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Topic: Sound card upgrade

  1. #1

    Post Sound card upgrade

    Hey all,

    I'm currently using a Sounblaster Pro Live sound card in my custom pc work station. I have been reading some of the posts on audio software/hardware here on the forums and I'm somewhat confused. I want to "upgrade" my soundcard but, I'm unclear at what is best. I know there are obviously several factors to consider such as how much I'm willing to spend, what I'm wanting my soundcard to "do" etc.

    My main objective is to get a soundcard at a reasonable price to deliver the best performance possible using GPO. I've really not had any problems, other than some latency issues using GPO (because of the sound file size, multiplied by how many players I load with GPO instruments). I solved this latency issue by rendering each track of GPO instruments seperately as a .mp3 file, and reloading them into Reaper or Acid pro for "realtime" playback to listen and tweak each track individually. Although it's an "extra" step, it does help. Anwyay, my question is, should I upgrade to a better soundcard and if so, what would be your suggestion?

    My Workstation:

    Intel P4 Dual core 3.43 Processor
    2 Gig dual channel DDR2 Memory
    512mb ATI Raedon 1750 XGE 750 mhz Video card
    450 Gig SATA Hard Drive
    Soundblaster Pro Live! 5.1 Surround audio card


  2. #2

    Re: Sound card upgrade

    Hi Shaver -

    Having a good quality soundcard/interface is very important IF you are
    doing audio recording. If you are just doing MIDI with virtual instruments
    (like GPO) and bouncing down or mixing in your sequencer, it is much
    less important.

    All bouncing, freezing, and final mixdown is done by your host application.
    It doesn't even access the soundcard during these processes. Your
    final mix will be identical whether you use your current soundcard or an
    expensive one.

    It could be argued that your soundcard will influence your EQ settings or
    other effects because you are basing your decisions on what you hear, but
    I would say you could spend your money far more effectively on something
    like good monitor speakers, headphones, and good quality plug-ins (convolution
    reverb, eq, compression, other sound libraries, etc.).

    Summary: Save your money or buy something else.

    re; latency - I've had good luck using ASIO with Soundblaster cards.
    "An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need to have, but that he - for some reason - thinks it would be a good idea to give them."

    - Andy Warhol

  3. #3

    Re: Sound card upgrade

    Hi, Shaver

    Klassical has given you very good input. It's a wide spread misunderstanding that sound cards are going to get you better recordings when bouncing and mixing.

    But do you ever record live acoustic sources, voice, guitar etc? Those come in through your card. And you may not realize this, but all those USB audio interfaces are actually "sound cards." Like I use the US-122 for recording vocals, hardware synths etc, and it's a handy unit. Lots of units of that nature available now. They generally have XLR connections for pro mikes, insert points for effects, and lines in for other sound sources, like outboard mixers.

    I also have an M-Audio 2496 card in my tower for beautiful, clean play back. You're likely to have heard of that. It's The standard Really Great Sounding Card which can be had for under $100.

    So it's possible that, depending on your needs, having a sound card upgrade on your list may not be something you want to move down the priority list.

    It's really not such a small point, that our mixes are determined by what we hear--If we hear playback that isn't so good--we're handicapped.

    There's one more thing I'd like to add--Over at the Cakewalk Forums, it's a standard mantra of the recording musicians there that Soundblasters are the last card you want to have for a home studio. Many new people come on those forums, explain their problems, and the first thing zeroed in on as a problem in their set up is their Soundblasters.

    The standard wisdom there is that Soundblasters are great for gaming, playing music and movies. But they weren't designed with the home studio market in mind. The Cakewalkers tend to think that not only are they full of unrelated bells and whistles, but they just don't sound as good. Time after time the first piece of advice is "Get a real sound card."

    So--some more things to think on.

    Randy B.

  4. #4

    Re: Sound card upgrade

    OK. Let's add one factor more to te equation. Acoustics. Flat response monitors don't exist. It's only a theorical concept, but dynamic transducers respond to the physics law, so they're not ideal systems. But even if you have a $5000 pair of high end monitors, you won't be taking advantage of them if they're not in an acoustically treated room.
    What I mean with this, is that the weakest component will determine the quality of the overall system. I have seen some people buying expensive monitors and soundcard, and having them in a small and reverberant home studio. In this scenario, it could be better to spend less in the monitors and audio interface, and spend some money in studio foam or
    other entry level acoustic treatment. So, have a look at your home studio as a whole (including the room itself). Then think about what you find is lacking, and how much you want to spend. If you have a $300 budget, maybe you should buy just an audio interface. You could have a look at EMU 1616M and TC Electronic Konnekt 8.

    The frequency response of most of today's soundcards is really flat (unlike the monitors) and it won't affect much to your EQ decisions. Where you can find some improvements with good audio interfaces is in signal to noise ratio and distortion, but this isn't too important for monitoring purposes. As rbowser- has said, if you aren't recording instruments,
    from outside the PC, the quality of the soundcard will have a minimal impact in the overall quality of your finished product.

    As for latency, some audio interfaces can go down to smaller buffer sizes (lower latency) without compromising audio stability, while others can't. It has to do with the hardware itself, and the the drivers too.

  5. #5

    Re: Sound card upgrade

    There are other considerations here as well: the overall flexibility of the soundcard, and the implementation of the drivers.

    Is there a maximum sampling rate that might limit you? Is the best attainable latency acceptable? Does the card or its drivers have any conflicts with hardware or software in your system?

    There are much better soundcards than the Soundblaster in these regards, even without considering audio recording or output quality.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  6. #6

    Re: Sound card upgrade

    Wow...alot of great info here. I wasn't certain about the upgrade since I've not really had any "major" issues with my soundblaster card. I get excellent quality from it and I don't do any "external" recording such as live instruments. In the long run, I suppose it does depend on what you think is a "good" point for your workstation and studio to be at.

    To avoid latency, I do use ASIO with a high buffer rate (MAX CPU usage usually varies between 42 and 53%, depending on how many players I have loaded with GPO instruments.) to listen to the piece and make any articulation fine tuning before the mixdown. I generally use my set of ALB Studio 160 headphones, which are "full ear covering" and have an excellent sound with incredible acoustics including bass, for my 1st mixdown so I can hear every note. Once I'm satisfied with that, I then run my mixdown thru a set of Polk 3.1 1800 series monitors with subwoofer and compare the difference. If any adjustments need to be made, I then remix and play again thru my monitors. It may seem like alot to do but actually, I have found it to be a big help, and it works well for me.

    Jaker "Shaver"

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