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notato8

Do I need an audio interface for my laptop?

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I would like to record piano audio on my laptop (and potentially also use my computer as a guitar amp), but I have been unable to do so without output latency in Cakewalk while input monitoring. I disabled audio effects while attempting to record, which did not fix the issue. I also tried using ASIO, but I couldn't get any audio to output through my speakers, despite successfully doing so on a previous computer. These issues, combined with the fact that I'm using a gaming laptop, have led me to believe that my integrated audio is not powerful enough even for my most basic goal. (of course, I may be completely wrong about this and just doing something wrong). I should also mention this isn't a Cakewalk-specific issue.

To my understanding, what I need is a preamp/audio interface/USB sound card (I don't know if these mean different things)? Assuming that's even the right move for me, this brings up a some questions:

1) Can/should I use an audio interface for MIDI, or is using USB fine for that?

2) Would I still have the benefits of using an audio interface while using Bluetooth headphones or my laptop's built-in speakers?

3) With a good enough audio interface, would I be able to monitor guitar input after running it through amp software, without latency?

I'd appreciate any insight, I'm pretty lost on this topic and I'm only doing this as a hobbyist so hopefully my problem isn't too complicated!

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8 hours ago, notato8 said:

I would like to record piano audio on my laptop (and potentially also use my computer as a guitar amp), but I have been unable to do so without output latency in Cakewalk while input monitoring. I disabled audio effects while attempting to record, which did not fix the issue. I also tried using ASIO, but I couldn't get any audio to output through my speakers, despite successfully doing so on a previous computer. These issues, combined with the fact that I'm using a gaming laptop, have led me to believe that my integrated audio is not powerful enough even for my most basic goal. (of course, I may be completely wrong about this and just doing something wrong). I should also mention this isn't a Cakewalk-specific issue.

To my understanding, what I need is a preamp/audio interface/USB sound card (I don't know if these mean different things)?

Hi notato8 and welcome to the Cakewalk forums.

If you are getting serious with recording into Cakewalk, then it is strongly advised to incorporate an audio interface.  A preamp is not an audio interface.  They are usually one or two channels; however, higher quality audio interfaces do have preamps.  An audio interface can have a USB, firewire (obsolete) or thunderbolt interface.  The words "interface" and "sound card" can be used interchangeably. 

9 hours ago, notato8 said:

I Assuming that's even the right move for me, this brings up a some questions:

1) Can/should I use an audio interface for MIDI, or is using USB fine for that?

You don't necessarily need an audio interface with MIDI since you can buy a controller or keyboard with MIDI over USB.  However, consider an interface with MIDI if you have an older synth or keyboard/controller that has MIDI but not USB.

9 hours ago, notato8 said:

2) Would I still have the benefits of using an audio interface while using Bluetooth headphones or my laptop's built-in speakers?

I am not aware of any audio interface with Bluetooth, so most likely you will not be able to use BT headphones, nor your laptop's built-in speakers with an audio interface in any case.

9 hours ago, notato8 said:

3) With a good enough audio interface, would I be able to monitor guitar input after running it through amp software, without latency?

There are a few other factors that can affect latency, so having a "good" audio interface (with excellent ASIO drivers) will not guarantee low latency.  First understand that you will always have some degree of latency, whether you can discern it or not.  Other factors can be your CPU, HDD speed, memory, buffer settings and interface (USB, firewire or thunderbolt), not to mention any plugins you may use.

So it is a bit complicated, but not impossible.  I have used a gaming laptop for audio recording with good success.  I believe you would be better off with an audio interface, but that also means speaker/monitors, more cords and power consumption.  It is certainly worth considering how serious your hobby is/will be and your budget.

Feel free to ask any further questions regarding your DAW setup.

Kind regards,

tecknot

 

 

 

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42 minutes ago, notato8 said:

How can I determine if I'll need a built-in preamp or not? From what I could gather, they are mostly necessary for microphone recording, which I don't plan to do.

This is a matter of taste.  You can use the preamp if say you want to go direct with a guitar or bass. 

46 minutes ago, notato8 said:

My keyboard has MIDI in/out ports, but no USB, so I use an adapter cable to connect both MIDI to my laptop's USB. Would this plug into the interface instead, or would I still plug it directly into my laptop?

You got your MIDI covered with the adapter, so it just depends on how many MIDI devices you want to incorporate into your setup.

48 minutes ago, notato8 said:

What do you mean by "excellent ASIO drivers?" I wasn't aware of the existence of anything other than ASIO4ALL! (which is what I tried using, and had used successfully on my last computer)

Most audio interfaces come with their own ASIO driver.  Some drivers are written better than others.  For instance, RME is known for its excellent drivers.  ASIO4ALL is not the best fix for a lack of the proper ASIO driver.  In most cases, your latency will be greater with ASIO4ALL verses a native ASIO driver.

