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GTA_Nigel
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Advice about USB soundcards

I work mainly from home and work supplies a laptop (Lenovo X61, being upgraded soon to a more modern version). As it's in my study, I use it for work and personal stuff. One of the things I do on a personal basis is music - I record a lot of my own material on a standalone multitrack recorder and then import it onto the laptop for final mastering in a DAW. While the soundcard on the PC isn't bad (a SoundMAX), I would like to get a better quality soundcard. I was talking to the IT folks at work and they said the soundcard can't be changed. However, I happened to spot that Creative (maybe some others) do USB soundcards. Apparently you can plug these into the USB and bypass the onboard sound card.

This sounds ideal for me - what I am looking for is high quality playback through studio monitors. But do they work? Anyone had any experience with these and recommend any particular brands?

Thanks in advance,

Nigel
 
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Not any personal experience of the external cards, although Creative are usually a safe bet (though may live of their "known"ness) and I've had a few of their cards in the past. There's not a huge amount of choice (based purely on my likeliest purchase place) but depends how much you are happy spending as well... and then it's a question of "does the extra x make enough of a difference, rather than sticking with product y?" Depends how sensitive your ears are to the changes in quality as well - why pay extra if you can't notice the difference?
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My ears are pretty bad, but it's because I am mastering music that I want the best quality output possible. It's only really during that process that I want to know I am getting the best audio response possible. I had found some of the Creative cards, they seem to get quite good reviews so will continue doing some digging.

Cheers,

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I think you want a DAC. Just go myself a Cambridge Audio DACMagic Plus.

DacMagic Plus Digital to Analogue converter

Takes a USB input from PC and delivers high quality output to your hifi amp.

Creative may do something similar for PCs.

You will certainly get a much better sound quality than any built in card.
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I would recommend a Digidesign original Mbox. It comes with Pro Tools LE software and has excellent audio quality. Can be picked up used on ebay for £30-£50.
http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Digidesign...#ht_803wt_1156

You might find you end up using PTLE and ditch the multitrack. There are also a lot of very good mastering and signal processing plug-ins available for Pro Tools.
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You could try this forum

Digital Pianos - Synths & Keyboards - Piano World Piano & Digital Piano Forums

The guys on there are pretty knowledgeable on such things.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PhilzAlfa View Post
You could try this forum

Digital Pianos - Synths & Keyboards - Piano World Piano & Digital Piano Forums

The guys on there are pretty knowledgeable on such things.
Here too:
Gear****z.com

And this is the ProTools forum should you choose that route:
Avid Audio Forums - Powered by vBulletin

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If you're recording then it sounds like you're after a USB Audio Interface.
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Cirrus Logic used to make the best input/output devices. I am sure you can still get them, but it does depend on your budget as it's more professional grade hardware.

It's branded up as Native Instruments, but it uses Cirrus Logic hardware.

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Is this the sort of thing your after Nigel?
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GTA_Nigel
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Thanks for all the steers. Brad, Cas, I don't need an audio interface, all the recording and mixing is done on a standalone Boss multitrack recorder. I then import the .wav stereo files into a DAW on the PC for final mastering, so the playback during that process has to be highest quality possible. No inputs needed.

The DAC sounds interesting, will check that out.

Cheers,

Nigel
 
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The DAC sounds interesting, will check that out.
Interesting, but ouch, expensive!
 
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There are others at different prices. No idea what your budget is. Also check out ebay.

I think the the first creative one below will need powered PC speakers (not sure what you are using). Not used this type of product so can't comment on the quality. Should be better than standard PC card. The second one looks like it will give standard RCA audio connections for a HiFi amp.

HRT Music Streamer II review from the experts at whathifi.com

Creative Labs 70SB129000002 Sound Blaster X-Fi Go PRO USB Sound Card: Amazon.co.uk: Computers & Accessories

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Lab...im_computers_1

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Best quality sound stuff used to be from Turtle Beach, they have for a long time had an excellent reputation for sound quality. In fact they were the reference at one point.

Sound Cards | Turtle Beach

and

http://www.google.co.uk/products/cat...ed=0CE0Q8wIwBA

the above is for the analogue adaptor, they also have a toslink (fibre optic) based digital adaptor for good output, but not input, however could be ideal for what you want if your monitors are connected to an amp with toslink.

Not sure if its the same company anymore or if they have changed focus or what though.

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Last edited by GhostyDog; 18-01-12 at 07:43.
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Guys, thanks for the options. I was planning on going for one of the Creative cards, although I have a sneaking suspicion there may be too much of it being a graphic EQ on the output. I have a Creative X-Fi and love the sound from that, but I want a very clean sound for mixing (ie no eq adjustments). The HRT DAC looks interesting, that's in budget. I'll check out the Turtle Beach stuff as well, I was unaware of them.

Thanks for the help,

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Ahh just output, more like this then?

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Although they seem to classify it as DJ hardware, it's just an output device at the end of the day.

My mate who makes music highly rates this stuff, but he makes music on his computer.


With the creative labs stuff I think you can turn off the EQ if I'm not mistaken.
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If you haven't looked into the Mbox as in my earlier post you really should.
Don't be put off by the fact that you can pick them up so cheaply on ebay; this cost £300 new and is fantastic pro-quality audio; very high build quality so unlikely to go wrong, including pre-amps made by Focusrite and very good d/a a/d convertors.
Unless you need something really tiny for portability (the Mbox is about 23 x 23 x 5cm) it's really worth considering.
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Thanks for all the advice, but some buddies have highlighted the ideal solution. I have a Boss BR800 for recording, and that can be used as an external soundcard, I just need to download the drivers.

So I have a for free solution that uses my existing hardware, always a good result!
 
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Nice.
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