PCIe Audio Interface Buying Guide

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PCIe Audio Interface Buying Guide


An audio interface is a great way of recording music using a home computer, removing the need for amateur artists to visit a recording studio in order to get their music onto a CD or computer. As studio fees can quickly add up, it is a great way for anybody starting up and trying to get their name known as a musician or for those just wanting to keep a record of their hobby.

About PCIe Audio Interfaces


A PCIe audio interface is a great choice as compared to the other options available, usually USB or Firewire; the connection to the computer will be quicker, meaning less latency. This means that there should not be any audible delay between a note being sung or played on an instrument and being able to hear the music played through a set of headphones. This is not only because it is irritating; a musician needs to be able to keep in time with others who may be recording at the same time or who may have already recorded their track, and an audible delay while playing makes this task extremely difficult. A PCIe (or PCI Express as it is sometimes known) audio interface is a better choice than a PCI audio interface as it is a more recent standard and therefore considerably faster. Although many computers support both, a PCIe audio interface is more likely to be compatible with newer computers and future purchases. As the latency will be affected by the other computer hardware too, it is important that the audio interface will be compatible with future upgrades to the computer itself.

Choosing a PCIe Audio Interface


Having decided upon a PCIe audio interface, the things that need to be taken into consideration will be very similar to those for any other audio interface. The number of inputs and outputs will be a primary concern for many, as will the types of audio inputs available. The recording quality is another important consideration; however, most devices on the market are of a reasonable standard for home recording purposes.

PCIe Audio Interface Ports


The number of input and output ports on PCIe audio interfaces varies greatly. Due to their high speed, it is possible to have a number of inputs connected at any one time. In order to support a large number of inputs, most devices will either have a break out box or a plug with cables for several inputs as there is not the physical space on the PCIe card itself. Users requiring only a small number of inputs and outputs may consider a card where the ports are built in. However, if instruments are going to be continually plugged in and unplugged from the audio interface, it can be easier to access the ports if they are not around the back of the computer. The number of inputs required will vary depending on the type of instruments and number of instruments being recorded. A typical band consisting of a vocalist, guitarist, bass player, and drummer could find themselves needing 6 ports. It is advisable to plan for the future and buy a PCIe audio interface with additional ports available where this is an affordable option as it costs far less to upgrade to a better audio interface when making the first purchase than it does to replace the whole thing in the future.

Vocals

A vocalist will typically require just one input for their microphone; however, if there are others doing backing vocals, one input will be required for each person.

Guitar

An electric guitar will only need one input, however it is important to think about how many will be used at any one time as many bands make use of multiple guitarists. Acoustic guitars are typically recorded using a microphone so will again require one input.

Bass Guitar

As with guitars, bass guitars need just one require just one input.

Drums

For most, drums will be the most complicated instrument to capture, with a typical setup requiring four microphones to record the drums. This will usually consist of a microphone for the kick, one for the snare, and two for the overheads.

Keyboard

Like a guitar, a keyboard will only need one connection.


Using this guide, a solo artist that consists of a guitar or keyboard playing vocalist would be looking at an audio interface with 2 or more inputs. A band consisting of a vocalist, drummer, guitar player, and bass player would be looking for a device with a minimum of 7 inputs; however, for a larger group such as this, spare inputs will allow better versatility; for example, for backing vocals or a second guitar.

Types of PCIe Audio Interface Input


There are a number of different ways of connecting instruments to an audio interface device. As an audio interface will have a set number of each input type, it is important to determine what is required before purchasing one. Whilst there will usually be a couple of options about how to connect a specific instrument, more often than not there is one way that is more suitable than the others.

Line

To connect another electronic device to a PCIe audio interface, a line input would usually be used. Compatible electronic equipment ranges from a mixing desk through to a CD player, synthesizer, or preamplifier. In some setups, an instrument will be first plugged into another electronic device and then into the audio interface using the line input.

Microphone

A microphone can be used to capture the sound from a number of different instruments and recorded using a PCIe audio interface. Whilst traditionally associated with vocals, they can be used to capture sound from any number of sources, including an acoustic guitar, drums, or any other percussion instrument.

Instrument

The instrument input is often used for connecting electric guitars and bass guitars. On audio interfaces with no specific instrument input, it is common practice to use the line input along with a preamplifier or other electronic device between the two.

MIDI

A MIDI connection can be used for capturing a keyboard. Rather than capturing the actual sound produced by the keyboard, which would usually be done using a line input, it captures the control data such as what notes were played and how loudly. Software instruments on a computer can then adjust the sound that is output to mimic a number of different instruments.

PCIe Audio Interface Recording Quality


As PCIe is a relatively new standard, most PCIe audio interfaces that can be found for sale are generally of a good quality. This doesn’t mean that all are the same, however, as they will differ in terms of both the sample rate and the bit depth offered. The sample rate is the number of times the PCIe audio interface measures a signal each second. Most on the market will offer either 96kHz or 192kHz; however, some of the lower end models may only support a 48kHz sample rate. Whilst this may sound plenty for a recording, considering the standard for CDs is 44.1kHz, this is an area where more is better as a higher sample rate allows better filtering of artefacts caused by the process of turning the analogue output of an instrument into a digital signal. The bit depth is usually quoted alongside the sample rate and is a measurement of how accurately each signal reading is recorded. The majority of audio interfaces will offer 24-bit depth, and it should not be necessary to look for anything higher than this.

Finding a PCIe Audio Interface on eBay


In order to find PCIe audio interfaces on eBay, from the home page, choose the All Categories tab and click on the Musical Instruments link. There will be a link on this page for Pro Audio Equipment, underneath which is a section called Audio/MIDI Interfaces. To find PCIe Audio Interfaces, use the filters on the left hand side of the page. Further filters such as New can then be applied to filter out new devices only.

Conclusion


A PCIe device is a great choice for an audio interface as it offers a high speed connection capable of connecting many input sources simultaneously. The two most important things to take into consideration when purchasing a PCIe audio interface are the number and types of inputs required. Where the budget allows for it, allowing for a few extra inputs will make sure the device is suitable for any future recording projects.
The PCIe audio interfaces available on the market are generally of a good enough quality for home recording purposes. A 24-bit depth is common across nearly all devices; however, it is more common for the sample rate to vary. Unless getting the lowest priced audio interface is the primary consideration, a PCIe audio interface with a sample rate of 96kHz or higher will be suitable for most purposes.

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