Sound Cards

Well, in another thread, I got great advice on this topic, which I am now exploring further. I am looking to be able to record LPs and perhaps CDs.

I found this good link, which tests various sound cards along various technical criteria:

The Turtle Beach Santa Cruz is the highest-rated "consumer" card, rated "excellent" in all areas except signal-to-noise ("very good") and dynamic range ("very good"). This card lists for $80, and costs a mere $40 extra when buying a Dell.

I'm trying to decide if this is good enough.

1. A poster pointed out that the Turtle Beach card doesn't do A/D conversion at 24/96 (it does 18/44), and that even though CDs are only 16/44, the extra headroom allows for digital manipulation of the "image" without loss of quality prior to recording. What if I don't care to manipulate the sound files (I don't imagine having time)? Will there be an audible difference between 18/44 and 24/96 when doing "no-fiddle" copies from LP or CD?

2. The more expensive cards seemed aimed primarily at musicians, and allow mixing signals from various sources, and the like. None of this applies to me. Are these more expensive cards harder to use, or less appropriate for my purpose for any reason?

3. What is S/PDIF? It seems to allow attaching the CD source directly to the sound card (internal to the computer). Is this desirable? Or is it preferable to write the file to hard disk first, then burn it, to avoid timing issues?

4. Since the cost of the higher-end cards is about the same as the cost of a mass-market standalone CD burner stereo component, would I be better off just buying one of the latter?

5. Finally, what higher-end card do people prefer? I've found three internal cards that are listed in the above link as "excellent" across the board, cost $400 or less, have Windows XP support, and do 24/96 A/D conversion:
-- Digital Audio Card Deluxe. $400. Well-reviewed in this forum.
-- Midiman Audiophile 2496. $230. The only one of these three that doesn't support balanced inputs. Also reviewed positively in this forum.
- Echo Audio MIA. "Under $250". Not mentioned in this forum so far.

Thank you for any comments/advice!

- Eric
Check out the stereolink $130
or the
onkyo USB SE-55 I think is the name $75-130

these are usb audio devices that allow you to process the signal outside of your pc. The stereolink has analog only outputs and the onkyo has both digital and analog out. I use a santa cruz and have it running to the coxial input on my dac. Sounds good, but I have the stereo and the pc connected to different grounds and I get noise.

Ehart, I use the DAL Card Deluxe and I only do vinyl restoration. I do not use it for any other purpose, except for playing occasional audio files on the web. Here's my take on your questions. Bear in mind that there will be a lot of different opinions and you will just have to listen to all sides and make up your own mind.

1. If you are just going to copy to digital without fiddling with the file, and for the purpose of cutting redbook cd's (ie, 16/44) I doubt you will hear a difference. It might be argued that the algorithm for digitizing at 24/96 and then downsampling/dithering to 16/44 gives a better digital representation than going straight to 16/44 but I do not hear the difference. However, you may want the 24/96 file to play direct to your stereo (it sounds great) and you may also want it if and when the software is available to convert a 24/96 wav file to DVD-A. That would be real cool!

2. The more expensive cards are not more difficult to use and offer more editing capability. Having said that, you should know that the editing time for 24/96 files is significantly longer than for 16/44. I have a 1.3Ghz Pentium IV with 256Mb ram and it takes about 15 minutes to depop 60 minutes of music in 24/96. It only takes about 1 minute or less to do the same task in 16/44. 60 minutes of music will take about 520Mb of disc space at 16/44 compared to about 1.7Gb at 24/96.

3. I believe SPDIF stands for "Sony Philips Digital InterFace", or something like that. You certainly do not need it if copying vinyl (you will use an analog input) and you also won't need it to copy 16/44 to 16/44. You would be better off copying to your hard drive first using your cdr or another cd drive and then copying to the burner. Many will argue that the computer cd drive is sub-optimal. I disagree. In any event, SPDIF is only useful if you want to copy from a stereo cd transport into your computer (and your transport has SPDIF.)

4. Some of the standalones work fine (check out the HHB). The downside is lack of control. With a standalone, you cannot later break up the file into separate tracks and you cannot do any audio cleanup.

5. I have a DAL Card Deluxe and I am very happy with it. I have also tried the Soundblaster Audigy which was not nearly as nice. I have not tried the others so I cannot compare it to those. I do know that DAL has a 30 day money back guaranty.

good luck and feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.

1. You make this "de-popping" sound really simple. Is it a quick one-button type thing, or does it involve multiple steps and real effort?

2. If I still didn't care about "control" and editing, is the basic sound quality of the component-type CD burner (say, the HHB) going to be as good as the 16/44 CDs I would produce with a good sound card?

Thanks for your patience with these questions!

