Most music producers can agree that figuring out what gear and specs you need for music production can be quite challenging.
When I first start making beats, I relied on a laptop that had an in built sound card. It was difficult to work with for recording, mixing and mastering.
As I got better and became a professional I realised this;
Onboard Soundcards usually come pre-installed in computers and are not meant for music production, so you don’t need one for this kind of work. Instead, You need an audio interface which serves as an external sound card that is equipped with dedicated circuitry intended to give an accurate and high quality representation of audio. Audio interfaces are primarily meant to be used in audio production and reproduction and are meant to handle audio with more efficiency.
The hardware that comes your computer is basically general purpose which means it’s not really meant to be used for professional activities that rely on the hardware like the CPU and other components.
A sound card is meant to process basic audio not really meant for professional audio work that involves a heavy utilisation of internal converters. With Audio interfaces you get microphone inputs, highly optimised converters and a source of phantom power, which is necessary for most Condenser studio microphones.
The Limitations of PCI Soundcards
Poor Sound Quality
Internal Soundcards are meant for casual audio playback scenarios such as movies, gaming and playing music. They are not meant to handle sophisticated audio processes like the ones involved in music production.
Music production relies heavily on sonics and audio quality is everything.
This is why you need an accurate unaltered depiction of audio. Using an audio interface is what will ensure that you get an accurate representation of audio that can be further processed.
The number one reason why you need accurate audio interpretation is because you need to be able to apply various processing techniques which can turn out bad if they’re being applied whilst working under false audio representation.
In Built or onboard Soundcards sre generally very limited in their functionality because they’re not meant for heavy work that requires careful handling like music production.
This makes them very unreliable because music software is highly demanding and requires a proper audio interface that can work in line with what is required of it.
Most, If not all PCI soundcards have very limited juice to be able to run and accurately represent audio.
Furthermore, most of these onboard Soundcards have a tendency of boosting the bass frequencies which can affect the mixing process very badly.
Their heavy bass frequencies are not moderated for audio production, this is why you need an audio interface because with it, you’ll be guaranteed optimized circuitry that depicts sound in it’s original natural form, free from alterations that may color the output audio.
Another problem that is associated with basic sound cards is that they don’t pack the appropriate power needed to handle processes that require a steady supply of power.
Which means multi track recording sessions can be negatively affected and you may experience a lot of latency.
Latency can be very cumbersome when you’re working on large projects that have to be handled with care.
On massive projects that call on a lot of power from the sound card, you may also experience DAW software shutdowns when the Soundcard is overloaded.
This can lead to loss of projects which can be pretty much draining. The fact is, the standard sound card that came with your PC isn’t equipped to handle the big projects therefore don’t be surprised if you run into unexpected software crashes.
Lack of Inputs
PCI Sound cards lack the necessary inputs that can help you plug in your microphone or your favorite instrument. This can be very difficult for somebody that needs the necessary inputs in order to plug in their equipment.
Most microphones, instruments and studio monitor speakers require XLR connections which need XLR inputs.
Why is an audio interface better than an internal sound card?
Let’s get into why an audio interface is the best move for somebody that is involved in music production.
Optimized sound quality
Audio interfaces utilize optimised electric circuitry that is designed to handle various audio production tasks such as recording and playback.
This means you’ll be able to record vocals better using the interface because it is designed to handle such work.
Furthermore, your sound quality will generally be better because what you’ll be able to record and playback will be authentic audio in its accurate form.
This means you’ll be able to carry out your processing knowing that you’re working with correct and accurate audio. You won’t have to worry about losing certain frequencies or your overall mix turning out bad.
The various inputs on audio interfaces allow you to work with more than a USB microphone that you would obviously have to work with if you were solely relying on an internal sound card.
Microphones that work with connections other than USB can be easily hooked on to your audio interface and you can be able to utilize them.
Furthermore, audio interfaces are able to provide phantom power which is needed in order for certain microphones to work.
This can be great because you can be able to work with such microphones without being limited or having to rely on other inputs that could end up ruining the audio.
Music instruments that have connections such as TS, will easily be usable with an interface that has such inputs.
Lastly, most studio monitor speakers will need XLR connections which you can easily find on audio interfaces.
Audio interfaces can also help you have some extra power to avoid things like latency which could be a result of the internal Soundcard not having the appropriate hardware to handle complex work that is needed for music production.
Furthermore, some audio interfaces have Direct Monitoring which essentially allows the user to be able to listen to the input signal of the interface with very little to NO latency.
Direct monitoring basically takes the input signal of the audio interface and sends it directly to the line outputs and headphones on the device.
This same signal is also sent to the DAW you’re working in, allowing for the input to be basically recorded at the same time.
During recording, when you notice some latency or delay on the signal being monitored, you can simply turn on the direct monitoring on interface and then mute the audio track being recorded into.
This can be quite effective.
Do sound cards really make a difference?
Sound cards optimised for certain tasks can help you take the load off of your CPU and allow you to play audio.
With regard to music production an audio interface will do a better job and basically the recommended tool.