So, you want to start making music with Ableton Live, but aren’t really sure which audio card is right for the job? As a first step, it’s a good idea to have a basic understanding of what audio card options are out there.
There are mainly two types as follows:
Your Onboard Sound Card
If you don’t want to pay anything for for a sound card, almost every computer has one built in. The only problem is, these are usually so basic that you are limited to a very simple single audio input (usually one that only works with cheap microphones) and they have issues with latency (essentially audio lag).
Typical soundcard inputs found on your PC. The 1/8″ size of these jacks means you will need an adapter for most pro level microphones. The green usually indicates sound out, while the pink indicates sound in (where your microphone or line in cable goes)
A much more simplified version of an onboard soundcard can be found on a Mac. Pictured is the side view of a Macbook Pro.
People have gotten by using their built in sound card, but I highly recommend shelling out a little money for more of the features you get with an audio interface.
An Entry Level Audio Interface
A good audio interface will give you low latency (no lag), high quality inputs, and an overall higher quality of recorded sound. They are usually in the form of a breakout box (not inside of your computer) for easier access to inputs and outputs.
For most computer musicians, an audio interface with 2 inputs will usually suffice. It’s nice to have these 2 inputs because if you ever want to record external audio in stereo, you have the option.
For an entry level audio interface, I recommend the M-Audio Mobile Pre USB. It’s portable, lightweight, and has two XLR inputs (for microphones) and two line in balanced 1/4″ inputs (for synth, guitar, etc.).
The M-Audio Mobile Pre USB is a typical modern audio interface. It has minimal latency, is portable, and very easy to set up.
Once you’ve chosen the audio interface you feel is right for you, and installed it (after reading the manual that comes with it of course!). You’ll want to get set up Ableton Live to work properly with your new audio interface.