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Audio Cards for monitoring

I have to confess that I am so ignorant of this stuff that I am likely asking the all time dumbest question ever... but here goes. I have a pair of monitor headphones (sony) and shoot and record video. I'm upping my game a bit and wonder how best to monitor the sound recorded once it's in the computer so it's not colored by base boosting etc.

I know the cans don't color the sound but the sound card I've got is a Soundblaster and it definitely can do that.

I've tried researching how to get your recorded sound playback out of your sound card clean but, if I did read the answer, I sure wasn't smart enough to recognize it!

So, what/how do you recommend I get the best sound from my PC so it's not distorted any more than is reasonably possible so I hear close to what the original recording sounds like? Or, at least, I think that's the way to ask the question...

Your expert guidance will be most appreciated.


Profile picture for user pcrecord

pcrecord Tue, 09/09/2014 - 13:44

Audio engineer would say headphones are not a good way to monitor because it screws the stereo spectrum compared to speakers in a room that will sounds very different to our ears.

You'd usually want a good digital to analog converter like a Lavry DA11 and good monitors in a tuned room.

Now I say all this not knowing what you exactly do and expect. But all you may need is a clean audio interface, like a focusrite 2i2 or more high end ones like RME or others..

If you talk about distortions, you are surely aware that your initial recordings need to be the cleanest and your playback system can't repair any overdrive, digital peaks or distortions.

Please explain further the actual setup and activity you do.

Stuckshutter Tue, 09/09/2014 - 14:17

Thanks a million pcrecord. Advice on the room monitoring vs. headphones is great input and makes sense. I get the part of you have to try other playback systems and speakers to help you really understand how what you hear in your studio sounds like when played back on other systems, etc.

I basically shoot a lot of interviews and corporate sutff for web video advertising and training. As a hobby out of control, I shoot wildlife videos and have been working on adding VO to them since I've got a buddy who is fairly good at that and getting better working and studying with some real pros. I get his VO for free.... We tried a Rode Podcaster but quickly realized it didn't make the cut compared to reasonably good gear so he has ordered a Rode NT-1 for VO. He's also working with a local pro shop he's buying from to get an interface from the xlr to the usb inputs. Don't know what he's getting but maybe you have some recommendations.

I plan to take his digital audio from the NT-1 in a wav file and edit it for the videos.

I guess I'm just smart enough to begin to be aware that sound recording and playback is well, complicated and you need to know a good bit to record, evaluate, fix/improve/sweetine whateveryoucallit, and end up with quality.

Advice on what to add to an I-7 16gb PC to get a decent sound out of it to start out with would be a good starting place. Sound cards, monitors, etc., whatever information you think I need would make me a lot smarter.

DonnyAir Wed, 09/10/2014 - 02:12

You'll be far better off - and happier - by dumping that soundblaster card and getting into an external, standalone mic pre - audio I/O. You'll have far better gain/headroom, control over gain structure, better sound because you'll have better preamps, and, the conversion difference will be night and day. Those internal cards that come resident with store bought computers are really only meant for things like gaming, computer alert sounds, watching Youtube videos, etc.

They are not deigned to take on the rigors of audio production - in either design or quality replication.

You'll up your game considerably by getting into a basic 1 or 2 channel pre/I-O. Fr what you are doing, which is essentially a hobby level, a Focusrite 2i2 or Presonus AudioBox will suit your needs just fine and I think you'll hear the difference in quality right away. These I/O's also have the added benefit of providing phantom power for condenser mics - like the NT1 your friend is buying.

Your audio will only ever be as good as the weakest link you have in the audio chain. ;)


Stuckshutter Wed, 09/10/2014 - 07:38

Hi DonnyThompson,

Thank you for the help. I know you are correct since even my lousy ears can tell the creative card isn't that good...

Displaying my ignorance of this for all to see, can you explain how does the external Focusrite or PreSonus box work playing back audio from say, a wav file in an audio editor; or when playing back audio track I'm working on in my video editor? Or do I need something else to do that?

I can see how the Forcusrite/PreSonus box would give clean results of what is being recorded to the computer but playback is where I guess I don't see how that works with monitor speakers or headphone. Would you mind helping me understand?
Many thanks!

DonnyAir Wed, 09/10/2014 - 07:49

You connect the device to your computer using a USB cable. Once you install the software/drivers (and you will likely have to disable the soundblaster card in your control panel section to avoid conflicts) the signal travels in both directions... getting audio into your computer while recording, and then playing back the audio as well, at which point you will connect your monitors to the "monitor out" jacks on the device. These connections will either go to a pair of powered (active) monitors, or, to a power amp, from which your monitors (passive) are connected. There will be a master volume control on the device.
These devices also have headphone jacks as well, with adjustable volume control.

The USB audio device /preamp will serve as the audio for your computer system.

Stuckshutter Wed, 09/10/2014 - 08:16

Hi DonnyThompson,
Thank you sir. Finally, it makes sense.

I'm off to buy a box and solve the audio problem. Or more accurately, probably just find the next thing that needs to be upgraded.

My thanks to all of you who have helped me get my head around this stuff. It's so darn basic that everyone simply things 'everyone knows that!' but, there was at least one dummy who didn't...

Anyway, the professional help and sound advice (no pun) makes this forum a must have site for me where I can get great help and fast answers. Kudos to all.

Best regards,

DonnyAir Wed, 09/10/2014 - 08:27

You're not dumb. You're just new to a craft/science that can be very technical and complex at times. Your average person on the street has no idea what is involved in audio production. Good luck in your endeavors, we're always here if you have questions.