Computer Audio Hardware

Here we look at dedicated audio hardware for the computer. These vary from one recording source to as many as 10 simulantious tracks. It should be noted and remembered that professional music recorded up until 1960 was generally done on one single track! Also, by using software such as n-Track, Data Becker or Cakewalk you can mix and master anywhere from 8 tracks to 128 total tracks of audio, depending on how much memory you system has, the power of the CPU and the speed of your hard drive!

In picking a connection for your needs consider the following: software compatibility, not every piece of hardware might work with software such as Cube Base or Cakewalk for multi-track recording.

Connections. There are all sorts of connectors and connecting impedances! Pro standard is XLR at +4dBu (1.35 volts) with a secondary standard of ' ring tipped balance connectors, usually at the same rating. Amateur equipment (home stereo and tape decks) use RCA connectors at 10 dbv (0.775 volts) with a secondary connection of either ' phono plug or the 1/8' stereo mini plug (your typical "Walkman" headphone chord adapter size).

There are also digital connections, including the optical cable, the S/PDIF. There is also the A-DAT format and the Tascam D-88 R-DAT format, plus the Apple FireWire.

Connections to the computer include: USB (only on newer machines, that little rectangular input where all sorts of gismos can be daisy chained today), PCI (the standard card slot for both newer Macs and PCs), FireWire (created by Apple for video transfers and only found on selected computers or selected video and audio cards) and rarely found today is the old PC ISA slot.

No one card or box we looked at supported everything, so plan your connections carefully as you never can tell if a FireWire or D-88 R-DAT might come your way!

References to "Break out" cords and boxes is a provision from which you can plug in connections using a long external cord or a box of connectors wired to the computer, which makes connecting things much easier!

Phantom power is a 48 volt hot tip XLR connection used for some condenser michrophones such as the C-414 or U-47. It can be a plus for those working with micrphones priced over $500.

Rack space refers to an industry standard audio or video rack for holding equipment. This is rectangle made of heavy, painted steel bars that have holes drilled to mount equipment such as amplifers, reverbs and limiters (see picture at left, courtesy Downwitit Recording, Indianapolis, IN, racks of equipment are seen in the lower right corner). A single rack space is generally 1" in height.

USB Connections

These items let you connect analog sound sources to your computer via the USB connection port. While they generally offer no software, the advantage is that with the USB connection you can daisy chain a lot of devices, which is good for people with no open slots or those who have a problem installing cards. Also good for use with laptop computers.

With these interfaces you can connect microphones, guitars or mix down 2 track recordings from an external multi-track recorder.

Edirol UA-1A USB/RCA In and Out Capture. Comes out in March.
List: $99.00

Sixteen-bit/44.1kHz AD/DA converter
No adapter needed, powered through the USB port
Stereo RCA plugs in and out
Works with MME in Windows and Sound Manager on Mac systems

Edirol UA-3A USB/RCA/1/4'/1/8' In and Out Capture.
List: $225.00

16-bit/32, 44.1, or 48kHz A/D conversion
16-bit/44.1kHz D/A conversion
Dedicated guitar (1/4') and mic (mini plug 1/8') inputs with mic type switch Stereo RCA audio ins and outs Optical S/PDIF in and out

Works with Windows 98 Pentium II 233 or later and Mac OS 9.0.4 or later

One fader seems to control both the guitar and mic, while the other fader controls the RCA inputs, therefore we assume you must switch from one to the other for the recording process. Outputs are RCA or optical.

Aardvark USB3
List: $300

24-bit USB audio interface. 1/4" EFR guitar hi-Z input.Stereo 1/4" line in/out.1/4" mic input.Convenient 1/4" headphone output. Solid steel construction. Knobs and sliders for perfect level control. Self-powered from USB.Includes Cakewalk Guitar Tracks (PC) and Metro SE (Mac).

Edirol UA-5A USB/XLR Capture.
List: $375.00

No specific details on this item. It has head phone monitor out (which can also probably work as a record out with proper padding) with a level control. It has 48 V phantom power on at least one of the XLRs and at least one of the XLRs can be switched from Hi-Z to Lo-Z. It looks to use like there are ' inputs inside the XLR connectors (which is common on many high end computer connections) but we can't verify this fact. No specifics on outputs, except for the headphone monitor jack which is ' stereo.

