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Audio Interface / Soundcard for laptops

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Audio Interface / Soundcard for laptops

Postby adrien_g » Mon Dec 10, 2012 3:55 pm

Hey, I have a question for sound in regards to laptops. I know this probably isn’t the right section, but I'm still hesitating between a Mac or PC, so I didn’t want to post in either of those respective sections (also, my question is more aimed towards the “sound/recording” aspect, and less towards a computer inquiry).

Basically, I’ve had a home studio for a while now, so I’m quite familiar with MIDI/audio/DAWs and all that. I have a decent PC with a firewire audio interface, Cubase and 5-6 actual synths (and a few programs/softsynths). However, I’m looking to buy a laptop now, as my PC needed to be upgraded anyways, and I’m also looking to produce while I’m on the road, as well as eventually play live. My question is in regards to recording sound (and this is where I’m still a bit confused when it comes to laptops)...

I know I need an external soundcard/interface if I want MIDI connections, or ¼ inputs to record audio from physical hardware... But what if I only want to run Cubase (or Logic) and use softsynths, or a program like Nerve to create/edit loops? Do I still need a physical box/card to have “decent” sound? This is where I’m confused... Does the signal need to initiate from the computer, then out to an interface, then back into the laptop? I know I’ve seen people making/recording music from a laptop without an actual external unit, so this is what I want to clear up. Someone told me most Macs have a decent integrated soundcard, which means it’s possible (while PCs don’t), but then I heard the opposite, so I’m just trying to clear this up.

Basically, as I said, all I want for now is a laptop to install a sequencer program and use with headphones, install my copy of Nerve (which I use for drums, and to edit existing audio), then probably download a few softsynths. I’m not looking (for now) to use external MIDI or record external audio, and when I do, it will be from home (which means I can use my current audio interface). Do I still need to purchase some kind of external interface/card, just to have decent “internal audio”? Is there a big difference for PC/Mac (or is it the same concept)?

Many thanks in advance, as I’m looking to buy a laptop today or tomorrow. Also, I just started verifying the forums, and haven’t found an answer yet (but feel free to refer me if there’s an existing post that covers this).


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Re: Audio Interface / Soundcard for laptops

Postby Neokoenig » Mon Dec 10, 2012 4:59 pm

If the laptop makes sound / has speakers / headphone jack, it has a 'soundcard' - all that is is a term for the chip that gives you audio.

TBH you'd be hard pressed to find a computer WITHOUT a soundcard.

However, not all audio chips are created equal. The one on my 2008 mac pro 13" is bloody lousy - a really hissy unpleasant thing. But for emergencies, it's fine. When I'm recording with the laptop, I'll use my saffire pro40 'as the soundcard' - and route all audio out to that, instead of using the built in one in laptop. It's noticeably better.

Your mileage may vary - get whatever laptop you want, and if the soundcard quality annoys you, get an external one. If you're recording remotely, you'll already be doing that via your interface (probably).
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Re: Audio Interface / Soundcard for laptops

Postby The Elf » Mon Dec 10, 2012 5:09 pm

The audio interface makes no difference to audio generated within the computer. It doesn't go 'out to the audio interface and back'. But to hear quality audio coming from your computer an external audio interface would be recommended.

When you're away from your main audio interface you can run Cubase (or other DAW) using the built-in audio and it should be fine for roughing things out. When you're back at base you can then use your AI to track hardware synths, external effects, microphones, etc.

Mac or PC makes little difference, other than ruling out any platform-specific DAWs. Cubase is dual-platform, so, given you familiarity with it, it would seem a sensible choice.
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Re: Audio Interface / Soundcard for laptops

Postby adrien_g » Mon Dec 10, 2012 6:06 pm

Thanks for the replies, I really appreciate it.

Neokoenig wrote:TBH you'd be hard pressed to find a computer WITHOUT a soundcard.

I should have mentioned: I'm aware that most CPUs/laptops come with a basic soundcard, it's just I wouldn't think they are of the highest quality (at least in relative terms of music production --- although maybe I'm wrong). As I mentioned, I'm not looking to get the highest quality / most professional sound on the laptop, I would just want to have something respectable to produce/start new ideas while I'm on the road, with the idea of finishing/mastering projects through my home set-up. From what I understand, assuming the laptop I purchase comes with a soundcard that isn't complete sh*te, I should be ok for now with a basic Cubase/Logic set-up (and a couple of softsynths).

Thanks again.

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Re: Audio Interface / Soundcard for laptops

Postby kamrai99 » Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:14 pm

As a supplementary question, when it comes to the mixing stage would it suffice to feed the audio from the laptop's sound card into the monitoring system, or would it be better to use an external sound card at this stage? I would be looking to get the best/most transparent quality sound into my monitors, obviously.

Specific example -
I have a PC with an M-Audio 2496, which I use for tracking and mixing. I have a laptop with an internal on-board sound card which I use for tracking songs.
When mixing, is it OK to use the laptop's sound (directly into my monitor controller) or would I be better off copying the whole Cubase project over onto my PC and mix from there?

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