- Eric
1. Yes, depopping can be as simple as hitting a button. What I mean is that most software packages come with a depop utility. All you need to decide is how much depop you want to apply: Less removes less of the pops and clicks, but will have no effect on the music; more runs the risk of changing the music. So, all you do is select the depop tool, select your desired level and hit "go". The software is designed to recognize the unique sound pattern of pops and clicks. Of course, from there you can also manually apply various techniques to correct specific blemishes. You can also record a "sound print" of a blank spot on the record and the system can then remove similar sounding patterns which helps to reduce background noise. Of course, all this is extra "fiddling" and also runs the risk of affecting the music. But if done right, the results can be excellent.

2. I am very happy with my system. However, I can understand someone wanting a no fuss method. If all you want to do is copy directly to 16/44 cd, you will do sonically just as well as (or better than) if you use a computer based system to copy directly to 16/44 without depopping, denoising, etc.

If you are going to go the no fuss way, I strongly recommend one of the HHB's. They have an excellent a/d converter and they do not use copy protection. Their entry level (830 Burnit) goes for under $600.00 at B&H).

Let us know what you decide and how you like it.
For copying vinyl I usa a Marantz pro CD burner. It is a standalone unit and since it is a pro model it uses computer cdrs and has none of the copyguard issues that the consumer models have. J&R has a newer model than mine for 479.00 I believe. For CD copying, most of the time I use a TDK burner in my computer. But sometimes I use the Marantz because I'm using my computer for something else or just want to go to bed and let the CD record while I'm asleep.

Robert Wear
I hate to say this, but do you guys realize that you can get a used Philips CDR on ebay for about 250.00?
I have not found a sound card that does a to d as well.
I would like to hear if anyone else has.
Yes you can get a Philips cheap but it is not a pro model. And when making digital copies, you don't go through the A to D converters. I would not own a consumer model CD burner. Sorry, but consumer CD burners have too many limitations. And the Marantz standalone unit that I have has just as good or better A to D coverters as the Philips. The Marantz is a pro model Philips.

Uhh, Robert, I was not insulting your Marantz.
In fact your post was not even visible to me when I wrote about the Philips.
Also, I am not touting the Philips as the "tank....end in the world"....I am merely saying that for the money, it is a hard machine to beat.
The music CD's you have to buy are cheap cheap cheap if you know where to get them. Hence, not an issue for me.
I sure would like to hear some folks talk about experices they have had with home studio cards with multiple inputs..
I was curious to know about the Marantz: can it make copies of a compilation CD? In other words if I make a CD of songs from my CD collection- can I then use the Marantz to make multiple copies of that CD I created -or is it copy-protected or I can make only slow real-time analog copies?? What is the model# of the Marantz you have and might you know what the # is for the newest model that was mentioned came out??
Yes, you can make as many digital copies as you want which is true of all pro models. Mine is an older model a CDR-630. You can get the newest model in single-well for less. J&R sells it for 479.00 I beleive. You can get a dual-well from them for 679.00, or there abouts. I also use a TDK CD burner in my computer that I use for most of my CD copying. The Marantz is slow unless you get a dual-well which will record at twice the speed.
Thank You for your reply and helpful/informative info. I have a Plextor 24/10/40A which I bought recently- just havent had the time yet to use it as much as I'd like. I noticed it can burn fine up to 20x, but when its set to its highest-> 24x, its performance really slows down for some reason- so, until I figure out why, I have to be content with 20X. I also did upgrade my soundcard to a CreativeLabs
Live! from an older generation one. It took a few times for the driver CD to install on my computer- I went to the CL website to see about if any new driver patches - but they have very poor info there regarding that- dont see where the drivers are to install! Used to search for sites with drivers, got the card working now but I noticed my computer with Win 98 SE hanging up more often now. As for the Marantz: thanks for explaining to me- I thought all standalones (as opposed to pc-based)didnt allow copies of a copy. So, in other words- if I buy that dual Marantz- it will do the same thing as my computer Plextor Burner (copies of compilations) at approximately the same speed?
I'm sure you know that in order for your Plextor to write at 24X the drive it is reading from has to be able to read at 24X. And the disc that you use must be 24X capable also. The dual well Marantz will only burn at 2X I believe.
I dont use the other drive as there is no need to when burning CD's. I use just the Plextor. Simply make an image on the Hard Drive of the tracks I want to record and then burn them onto the blank disc in the Plextor- bypass my other CD drive all-together. And Yes, I did check that the discs were 24x compatible. As for the Marantz- Ok , so the bottom line is: can do the same as a PC-based Burner, only much slower- 2x instead of 24x or whatever the current fastest is, 32x perhaps by now.