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Choosing an Audio Interface
Outside the box, or in?
This leads us to a question: Whether ‘tis best to think outside the box or stay within its confines. Is it better to purchase (or stick with) a PCI or PCIe card-based audio interface or move over to a stand-alone interface? Of course, the walls break down a bit, since many PCI and PCIe interfaces have break-out cabling that increases the I/O capabilities and adds additional features (a mic pre, perhaps).
Six or so years ago adding audio capability to a Mac or PC, meant using PCI – it was the only game in town. This was a fine option if you needed a stereo pair of digital ins and outs. PCI systems are largely legacy products at this time, however. If you have an interface that uses this technology and are thinking of moving to a new computer, make sure drivers are available for the operating system – there’s a good chance they’re not available.
PCIe offers much more bandwidth than older cards. In a few years we should see PCIe cards that are faster than their forebearers, with even more bandwidth. But to pass 16 channels of audio with a card-based system, a number of PCIe audio interfaces are available that will serve quite well.
If connectivity requirements exceed more than a single mic pre and pairs of analog inputs and outputs it would be wise to consider an external hardware unit. USB and Firewire have both achieved speed and bandwidth that allows them to compete with PCIe cards, and these devices can be purchased in an almost unlimited array of configurations.
Ethernet and an all-digital pathway, from production to transmission, may be a reality that is ubiquitous in the near future. But as long as the human voice is part of the equation, microphones and interfaces that can input their signals will be a part of the chain. A wide array of audio interfaces is available so assess input and output needs and bandwidth requirements and have fun!
Eskow is a composer and journalist who lives in central New Jersey. He is a contributing editor for Radio magazine's sister publication Mix magazine. Thanks to Chris Ludwig of ADK Pro Audio for his input.
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