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Topic: Will USB monitors work with my sound card?

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  1. #1

    Question Will USB monitors work with my sound card?

    I'm in the market for a pair of monitors that will run off my computer. I'm leaning heavily toward the Alesis M1Active 520 USBs, but before I make the purchase I need to ask an important question.

    I'm running a Dell PC 64-bit with Windows 7. My sound card is a Turtle Beach Montego DDL. This is a PCI card, and it does not have its own USB port. Will it still send audio to the monitors through my computer's USB hub, or do I need monitors that plug directly into my sound card? And if I can use USB monitors with my current setup, would there be any difference in performance compared to ones that would go into my sound card through the 1/4" jack?

    This is a new area for me, so any input on the matter would be appreciated.

    Thanks!

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

  2. #2

    Re: Will USB monitors work with my sound card?

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Johnson View Post
    I'm in the market for a pair of monitors that will run off my computer. I'm leaning heavily toward the Alesis M1Active 520 USBs, but before I make the purchase I need to ask an important question.

    I'm running a Dell PC 64-bit with Windows 7. My sound card is a Turtle Beach Montego DDL. This is a PCI card, and it does not have its own USB port. Will it still send audio to the monitors through my computer's USB hub, or do I need monitors that plug directly into my sound card? And if I can use USB monitors with my current setup, would there be any difference in performance compared to ones that would go into my sound card through the 1/4" jack?

    This is a new area for me, so any input on the matter would be appreciated.

    Thanks!

    Steve
    This looks like a very cool solution for laptop users who need a monitoring system.

    To answer your question though it looks like you can use them as straight-up monitors. They have 1/4" inputs you could connect to your sound card. The USB portion will just give you another audio interface. In other words you don't connect the USB output to a sound card.
    Steve Winkler GPO4 JAAB3 Finale 2012 Reaper Windows 7 Pro 64-bit VSL SE+

  3. #3

    Re: Will USB monitors work with my sound card?

    Quote Originally Posted by swinkler View Post
    To answer your question though it looks like you can use them as straight-up monitors. They have 1/4" inputs you could connect to your sound card. The USB portion will just give you another audio interface. In other words you don't connect the USB output to a sound card.
    The let me extend Steve's question. Those are 1/4'" balanced inputs. What if the sound card has unbalanced (e.g., RCA jack) output? Are there adapters for this? I can't imagine any kind of passive adapter that wouldn't have impedance-matching problems.

    Pat

  4. #4

    Re: Will USB monitors work with my sound card?

    Quote Originally Posted by pokeefe View Post
    The let me extend Steve's question. Those are 1/4'" balanced inputs. What if the sound card has unbalanced (e.g., RCA jack) output? Are there adapters for this? I can't imagine any kind of passive adapter that wouldn't have impedance-matching problems.

    Pat
    Yeah that's true. So if you used them as monitors for your soundcard, would you need to run everything through a mixer or use an adapter of some sort like you suggest?

    I watched a video from a NAMM show when they were debuted and the guy said you could plug in a keyboard to the 1/4" inputs and record what you were playing through the USB interface. I think the application for these monitors lends itself more to laptops and more portable layouts. Just my opinion.
    Steve Winkler GPO4 JAAB3 Finale 2012 Reaper Windows 7 Pro 64-bit VSL SE+

  5. #5

    Re: Will USB monitors work with my sound card?

    After a little further research I see the RCA-to-balanced TRS might not be much of a problem. The audio singal to a balanced input doesn't have to be balanced. The unbalanced signal from an RCA plug can be fed to one side of the balanced input; the other side of the balanced input can be either tied to ground or left open, depending on the circuitry.

    If grounded input is acceptable, the RCA jack can be directly wired to a monaural (tip / sleeve) 1/4" plug. The extended sleeve of the mono plug will ground the ring contact in the balanced TRS jack. RCA-to-mono 1/4" adapters are common and cost a couple dollars.

    If the unused input must be left open then we probably have to make our own adapters.

    I suspect this needs of the speaker are undocumented, but I think the "grounded" case is more common. (Based on half an hour of searching. Hey, what could go wrong? )

    Pat

  6. #6

    Re: Will USB monitors work with my sound card?

    To clarify the USB/audio jack bit: USB is a (bidirectional) digital interface meant to send data and commands from one device to another. You can send anything digital over USB, but it doesn't do you any good if the device on the other side doesn't know how to interpret it. So USB data is sent in a specific format (actually, part of a protocol), e.g. for an external disk, a digital camera, or a MIDI interface. Audio data has its own format, and all modern audio interfaces understand it. When you plug an audio interface in your USB port, a brief exchange between the computer and the device will take place and the computer will identify the device as one that understands the audio format. Then it will appear in a control panel or something as an extra audio interface. So, if you connect USB monitors to your computer via USB, you'll end up with one more audio interface. If your sequencer sends it output there, you will hear it, otherwise you won't.

