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I've been searching around this stackexchange subcategory and I haven't reached a solid consensus.

What I want to do is in the title. I want to record an electric guitar and an electric bass in realtime into my DAW (FL Studio or Cubase). In the DAW I can use Guitar Rig for effects and pretty much everything else.

I have tried recording like this:

Guitar -> Effects pedal (distort preset) -> Line in (onboard audio chip) -> DAW -> Guitar rig (only simulated speaker, no fx).

The result was quite disappointing, the guitar seems to have a certain 'fuzz' and is quite unintelligible in general. It just sounds like a lot of noise.

The bass was recorded like this:

Bass -> Line in (onboard audio chip again) -> DAW -> Guitar Rig (again, only simulated speakers, no fx). The result was clearly better, but still it's not at all what I expected. Aside from the line noise (which I can cut out using a noise gate), the bass wasn't as precise as I thought it would be (it sounds far better on a cabinet that we use at our practice studio).

I have noted a few points that I need help with:

  1. Will an audio interface be worth it? We've had no problems with input delay with a standard ASIO driver, so we were easily able to record while playing along with the rest of the tracks. By being worth it I'm actually asking if the sound quality will improve, be it marginally or significantly. By searching around, I've only seen people discussing that audio interfaces offer far better latencies but nothing on the audio quality itself.

  2. The effects pedal is nothing special. It's quite a low-budget pedal. Could this be the culprit? Would we be better off by recording clean guitars and then doing the effects (distort + amp + speaker) straight from Guitar Rig (or any other amp sim)? As added information, the clean effects sound very well. Any distortion effect sounds quite terrible.

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    Line inputs on computers are almost always terrible. Getting a good interface is the first step in computer recording. – Todd Wilcox May 5 '15 at 11:55
  • Audio interface is definitely worth it. A decent and affordable audio interface is the Focusrite Scarlett. They come in several different sizes with varying amounts of inputs. Look into it. It's easy to use and should provide you with what you're looking for. – MrTheBard May 6 '15 at 13:46
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You have a few questions in there, which is not really the best way to structure questions on Stack Exchange. I'll cover off your main one, and you may wish to ask the others separately:

For any reasonable quality audio work, get a separate sound card / interface. It sounds like the main part of your problem is from incorrect levels - ie your pedal may not be feeding into your line in input at a level it can cope with, and proper interfaces are much better at handling odd impedances or voltages.

An ideal scenario is to hook the guitar up to the interface and to your DAW *clean** - and then run your effects on the effects loop (some interfaces will allow this - if they don't then you could try using the DAW's own effects) - this allows you the flexibility to tweak as often as you like, but even if you set up guitar to effects pedal to interface to DAW, you should be able to get a similar sound to when you play using a standalone amp.

(You have tested using guitar - pedal - amplifier works okay, right?)

You are unlikely to ever find a full sim solution that sounds as good as a standalone guitar amplifier. I am a big fan of digital simulation (I use a lot of Line 6 stuff on stage) but I would still suggest a proper valve amp if you want the best guitar sound.

  • First of all, thank you for your answer and edit. What you're saying makes sense about the input levels, basically I get the feeling it's clipping when it's actually not (in the DAW at least). And since the clean effects are far quieter, it would also explain why the clean effects sound ok. So in the end, having an audio interface is clearly the better way. I will do as you said and will purchase an audio interface. And yes, guitar - pedal - amplifier works very well. Could you also explain if a PCI-E sound card would be appropriate when compared to a USB audio interface? – xIcarus May 5 '15 at 11:19
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    I would go with a USB interface since they are just as good or better and easier to hold on to when you get a new computer. – Todd Wilcox May 5 '15 at 13:33
  • I'd always go USB as well - then you typically have them powered separately if needed (which helps lower the noise floor) – Doktor Mayhem May 5 '15 at 13:47

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