Thursday, July 05, 2007

Sound Card Help Needed

I recently bought an 88 key MIDI controller, and I tried hooking up to my computer to do some sequencing via USB. Apparently the software MIDI implementation is laggy on my computer, and my motherboard's built-in sound isn't helping. I hit a key and the note sounds half a second later, which is far too much latency.

The sound card market seems to be a mess right now. Creative has problems with Vista due to changes in the way sound is implemented (apparently using the power of the audio card itself to do acceleration is not possible without buying new drivers or using a hack). Other manufacturers do not have up-to-date EAX capabilities. Fortunately I'm using WindowsXP and I'm unlikely to upgrade any time soon.

So here's my question: Is there a good sound card that can do MIDI and games well? I'll probably be getting Reason or some other music package at some point. 5.1 sound would be nice, and compatibility with Vista would be nice in case I decide to upgrade in the future. I'm hoping not to spend much, but let's ignore price for the moment (well, no $1,000 sound cards, please, but really, what does $300 buy me? $200? $100?).

6 comments:

pkasting said...

I guess it depends on what you mean by "doing games well". I doubt any non-Creative card will have quite as low of CPU utilization, but other cards are perfectly compatible and work well otherwise.

Most prosumer and pro-audio sound cards support low- or zero-latency modes for the sorts of things you're doing. My personal choice would be an RME Digi 96/8 PAD due to its amazing sound quality, but there are lots of other good cards from Echo Audio, M-Audio, RME and others that would serve you fine. You'll probably need to combine these cards with decent software; the copy of Reason you mentioned earlier would be a fine choice.

Mike Hammock said...

Thanks! CPU Utilization is not really a concern; I just don't want compatibility problems.

Mike Hammock said...

Hmm, that card seems to be around $400. I'll be doing almost entirely MIDI work--nothing significant in the way of actually recording sounds. Will that card be overkill?

Also, that card was apparently released in 2002. Is it really still competitive?

One more thing: It would be nice to have a card that I can connect to a 5.1 setup. I should have mentioned that initially. I'll edit the original post.

pkasting said...

The issue is really your drivers. What you want is a card that comes with drivers that offers things like low-latency ASIO 2.0, GSIF 2.0, and/or WDM w/kernel streaming. All these allow the sound card to provide data to applications in extremely low-latency ways. Most pro-audio cards offer such support. The Echo Audio Gina3G or MIAMIDI are possible PCI-based interfaces (though the MIAMIDI's page is a bit short on technical detail), and Echo makes FireWire-based AudioFire parts that would also work. M-Audio's Delta series is good, and their Audiophile series might work, although like the MIAMIDI it's short on technical details. M-Audio also makes a USB-based solution called the MIDISPORT. I don't know how good its drivers are.

In short, anything that has MIDI and talks about GSIF 2.0 is probably going to work for you.

The problem with all these is they don't also do surround sound. Sound cards with 5.1 or 7.1 output are generally consumer-level cards. You may have to just use two sound cards (which is perfectly possible and something many computer-based prosumer musicians do).

Mike Hammock said...

All right, it sounds like two cards might be the right solution, then. Thanks!

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