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recommendations for external sound card for laptop?

I am putting together a solution for simple DJing - not mixing stuff, just playing tunes :-)  So far, I have my laptop, which is an HP Pavillion that incluces USB 2.0, Firewire and PCMCIA interfaces.    I have also got Foobar2000 recently installed together with a nifty addon called foo_run that starts another media player to allow me to preview tracks on headphones.  However, the upshot is that I need an external sound card to complete the picture.  My assumption is that I should get a good quality external sound card to go between my laptop and the venue's sound system.  The headsets/headphones can then just plug into the laptops earphone jack.    However, I have seen that some sound cards have an output for headsets so maybe some advantage in that?  The main question is, based on the info I've given, what are the best choices for an external sound card in terms of quality and value for money?  I've seen lots of USB 2.0 options, some firewire and some PCMCIA.  My head says PCMCIA should be better as it's pretty much directly attached to the latptop's motherboard and will have higher bandwidth.  Less wires dangling about too!  However, maybe USB 2.0 can offer a 'good enough' solution a lot cheaper? Interested in what people have to say.

Oh, one more thing, I would like to use the unit to record myself playing Highway to Heaven very badly on electric guitar.  Therefore a few inputs would be good too.  Guitar has 1/4 inch jack plug as standard but I have a converter to bring it down to 3.5mm jack if necessary.

Zarty

recommendations for external sound card for laptop?

Reply #1
As far a playback quality, the only "spec" I worry about is noise.  Almost any soundcard will have very good distortion & frequency response specs.   

I bought this USB soundcard[/u][/url] and I can't hear any noise at all...  With no music playing, I can't even tell if the headphones are plugged-in.

USB-2 has plenty of bandwidth for 2-channels.    (If you are recording multiple channels of high-resolution audio, you might need something faster.)

Inputs are a different story...  Laptops and "regular" USB soundcards only have microphone inputs.  These are generally low-quality and only good for computer mics and gaming or communications.    And, all good (performance & recording) mics are low-impedance balanced with XLR connectors, which do not interface with the high impedance unbalanced computer-mic input..

Guitar inputs are also tricky.  The high impedance (5-10K) mic input will "work", but guitars & guitar amps have higher impedance (100K+).    The lower impedance will load down the guitar and change the tone.  In addition, a guitar amp & speaker cabinet add to the tone of the guitar.  (This is unlike a Hi-Fi system or PA system, which should not add any character to the sound...  Guitar amps make poor PA systrems, and PA systems make poor guitar amps...)

There are lots of special-purpose guitar interfaces.  Some of them have "cabinet simulation" built into the hardware, and other times it's done with software.  The lowest-cost guitar-computer interface that I know of is the Behringer UCG102[/u].

recommendations for external sound card for laptop?

Reply #2
Thank you DVDDoug,
I just wondered, if for output it doesn't seem to matter much, if you had to play some stuff at a venue, would just using the standard headphones output do it? I must  admit, a DJ I know just jacked into my iPhone to play a track at a venue and it didn't sound too bad.

Zarty

recommendations for external sound card for laptop?

Reply #3
I skipped-over that part of your question...  The output on most soundcards can be used for headphones or line-out.

Another thing you might think about is a hardware mixer.  You should be able to get something useful for around $100 - $200 USD.  The computer would be one of the mixer's (stereo)  inputs, and the mixer's output goes to the PA amplifier.  And/or you can use a 2nd mixer-input for a "cue channel" from the 2nd soundcard.

 

recommendations for external sound card for laptop?

Reply #4
What would you say are the advantages of a mixer for playing straight music tracks as opposed to laptop and external sound card?

 
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