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I plug in my electric guitar to the Line-IN port (No pre-amp) of my desktop PC’s HD soundcard. It's onboard soundcard by Realtek.

I use amp sim called Guitar Rig 5 (GR5) on Windows 10. It works. My guitar does not have active pickups and I am not using any pre-amp.

Everywhere on the internet and Youtube videos it’s said that it’s not a good idea to plug in electric guitar to PC soundcard Line-IN.

  • However a basic audio interface supports 16 Bit 44.1 KHz but my soundcard supports even 24 bit 192KHz.
  • Audio interface supports multiple instruments. I need to use just a guitar.
  • If there’s any hissing from single coil, I can suppress it using Noise Reduction in GR5.
  • I do not need to use any DAW

In what way an audio interface at 16 bit 44.1Khz better than my soundcard (Line-IN port) which is supporting 24bit 192Khz.

In what way I will get better sound quality and fidelity by using an Audio Interface at 16bit 44Khz?

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  • To help answer the question, it would be useful to know which exact sound card you have, which operating system you are running and if your guitar has onboard preamp, active pickups or something similar.
    – ojs
    May 30, 2023 at 9:13
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    Does this answer your question? Is it necessary to have an audio interface to record electric guitar directly?
    – ojs
    May 30, 2023 at 9:35
  • @ojs - It does not, I am comparing 16bit 44Khz to 24 bit 192 Khz, so this question is more pointed than what you have identified as duplicate. So Samples is identified as a Tag for this post
    – user87564
    May 30, 2023 at 13:07
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    I'm sorry, this question is very confusing to me. Why are you trying to compare with an "Audio Interface at 16bit 44Khz"? What audio interface would that be? Is there a specific audio interface you're asking about? If so, please edit the question to include the exact make and model of that interface. If you're asking about audio interfaces in general, then it doesn't make sense to include the 16 bit, 44.1 kHz part, because it's been at least 20 years since even the cheapest audio interfaces were limited to only 44.1 kHz. May 31, 2023 at 15:12
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    I used my onboard sound card for quite some time and the results (and latency) were not that bad. Nowadays I have a usb interface and the main advantage for me is it can handle higher levels without distortion. But if you don't use a pre amp that should not be a problem. In order to make use of the better quality of a good interface you also need high quality speakers and a bit knowledge of sound design. If you are happy with the onboard sound card there is no need to upgrade to an interface.
    – flappix
    May 31, 2023 at 18:53

3 Answers 3

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The two primary issues with cheap built in sound cards is noise level and latency.

Noise in the recording path matters for recording audio – e.g. vocals or real instruments. If they are recorded with added noise, this will affect the quality of the recording. Note, that many techniques of processing music amplify the signal and thus the noise – e.g. compression or distortion effects, commonly used for electric guitars.

With 16 bit resolution the noise level can't be lower than -96dB. In practice, the input noise is often much higher, due to poor quality analog path. 24 bits allow for noise of -144 dB, in practice good interfaces are better than -110 dB noise.

As the others point out, line input is not suitable for connecting passive guitar due to impedance mismatch, and may result in loosing high frequencies from the signal.

The latency matters for live audio processing in the PC, that is playing virtual instruments using a MIDI controller (e.g. MIDI keyboard), or using effects – such as your Guitar Rig. With big latency, there will be perceivable time delay between playing the note and hearing it back, which may make recording impossible. Some workarounds are possible, but not necessarily convenient.

In what way I will get better sound quality and fidelity by using an Audio Interface at 16bit 44Khz?

First of all, I think nowadays all decent audio interfaces are 24 bit. Good quality 16bit would be still better than poor quality 16bit, due to quality of the analog path and the analog to digital converters (ADC).

The sampling frequency matters less. 44.1 kHz is a compact disc standard, 48 kHz is the most common in consumer digital to analog converters (DAC). In practice, a single conversion of the sampling frequency won't harm the sound quality much.

Higher sampling frequency are most likely waste of the disk space and CPU, unless you're making music for cats. While some processing effects may benefit from oversampling, as it helps to avoid aliasing artifacts, recording at higher frequencies means recording sounds that are inaudible for most humans anyway, and will likely be removed from the final recording anyway.

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  • I was hesitating to bring up the noise level issue, happy someone did !
    – Tom
    May 30, 2023 at 20:35
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    I think a key takeaway from a layman's perspective is: "may result in loosing high frequencies from the signal." The impedance problem can behave like a tone filter in this particular case. For motherboard audio chipsets going back perhaps 15 years, they are actually higher than 48k native sampling and it is possible to shave 1 or 2 milliseconds of latency by setting the sample rate to match the chipset.
    – Yorik
    May 30, 2023 at 20:55
  • While you can't hear higher frequencies, the non-linear processing can depend on them very much. Not sure how relevant this is for the guitar source signal, but processing digital sound at high sample rates is not as crazy as generally believed. Jun 1, 2023 at 7:35
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    @DmitriUrbanowicz This is why I mention oversampling for processing sound. Jun 3, 2023 at 1:54
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    @DmitriUrbanowicz I'm answering a question about difference between audio interfaces and built in PC sound cards, and my claim is that in this context, the sample rate is not the first or even the second most important parameter. If you'd like to ask about details of impact of sampling rate, please ask a separate question. Jun 4, 2023 at 23:58
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An external interface that only supports 16 bit, 44.1k samples/sec must be a really basic one. Even my cheap one will do 24 bit, 96k samples/sec.

More bits and more samples per second is good, up to the point where it becomes ridiculously high and you're just filling up disk space.

The main issues to consider are voltage and impedance. A magnetic guitar output will be medium to high impedance, at a reasonably high voltage (tens to hundreds of millivolts). The voltage is about right for a line input, but you may be losing signal level if the sound card's input impedance is too low. That could be the cause of the hiss - you're having to crank up the gain to make up for the lost signal.

An external sound interface will usually have a high impedance instrument input, and you will lose less voltage. This may result in better sound quality.

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If you plug in a guitar with no pre-amplification, it's going to be extremely quiet. That means you're going to be increasing the volume digitally. I read recently that amplifying a quiet input signal has similar effects as reducing the audio resolution. Maybe it's like how if you zoom in on a low resolution image, you don't see more detail. For the best sound quality, you want the signal to be as loud as it can be earlier in the chain. An interface will ensure your guitar is at an audible volume before it reaches your computer, to increase the signal/noise ratio. Maybe you don't need high quality audio if you're just practicing, but I hope this helps explain why you'll definitely get better sound quality if you get an interface.

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