Choosing a Sound Card for making Music. . . Part Four

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Digital I/O

There are a number of different digital I/O standards available and choosing one suitable for you can be quite a complicated task especially if you are not familiar with each type.  The following is a list of all the main digital interface standards with a description of each:

ADAT
ADAT is a format for transport of (up to) eight tracks of digital audio at once.  This digital format allows up to eight channels of audio to be sent down one optical cable.  This is useful in a number of ways such as connecting digital mixing desks to a computer or for expanding the analogue input / output capabilities of the soundcard by using a cost effective analogue to ADAT converter such as the Behringer ADA8000.

S/Pdif Optical
Short for Sony/Philips Digital Interface, a standard audio file transfer format.  S/PDIF allows the transfer of digital audio signals from one device to another without having to be converted first to an analog format. Maintaining the viability of a digital signal prevents the quality of the signal from degrading when it is converted to analog.  Requires an optical cable.

S/Pdif Coaxial
Short for Sony/Philips Digital Interface, a standard audio file transfer format.  S/PDIF allows the transfer of digital audio signals from one device to another without having to be converted first to an analog format. Maintaining the viability of a digital signal prevents the quality of the signal from degrading when it is converted to analog.  Requires a phono to phono 75 ohm cable.  This is different to a normal phono to phono cable.

Wordclock
Digital data is comprised of "bits" which are organized into "words" representing sample values. Word clock is a synchronizing signal based on the sample rate or the speed with which sample words are sent over a digital connection. Word clock is used by the receiving digital device to decipher where in the data stream each sample word ends, as well as whether the word belongs to the right or left channel (in a stereo signal).  When transmitting digital audio signals from one piece of gear to another, it is therefore important that their clocks be synchronized (i.e. the receiving device is made to "slave" its clock to the transmitting device's internal clock, or the whole system is locked to an external house sync signal or master clock), otherwise the sample words in the data stream will not be "lined up" correctly in the receiving device, possibly causing clicks, pops and other audio degradations.

AES EBU
AES/EBU is a bit-serial communications protocol for transmitting digital audio data through a single transmission line.  It provides two channels of audio data (up to 24 bits per sample), a method for communication control and status information ("channel status bits"), and some error detection capabilities.  Clocking information (i.e., sample rate) is derived from the AES/EBU bit stream, and is thus controlled by the transmitter.  The standard mandates use of 32 kHz, 44.1 kHz, or 48 kHz sample rates, but some interfaces can be made to work at other sample rates.

Tdif
This is a digital format designed by Tascam.  Similar to ADAT, Tdif is capable of transmitting eight channels of audio down one cable.  Tdif is not as common as ADAT.

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