There are many sound cards to choose from. Nearly every computer comes with one. Some are nationally known brands and others are proprietary sound cards that are made specifically for a single manufacturer. These sound cards are called “consumer” cards. They are designed to handle the general multimedia tasks most computer users have, like playing CDs or MP3s, using your computer as a telephone, or playing computer games. Most consumer sound cards fit the bill nicely for the average computer user. They can play and record both audio and MIDI, but there are certain limitations which are relevant for Cakewalk users. The following list covers the characteristics of most consumer sound cards. This list is very general and does not necessarily reflect every sound card that comes bundled with a computer.
Number of inputs and outputs. Consumer cards nearly always have two inputs, mic and line in, and one output. Usually, these inputs and outputs are stereo, meaning there is a left and right channel.
Type of inputs and outputs. Consumer cards almost always have eighth inch jacks, requiring an adaptor to use with standard quarter inch cables (guitar cables, patch cables, etc.).
Simultaneous recording and playback. Some older consumer sound cards aren’t capable of simultaneous recording and playback. These cards are called half-duplex. Cards that are capable of simultaneous recording a playback are called full-duplex.
16-bit, 44100 resolution. Consumer cards are only capable of 16-bit audio and a sampling rate of 44.1 KHz. While these settings are at CD quality, Cakewalk software is capable of 32-bit audio at a sampling rate of up to 192 KHz.
Internal. Consumer sound cards are installed in PCI slots (or ISA for older sound cards) on your computer’s motherboard. While professional sound cards are also frequently installed in PCI slots, some provide a “breakout box” which houses the analog to digital (A to D) and digital to analog (D to A) converters, keeping them away from the internal noise a computer generates (fans, hard drives, etc.).
Multiple inputs and outputs. Many professional sound cards have multiple inputs and/or outputs. Some have analog and digital inputs or outputs for use with ADATs and digital mixers.
Type of inputs and outputs. Professional sound cards use quarter inch (mono or TRS), XLR or RCA inputs rather than the eighth inch jacks found on consumer grade sound cards. Some cards also have digital inputs and/or outputs like S/PDIF and ADAT.
Higher bit-depths and sampling rates. Most newer professional sound cards allow you to record at 20, 22 or 24-bit, and at a sampling rate of up to 96 KHz.
Onboard DSP. Some sound cards have effects processors for things like reverb and delay built into the sound card. These can take a big load off of your computer.
High quality A to D and D to A converters (Analog to Digital and Digital to Analog). The quality of your recordings ultimately depends on the quality of sound that you initially record. Professional sound cards have higher-quality components that convert the sound into and back out of the digital format.
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