55 minutes ago, notato8 said:

I assume that my computers other specs should be good enough considering it is a gaming laptop (Ryzen 7, 16GB of memory, and some SSD). I don't have thunderbolt, but my ports are USB 3.2 Gen 1 at best.

Looks like you have good specs.  USB 3.2 gen 1 is also very good (that is the latest version of USB isn't it?  I haven't seen any USB 4 ports on laptops).  Thunderbolt is not absolutely necessary for low latency and there are more USB interfaces and TB.  Anyhow, your laptop is a good centerpiece to your DAW.

Kind regards,

tecknot

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3 hours ago, notato8 said:

How can I determine if I'll need a built-in preamp or not? From what I could gather, they are mostly necessary for microphone recording, which I don't plan to do.

As mentioned above, most good audio interfaces have preamps and phantom power if you ever need to run a condenser microphone. I see that you don't "plan to do" that, but never say never. Condenser mics require an external power source, (phantom power), so having it available is good.
An audio interface with MIDI ports will allow you to connect your keyboard to the interface and never have to worry about some MIDI driver that may need updating periodically. You would have to update the interface drivers now and then. Maybe. My computer is very old and nothing has been updated on it since ~ 2012, including the interface. Works like a charm. But with your new computer, it's best to maintain it for as long as you can, including drivers.
You should be able to record with acceptable latency with a good, modern interface while using amplifier plug-ins such as Amplitube and the like. I can't discern record lag running 10 ms latency, but others can. That's usually a 'safe' number that won't upset the processor. You should be able to do better with your rig.
The ASIO driver for your computer's internal sound chip is not good for recording. Try WASAPI if you have it available until you get an interface with an ASIO driver written for that device. ASIO4All is a wrapper for the computer's WDM/KS driver as rsinger noted, but isn't a real ASIO driver. Some folks have had good luck with it; many do not, including me (15 years ago).
The best, long-term solution for recording satisfaction is with a modern audio interface with an ASIO driver made for it. This will almost guarantee good performance for many years, with updates and bug fixes included.
Some good companies to check out: MOTU, TASCAM, Focusrite, Presonus. Many of the people here will have their gear posted at the bottom of their messages, read a few pages and see what they're using. Ask questions and maybe list here what features you would like or need, although you have already said what you want, mostly.
Welcome to the forum.


 

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I made a short video on the topic that will answer all your questions. The M4 was a great choice for me, but it might not be the best for you. It's a common mistake to buy an interface just because 20 other people use it and recommend it. Just to find out after you buy it that it's missing an important feature that you need. And just to make it clear, most all audio interfaces have at least 1 pre amp. This is covered in the video. 

 

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Hi, thanks tecknot! Glad to know I was on the right track, I do still have some questions.

1 hour ago, tecknot said:

A preamp is not an audio interface.  They are usually one or two channels; however, higher quality audio interfaces do have preamps.

How can I determine if I'll need a built-in preamp or not? From what I could gather, they are mostly necessary for microphone recording, which I don't plan to do.

42 minutes ago, tecknot said:

You don't necessarily need an audio interface with MIDI since you can buy a controller or keyboard with MIDI over USB.  However, consider an interface with MIDI if you have an older synth or keyboard/controller that has MIDI but not USB.

My keyboard has MIDI in/out ports, but no USB, so I use an adapter cable to connect both MIDI to my laptop's USB. Would this plug into the interface instead, or would I still plug it directly into my laptop?

48 minutes ago, tecknot said:

There are a few other factors that can affect latency, so having a "good" audio interface (with excellent ASIO drivers) will not guarantee low latency.

What do you mean by "excellent ASIO drivers?" I wasn't aware of the existence of anything other than ASIO4ALL! (which is what I tried using, and had used successfully on my last computer)

49 minutes ago, tecknot said:

Other factors can be your CPU, HDD speed, memory, buffer settings and interface (USB, firewire or thunderbolt), not to mention any plugins you may use.

I assume that my computers other specs should be good enough considering it is a gaming laptop (Ryzen 7, 16GB of memory, and some SSD). I don't have thunderbolt, but my ports are USB 3.2 Gen 1 at best.

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1 hour ago, notato8 said:

What do you mean by "excellent ASIO drivers?" I wasn't aware of the existence of anything other than ASIO4ALL! (which is what I tried using, and had used successfully on my last computer)

ASIO4ALL is an asio driver that uses WDM to access devices so it isn't as fast as devices that have asio drivers developed for them. If you want to minimize latency you want a device that comes with an asio driver.

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3 hours ago, tecknot said:

You got your MIDI covered with the adapter, so it just depends on how many MIDI devices you want to incorporate into your setup.

