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Connecting To Soundcard


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#1 OFFLINE   Tekker

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 02:59 AM



This lesson will cover the basics for connecting various types of equipment to your computer’s soundcard. But before continuing, please read the following warning.




WARNING! Never plug powered outputs that are designed to power speakers (like those from a power amp or a powered mixer) into your soundcard. Doing so can cause serious damage at best and a fire at worst. I know of someone on another forum who plugged a 150watt amp into his soundcard and it caused a fire, melted the cables, and took out both his computer AND amp. So please be careful when dealing with this type of equipment!

Connections that are safe to plug into your soundcard are from non-powered mixer outputs, direct ouputs, aux outputs, effects inserts, headphone outputs, effects units, and even direct guitars/basses.

Connections that are NOT to be plugged into your soundcard should be labeled as "speaker outputs" or "cabinet outputs" (for guitar amp heads). Also if the connections give an "Ohm" rating (such as 4 Ohm, 8 Ohm, or 16 Ohm) these connections are also high power speaker outputs. Here are some examples of outputs that are NOT ok to plug into your soundcard:

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If you are unsure of a particular connection, it is always better to be safe than sorry. So please ask before connecting it to your soundcard. :winkthumb:





The type of connectors mentioned in this lesson that you should be familiar with are...

1/8" Connector:
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1/4" Connetor:
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XLR Connector:
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RCA Connector:
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Some basic terms to be familiar with are defined below:

Mono and stereo:

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The first diagram shows a mono output connected to a mono cable. Mono cables use two wires and can only carry one signal. An example of a mono cable is a guitar cable.

The second diagram shows a stereo output connected to a stereo cable. Stereo cables use three wires and can carry two separate signals. This can be used to carry the right and left stereo channels on one cable. An example of a stereo cable this is the cable on a pair of headphones, this cable is stereo and carries separate signals to the right and left speakers in the headphones.

The third diagram shows a stereo output plugged into a mono cable. In this case the right side is shorted to ground and only the left side goes through the mono cable. Likewise, if for example you were to plug a stereo set of headphones into a mono output, then you will only get sound in one speaker.

You can identify mono and stereo cables by the tip of the cable.

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Stereo cables will have a tip, ring, and sleeve as shown above, whereas mono cables will only have the tip and the sleeve with no middle ring section.


Male and Female connectors:

A male connector has one (or more) exposed pin/terminal that plugs into a female connector.
An example is this 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor, which has a 1/4" female connector on one side (left) and a 1/8" male connector on the other side (right).

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Now that a few basics are covered, let's get started.




'Cause I don't wanna read the book, I'll watch the movie.

Tekker's Lessons on GfB&B: Music Theory, Recording, and General Guitar

#2 OFFLINE   Tekker

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Posted 22 August 2006 - 03:24 AM

Standard Computer Soundcard or Onboard Soundcard

Standard soundcards and onboard soundcards built into the motherboard will generally have the following three connections on them.

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This lesson will cover how to connect the following devices to this type of soundcard.

Microphones
Guitar
Effects Unit or Effects Pedal
Mixer (non-powered and powered)
Preamp
Guitar Amp
Tape Deck (RCA Connections)


Microphones

Microphones have a very low output signal and need to be boosted up to what is called line level in order to be used. A mic preamp (microphone preamplifier) is designed to do just that, boost the low signal from the mic so that it can be processed by the rest of the circuitry.

There are a couple ways to plug a microphone into the soundcard.

One way is to use the mic input on the soundcard. The mic input has a mic preamp built into it, so it will boost the signal of the mic without any external hardware. The draw back, is that the mic preamp section built into these type of soundcards is very poor quality and are designed for cheap $3 PC microphones. These are not meant for any kind of serious audio recording, but are fine in cases where sound quality is not much of an issue... Such as for scratch recordings and getting ideas down so you won't forget them later.

* If your mic has a cable with a 1/8" jack attatched, then you can plug directly into mic input on the soundcard.
* If your mic has a cable with a 1/4" jack attatched, then you will need to use a 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor to plug into the soundcard.
* If your mic has an XLR connection, then you will need a cable that has an XLR connector that plugs into the mic on one end and a 1/4" connector on the other. Then you can use a 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor to plug into the soundcard.

