Notebook Sound Card vs. USB Sound Device

Which device is the best to use?

First off let me also state that I am glad to see this forum back on line. I use a dedicated DAW (MRS1266) to record and edit audio data. I then transfer the tracks as .wav files over to my notebook and use n-Track V4.0 for the final mixing process. My notebook is a Compaq Presario with a P4 Intel processor, 20 Gig HD, Half Gig of RAM and a SoundMax sound card. This configuration has yielded excellent results but my question is would a USB sound device produce even better results or would it just create more overhead for my notebook to manage? With my current configuration I do not experience any playback problems even with 12 stereo audio tracks loaded along with effects enabled on those tracks. Some of the devices that I have reviewed also include the ability to utilize MIDI data as well. As I mentioned earlier, to date I have had no problems with my current configuration. Am I asking for problems by introducing a new device or should I be satisfied with my current configuration. Any comments on this request would be appreciated.


Man - I wished I could help you but I have no experience here.

All I can say is that when my wife hooks too many USB devices to her Dell laptop it seems to cause it to overheat (this is what she reports anyways).

Quote (MidnightToker @ Sep. 08 2004,22:24)
Man - I wished I could help you but I have no experience here.

All I can say is that when my wife hooks too many USB devices to her Dell laptop it seems to cause it to overheat (this is what she reports anyways).

Hey Splifmeister,

Thanks for your reply.

Well what is your primary reason for switching to a USB device? Does your laptop not have any Midi playback capability as it is? It sounds like you are using the laptop sound purely for playback which I imagine should be fine. Less equipment to haul around, just plug in your headphones and get to work. Though if you’re doing serious mixing you probably want to run some kind of monitors.

I’ve had some headaches with my Mbox - but that’s with ProTools, I haven’t had a chance to play with the ASIO drivers and Ntrack yet. For recording it seems a little spotty at times, especially when i start getting a few tracks in. For play back it’s fine though.

For a laptop, you’re generally better off with a Firewire device (you can get a Firewire Cardbus/PCMCIA card for about $25 on ebay – maybe less now, that was over a year ago.) The Firewire devices cost more, but are less likely to have problems and handle more tracks at once. Some folks do fine with USB, others don’t.

I use a MOTU 828 (firewire), which I think is great gear. I have some issues, but I believe they’re related to the OS and other software I have on my system (no option since it belongs to my employer.)

USB is worth a try, but be sure to buy where you can return if it doesn’t work out. (Try to find out from your laptop manuf. if they support audio over USB – some MOBOs just plain don’t.)

USB is generally limited to a smaller number of tracks to record at once (generally 4). USB 2 should overcome the limitation, but I still don’t think I’ve seen any 8-input 24/44 or 24/96 USB cards. Whereas this is typical for Firewire.

It’s great to have audio and MIDI on the same device with the audio, and the ability to do MIDI softsynth and external synth work is fabulous – I do this all the time. It’s especially good for drums, if you don’t have a multi-input soundcard and have a drummer with an e-kit.

It’s also great to record directly onto your mixdown DAW, since you can decide you want another track at any stage in the mixdown. And only one toolset to get used to. However, the dedicated DAW will still have some virtues:

1) It’s probably quieter. My laptop is pretty quiet so I don’t have a problem here.
2) Probably more solid/reliable for a remote live recording.

But once you’ve come over to the dark side, you probably won’t go back without a pretty good reason.

Unless you feel you might need to return it, ebay is a good place to buy a soundcard. It’s not like a guitar where you have to try one before buying. Buy used and you can get some good deals.

USB is fine for what you need. Get yourself a tascam us-122 and it will be the best $175 you’ve ever spent. Gauranteed.

USB is fine for what you need. Get yourself a tascam us-122 and it will be the best $175 you’ve ever spent. Gauranteed.

Thanks to all for your replies to my initial question. I think that I will try and get my hands on the Tascam US-122 as I have done some research on this unit and I have used Tascam’s gear for many years without problems. My main concern is what effect a USB device with have on my system as well as the operation of n-track. I guess the only way to find out is to try it and see…

If you have as decent a DAW as you do you should experience no problems running the tascam. My system is a celeron 2.6ghz with 256 ram and it handles everything I need to do…and everyone of my songs uses over 20 tracks with numerous effects. It should be fine for you.

It all depends on the motherboard. Some simply don’t support audio on USB. Others support it but you get dropouts because there’s no USB bus latency control like there is on PCI. It’s worth a try, though!

If you only need two inputs, the 122 should work just fine if it’s compatible with your system.

n-Track won’t have any trouble with it at all. It’s entirely a MOBO, system software, & driver thing.

Hi, If you are doing the mixdown within n-track the soundcard won’t directly affect the quality at all, as n-track is just number crunching the digits. A “better” sundcard might enable you to hear whats going on better and hence get an improved result.


Nick, what you say may be true to some extent; however, the clock in a sound card is a very important consideration, and some cards just don’t have very good clocks. I’ve never had good luck using the clock from this the computer system and rely on the clock in the soundcard. If you’re moving music from one computer or Dow to another this could be a problem.

Chris only has “half” to be concerned about when it comes to the clock. He is tracking or doing the A to D step on a Zoom MRS-1266. That is a dedicated workstation that records in 16/44.1.

Chris, if you are getting acceptable results with the SoundMax, I wouldn’t lose a lot of sleep over the issue. On the other hand, getting another audio/MIDI interface like the Tascam US-122L might open up new possibilities for you. For example if after flying your MRS tracks in, you find you want to add a vocal harmony, guitar solo or flugel horn solo, just plug in a mic or line-in a guitar and track the new part into n-Track or whatever DAW software you have.

The US-122 WILL sound better than the SoundMax. No question there. It can tun 16 or 24 bit at up to a 96khz sampling rate which you won’t really need if your MRS tracks are locked at 44.1khz but it adds options…

I have the 122L and I have yet to plug it into a PC where it failed to work and work well. I can’t say the same thing about a Presonus FireWire interface I have.


Dubious has it right.