What audio hardware do I need?

Last updated on 7/28/2011
The information in this article applies to:
  • SONAR (All SONAR Family Products)
  • SONAR Home Studio
  • Music Creator (All Versions)
  • Guitar Tracks/Studio (All Versions)
Cakewalk software products require a windows compatible sound card or "audio interface" in order to function. this means the sound card that came with your computer will usually work, but the results can range from great to less than you'd hoped for.

Let's take a look at what you should expect from the various types of audio devices available, and help you select the features thats are important to you.

These days it's common for the audio device to be built into your PC's motherboard. This is commonly referred to as an integrated audio device. Whether your PC came with an integrated device or has an actual audio card installed by the factory the results are about the same. These devices are usually designed for very basic media playback, such as playing an audio CD or listening to MP3 files. these types of tasks are not very demanding because you can't notice the 80 milliseconds delay that you never even knew existed before will become very annoying. This because the delay, or latency, is quite noticeable when you have your own performance as fame of reference.

To elaborate: When you pluck a string on a guitar, the signal is sent through your instrument or microphone cable as analog information that computers don't understand. when that signal reaches the sound card, it has it be converted to digital information, which can then be recorded to a track in SONAR. Once the signal has made its way to the software, it will be processed by whatever audio FX (reverb, chorus, flange) that you've added. From there it is sent out of the computer where it then has to be converted back to an analog signal so that you can hear it through your speaker or headphones. This entire process needs to be completed in what we perceive as instantaneous.

The part of the audio hardware that is mostly responsible for maintaining this its driver, which is sort of like the language the hardware uses to talk to windows. when manufacturers make a simple sound card for general use they use an MME Driver. This type of driver is designed to work with any sound device. Which in our language analogy can be imagined as a dialect that takes 17 words to say "hello". When a company  makes an audio device designed specifically for recording with applications like SONAR they pay a great deal of attention to creating a WDM or ASIO driver specifically for that piece of hardware. So, it takes only one word to "hello". Using this much more efficient language equals much better performance and more tracks in your projects. SO, if you decide to upgrade your audio hardware look for one that supports one or both of these two driver types. We have taken the time to test much of the hardware currently available and have made a list of ones that prove to work exceptionally well:

Audio Hardware Guide

When selecting an audio interface that suits your needs there are a few  things  you will want to consider.

1)How many inputs do you need?
Here, you want to consider what the maximum number of sources you will record simultaneously. for some a single stereo input will be enough. A turn tab list or guitarist will most likely just overdub multiple parts. However, Some users may need to mic up a whole drum set, which will usually require 8 or more inputs.

2) How many outputs do you need?
Outputs are generally not as valuable as inputs. But they certainly have their use and, depending on how you work, can sometimes run low at just the wrong time. Some extra outputs will come in handy if you some hardware FX or pedals thats you may want to use. They also work well for creating "made-to-order" headphone mixes for performers.

3) what type of inputs and outputs do you need?
While shopping for an audio interface you will find that different are available to accommodate different users' needs. You'll need to digest a few technical terms before deciding, like: S/PDIF, ADAT, AES/EBU, WORDCLOCK. Visit the following website for some help determining what is actually important to your studio before you drop too much money on I/O you won't use: Choosing A PC Audio Interface: The SOS Guide.

4)How will the hardware connect to your computer?
You have a few options here. If you are using a laptop you may need to choose a  card that connects via FireWire, USB or PCM/CIA. all of these work very well. However, we still tend ti find that good old-fashioned PCI cards are usually the most dependable.

If you take some time to Consider the elements mentioned above you should have no problem finding the perfect audio card that will both fit your budget and your specific technical needs.     
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