A much better alternative to using the mic input on your soundcard is to use an external mic preamp or a mixer to boost the level of the mic to line level. Using a preamp or mixer will give a much better sound than using the mic input on the soundcard. Connecting the preamp or mixer to the soundcard is explained in the preamp section and in the mixer section below.



Guitar

To connect your guitar (or bass) directly to your soundcard, you will need a 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor to plug your guitar cable into the soundcard's input.

I recommend plugging your guitar into the line input on your soundcard. Then use the soundcard's mixer window to adjust the volume to a decent level as explained here. The guitar puts out a much stronger signal than a micrphone and should not need the mic preamp section. If you are not getting enough volume, then it is likely a setup problem. If this is the case, then post a question on the forum and we will try to help.

As a last resort, if you just cannot get enough volume and nothing seems to fix this, then you can plug into the mic input and use the "microphone boost" setting. This will use the preamp built into the mic input to boost the signal and you should be able to get plenty of volume with this.

WARNING! If you plug into the mic input while using the "boost" setting, start with the microphone input volume and the volume on your speakers turned down low. Then start gradually increasing the volume on the soundcard to set the input level. Once the soundcard volume is set, you can turn up your speakers to normal listening level. The mic input with boost will significantly increase the signal of your guitar and you can risk blowing your speakers if you hit it at full blast with your speakers turned up. It's always best to start with the volume low while you are initially setting things up so you don't risk blowing your speakers..... I've learned this the hard way. ;)

A much better alternative to using the mic inputs on your soundcard is to use an external mic preamp as a DI (Direct Injection) for your guitar (or bass) then plug the output of the device into the line input on your soundcard. Using a preamp will give a much better sound than plugging directly into the soundcard. Connecting the preamp to the sound card is explained in the preamp section below.


Effects Unit or Effects Pedal

Effects units and pedals generally use 1/4" connectors (there are digital S/PDIF connections, but for this lesson we will deal only with 1/4" connections) so you will need a 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor to connect it into your soundcard.

Depending on if you are using a mono effects unit (sunch as a single stompbox pedal) or a stereo effects unit (such as a muliteffects unit like a POD) then there are a couple ways you can connect your effects unit.

For mono effects, all you will need is a mono 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor and plug it into the line input on your soundcard.

However, if you have a stereo effects unit and you want to utalize the stereo effects (such as reverb or stereo delay) then you will need a Y-adaptor that has two mono 1/4" female connectors that go to one stereo 1/8" male connector. You have to make sure the 1/8" connector is stereo, otherwise both the righ and left channels will be combined and that's not what you want. Plug the right and left output from your effects unit into the two 1/4" connectors and plug the 1/8" connector into the line input on your soundcard.


Mixer (non-powered and powered)

The mixer has LOTS of options for connecting to your soundcard. As well as lots of options for routing and doing multiple other things why you are sending outputs to your computer. This section will cover several of the basic connection methods.

First off, the only difference between a powered mixer and a non-powered mixer is the powered mixer has the potential to cause serious damage to your gear and a fire if connected to the soundcard. This is because the powered mixer has a built in power amplifier that is likely designed to put several hundred (or more) watts into a set of speakers. The speaker outputs are only to be plugged into speakers and are NOT to be plugged into your computer. Having said that, the direct outputs, aux sends, headphone outputs, etc. on powered mixers are perfectly safe to plug into your computer.

Other than the powered outputs, the powered and non-powered mixers operate the same way.

Main mix outputs are one of the connections that can be used to plug into the computer. On a powered mixer the speaker outputs should be clearly indicated, and the mixer may also have another set of outputs called "main mix" outputs that are different from the speaker outputs. If so, then the "main mix" outputs are ok to plug into the computer. This will allow you to mix using the volume faders, EQ, pan, and whatever other effects the mixer may have onboard and send the entire mix through the right and left outputs to the computer. This can be very useful if to you want to record a band rehersal. You can plug all of the instruments into separate mixer channels, use the mixer to mix all of the instruments together, and then record the main ouput of the mixer.

