Resources for the Recording Musician
September 3, 2009

Audio Interface/Sound Card Question

Firstly, thank you very much for this form.  It is a tremendous help.

My question is about sound cards.  First, I'd like to know if the current sound card I have is good enough for voiceover work.  Are there any tests I can do or specs I can check?  I am asking this because when our Dell was purchased a few years back, the top of the line audio system was ordered.  I'm assuming that included a good sound card.

We also have a Macbook Air, which lists the audio interface as     Device ID:      0x10DECB79 Audio ID:      53.  Does anyone know if this is good?

Furthermore, if needed, how does one go about finding a quality sound card?  What are some of the things for which to look?  Is there a specific audio interface you can recommend as having enough quality without breaking the bank?

Thanks in advance!

Thanks for joining!  Glad you find the site helpful.

To answer your question, Those "soundcards" that are bundled with a computer really are just very cheap chips built-into the motherboards of the computer.  Your "top of the line" audio system that came with the Dell computer really probably just means some slightly more expensive little computer speakers to hook up to the computer.  They certainly aren't putting any professional level soundcards inside of the computer.  Same thing with that Macbook Air... it's just an audio chip built into the motherboard on that computer.  The Device ID is just the computer's own device identifier... it doesn't mean anything.

There are several problems with these audio chips inside of computers.  First, they usually only have those little 1/8 inch mini-jacks, which don't allow you to hook up any decent microphones without an adapter.  Plus, you can't get phantom power out of those, so you can't power any professional condenser microphones that require phantom power to operate.  Also, those types of jacks are notorious for going bad or creating noise from poor connections.  Since those chips are located inside of the computer, there is a very high potential for radio frequency interference and other noise induced by all the electrical components in close proximity to the audio chip.  And, finally, the frequency response and noise floor of those very cheap audio chips are never very good.

Now, whether or not they are "good enough" I guess depends on exactly what type of voice over work you are doing.  If you are just doing fun stuff for low quality web videos and such, it's probably good enough.  However, if you are looking to get into professional voice over work for TV, Radio, Film, etc., then you should be definitely looking for something of higher quality.

Basically, what you are looking for is some type of audio interface specifically designed for recording.  These come in a variety of price ranges with a wide variety of features and numbers/types of inputs and outputs.  You can get an internal card that fits into an expansion slot inside of your computer (such as a PCI or PCIe slot), or one that connects via USB or Firewire.  You can get these for as cheap as $100 or less, and up to several thousand dollars or more.  You can also get a soundcard that has only digital inputs and outputs and then get much higher quality external A/D (analog to digital) and D/A (digital to analog) converters, plus external microphone preamps, or recording channels, of much higher quality.  Each one of those pieces of gear can easily go for well over $1000.  I have many microphone preamps that are over $1000 or $2000 each, connected to A/D converters that are over $2500, each, and often run them through analog compressors that are over $2000 each, going to special multi-channel digital soundcards that are well over $1000 each.  But, you certainly don't need to spend that much.

What you need to do is to start looking on some web sites that sell professional audio equipment, and talk to some sales people to find out what might best fit your budget and needs.  Or, if you don't trust sales people, you could hire someone like me as a consultant to help figure out the best equipment for your needs and budget that will also be compatible with your computer and the recording software you want to use (this can sometimes be tricky).

One company I would recommend is Sweetwater Sound:
You can check out their web site, and then give them a call and talk to one of their sales engineers.  I have worked with Stewart Hisey there for a long time.  He is a great guy who knows his stuff and won't try to sell you something you don't need just to make an extra buck.  Call them up and ask for him if you want to talk to someone about options.

Or, feel free to contact me privately if you would like me to do some consulting with you to figure out what would work best for your budget and needs.  I would obviously need much more information before I could recommend any particular piece of gear.  Plus, equipment changes rapidly in this business, so there is always research to be done on new interfaces and how well they work with different computer systems and the latest recording software and OS for your computer.

Hope this helps some!


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