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I need a good external sound card mainly to record guitars and vocals. What options available? What would you recommend?

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Shopping questions are generally not allowed on SE. And I just answered a similar question to this one on audio.se.com: audio.stackexchange.com/questions/726/… –  Ian C. Feb 1 '11 at 16:46
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2 Answers

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Apogee Duet or Apogee One

I've been an Apogee user for a while now.

They are excellent sounding, firewire-based interfaces that have rock solid drivers. I can't recall the last time I had to fight with drivers or worry about crashes while I was working. Unprecedented stability IMO really.

The converters on the low-end Apogee gear are pristine sounding. Every bit as good as the Rosetta-level stuff.

They have XLR inputs that can take a mic or line level signal. And switchable 1/4" inputs that can be set to high impedance inputs so you can plug your guitar directly in to the unit.

And the design is modern and integrates nicely in to an Apple environment. Good ergonomics without a lot of clutter.

My only gripes with the Duet, and these are minor are:

  1. The breakout cable ruins some of the elegance. It can be a mess.
  2. The to-speaker outputs are unbalanced and I get some hum on them. I've been meaning to pick up a third party breakout box that has balanced, isolated speaker outs.
  3. There's no MIDI in/out on it. That's very, very minor, but it would have been nice to do all my interfacing with one box. I carry an Uno for MIDI interfacing.

Apogee GiO

If you have no need for the microphone inputs of the above products and don't mind a larger, floor based form factor, the GiO is a pretty cool option. Same great converters, but add in DAW controls that you can operate with your feet so you can punch in/out and track without taking your hands off your guitar.

There's no mic preamp on it though, so instrument level signals only.

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Thanks dude. Just bought GiO, it's insanely great, perfect for my needs. A little bit overpriced though. –  maxt3r Feb 3 '11 at 19:53
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This is a very "detailed" subject, because different people will list different opinions at what good is.

I have plenty of experience with M-Audio Fast Track Pro and Rig Kontrol.

FastTrack Pro

It works as advertised but, it has some details that I don't like. You have to unplug it (or power it off) every now and then (especially if you slept your computer with the device connected). It has some good things, like Phantom power and stuff like that which will allow you to record more things. It has decent latency and sound quality is ok. If you want to record at high quality, you cannot use more than one input and one output and stuff like that. But for 44/48Khz is ok.

The driver is ok at informing you what's going on, but don't expect pages of information or features.

It really has two inputs that you can use at the same time and quite a few outputs but depending upon the Khz you use, certain options won't be available. Check the specs in their site.

The driver update from Tiger to Leopard and from Leopard to SnowLeopard hasn't been the fastest. It took them a few months (although the old driver worked more or less). There was a beta and it kinda worked but there were some bugs. Their support has been good tho and they eventually fixed it.

I don't really move it, but its durability has been excellent so far. It's not a "Pro" product anyway; ok for small home studios and garage bands, but you'll probably not see one of these in a pro studio.

It has a power input, but I couldn't find who sells the power brick, it's nowhere in M-Audio's page so… you'll have to drive it from the USB port.

I mainly record guitars+voices+basses. Some things are recorded with Condenser Mics (thanks to the Phantom power!).

The controls in the unit are ok, tho the Clipping detection could be more precise.

RIG KONTROLLER

This is for guitars and it does what it says. It has cons tho', the "footpads" are too "hard" and make a noise when you press them, making them look cheap (and they are) and also rendering useless if theres a mic "too close" because you are at risk that the sound of the "click" might be heard.

I brought that with Guitar Rig 3 (later upgraded to 4, recommended). For a guitar/bass is very nice. But it's a very simple unit in terms of features, compared to the Fasttrack.

You don't mention how many types of inputs/outputs you want or desire, but you can probably also evaluate things like Motu.

This is a good guide which I recommend you read (outdated as it is, it still explains certain good points).

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