I'm looking at replacing my aging SB Live Value soundcard with something more modern with much lower latency and ASIO 2 support. I do quite a bit of music composition through Sibelius (7) and Cubase, so I notice that these require ASIO to work well. As it is the latency from Sibelius to the soundcard is very poor, and I'm running ASIO4All with 512 samples to minimise stuttery playback. I also have a Korg M3 keyboard for MIDI input and sound recording, and I'd like to be able to have both the sound from my computer and M3 output from the same speakers (or headphones). I'm also looking at using the soundcard/interface for primary audio output from my desktop.
In my search, I've heard enough to avoid anything made by Creative. The popular M-Audio Audiophile 2496 seems to have compatibility issues with Windows 7 64-bit (which is what I'm running), so that would be a dealbreaker for me.
I found a forum post recommending the Asus Xonar Essence STX soundcard for music production, and a salesman at a local music store recommended a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or 2i4. I notice the latter is an external USB 2.0 interface, whereas the former takes an internal PCI-e slot on the motherboard.
I have the impression that internal soundcards/interfaces would be much faster and have less latency, given the proximity of the PCI bus, than external USB devices that would compete with other USB devices for bandwidth (even if USB 2 can theoretically reach 480 MB/s). However I cannot ignore that most of the audio interfaces sold today are external units connected by USB, Firewire or even Thunderbolt, so I'm not sure how much of a difference there would be.
I have no problems opening my computer, since I've performed several upgrades in the past. Currently my system runs on an AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ with 6GB DDR2 RAM.
Which would people recommend for my setup? Is there a reason why these interfaces are predominantly external USB?
Many thanks in advance.
Here are my priorities that influence what I'm looking for:
- As little latency as possible when using soft synths (without dropped samples)
- Good-quality sound reproduction / frequency response for mainly orchestral music
- Not too expensive or top-end, but reasonably-priced for something of good quality
- Works well with Windows 7 64-bit, stable drivers
If an external interface is more suitable for me, I'd like this to be reasonably compact and bus-powered - hence the initial appeal of the Focusrite Scarletts. A full rack would be overkill.