Do I need a sound card?

Creating a home studio for recording the classical guitar. Equipment, software and recording techniques. Amplification for live performance.
cool09
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Do I need a sound card?

Post by cool09 » Wed Dec 21, 2016 7:39 pm

If I want to record thru my PC do I need a sound card? It goes into a PCI slot, usually? It won't interfere with video card sound?

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Bernhard Heimann
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Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by Bernhard Heimann » Wed Dec 21, 2016 7:56 pm

Hi!
A first simple answer: it depends...
Seriously: Most PCs have a built-in sound chip and a microphone input jack - have you already looked for one?
If so, you only need a program like Audacity (freeware) to make simple recordings.
The quality of the recordings depends on the quality of your microphone (high quality condenser mics can possibly not be plugged directly into the PC),
the quality of your sound chip and the recording environment and probably some more influencing factors.

Bernhard

JohnB
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Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by JohnB » Wed Dec 21, 2016 8:23 pm

If you do decide to get a sound card it might be worth investigating external cards (USB or FireWire, etc) as, from others tell me, it is likely to have a lower noise floor.
Hermanos Conde 1968, Stephen Frith 2007 "Guijoso"

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Tom Poore
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Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by Tom Poore » Wed Dec 21, 2016 8:52 pm

There’s no need to dig into the guts of your computer. A simple solution is an audio interface. Inexpensive ones plug into your computer via the USB slot. They also give you more versatility in your choice of microphones. Both Focusrite and PreSonus offer cheap and portable interfaces that are easy to use.

I have no mechanical aptitude at all, and had little trouble figuring my audio interface. If I can, anyone can.

Tom Poore
South Euclid, OH
USA

cool09
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Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by cool09 » Wed Dec 21, 2016 8:59 pm

Most PCs have a built-in sound chip and a microphone input jack - have you already looked for one?
Yes, I've recorded thru my motherboard/chipset using a cheap microphone and Audacity and Goldwave software.
I was looking for better quality audio samples which might require upgrade to sound card(?) and microphone.
I wanted to know if a sound card will interfere with the video card sound?

JohnB
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Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by JohnB » Wed Dec 21, 2016 11:03 pm

As Tom says - you would be better with a decent external USB audio interface/soundboard and get one that provides phantom power for microphones as that will give you more options.
Hermanos Conde 1968, Stephen Frith 2007 "Guijoso"

cool09
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Location: Chesapeake, MD

Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by cool09 » Wed Dec 21, 2016 11:30 pm

How do external USB audio interfaces work? Plugs into PC USB port and you can save files onto internal hard drive? Can you use a microphone with 3.5mm or USB connection for the interface? Behringer interfaces are fairly inexpensive. Behringer looks like following:

Image

stevel
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Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by stevel » Thu Dec 22, 2016 3:26 am

You do not need a sound card.

As others have said, you need an Audio Interface.

Never buy anything with the word Behringer on it. You've been warned.

If you want "better quality" you need to start investing in it.

Here is how Digital Audio works:

1. Microphone picks up the sound.
2. Microphone goes into a Pre-Amp, usually in an Audio Interface.
3. The interface converts Audio to Digital (and later, Digital to Audio, in AD/DA conversion)
4. The digital signal travels over USB cable to the computer.
5. The computer runs some sort of software - a "DAW" that records the incoming digital signal from the interface, and it writes that to the hard drive as you record. The computer has a "driver" (like an ASIO driver) that handles the digital signal coming in and out. People with upgrade this if theirs is sub-standard.

Now, you can just record, but ultimately, you'll want to play it back, or possibly even hear it while recording. So:

6. The Interface converts the digital audio back to analog to go out to a pair of studio monitors (speakers) and/or headphones.

Each of these steps can be a "weak link in the chain" - if any one of them is substandard, it's going to make the quality no better than that step.

So, if you use a $19.99 microphone, you can't expect to get great quality.
If your mic-pres are noisy, you'll get noisy recordings.
If the A/D conversion is sub-standard, your recordings will be too.
If your monitors are not good, you won't be able to hear if you're getting good recorded signal or not.

"Professionals" and even "Amateurs" (or "Hobbyists" if you like) do not record using 3.5 mm stereo miniplugs through the jacks built-in to the computers. Those are not designed for quality audio. Sure they sound OK, but the mics are not full range, the pre-amp is not great, A/D is not great, computer speakers are not great, and so on.

There are "budget" gear options, all the way up to professional gear options.

High end pro gear uses a PCI card that goes into a slot into your computer. They won't want to use the "stock" soundcard because it won't be good enough. But this is for really high end systems and since you're looking at really cheap Behringers, it seems unlikely you want to go that route.