 

47 minutes ago, 57Gregy said:

An audio interface with MIDI ports will allow you to connect your keyboard to the interface and never have to worry about some MIDI driver that may need updating periodically.

Thanks so much everyone, I got more insight than I ever could have hoped for. I actually just found out my brother has a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, so he let me experiment with it to see if it worked for my setup and it was exactly what I needed! The only issue was that it doesn't have MIDI in; I could work around this by monitoring my keyboard's actual audio while still recording MIDI input directly through my laptop, but I would much rather be able to hear whatever midi instrument I'm playing instead.

As far as MIDI goes, the best options I was able to find for under $200 were the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96, PreSonus AudioBox iTwo, M-Audio Air 192/6,  Behringer UMC204HD, and Motu M4. Are any of these a particularly good/bad choice, and did I miss any other good options? Thanks again! I'm hoping to buy as soon as possible.

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6 minutes ago, notato8 said:

The only issue was that it doesn't have MIDI in; I could work around this by monitoring my keyboard's actual audio while still recording MIDI input directly through my laptop, but I would much rather be able to hear whatever midi instrument I'm playing instead.

It does not matter how the MIDI data gets to the DAW, the audio from the soft synths return to the interface just like the audio from a mic or guitar when monitoring through the DAW.   To hear the synth audio while playing make sure the instrument/MIDI track has input echo enabled.

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27 minutes ago, scook said:

It does not matter how the MIDI data gets to the DAW, the audio from the soft synths return to the interface just like the audio from a mic or guitar when monitoring through the DAW.   To hear the synth audio while playing make sure the instrument/MIDI track has input echo enabled.

That actually makes sense, I don't know how I didn't realize that. I had tried this setup with the interface and there was latency from the MIDI instruments, but I switched to WASAPI Shared driver mode and the latency is no longer noticeable.

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The Focusrite ASIO driver should outperform WASAPI Shared.

In ASIO mode try adjusting the Buffer Size slider (I believe Focusrite supports buffer size change from the DAW).

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1 hour ago, notato8 said:

As far as MIDI goes, the best options I was able to find for under $200 were the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96, PreSonus AudioBox iTwo, M-Audio Air 192/6,  Behringer UMC204HD, and Motu M4. Are any of these a particularly good/bad choice, and did I miss any other good options? 

I've been using the Motu M4 on my DAW with CbB, Ableton Live and stand alone apps and haven't had any problems with it.

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Beware of Behringer; I have read here that some of their less-expensive devices don't have ASIO. 

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25 minutes ago, John Vere said:

I made a short video on the topic that will answer all your questions. The M4 was a great choice for me, but it might not be the best for you. It's a common mistake to buy an interface just because 20 other people use it and recommend it. Just to find out after you buy it that it's missing an important feature that you need. And just to make it clear, most all audio interfaces have at least 1 pre amp. This is covered in the video. 

 

Hey John, thanks for the video. I ended up purchasing the Motu M2 and I feel confident in my decision. I think having two combo ports is perfect for me as a solo artist/hobbyist, and hopefully it shouldn't hold me back if I start to have higher demands.

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On 7/23/2021 at 3:05 PM, rsinger said:

I've been using the Motu M4 on my DAW with CbB, Ableton Live and stand alone apps and haven't had any problems with it.

I've been thinking of upgrading my Steinberg UR22 to an Motu M4 to use with Cakewalk. Can you route separately to all 4 outputs? I was thinking it would be cool if I could route a vocal track out of 3 or 4 through an external vocoder while using outputs 1 and 2 for my monitors.

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14 hours ago, fallenturtle said:

I've been thinking of upgrading my Steinberg UR22 to an Motu M4 to use with Cakewalk. Can you route separately to all 4 outputs? I was thinking it would be cool if I could route a vocal track out of 3 or 4 through an external vocoder while using outputs 1 and 2 for my monitors.

Yes, the M4 has 4 audio in and 4 audio out.

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Posted (edited)
19 hours ago, fallenturtle said:

I've been thinking of upgrading my Steinberg UR22 to an Motu M4 to use with Cakewalk. Can you route separately to all 4 outputs? I was thinking it would be cool if I could route a vocal track out of 3 or 4 through an external vocoder while using outputs 1 and 2 for my monitors.

Better than that,  you don't need to do it that way unless this is an outboard hardware device. . You can use the Loopback channels to run internally if this is a stand alone VST your using.

Woops, I see you say it's outboard

 But anyhow the loopback feature is very useful for a lot of things I'm doing.

And yes the 3/4 outputs are handy as example I run them to a small mixer that I use for headphone cue mixes.  I also have a Lexicon MX 200 patched to the mixer and can easily use that to process any tracks. The output of the mixer runs to input 3/4.  I rarely have to unplug stuff, it's always patched in with the little mixer and the 3/4 in and out channels.  Swiss army knife. 

Edited by John Vere

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