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The question of choosing the best External Sound Card for a particular use or application gets asked a lot. I have put together this quick guide which highlights the main considerations when choosing the right audio interface for your PC or Mac for recording and/or podcasting.

The first question: What are you going to be using an external sound card / audio interface for?

Recording simple vocals for presentations
Home recording vocals and instruments
Recording an entire band or group
Benefits of an External Sound Card
An external sound card or audio interface, often called a “break out” box, has a major advantage over an internal PCI / PCI-Express card when it comes to recording and podcasting. The Analog to Digital (A/D) and Digital to Analog (D/A) conversion engine is located in the external box, therefore, all of the processing that goes on to change the analogue stream into a digital stream and vice versa is undertaken inside the box away from the electrical noise of your computer. The resulting digital signal is sent via cable to an input in your PC or Mac via a USB, Firewire or a dedicated card specifically designed to couple the box to your computer.

Other important advantages include, ease of installation and connectivity; advanced functionality such as pre-amps; Hi-Z inputs; in-built hardware effects; mobility; use with laptops, notebooks and desktops.

How many analog inputs do you need? Are you podcasting using one or two microphones (2 inputs)? Do you need inputs for musical instruments such as a guitar and/or keyboards (4 – 8 Inputs)? Or perhaps you want to record your entire band and microphone up the drum kit (20+ simultaneous inputs)?

The more inputs you need, the more you will need to spend. From experience it is advisable to choose an external sound card with a few more inputs, just in case.

Pre-amps boost the very low signal input from microphones up to a level that mixers, sound cards, effects, etc can work with. Pre-amps are not optional if you are recording with microphones. You need a pre-amp channel for every microphone you are recording simultaneously. I recommend you get the same amount of pre-amps as you have analog inputs in your external sound card. It doesn’t do you any good to have the inputs if you can’t use them.

Connecting your external sound card to your PC or Mac

PCI or PCI-Express (Via internal card to “Break out” box) – Desktop only – not easy to install
USB 1.1 – Slowest connection speed- only good for one input at a time
USB 2.0 – Faster, The standard – better for simultaneously recording up to 8 inputs, Mobile
USB 3.0 – NEW, Faster still, awaiting audio peripherals to be released (One to keep an eye on)
Firewire – Stable, fast, low latency, preferred solution by seasoned recordists
PC, Mac or both.
Make sure your chosen external sound card works on your machine – the specifications will tell you. There are externals sound cards that work just on PCs and just on Mac’s and those that work fine on both.

Many external sound cards come with MIDI in and out ports. If you need MIDI or think you may want to experiment with MIDI, I recommend that you purchase a sound card with MIDI already built-in. You’ll want to make sure that the sound card uses a standard MIDI jack as some include ports that need adaptors. It is best to avoid adaptors.

MIDI can trigger synthesizers (which essentially shapes and moulds sound electronically to model various instruments) or samplers (which instantaneously play back short recordings of sound files). Because of this, MIDI is used all the time in music ranging from techno to metal to movie scores. With the right samples, it is easy to switch from working on an orchestral score to a rap beat in seconds.

Hi-Z Input
Increase the quality of your direct guitar recordings, by plugging your guitar into a high impedance input. Your standard sound card input was not designed to work with a guitar and therefore, some high frequencies can be lost. Hi-Z input is Included on many audio interfaces.

Do you need to monitor vocals / guitars through headphones, have separate monitoring for each member of the band? Most recording software will allow direct monitoring of the signal through the main outs (which is how you listen on playback through you studio monitors). This is usually satisfactory for a drummer but may not be nearly as useful for the rest of the band.

Do some research before buying an external audio interface to make sure that your monitoring needs are taken care of.

Some sound cards come with recording software included. Make sure you factor this into your decision and into the price as well. Most recording programs bundled with sound cards are the “LE” version which means they generally are lacking some of the features of the given companies flagship model.

With that said, most people do not need the features included in the most high end recording software. You will probably be fine with whatever software that comes with your audio hardware (assuming it comes with any at all). If you find that the program that comes with your sound card is lacking in features, most companies will allow you to upgrade to more high end versions at a discounted price.

