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Topic: PCI/PCIe vs USB Audio Interfaces

  1. #1

    PCI/PCIe vs USB Audio Interfaces

    So, I am still in the market, looking for a new sound card and I've come to a sudden halt with a question. Is there a difference between a PCI/PCIe sound card and a USB-connected sound card? I would think the transfer speed would be diminished on a USB model vs something plugged directly into the motherboard.

    Does anyone know?

  2. #2

    Re: PCI/PCIe vs USB Audio Interfaces

    USB is only capable of handling so much digital audio data,
    a PCI type card has the horsepower and connectivity to transfer huge amounts of digital data (audio). For instance, I use a MOTU 2408 Mk3 that is connected to the PCI-e card in the Mac and the MOTU 2408 has the ability to handle 24 channels of digital audio going into the 2408 and 24 channels going out simultaneously without a single issue.

    If all you need is a few channels USB is fine though.


  3. #3

    Re: PCI/PCIe vs USB Audio Interfaces

    In theory even USB 1 can handle 1.5MB/sec, that is eight stereo channels in CD quality.
    USB 2 can handle 60MB/sec (in theory) and that should be (in theory) enough even for professional applications.
    The latency of USB can be a different issue, on which I have no experience, only with 1 channel, when it is low

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Just north of Sydney

    Re: PCI/PCIe vs USB Audio Interfaces

    G'day FossMaNo1,

    My very good friend DPDAN says:

    "USB is only capable of handling so much digital audio data,
    a PCI type card has the horsepower and connectivity to transfer huge amounts of digital data (audio)."

    It depends on your needs and if you really have any need at all to convert huge amounts of digital audio to analog.

    Most of the time the onboard sound card will do perfectly well, though you need an ASIO driver. All processing in your DAW is done digitally not using the sound card or audio interface at all. If you for instance burn your creation to a CD, even the track on the CD is in digital form. Only when the CD is played back, is the digital form of your music converted into an analog signal for playback in some Hi-Fi system or car player, quite independent of your computer and its sound card.

    For monitoring your music during creation and editing only, you need a good sound system, preferably active speakers with a sub-woofer to suit the stereo speakers (or surround if you wish). Just an onboard sound card is likely to be better or at least as good in quality as the analog sound system of speakers and amps you connect to it. The latency of the sound card for monitoring only, can be between 10 and 20 msec or slower if you don't mind.

    For performing live, using your computer, you need a much lower latency, perhaps 3 msec or better and should look for a suitable sound card or audio interface. For live recordings you need to record with a quality better than the 16/44.1 CD standard. 24/96 would be good. Your mics, mixer and recording technique will need to be of highest quality too. This is if you want the very best. I use a digital recorder for live recordings.

    Internal sound cards are fastest. Firewire is very fast. USB is a bit slower. Any of the three systems should do. A higher number of INs and OUTs will be slower than a more restricted setup. The driver of the audio interface permits the selection of possible INs and OUTs.

    Don't go over board and spend a lot of money for an audio interface unless you really have the need to justify the cost. I prefer an external audio interface. It is physically more accessible and is less likely to pick up interferences from the digital system inside the computer.

    Best wishes,
    Cubase 6, Notation Composer, VSTHost, GoldWave audio editor.

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