You need a "decent" Microphone, a decent Interface (like the Presonus mentioned above), and decent headphones and/or studio monitors.

You're probably looking at about $150.00 USD for each item (for each speaker for the monitors) so you're looking at around $600 - $800 USD to get into a "decent" signal chain.

If you want "good", you can start thinking about spending more like $500.00 USD on each item.

A lot of people opt instead for "handheld" or "portable" recorders such as the Sony or Zoom handy recorders that record to an internal SD card that can either be removed and the files copied onto a computer or the files can be transferred over USB.

This is an easier "all in one" solution because it's something you can set on a table or mount on a stand, press record on, and play. Press stop, then record the next file or dump it to computer (where you could edit it further if you like).

Still, it would be best to have decent monitors or headphones, and running them out of the miniplug port on your computer (which apple will probably dispose of next year anyway) won't sound that great (so headphones plugged into the handy recorder would be the better option).

The advantage to the Mic - Interface - Computer - Software - Monitors/Headphones approach is that you can upgrade items individually when you can afford to.

Free software can be fine. Audacity works fine.

Headphones need not be expensive, but $120.00 headphones will sound way better and last far longer than consumer $50.00 headphones. If the headphones do not come with a 1/4" jack (or the 3.5mm to 1/4" adapter included), they're not worth your buying! Sony MDR-7502 is a bare minimum.

Studio Monitors are tough because what's best depends on the room and a lot of other factors. But you could "get by" with a Bluetooth speaker if you've got decent headphones to check your work with.

Presonus interface - $100.00 or so for the Audiobox - would be "OK".

Microphone - most crucial part for the start. This is where you should put most of your money in if you can. A Shure SM 81 will set you back about $350, and a KSM 137 about $300.

But that's really the level you need to be at - because if you can get into a mic at that level, you'll never have to upgrade those - you can get other more expensive ones later for other purposes, but these (especially the SM 81) are classic mics.

But they are cardioid condenser mics and need phantom power, which the Interface will provide.

Some less expensive mics will work "ok", and could allow you to buy a cheaper interface without phantom power, but each link of the chain you sacrifice quality on, the worse the sound is going to be.

Anything will be a step up from what you've probably done in the past, but IMHO if you can afford to, you should try to get up to "Hobbyist" level, rather than "person who keeps spending money on the wrong equipment for years and gets frustrated" level.

Moonlighting2610
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Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by Moonlighting2610 » Thu Dec 22, 2016 3:51 am

Many thanks for the detailed instruction. I am intending to invest some money on this and this is really of great help!

cool09
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Location: Chesapeake, MD

Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by cool09 » Thu Dec 22, 2016 10:36 pm

Thanks for the info. I just need a system to record a guitar I'm selling so my money is super tight. I'm not looking for the best hi-fidelity around.

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Tom Poore
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Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by Tom Poore » Fri Dec 23, 2016 12:36 am

cool09 wrote:Thanks for the info. I just need a system to record a guitar I'm selling so my money is super tight. I'm not looking for the best hi-fidelity around.
If that’s your situation, then the space in which you record and microphone placement will be the two biggest considerations. You can have expensive professional grade equipment, but if the room in which you’re recording is substandard and your mic placement is haphazard, then the best equipment in the world won’t help.

Tom Poore
South Euclid, OH
USA

Banks
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Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by Banks » Mon Dec 26, 2016 7:12 pm

One possibility is USB mic, you can find for 100-150 US$. You don't need audio-interface then. Another possibility is local studio, if there's any,
they can record you and your guitar and convert it to mp3 or whatever in half an hour. If you'll try at home, then you need some knowledge about
interfaces, microphones, monitors, room acoustics, pc issues with drivers, asio drivers, softwares, etc, etc. And you will spend some money,
what has the sense only if you intend to make more recordings in the future.

Kurt Penner
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Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by Kurt Penner » Tue Dec 27, 2016 1:48 am

If you are just recording a few short pieces for selling a guitar, then you could save even more money by just renting a field recorder like a Zoom H5 and a nice mic. Then you can skip the soundcard or USB audio interface. It would let you get the raw audio files which you can then transfer to your PC and edit with Audacity, or any other free DAW software.

Salvador
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Location: Asia

Re: Do I need a sound card?

Post by Salvador » Tue Dec 27, 2016 3:56 am

There's Zoom mics, usb condenser mics, audio interface. Same as the above comments. If you choose a condenser mic you have to check the self noise of the mic. For me i can't stand the background noise from the mic itself, even if my room is quiet at night.

There are also other ways to record but does not sound natural. If you have Fishman pickup with built-in mic, you can record directly to your laptop. You only need guitar usb cable, just like the one used by Rocksmith.

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