This is a new item and is Mac/PC compatible.

M Audio Quattro USB/MIDI/1/4' In and Out Capture.
List: $350.00

24-bit/96kHz, through your laptop, iMac USB port. Pristine A/D-D/A converters. Zero-latency direct monitoring for simple recording and dubbing, 4 balanced 1/4" TRS connectors for both In and Out (a total of 8 connections), and selectable in and out levels to accommodate different instruments. MIDI In and MIDI Out connectors.

This unit holds just about any connection the average musician might need.

Roland UA-100 USB/1/4'/RCA/MIDI In and Out Capture.
List: $600.00

Had dedicated Guitar or Mic input and a second mic input. Both are '. There are also RCA input and outputs (no ' out) plus 2 Midi in and 2 Midi out. Boss multi-effects processor. Headphone output.

PC only!

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Emagic EM 2/6 USB In and Out Capture. List $400.00

This is a specialty item that doesn't hold much benefit for the novice or rank and file musician, but this might have potential for monitor playback in studios. It was designed for 6 channel surround sound playback and stereo input, but it might be possible to use the six sends to feed different musicians a different level of headphone mix. Other than this potential, which needs to be explored with care by the potential buyer (you should look at the unit and try it out to see if it will work for this need).

This may also work for studios to deliver the same stereo feed to remote monitor systems, such as inside the studio, inside a monitoring room and inside the control room.

It also holds potential for presentations.

PCI Slot Audio Cards

SoundBlaster Live Platinum 5.1
List: $150

Modestly priced this card is probably entry level for the novice musician and Midi performer. It comes with some nice software. The connectors are metal 1/8' mini-plugs which are, unfortunately, too close together to accommodate a lot of connecting cords! I had to take a knife and bevel off side of my connectors to make them all fit. Music composition software is included. Uses EMU10K1 technology.

It would behoove the makers of sound cards to space there connectors further apart!

This one also has a direct digital connects. It includes a wave table sounds and synthesizer generated audio.

The SoundBlaster Live and Live Value
List: $100

Lower priced versions have color coded connectors and are missing all of the good software. This card often comes with most integrated or low end systems.

SoundBlaster Audigy Platinum EX
List: $250

Delivers 24 bit audio and includes the FireWire digital IEEE 1394 connection which is used more and more by audio as well as by digital video producers. Audio chip technology is up to four times more powerful than on the other SoundBlaster cards.

M Audio 2496 PCI Digital Audio Card
List: $230.00

Your basic analog digital, MIDI card. RCA in and outs. MIDI In and Out. S/PDIF digital inputs and outputs. Full duplex 24 bit audio recording. PC or Mac. Break-out cord for MIDI and RCA.

M Audio Omni Studio
List: $500.00

24-bit/96kHz with no latency.Six in/six out to PCI card.Additional eight ins to mixer section with record bussing.Two mic pre-amps with inserts and phantom power.FX send and return.Dedicated monitor and record outs.Two headphone outs.

Yamaha SW1000 XG
List: $700.00

Six effects processors plus a 64 note polyphonic XG synthesizer, twelve channels of hard drive recording. Includes midi and recording software. RCA connectors and mini-plug, possibly for the speaker outputs.

Terratec EWS88 MT Multitracking Sound Card
List: $800.00

Works with all known audio/recording software under Windows. Realtime processing of audio data with up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution between converter and driver, MIDI I/O, and digital interfaces. Simultaneous record and playback of sixteen channels. 100dB dynamic range and 64X oversampling. Twenty-channel mixer with 36-bit internal resolution. VU meters for each channel, displayed via software. PCI board and enclosure for internal or external use. Shielded 5-1/4" module with two digital and eight analog inputs (switchable between +4dBu and -10dBv), two digital and eight analog outputs.

Digi-001 Computer Recording System
List: $995.00

From the makers of Pro Tools and Avid.

