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How Do I Choose the Best Professional Sound Card?

Sound cards may vary greatly in price.
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  • Written By: H. Bliss
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 15 October 2014
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With the many options available in audio technology, choosing the best professional sound card can be a daunting task. Start by identifying the power level of your current computer workstation to ensure that you get professional sound card hardware that your computer is powerful enough to use. Decide whether you want an internal or external sound card, and determine which sound cards are compatible with your current sound setup, including the software you will be using with the sound card. Research your sound card choices to determine which models have the features you want within your price range and choose a sound card based on which of these options meets your needs for the best value.

High-quality professional sound cards are available as both internal and external hardware. If you want the sound card to be portable, consider an external sound card that connects to your computer through a Universal Serial Bus (USB) or Firewire connection, but make sure your computer has the input plugs necessary to connect the professional sound card. External professional sound cards are also a good choice for computer users who need many audio inputs but have limited space in their computer case.

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Internal professional sound cards are best used in dedicated professional studio computers with a separate patch board assembly for instrument and microphone inputs. Separating the instrument cables from the studio computer can keep the computer from being damaged if the cables are accidentally pulled. Compare the cables you use for your sound devices and speakers with the input and output jacks available on each sound card to determine whether the sound card inputs are compatible with your current equipment. If your sound equipment is not compatible with the new sound card, you will have to buy adapters to connect them, which is an additional cost.

Professional sound cards can be reasonably inexpensive hardware devices, or they can be complex studio-quality devices that cost as much as an automobile. If the sky is the limit with regard to price and computer power, choosing the best professional sound card setup may come down to identifying the sound equipment used on recordings like those you want to create. Research the studio in which your favorite recordings were made and find out what sound equipment they use in their studio. Often, sound equipment or studio information is listed in the liner notes of an album. Recording studio websites often list the computer recording equipment and accessories they use to record.

Common manufacturers of professional sound card devices include M-Audio®, Creative® and Audiotrak®. Creative is the maker of the Sound Blaster lines of products. The Sound Blaster® Audigy® sound card series offers lower cost high-function sound card devices for advanced amateur musicians with a limited budget, but professionals often look down upon Sound Blaster® for high-end professional sound. M-Audio® is one of the most well-known industry standard manufacturers of professional-grade sound cards. Also known as Avid®, M-Audio® is commonly paired with Pro Tools®, one of the most popular professional recording suites.

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