To connect the main mix (left and right) ouputs from the mixer to your soundcard, you will need a Y-adaptor that has two mono 1/4" female connectors that go to one stereo 1/8" male connector. You have to make sure the 1/8" connector is stereo, otherwise both the righ and left channels will be combined and that's not what you want. Plug the two main mix outputs into the two 1/4" connectors and plug the 1/8" connector into the line input on your soundcard.

Direct outputs are ouputs for each individual channel, depending on the mixer the direct output can be taken off at different points in the mixer's signal chain (as an example, one mixer might have the direct out before the volume fader and EQ, while another mixer might have it after the volume and EQ). For mixers that have direct outputs, each channel on the mixer will have it's own individual output (just like each channel has an input). This is VERY handy for connecting to soundcards with multiple inputs because each channel can be plugged into it's own input on your soundcard. But direct outputs don't offer any advantages over the other types of connectors for standard soundcards with only one line input. In fact it is actually not recommended in this case, because if you want to send a different mixer channel to the soundcard you will have to unplug the current channel's direct output and plug into the channel that you want to send. The Aux send method is much better with standard soundcards as explained below.

Aux sends are another way to send mixer channels to a standard soundcard. The aux sends are mono, so if you want to keep the stereo separation this may not be the best method. With aux sends you can use the aux knobs on each mixer channel as a separate volume control to determine the volume of each channel that is sent to the soundcard. This will leave the main outputs free for other things (like speakers) while the aux is sent to the soundcard. Since the aux send on the mixer is a mono output, to connect the aux send to the soundcard use a mono 1/4" cable and 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor to connect it to the line input on the soundcard.

Headphone (control room) outputs will do essentially the same thing as the main mix ouputs. This will output whatever mix you have setup from the volume faders and the mixer's effects. This section may have a setup so that the left output has a dual stereo/mono function. If you only plug one cable into the "left" output you will get a stereo signal off of the single cable (so you can plug in headphones and get stereo separation in both ears) then if you plug another cable into the right output you will get a "split stereo" output. Where the left output only carries the left side signal and the right output only carries the right side signal.

To make connecting the headphone/control output to the soundcard as easy as possible, you can use a single stereo 1/4" cable to plug into the left output on the mixer and then use a stereo 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor to plug into the soundcard.


Preamp

Mic preamps will give a much better sound than plugging into the mic input on your soundcard. These can work great for microphones and even as a guitar/bass DI. Mic preamps may have balanced XLR outputs in addition to 1/4" Line Outputs. Since the preamp is going to be plugged into a soundcard that has a 1/8" input, the best method would be to use a cable with 1/4" jacks to plug into the 1/4" output on the preamp and then use a 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor to plug into the line input on the soundcard.


Guitar Amp

Again note that the amp may have outputs for connecting guitar cabs (speakers), if so DO NOT connect these to your soundcard.

The safe output from a guitar amp is the line output. To connect the line output from the amp into your soundcard, you will need a mono 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor. Plug the guitar cable into the 1/4" end of the adaptor and the 1/8" end of the adaptor into the line input on your soundcard.

The other option for recoding a guitar amp is to mic the speaker on the amp and plug the mic into your soundcard. Miking an amp will almost always sound 100% better than the direct output. See the section on connecting a mic to your soundcard here.


Tape Deck (RCA Connections)

Tape decks can also be connected to your computer for recording old tapes onto CD's. This will also apply to any other equipment that uses RCA connectors.

RCA connectors are mono and there should be one for the right output and one for the left output on your tape deck. So what you need for this is a Y-adaptor with two RCA plugs on one side and a stereo 1/8" connector (make sure the 1/8" part is stereo) on the other. Then plug the 1/8" connector into the line input on your soundcard.

As a side note, for anyone wanting to put tapes onto CD's there are also programs that can help remove tape his, pops/clicks, and other odd noises such as Magix Audio Cleaning Lab. (I am a big fan of Magix software! :winkthumb:)


'Cause I don't wanna read the book, I'll watch the movie.

Tekker's Lessons on GfB&B: Music Theory, Recording, and General Guitar





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