For most people, a PC is the efficient and versatile centerpiece of the home studio. But is your existing PC sound card costing you audio quality?


It doesn't have to -- not if you have a sound card capable of 24/96 analog and digital recordings. These "high end" PCI-based cards add a new level of capability, offering a variety of input and output options and quality 24/96 recording.


24/96 stands for 24-bit resolution and 96-KHz sampling, currently the highest recording specification available in a prosumer sound card. Compare that to the 16-bit, 48-KHz specifications of a standard Creative SoundBlaster Live! Card or the 44.1-KHz sample rate of a standard audio CD. Although the typical listener wouldn't be able to discern the difference between a 24/96 card and a SoundBlaster, the typical audiophile or musician would. And that's why they would spend $600 for a phatty sound card.


Here are three excellent 24/96 cards that will bring your recording to the next level.




In addition to a PCI card, the package includes a large breakout box, which allows users to plug in up to four analog microphone or line-ins (XLR). The box also has six analog-outs (1/4-inch jack), MIDI in and out, and a port for connecting to the sound card via a cable.


The card itself has an RCA digital input and output and its components (DSP and so on) are specially sealed to prevent unwanted noise from your CPU. Up to four cards can be used simultaneously in a single PC.


The Direct Pro 24/96 control panel software is robust and easy to use, giving the user full access to a virtual mixing board. The interface gives you control over meters, faders, pan adjustments, trim, and EQ -- all in real time.


This is the most expensive package in the roundup and it's worthy of attention, especially for those who don't already have a good mixer to plug into. The breakout box has all the connections any musician needs and the card was able to accurately record all of our sources (synths, handclaps, acoustic guitar) and the noise-to-signal ratio was the second highest in the roundup (using Cool Edit Pro).