USB interface vs. Soundcards

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Member Since: Jan 13, 2010

Anyone have an opinion on the pros/cons of the USB interface or the Soundcard? What if you had to stay under $200?

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Since: Apr 03, 2002

May 21, 2010 01:06 pm

These days there isn't much of a difference. Internal soundcards provide less of a mess as far as multiple pieces of equipment go, but USB devices provide portability...there are plenty of options in or below that $200 mark...look at M-Audio and Edirol stuff.

Prince CZAR-ming
Since: Apr 08, 2004

May 22, 2010 12:06 pm

To add to what dB says, they do basically the same thing: convert AC (analog sine wave) to Digital (bits & bytes). Then it converts the digital back to analog so you can hear it.

On many sites & groups, the built in devices are generally termed as soundcards, whereas the more expensive, external & internal devices used for more involved audio work are often referred to as audio interfaces. Technically they're the same thing.

Also involved is the parameters (8bit, 12bit, 16bit, 24bit, etc) and the sample rate (44.1khz, 88.2khz, 96khz, etc).

Now, include with this are the quality of the components involved. cheap soundcards (built-in) tend to have very cheap chips in the preamp, ADC and DAC (the conversion mentioned above). So these cheap chips will give you cheap results: preamp is noisy & conversions aren't accurate. Plus, the routing and possibly the software driver protocol may be cheaply written.

Now, for more expensive devices: audio interfaces, you will normally get more expensive circuitry involved: the preamp sounds better, the AD and DA conversion is better quality, so the sound is better. The bit rates and sample rates are higher, possibly bringing better sound quality.

Also, the drivers are usually written better, for better interaction with the windows (or mac, etc) operating system, for more stable and faster operation.

Also, the software protocol (ASIO, WDM, etc) is written better for higher end devices. Some (probably most) onboard sound cards (Realtek, etc) won't have an ASIO driver written for it, so you won't be able to use the faster protocol. WDM is often used for windows machines, and I think would be the default for some soundcards, but MME may be used also, which is a lot slower, thereby creating higher latency and less stability.

Another angle to think of is the additional software that's written for a specific device, or company. Line6 comes to mind, as you can run a bunch of cool modeling software when using their device. It doesn't work for any other device, except for LINE6 stuff.

That last one is subjective, but it does have some weight. Getting free stuff when you buy an interface is a nice bonus.

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