I am using FL Studio on my Desktop computer (i5 processor, 8 GB RAM on Windows 10) for Music Production that has an on-board Sound Card (inbuilt sound card). I have read on few forums that having an external sound card produces better sound quality and output as compared to internal (onboard sound card). Is this correct ? Also, some people advise that I should buy an audio interface instead of a sound card as audio interface also has its own sound card. I am bit confused on this matter. Should I buy a sound card OR an audio interface to improve my output quality ? and Which one should I buy ? Can anyone please advise.

  • FYI: "onboard sound" means it is built into the motherboard, this is not the same thing as a "sound card" or an " internal sound card." The sound on a motherboard is usually not great but also not bad for entry level, provided an ASIO driver is available. – Yorik Sep 20 '16 at 16:11

A (internal) sound card and an (external) audio interface are basically the same thing technically, just in a different format - so it's not correct to say in general that an external sound card produces better sound quality (though in particular cases, it may be true).

Also, are you ever recording live instruments, or using your computer to perform live? If not, and you are doing most of your production within fl-studio, it's possible to make excellent quality music on a computer with a terrible soundcard, because the sound card doesn't need to have any bearing on the final rendered output.

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  • Thanks. You shared a very useful information. No, I am not recording live instruments as of now but will be doing that soon. The problem I feel is that the final output is lacking the 'depth' and loudness (compared to commercial tracks), hence wanted to know if this is something to do with the quality of sound card OR a problem related to Mixing/Mastering. – Ashutosh Upadhyay Sep 7 '16 at 8:54
  • @AshutoshUpadhyay If you're using your soundcard for monitoring only, it won't be affecting the mix quality in the file, although it may affect what you hear when you play back on the computer. Have you tried listening to your finished mixes on different systems, not just on your computer? Do you have the same problem? – topo Reinstate Monica Sep 7 '16 at 8:56
  • yes, I do listen to my final output on different systems (car stereo, on my mobile using headphones) and I feel the same problem - the track sounds low in depth and loudness as compared to commercial tracks . – Ashutosh Upadhyay Sep 7 '16 at 9:03
  • @AshutoshUpadhyay it's unlikely that you can blame your soundcard, as it's probably not a part of the signal chain at all unless you are deliberately bouncing tracks through it. – topo Reinstate Monica Sep 7 '16 at 9:06
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    Would you be able to post a sample recording that demonstrates the problem you observe with the depth/loudness of the audio? Someone might be able to hone in on the specific problem you're having. – MajBoredom Sep 8 '16 at 5:04

Sound Card (internal or external) and Audio Interface are all names for the same thing.

Years ago, the onboard sound of a computer was limited to warning beeps (though you could sometimes cheat even this into outputting recognisable though lo-fi music). So you put a SoundBlaster into one of the motherboard slots.

Then computers started having onboard sound chips that weren't too bad. Coupled with a pair of nasty plastic "computer speakers" they would play music and the sound effects of games etc. quite well enough for general use.

Then "computer as the centre of a Home Theatre system" came along. Onboard sound moved up a notch. As well as having multiple outputs for surround sound, the general audio quality improved. Adding a specialist "audio interface" (which by now, after a flirtation with Firewire which must now be considered obsolete, are generally external USB devices) made a difference, but not a huge one.

If you know what audio latency is, and it's an issue in your music-making, you should consider an add-on interface. If you want to record from microphones, or to more than one track at once, you'll need one.

Note that if you construct music on your computer, export a wav file and burn it to CD, the quality of your sound card is irrelevant. And if you distribute your work as MP3 and can't hear the quality difference between this and the original WAV, you're unlikely to hear the quality difference between the onboard audio of a modern computer and an expensive interface.

To an ever-increasing extent, "It isn't about the gear"!

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  • @ Laurence Payne, it makes sense! Thanks for taking the time to explain. Then I believe the clue is somewhere in Mixing / Mastering as the final output is lacking the needed 'depth' and loudness (compared to commercial tracks). I thought this is a function of 'Hardware'. – Ashutosh Upadhyay Sep 7 '16 at 11:57
  • Commercial recordings are compressed (sometimes to within an inch of their lives) to sound louder. This is something you can do in a DAW. It makes no difference what soundcard you're monitoring the result through, as long as it's adequate quality. And the onboard audio chips in today's computers are adequate. – Laurence Payne Sep 7 '16 at 15:57

You should go for ab interface as its quality of sound is much better not because of the sound card but because of evrything it does like zero latency , frequency check. If you use your inbuilt soundcard it will crash sometime soon u might have to reset your device every now and then.its better to use audio interface. Go for presonus audio box or focusrite scarlett. Also m audio is fine. But i would suggest all the audio interfaces work almost the same accept alesis. It is not good. So buy and save money .

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How is the sound data getting into your computer? You will need microphones, preamplifiers, D/A converters. Preamplifiers in internal soundcards usually are non-existent (if there is a dedicated microphone input at all, it relies on electret condenser capsule preamplification) or pretty bad. Also, stuff carrying the label "soundcard" usually only has asymmetric input which has limited noise shielding properties, and internal sound cards cannot be significantly shielded from electromagnetic disturbances in the computer case. It also has to rely on the internal power supply of the computer and there is limited space for components blocking noise from the power supply lines.

External sound cards can offer symmetric microphone inputs and either use their own power supply or at least have enough space for filtering the computer-supplied one.

For studio quality stuff, there are combined microphone preamps and D/A converters with Firewire interface (USB is also available but is a lot more vague with latency management and bandwidth guarantees, so at the very least keep off USB/Midi devices, mice, keyboards and similar from the same USB bus). They are not exactly cheap.

Hand-held recorders have limited quality (still usually better than built-in sound cards) but are great for a quick test take without having to connect a lot of equipment. In particular since their preamps tend to render the use of external microphones, even where inputs are available, pointless if you aim to reduce noise that way.

But of course, with such a hand recorder (which usually can double as a sound card if you don't record to flash storage) you don't need a better sound card since they deliver digital material right away. When they offer 24bit recording it is usually pointless since the lower 8 bits end up as noise anyway.

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  • In the case of a virtual synth, no sound needs to get into the computer (it begins its life there); if pre-recorded beats and samples are being used, they'll get into the computer without needing to be recorded by it. – topo Reinstate Monica Sep 7 '16 at 9:04

If latency is an issue and you are shredding metal at 180 bpm and you want the clearest, most absolutely impeccable recording with only 1 to 3, maybe four interface inputs, then spend a lot of money and time on a sound card setup. Get a really fast machine upgrade while you're at it$$$. Or, for about 1/5 of the money pickup an external interface with many inputs. I use 18 for drums, two mics, guitar (s/pdif), and a couple other inputs for drum machines, loopers, etc... It all depends on what you are trying to do, but I would not spend the money on a sound card that provides the input/output versatility of an external interface... Scarlett 18i comes to mind. I would take the money I saved from buying an external interface and invest it in computing power.

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