Do I need a soundcard ?

Hello fellow music makers,

I recently decided to purchase a pair of Sennheiser HD650 as mixing on my very crappy headphones was a challenge. So I was wondering, now that I have a very good set of headphones, should I invest in a soundcard in order to enjoy them to the fullest ?

I don't record anything from external instruments so I've never needed an external soundcard. So my question is: should I invest in one just to improve the audio quality ? or is it not worth the money since I do everything on the computer ?

I hope someone can enlighten me

PS: right now I have the integrated audio interface of my laptop

Thanks !

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  • Ray has an important point about the latency. Even when not recording or doing any sort of real-time work, the latency can be a make or break issue with playback and final rendering with DAWs. For example, when I've tried to run Sonar X1/X2 with on-board sound only at 44.1kHz, usually all it takes is a handful of soft synths to cause laggy playback and/or an eventual death by stuttering on a machine that has an i7 going at 4GHz and 8GB of RAM. Low-latency interfaces with good drivers get rid of problems like that in addition to controller-related issues Ray mentioned (I use an M-Audio C400; I've heard great things about the BabyFace, but never had the funds for an interface in that range). 

  • Thanks for the replies. I feel like I understand the issue a bit more now.

    So far I have never experienced stuttering, just Kontakt running out of RAM and notes just not coming through but I guess at one point or another I will have to invest in an audio interface.

    I guess I will save up and buy one once I start experiencing issues like the ones you described. The C400 is a nice suggestion so thanks for that, it seems more suited for starters.

  • What spec machine do you have (processor, RAM, OS, etc.)? I've never used Kontakt, but running out of memory sounds like something that should be addressed before an audio interface. Depending on what the root of the problem is, a struggling system won't necessarily get much benefit from a good audio interface. For example, if I take my C400 and put it on an old, slow, low-memory laptop that is barely at Sonar's minimum spec, the best performance I can get out of it is still relatively terrible compared to the same interface on a much better machine.

  • I have an acer laptop with an integrated audio card, an i7 2.2ghz that boosts up to 2.8 if pushed to its limits and 8gb of DD3 RAM. Even with a lot of CPU heavy effects, it seems to hold it together, CPU load rarely exceeds 60%.

    I am on windows XP and use ASIO4all as my soundcard is not ASIO.

    As far as the memory issue, I'm not too worried as it only happened when I had several legato patches loaded up with several mic positions. All the round-robins + transitions already take a considerable amount of RAM, multiplied by mic positions. I just keep that fact in mind when working now. I only write music using one mic position to not unnecessarily strain my RAM, and only start messing around with mics when entering the mastering phase and work on seperate tracks at a time from that point.

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