A selection of well known software companies that work well with an external sound card include Cakewalk, Cubase Alberton and Pro Tools.

Dr SGriff has over 25 years of experience in performing and recording live music, he is also a qualified systems engineer and addicted to technology and how it can be used to improve ones quality of life. Dr SGriff, has a particular interest in External Sound Card and audio interfaces and is very happy to share his experiences and knowledge in audio, in order that those with a passion for quality digital sound can make informed decisions when building computer systems for there particular application. Whether your interest be home recording, gaming, home theatre or creating professional presentations, read more about making the right choices here:

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You may be surprised to discover that Alternative Medicine may be covered in your healthcare policy, which offers a broader scope of coverage than managed care alone, and may well reduce your overall cost of healthcare in general and even improve the future quality of life that you and your family will enjoy in the years to come.

The realization that the definition of health should be, and can be, far better than simply, free from injury or disease, represents a gradual shift in the way of thinking for both the consumer as well as the healthcare provider. It is this realization that is allowing Alternative Medicine to not only enter mainstream modern medicine, but also to partner with Conventional Medicine in a new and profound way as one of many successful avenues of treatment available to today’s consumer of health.

Fifteen to Twenty years ago, there were few recognized, alternatives to conventional medicine, at least not in the West. This is not to say that alternatives did not exist, quite the contrary, they were simply not considered a serious option in improving ones health. This is no longer the case.
Dissatisfaction with the managed care system of the past decade, coupled with one important event and a slight shift in thinking created the perfect conditions for Alternative Medicine to flourish.

First, the cost of healthcare skyrocketed. Rising costs for diagnostic and treatment of injury and disease fueled an inevitable shift in focus, primarily from treatment to prevention, and this created the perfect niche that would soon be filled by the proactive stance that Alternative Medicine prevention provides. Simply put, when costs rise people begin asking questions and seeking alternatives.

Second, with the Information Age in full swing, access to quality information from a variety of sources translated into patients being better informed of healthcare issues and therefore more involved in their treatment options, if for no other reason than as a means to reduce their overall healthcare costs.

Alternative Medicine and Conventional Medicine approach healthcare issues in very different ways.
Conventional Medicine hinges on “the diagnosis of a patient’s condition. This means that conventional medicine enters the healthcare process after the patient has been injured or after an ailment or disease has progressed to the level where an accurate diagnosis can be made. Once made, the diagnosis dictates both the treatment, accomplished via drug therapy and/or surgery, and the cost. Conventional Medicine exits the healthcare process once the malady has been identified, cured, or removed and is normally a temporary fix.

Contrast this to Alternative Medicine, which is focused on “preventing a problem, meaning that Alternative Medicine by its very nature attempts, and prefers, to enter the healthcare process before the patient is injured or becomes ill. Prevention is the first line of defense. When this frontline is penetrated by injury or disease, Alternative Medicine makes every attempt to “assist the body in healing itself, via natural means, whenever and wherever possible.

Alternative Medicine is thus non-invasive, even passive and more long-term, meaning that it becomes part of a consumer’s healthcare regime and does not so quickly exit the health process, if at all. This will translate into lower costs for wellness over the lifespan of an individual. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and at no other time has this statement been more true, especially if the cure requires an expensive antibiotic, surgery and/or an extended, or even brief, hospital stay.

Nutrition and lifestyle changes alone can easily reduce the incidence of costly injury and disease, decrease the need for costly maintenance medications and increase the likelihood of a better quality of life.

The healthcare consumer of today is expected to be both well informed and totally involved in the decisions surrounding their personal health and well being. Not limited to local or even national healthcare options, the patient of this next century will enjoy global access to both information and treatment options.

Healthcare policies are already positioning themselves for this global marketplace and are embracing Alternative Medicine as a means of lowering their own liability and costs as well as expanding their consumer pool. Consumers should make sure their healthcare policies reflect these changing attitudes and include a much broader spectrum of healthcare options.

What is the quality of your health worth? Today’s “non-traditional healthcare programs ar

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