: WDM, ASIO, GSIF, Core Audio, JACK and ALSA”

  1. 1
    Vote -1 Vote +1mrpink
    Says:

    ZZz….?? People must just not know about this thing.

  2. 2
    Vote -1 Vote +1KillaGreen
    Says:

    I been working on getting my sound better & better day by day & yeah it helped….Good Lookin L.A. Proper…

  3. 3
    Vote -1 Vote +1jackhammer
    Says:

    yo This is what i needed help with now i know what i gotta get for my new mic THANKS DUDE XLR For Samson, But Not sure where to buy the hook up and then the extention.. to plug in the back of my pc

  4. 4
    Vote -1 Vote +1jackhammer
    Says:

    any sites or stores proper that i should check out? any music stores.. i kno of is all the way in NC Far and im in SC bottem lol.. Soo i gotta get it off tha net.. any sites

  5. 5
    Vote -1 Vote +1black92ice
    Says:

    how you know sooo much. you must of been in school for a while?
    thanks for the tips tho!

  6. 6
    Vote -1 Vote +1dngcat
    Says:

    i downloaded asio for all it seems to be working ok but does anybody know much about it ?is it any good??

  7. 7
    Vote -1 Vote +1g_hosa_phatz the great dt's most paid
    Says:

    i been sayin’this to cats since the giddy up…invest in your self..if you dont who will..yada!

  8. 8
    Vote -1 Vote +1HAZMAT
    Says:

    YO PROPER THX FOR ALL THE INFO…IM REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO HEARING ABOUT VOCAL EFX WHEN USING NUENDO PLUG INS…I HOPE U DESCRIBE WAHT THEY ALL DO CUS I FEEL IF I KNEW WHAT THEY DID IT WOULD DEFINETLY MAKE MY RECORDINGS BETTER PEACEOUT FAM ….GETTING READY TO HAVE MY FIRST TRACK THAT I NEED TO CLEAR SAMPLES ON DO I DO THAT BEFORE OR AFTER COPYRIGHTING THE TRACK?

  9. 9
    Vote -1 Vote +1Proper
    Says:

    -jackhammer, if you are a member of ASCAP or BMI, then you will get about 20% discount from musciansfriend.com and b&H or JR’s. if you arent a member then i would suggest any of the normal sites… http://www.sweetwater.com zzounds.com, musciansfriend.com

    -black92ice, never went to school. =)

    -dngcat – i used this for years and still use it on my cheap laptop. it works great for making beats, or basic recording, but you need a higher end system to do anything more. also if you are running vista, there are known bugs.

    -HAZMAT – clearing samples is usually for when you are gonna distribute the song/music. if you are just copyrighting, you technically have to refer to the original work sampled, but thats about it.

  10. 10
    Vote -1 Vote +1twentyii
    Says:

    damn bro u good at this haha! thanks for all the infos man…

    im running an onboard HD soundcard, and ASIO is all I need! basically, ASIO provides the lowest latency for recording on PCs.. especially for my guitar recordings and to use realtime software amp modules..

    but yo proper, besides ASIO do u know of any other drivers that have lower latencies and much more stable? i installed ASIO 2.9 recently and i feel that i had to use like 1024 samples (as compared to 512 with an older version) to not get any distortions or noise.. any ideas?

  11. 11
    Vote -1 Vote +1proper
    Says:

    Check out asio 2000 and the original by steinberg.

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    Hey brah! Really loved that article http://www.testthisblogtoseeifitworks.com/ . Keep me informed if you write any more.

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