PCI Audio Interface Buying Guide

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PCI Audio Interface Buying Guide

A PCI audio interface of some description is an absolute must for people who like to create and record professional-sounding music on computers. All modern computers come with their own audio card; however, they are not designed for the demands of recording music, and they will struggle to deal with the recording of multiple input sources. Only a dedicated interface designed to cope with this kind of audio traffic will produce results of a professional standard.
A high-quality interface will be able to cope with multiple music streams at the same time, so various microphones, instruments, mixing decks and monitors can all be hooked up simultaneously. A good music interface will also eliminate latency; that is the delay between playing a note and hearing it back through the system. The vast majority of in-built sound cards are nowhere near powerful enough to achieve this, so recording artists usually have no choice other than to look for a PCI audio interface.

The Different Types of Music Interface


Before the popularity of laptops, a sound-card lived inside a computer, and it had a simple breakout box that was used to connect different sound sources. However, there are now a number of ‘plug-and-play’ interfaces on the market, including FireWire and USB devices. Particularly powerful laptops will be compatible with the latest PCMCIA cards, but there is a growing trend towards the use of PCI solutions – particularly for users of tower PCs.

The PCI Interface Explained

A PCI music interface is designed to live inside a computer, so it is usually only compatible with tower models. It is necessary to open up a machine in order to install a PCI card so that means these music interfaces are not as interchangeable as the FireWire and USB versions. Despite their lack of mobility, PCI cards deliver a much faster response than most other music interfaces, as they communicate directly with a computer’s motherboard. When particularly large amounts data are sent via FireWire and USB interfaces, bottlenecks can occur, which increase latency and disrupt the process of recording music. These bottlenecks rarely occur with PCI cards, so such systems are suitable for running high track counts. PCI interfaces are also bolted directly into the computer they serve, so there is absolutely no chance of accidentally disconnecting one.

Factors to Consider When Selecting the Most Appropriate PCI Card

Number of Outputs

This really depends on what the interface will be used for. Recording with several microphones will require multiple XLR inputs; however, recording voice-overs will just require one. A DJ, for instance, will usually require four line-level outputs; two will be for sending music to the main sound systems, and the other two will be for the DJ’s own headset.

How to Connect Professional Mics

Most professional microphones have three-pin XLR jacks, so interfaces with the desired number of XLR outputs should be selected. Some systems include up to eight inputs which is usually more than enough for most bands.

What is Phantom Power?

There are some mics that take their power from batteries. However, mics that take power from the interface they are plugged into are using phantom power. Not all mics use phantom power, so some interfaces will come with a ‘phantom’ switch that can be turned off if the mic used requires its own batteries.

Are Line-Level Inputs Needed?

Devices that use line-level outputs work differently than microphones. The power used in mics is relatively low, and it needs to be amplified. However, line-levels do not usually require amplification, so they require a different input on a music interface. Most inputs are signified by1/4 slots that are often TRS jacks. TRS stands for Tip, Ring and Sleeve. TRS jacks are the preferred input of musicians as they are great at reducing the hum created from using long cables.

Are MIDI Ports Essential?

MIDI is a simple language that allows a computer to communicate directly with an instrument. For example, it makes it possible for a keyboard player to play notes on their keyboard via a connected computer.

ADAT Inputs

An ADAT connection can manage up to eight separate digital audio channels. This feature is very useful when several musicians are feeding into the same interface.

What is Direct Monitoring?

When music is passed through a series of wires, computers, and interfaces, it can take a while to reach the headset of a musician. This delay is called latency, and it can be highly distracting during performance. However, direct monitoring means that the analogue sound produced by the instrument in question bypasses the complex route through the computer, and it relays directly into the ear of the musician; latency is almost completely eliminated.

What are S/PDIF Connectors?

S/PDIF stands for Sony/Phillips Digital Interconnect Format, and there are S/PDIF jacks on the majority of high quality music interfaces these days. They provide an effective way of connecting external effects equipment, and they usually come with both ‘in’ and ‘out’ jacks.

PCI Audio Interface Accessories

A PCI music interface is usually the hub of the modern recording studio, and it is often where a number of recording accessories come together. Powered studio monitors, for instance, provide a great way of hearing the finished article after mixing. For musicians that only want to hear their own instruments or voice, a set of studio headphones is a must. There are many choices when it comes to selecting a studio microphone, including ribbon mics, dynamic mics, and large diaphragm condenser mics. A PCI interface will put everything together in order to create finished pieces of music.

How to Find a PCI Audio Interface on eBay

The quickest way to search for a PCI music interface is by using the text-entry search box near the top of the eBay homepage. However, more accurate and pertinent results can be found by using the category-based search facility. Such a search begins by clicking the All Categories link near the top of the homepage. A list of categories will then be loaded, and the Musical Instruments link should be clicked, followed by the Search icon. A further list of sub-categories will then be displayed on the left of the screen, and the Pro Audio Equipment link should be clicked. The next screen will include a number of sub-categories, and the Audio/Midi Interfaces should be selected. The user will then be taken to a page that includes a number of check-box options designed to narrow the search to only those results that meet the user’s exact specifications. One of the category headings on this page will be Type, and the PCI Audio Interface option under this heading should be checked. The user can then browse the available items in order of price or time remaining.

Finding music interfaces on eBay is a very simple and quick process, and it involves either searching by category or via a quick text-entry box. Shopping on eBay delivers a huge range of benefits that make the buying process safe and efficient. Sellers are given feedback from buyers after a sale has been completed; these scores are then made available for future buyers to see. This system gives buyers the peace of mind in knowing that particular vendors deliver quality products in a speedy fashion. There are also vendors with authorised seller status, which often means they are expert suppliers in their chosen field. As there are many accessories available for use with music interfaces, it may be worth looking for bundles that include a PCI interface along with microphones, headsets and speakers.


In many cases, amateur musicians may be able to use their computer’s own sound-card and the appropriate software to create very basic musical compositions. However, when more than one mic or instrument is involved, the need for a dedicated music interface becomes essential. Amateur recording artists or DJs who use the latest laptops will often be able to use portable USB or Firewire interfaces. However, such devices have limited capabilities, and a complex and professional composition will be far more likely when using a PCI interface. Although they are a little more complicated to install, they deliver a music recording experience that can’t be rivalled.

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