“When a singer truly feels and experiences what the music is all about, the words will automatically ring true.” - Monserrat Caball
A microphone, mixer, speakers, and you’re ready to start recording yourself singing, right?
Wrong! Something’s missing. You need the right sound card, which is essential for recording audio onto your computer.
So how can you choose the right sound card for recording vocals? How can you improve your singing with the right audio equipment?
In this article, we’ll look at different sound cards and how they can help you.
Using a Sound Card for Your Singing
A sound card? What’s that for?
This can be an internal or external computer component. Sound cards allow you to treat the audio at input or output. Put simply, a sound card transforms analogue audio signals into digital audio signals.
There are three types of sound cards:
- A chip integrated into the motherboard.
- An internal sound card.
- An external sound card.
You’ll need to decide which sound card is best for your singing needs. For example, to compose music, an external sound card connected by Firewire will do the job for most projects. So let’s have a look at choosing a sound card.
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Choosing Your Sound Card
Connecting a Sound Card for Singing
The connection is an important aspect of choosing a sound card since it’s your connection between your voice and your digital recording. There are two main ways to connect an external sound card:
- USB or USB 3.0 for PC or Mac.
- FireWire, a faster connection but less commonly found on computers.
It should be noted that Macs have a Thunderbolt port to connect some sound cards.
The Ports and Outputs for a Sound Card
When it comes to singing, you’ll choose your sound card according to your microphone and how you’ll want to record your voice. You’ll need one or several XLR ports.
So what is an XLR port?
Much like a typical audio jack, the XLR port is circular with three holes in it. This is for optimised audio quality.
Sound Card Inputs
When you sing, you need to think about the inputs on your sound card when recording. You might be tempted to opt for just one input but, more often than not, you’ll have instruments accompanying you.
You need to think about how many inputs you’ll need. For example, if you have a guitar accompanying your singing, you’ll need two. However, some instruments like the drums require several mics and several inputs. We’ll go over the details a bit later.
In terms of inputs, you’ll have mostly jacks and XLRs. In some cases, you might also have a digital input depending on the type of device you’re wanting to plug into your sound card. Similarly, you’ll want an output for your headphones. After all, you’ll need to be able to hear yourself sing when you’re recording. Finding the right sound card is a bit of an art in itself.
Studio Monitor Output
Much like the inputs, the outputs on your sound card will also heavily influence your decisions. That said, you can always get adapters. The most common formats are XLR and jacks.
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Generally, you’ll want something with control over the outputs and the volumes and an SPDIF output. This is much easier than controlling your output with a mouse. In terms of monitoring, you want a low-latency output.
I bet you wouldn’t have thought that a sound card would be this important! However, if you want to record your voice, you need the right equipment.
The AD/DA Converter
The AD/DA (Analog to Digital/Digital to Analog) converter is the main part of a sound card. This is what allows you to take an analogue signal (your voice) and convert it into a digital signal.
The sound quality needs to be clear as the converter will convert it as faithfully as possible. This is similar to the way that a digital camera will take an analogue input and create digital images. As for sound cards, you want to choose the equipment with the right specs:
- Sampling frequency, which corresponds to the number of samples per second. Generally, 44100 Hz should be enough for decent quality.
- The number of bits, the closer the number of bits is to the audio amplitude, the better. Make sure you don’t saturate this when recording. We recommend that you record in 16-bit (CD format), 24 -bit, or 32-bit float.
Sound Card Latency when Singing
When talking about sound cards, latency is the time it takes the sound card to reproduce the sounds from the input. Very small latency is manageable and you can manage the latency by adjusting the size of the buffers. Anything under 10ms should be almost unnoticeable.
Nowadays, most decent sound cards are external and work with various systems.
Using Your Sound Card for Singing
While there’s a lot of overlap in how you can use different sound cards, there are some things that will be specific to how you want to use it.
For example, if you want to record just yourself singing, independently of the other instruments, a sound card with just two inputs will suffice. Two inputs can be used to record to mono inputs or a single instrument in stereo.
However, if your goal is to record several people singing, plug in several microphones, or record background audio in addition to your voice, your sound card will need more than two inputs. The exact figure will depend on the number of singers and instruments you want to record.
Similarly, you need to ensure that the sound card can support the type of recording that you want to do. Make sure you check the compatibility before you invest in a sound card.
“Invest” is the right word as the more inputs and outputs you want, the more it’ll cost. Sound cards can cost anywhere between £30 and £1,500.
You need to decide how you want to record and how much you want to spend.
Find out more about the cost of making your own home studio.
Sound Cards for Recording Vocals
To make the world of recording less complicated, here are some reasonably-priced sound cards. Here’s a short non-exhaustive list to give you a better idea:
- Behringer UMC22 U-Phoria
- Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (2nd Generation): PC and MAC compatible.
- Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi HD
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
- PreSonus Audio iTwo
- And many others...
As you’ll have understood throughout this article, choosing a sound card isn’t something to take lightly. With all the different criteria for choosing a sound card, there’s something for everyone.
So are you ready to start recording your voice?
If you need more help with your singing, consider getting in touch with one of the many talented and experienced tutors on Superprof. There are three main types of singing tutorial available and each has its pros and cons so have a look at what's on offer and see what will work best for you, your learning style, and your budget.
Face-to-face tutorials are between just you and your tutor. Since you're the only student, the tutorials will be planned around you, what you want to learn, and how you like to learn. Of course, this bespoke service comes at a price and face-to-face tutorials tend to be the most costly per hour of tuition. That said, they're also the most cost-effective since every minute in a tutorial is spent teaching you how to sing.
Online tutorials are similar to face-to-face tutorials in that they're between a single tutor and a single student. However, thanks to the marvels of modern technology, you can be taught over the internet thanks to video conferencing software. However, since your tutor won't have to travel to you and can schedule more lessons each week, they can also charge more competitive rates.
Group tutorials tend to be the cheapest per hour because the tutor's time is being paid for by everyone in the class. Unlike the other two types of tutorials, the tutor won't be able to offer bespoke tuition as they have several students to keep happy. However, if you and a few friends all want to learn how to sing, you can share the cost of private tutorials between yourselves in group tutorials.