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Topic: Audio cards for sample based systems: How important are they? (Mac)

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  1. #1

    Audio cards for sample based systems: How important are they? (Mac)

    Hello,

    I'm researching how to get more bang out of my sample based system. I'm currently running a duel 2.5GHz G5 with 3GB ram, Logic 7.1 and use EXS and some Kontakt based libraries. I'm not using any form of audio interface, as I dont record that much audio. When I do record the occasional vocal line or live guitar track, I use the built in mac audio input. To monitor my sample based compositions, I use built in core audio and the analog out on the Mac.

    I read in the wonderful Virtual instruments magazine that "While it's not ideal, you can monitor V.I.s through your computer built-in audio card." So this leads to the question, what can be gained through purchasing a different audio card? I'm assuming this will allow me to lower the buffer settings, which only effects latency right? I'm I wrong in thinking this will not help me in any way to load more sounds, as this is based on disk speed and RAM only, right?

    So why is it not "ideal" to simply use the built in audio on the G5? Would it be better for me to use the G5's optical outs instead of the analog? (I currently do not have a way to turn it back into analog). I'm not experiencing any noticeable latency, so I'm not sure what a new sound card will add to a sample based composition setup.

    Thanks in advance for any knowledge you can provide. If this has already been covered (couldn't find it) please smack me with a wet fish and point me in the right direction.

    Sorry for asking such a basic question, but this is how we learn, right?
    Jon

  2. #2

    Re: Audio cards for sample based systems: How important are they? (Mac)

    Quote Originally Posted by JT3_Jon
    So why is it not "ideal" to simply use the built in audio on the G5? Would it be better for me to use the G5's optical outs instead of the analog?
    Thats it.

    An Audio Interface gives you more ins and outs.
    If you want to insert any hardware or mix trough different outputs.

    The analog audio out of the mac is ok, but the dig. out is better.

    Try to get a old dat- or minisic recorder with optical in and out at ebay or so.
    Even the tape mechanism dosent have to work anymore.
    Just press record and pause with no tape inside and you have a perfect
    digital-analog and analog-digital converter.

    Chris Hein

  3. #3

    Re: Audio cards for sample based systems: How important are they? (Mac)

    In general, the built-in audio on any computer is for 'amateur' use; listening to CDs or web streamswhile working on something else. Dedicated audio cards cost more to produce than the built-in audio, and have a flatter, wider frequency response, better linearity in the conversion process, and way higher signal-to-noise ration in the analog domain, and less jitter in the digital.

    You get what you pay for. I get adequate sound from my $29 speakers and built in audio, pretty good sound out of my $300 Yamaha NS-10s thgough the $500 2408 I/F, and best sound from my Mackie HR824w, $800 each at the time.

    Whether you need this level of accuracy depends on why you are doing a particular project. If it's something for direct professional use (a CD master, a film cue tobe used as-is or a film cue that is to try and get you the job) you would want the best, most perfect sound you can get. If you are a songwriter, the mid-level sound will be fine, and you can usually make the $29 solution give up a good enough performance to sell the tune.

    But if you're serious about your music, why wouldn't you use the best you can afford? Then, if all yoy can afford is the $29 solution, you know you have a goa - better speakers! l
    Dasher
    -------
    It's all about the music - really. I keep telling myself that...

  4. #4

    Re: Audio cards for sample based systems: How important are they? (Mac)

    Hi Jon,
    Refreshing question in times where we automatically assume that we "need" the best, often higher priced solutions.
    It may sound like "can I print invoices on a matrix printer or do I need a laser printer?". It speaks of a critical mind to wonder what can be gained by using a dedicated audio card.

    The Mac's built-in digital out is as good as any digital out and -once connected to an adequate DA- a very cost effective solution. They are one of the Macs stronger sides.
    The analogue outputs are a different story. If you look at your G5 purely as an audio machine, remember that the audio chain is as weak as its weakest component, whatever it may be. Dual CPU, lots of RAM, Logic7, samplers etc indicate a very strong chain can be made, where the highest audio fidelity can be achieved. The analogue outputs are inferior to the rest of the chain (Dasher explains it well). Their signal to noise ratio is poor and the dynamic range is way below 16 bit DA conversion. As long as you keep that in mind when you hear your music with your current setup there are no problems.
    Compare your situation to listening to CD audio over cheap iPod earplugs.
    You could try out a quality audio interface (ask a friend with an USB or FireWire card to install it on your machine for a day) so you can experience exactly where the differences are and you'll get valuable information that can help you make better choices in the future.

  5. #5

    Re: Audio cards for sample based systems: How important are they? (Mac)

    Hey guys,

    I'd like to add to this question a bit too then. I've been wondering if theres just a zero latency digital out only solution. I'm using an EMU 0404 right now and using both digital and analogue out from that. But what if i wanted digital only (which i now do). Is there a solution to go straight to that path and bypass the DA converters on the card (which i assume is where the latency comes from)? I'm mostly curious about this cause i'd like to make a gigastudio box and just have that come straight into my EMU on this box. (havent looked into that in depth yet so not even sure if this is the right approach).

    thanks

    steve

  6. #6

    Re: Audio cards for sample based systems: How important are they? (Mac)

    Latency comes from the processing that the computer has to do to the audio signal, not whether or not the signal is digital or analog. That conversion happens with very low amounts of latency.

    Lower latency can be achieved with fast processors and well coded drivers. Many people overlook how important the quality of the audio driver is when looking for audio interfaces.
    >>Kays
    http://www.musicbykays.com
    Music Composition for Feature Films, Television and Interactive Entertainment

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