    If you already have a good audio interface (that's what a sound card is), any pair of active monitors that can be connected to its outputs will play the sound that you route to that interface.
    Theo

  7. #7

    Re: Will USB monitors work with my sound card?

    Quote Originally Posted by FLWrd View Post
    To clarify the USB/audio jack bit: USB is a (bidirectional) digital interface meant to send data and commands from one device to another. You can send anything digital over USB, but it doesn't do you any good if the device on the other side doesn't know how to interpret it. So USB data is sent in a specific format (actually, part of a protocol), e.g. for an external disk, a digital camera, or a MIDI interface. Audio data has its own format, and all modern audio interfaces understand it. When you plug an audio interface in your USB port, a brief exchange between the computer and the device will take place and the computer will identify the device as one that understands the audio format. Then it will appear in a control panel or something as an extra audio interface. So, if you connect USB monitors to your computer via USB, you'll end up with one more audio interface. If your sequencer sends it output there, you will hear it, otherwise you won't.

    If you already have a good audio interface (that's what a sound card is), any pair of active monitors that can be connected to its outputs will play the sound that you route to that interface.
    By connecting your soundcard outputs to the 1/4" inputs on the speakers you could use them as monitors without the usb functionality. Is that how you see it as well?

    Now if you use them this way I'm not sure why you'd want to go with this solution over a pair of active monitors as you state. I think they make M1 monitors without the USB connections as well. You'd probably get better power output to the speakers going with dedicated active monitors.
    Steve Winkler GPO4 JAAB3 Finale 2012 Reaper Windows 7 Pro 64-bit VSL SE+

  8. #8

    Re: Will USB monitors work with my sound card?

    Quote Originally Posted by swinkler View Post
    By connecting your soundcard outputs to the 1/4" inputs on the speakers you could use them as monitors without the usb functionality. Is that how you see it as well?
    That's precisely right.

    Now if you use them this way I'm not sure why you'd want to go with this solution over a pair of active monitors as you state. I think they make M1 monitors without the USB connections as well. You'd probably get better power output to the speakers going with dedicated active monitors.
    USB monitors are a good solution if you don't yet have a sound card. But it's likely that Steve's internal sound card is of better quality than the one in the USB monitors, and they're easier to connect, leave your USB ports free, don't suffer from interruptions to the USB data stream (that can happen if you share your USB ports with other devices).

    So unless Steve is unhappy about his sound card, the audio connectors are the preferred way to go (to be sure, further testing would be required). If he gets the USB monitors anyway, he will have a wide choice of making connections, which can of course also be appealing.
    Theo

  9. #9

    Re: Will USB monitors work with my sound card?

    Well, I've taken the plunge and may be able to provide Steve (and any other interested parties) with some answers next week. I've ordered the non-USB 520 and RCA-to-mono 1/4" plug adapters. I don't remember what sound card Steve has, but if it has unbalanced output - RCA, 1/8" stereo jack, 1/4" stereo jack, etc. - and my test is successful, he should be safe getting the speakers he was mentioning.

    BTW, the Alesis (non-USB) 520 had better reviews than the USB 520. While the non-USB 520 suggested retail price is $400/pair, the actual was less than half that. I suspect the USB 520 has a comparable mark-down, but I don't know for sure.

    Pat

  10. #10

    Re: Will USB monitors work with my sound card?

    Quote Originally Posted by pokeefe View Post
    Well, I've taken the plunge and may be able to provide Steve (and any other interested parties) with some answers next week. I've ordered the non-USB 520 and RCA-to-mono 1/4" plug adapters. I don't remember what sound card Steve has, but if it has unbalanced output - RCA, 1/8" stereo jack, 1/4" stereo jack, etc. - and my test is successful, he should be safe getting the speakers he was mentioning.

    BTW, the Alesis (non-USB) 520 had better reviews than the USB 520. While the non-USB 520 suggested retail price is $400/pair, the actual was less than half that. I suspect the USB 520 has a comparable mark-down, but I don't know for sure.

    Pat
    I have a Turtle Beach Montego DDL PCI sound card. From the responses I've seen, it looks like I'll be better off going with the Alesis non-USB monitors. (The jacks on my sound card are 1/8', but I can just use a 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor. I've had to do that before, but it's no problem, and I think I still have one or two lying around somewhere.)

    Pat, I'd prefer to keep what I'm paying down to about $200. Where did you go to make your purchase?

    Thanks!

    Steve
    If you'd like to hear a couple of pieces I might actually finish someday, please visit my virtual concert hall.

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