Links to those sound cards:

Saffire 6 USB

M-Audio Fast Track 2

Dave and Kieran continue the journey to home studio goodness!

Video Text

Hi! I’m Dave from boyinaband and welcome to day 2 of the 7 day studio series, where I’ll be explaining how to set up a beginner’s studio, using my homeslice Kieran here as a guinea pig.

Here’s a stale cookie to nibble on, Kieran.

Oh, Awesome!

[begins eating]

Today in day 2, we’ll be exploring the beating heart of the home studio – the sound card. Do you know what a sound card is Kieran?

[Holds up an ace of spades that makes a weird vortex-y noise and vibrates the screen]

Uh… I guess… but I was talking more about this variety. Maybe I should call it an audio interface instead, since it doesn’t look much like a card. The audio interface allows you to take sounds and signals from the real world and put them into your computer, enabling you to record vocals, live instruments and if you have a really powerful mic, people’s thoughts.

[pan to pointing a microphone at kieran’s head and hearing that he wants a cheese sandwich]

[Cut to kieran and I, kieran eating a cheese sandwich]

So Kieran and I had a look around and had a look at what was out there.

When you go looking, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. A lot of home studio audio interfaces are USB, which is really convenient if you aren’t inclined to open up your computer and go poking around, like you would with a traditional sound card. However, some of the higher end ones in particular use firewire or other similar connection cables, so make sure your computer has the right connection for your audio interface.

2. If you intend to record vocals, make sure your sound card has phantom power. Some of the cards don’t have this. It’s usually referred to as +48V phantom power, and it’ll be a little button on the front of the interface – this allows you to power condenser microphones, which we’ll talk about later in depth, but basically they record vocals really clearly compared to other types of microphones.

3. Branston pickle is delicious on cheese sandwiches.
So here are a few of the soundcards we found:

1. Focusrite Saffire 6 Audio Interface – £149
2. M-Audio’s Fast Track 2 – £83
3. POD Studio UX1 – £100

[still eating sandwiches]

After a good hour of searching, masticating and discussion, we made our decision.

We’ve gone for the Focusrite Saffire 6 Audio Interface. Let’s open the box and take a look at it.

It comes with [insert what it comes with].

So let’s take a closer look at what it has to offer.

It’s got two XLR and quarter inch jack inputs, meaning you can plug in for instance two microphones, a mic and a guitar or a stereo synthesizer. This is a really important part of an audio interface, since it’s difficult to plug a vocalist directly into a computer [show me pushing kieran’s face into a usb input].

We’ve got the phantom power we mentioned earlier so we can use condenser microphones and gain knobs so we can boost their volume as they come into the computer; really useful if you’re recording something really quiet [cut to recording something quiet that’s funny]

There’s a headphone socket so we can do some late night composition without angering neighbours, and we’ve also got the monitor volume so we can change the speaker volume nice and easily while we’re mixing.

On the back we’ve got MIDI inputs, useful for playing virtual synths and samplers with MIDI devices, which I’ll talk about later on, and several outputs on the back, which Kieran thought would be really useful if he wanted to try using it live – this goes for both DJs, who could run different mixes to the house PA and to himself for monitoring, and for musicians like kieran who can have electronic backing tracks with a click track to keep them in time and an output for the PA.

Another thing to mention is the Preamps – these are inside the device so you can’t see them unless you have thermal vision and they are really hot for some reason. A Preamp is what boosts the audio signal when you turn up the gain. Different soundcards have different quality pre-amps, some will make a lot of hiss and noise when you turn up the gain too high, but focusrite are known for having good quality preamps that don’t give off much excess noise. I was recommended to use them from a mastering engineer I know.

While we’re talking about invisible things that are good, let’s take a look at air. I’m joking, years of ceaseless carbon pollution has distorted it beyond sustainability, so I’ll move swiftly on to the balanced inputs. Obviously you can see the inputs, but the balanced part is what’s important. I won’t go into too much detail, because I think Kieran’s brain is already about to explode, but Balanced inputs basically give less noise and hum than unbalanced ones – particularly with long cables, which is cool because long cables can also be used as makeshift lassos.

It uses a USB connection to plug into your computer as well, no need for firewire here.

Also, a lot of sound cards come with free “light” versions of software, just to get you started. These don’t have all the functions of the full software, but are great for learning the basics until you’re ready to splash out on a full version.

Remember – this isn’t necessarily the best for everyone. We didn’t go for the POD because it lacked phantom power, and we didn’t go for the M-Audio one because it only had the one output. Also, neither had MIDI inputs, meaning we would need another device if we wanted to use a MIDI controller that didn’t have its own USB. Since it had quite a few more options for not much more in terms of price, as well as those really good preamps, it made the most sense to us.

So Kieran, how does it tally up on the budget?

£149

Okay, so what’s the total so far?

We only have one thing so far

Doesn’t matter, total please Kieran.

£149

Okay, and if we were to have a super budget version of the studio, I’d recommend the M-Audio Fast Track 2 at £89.

So what’s the super budget studio total Kieran?

*Sigh* £89

Awesome sauce.

So now we have our audio interface – If you liked this video, hit like, then join me tomorrow in Day 3, where we’ll get stuck into some music production software. Exciting times, eh Kieran?

I sure do!

…What?

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One Response to “Choosing a Sound Card [7 Day Studio Day 2]”

  1. You should have mentioned the mixer knob on the Saffire. That feature is crucial for recording vocals if the singer wants to hear themselves in real time

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