Home Recording Basic Microphone Setup
Compressor Use in Home Recording
Home Recording Microphone Storage

Home Recording PCI Audio Interfaces

PCI is the old standard for getting audio into and out of a computer and has an advantage over the other interface types because of the fast transfer speed of PCI technology. This type of interface isn’t without its problems though, which are as follows:

  • Many computers (for example, laptops and all Macs except the Power Mac) don’t have a PCI slot.

  • Because PCI technology is changing, all cards don’t fit in all computers, so make sure that the PCI interface that you’re considering can fit into your computer.

PCI interfaces come in the following varieties:

  • Separate sound card with no analog inputs and outputs: In this case, you need to buy separate preamps, direct boxes, and AD (analog-to-digital) and DA (digital-to-analog) converters. For most home recordists, the separate-sound-card route isn’t the best solution. In fact, even for the pros, this isn’t the most popular choice — so much so that this option is quickly falling from the marketplace.

    A PCI sound card doesn’t contain analog inputs or outputs, so you need to buy separate compon
    A PCI sound card doesn’t contain analog inputs or outputs, so you need to buy separate components to use this type of card for audio recording.
  • Analog inputs and outputs within the card: Having the analog connection located in the card used to cause interference with the other components in the computer’s housing (such as fans and hard drives), which caused low-level hums in the recorded audio.

    This is generally no longer the case unless you buy a really inexpensive card, but the bad rap led buyers to shy away from this approach and it has become uncommon as a result. You can find some less expensive audio interfaces configured this way, but the higher end of the market has generally abandoned it.

    Some PCI interfaces often come with analog connectors run from the computer.
    Some PCI interfaces often come with analog connectors run from the computer.
  • Analog inputs and outputs housed in a separate box: This box is called a breakout box. Because of the low-level hum problems in the early interfaces, most manufacturers of PCI-based audio interfaces put their analog circuitry in a separate box with a cord attached to the PCI card.

    One advantage to this — besides eliminating the hum in early models — is that you can tweak the input and output levels without having to use a software menu. The dials for the levels are placed on the breakout box within easy reach.

    A PCI interface with a breakout box for the analog components is the preferred form of PCI interfac
    A PCI interface with a breakout box for the analog components is the preferred form of PCI interface.

If you have a laptop computer but can’t use a PCI-based system and you want the high transfer speed of PCI, you can buy an audio-interface card that uses the laptop’s PCMCIA card slot or a PCI express port. Of course, this only works if you have a laptop that’s equipped with a PCMCIA or PCI Express slot.

If you want to go the PCI route, make sure that your computer has PCI slots that are compatible with the PCI interface that you’re considering. For example, Lynx Studio PCI cards don’t work with the PCI slots that you find in the newer Mac Intel computers.

Quite a few PCI-based audio interfaces are available, and they cost from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars.

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