A complete 24-bit plug-and-play digital audio and MIDI workstation. Hardware includes PCI card plus breakout box with 8 analog inputs, 8 analog outputs (2 XLR with 48volt phantom power and mic pre-amps, 6 - 1/4"), 8 channels of ADAT optical I/O (usable as 2-channel optical), and 2 channels of coaxial S/PDIF I/O. MIDI in/out. Footswitch jack for QuickPunch recording. 2 additional monitor outputs, plus a headphone output with separate volume control. Includes Pro Tools LE software for recording and MIDI sequencing with Real-Time Audio Suite (RTAS) plug-in architecture. Upgradable to a Pro Tools TDM-based system.

Not compatible with Celeron chipsets.

Aardvark Direct Pro Q10
List: $1,000

Ten-in/ten-out PCI audio interface, unique eight XLR mic inputs and mixer-like monitoring features allow you to professionally record ten channels direct-to-disk without needing a mixer. The flexible XLR 1/4" connectors can be cleverly used as 1/4" line inputs. Low-jitter clocks and premium A/D converters to get enhanced stereo imaging and more detail in the music. Two warm-sounding, proprietary EFR guitar pre-amps as an added bonus. Ultra low-latency performance for soft synths and samplers. Works great with Steinberg, Emagic, Native Instruments, Propellerhead, and Cakewalk software. Comes complete with a full version of Cakewalk Pro Audio 9.0 software.

Phantom power. Eight 1/4" line inputs.Ten line outputs.Zero-latency monitoring. Shielded 24-bit converters. S/PDIF, MIDI, and word clock I/O. Convenient 1/4" headphone out. Drag-and-drop patch bay. VU and digital peak metering. Shielded PCI audio interface. Expandable to four Q10 units in one computer.

Converters: 24-bit A/D D/A, shielded THD+N: .002% @1kHz. Dynamic range: 110 dB D/A, 100 dB A/D. Frequency response: 7Hz - 44kHz, +/- .5dB Sample rates: 32kHz, 44.1kHz, and 48kHz Analog inputs: eight inputs total eight XLR discrete mic preamp with input trim or eight 1/4" balanced line (+4dBu/-10dBv) with input trim two 1/4" hi-Z guitar inputs (replaces Line In 7 and 8) with input trim Inserts: four 1/4" inserts for using mic preamps with outboard effects Analog Outputs: ten balanced 1/4" line (+4dBu/-10dBv); two are monitor outs one 1/4" headphone output with level knob Digital I/O: 24-bit S/PDIF I/O on RCA connectors MIDI I/O: MIDI I/O on standard five-pin DIN.Sync I/O: word clock (BNC) I/O, MTC (via MIDI), and S/PDIF clock Modes: full duplex simultaneous Rec/Play On-board DSP: 24-bit, 80 MIPS. Connections: 6" shielded 25-pin connector.

Mark of the Unicorn 2408 mkII Recording System.
List: $1,000

20 bit, 64x oversampling in and 20 bit 128x oversampling out. Supports 24 digital inputs and outputs using both A-DAT and DA-88 optical, plus 2 tracks of S/PDIF and 8 tracks of RCA analog audio in or out. Both 16 and 24 bit audio recording is supported. ADAT sync input, word clock in and out, and MOTU Control track input for accurate synchronization. Allows for dubbing between ADAT, DA-88 and S/PDIF devices. Has eight ' and 2 ' TRS outputs. Supports 24 simultaneous full duplex tracks of recording. No MIDI! Uses PCI interface and the box fits a one rack space.


The IEEE digital FireWire interfaced created by Apple is vastly become a defacto standard, largely because of digital video, but audio technology has also caught on with the massive throughput you can obtain through a single connection!

All your multi-track audio information is digitized and sent out in bulk packet via the FireWire cord, where it is reassembled inside the computer via software.

Mark of the Unicorn 828 FireWire Digital Hard Disk Recording System
List: $800.00

Takes up one rack space. Uses 8 RCA balanced connectors for analog and a digital capture that is switchable between 8 track A-DAT or S/PDIF. Includes mic pre-amps for both input and output, Cue Mix and zero latency monitoring.

Our Music Special continues with these other articles:
Learning Music | Promo Pictures | Booking Agents| Managers | Producers | Pressing CDs
Record Companies | Copyrights | Recording Software | Sound Cards | Guitar and Bass
Multi-Track Recorders | Live Sound Gear | Microphones | Recording Engineer | Bands in Texas
Teen Band: Y@nK | Gigs and Clubs | Music Theory | Radio Airplay

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