Before you can think about transmitting your sound out into cyberspace, you need to sort out the first part of the signal chain – the part that gets your voice/ sample/ guitar / band into your computer. There are two key pieces of gear to think about here, the soundcard/ audio interface and the mixing desk, but you may not need both.
Ingredient 1: a good soundcard/ audio interface. Most computers come with soundcards that aren’t up to live performance if used on their own. Unless you own a mixing desk (in which case you may be able to jump straight to “ingredient 2″) you are going to need to choose an external soundcard that suits your setup needs.
The first thing to think about when chosing a soundcard is how many instruments make up your live show. If it’s just you and your guitar, 2 channels is all you need. If you are intending to add extras or play with a band you can either choose a card with more inputs OR a simple 2-input card to be used in combination with a mixing desk. I use an m-audio fast track ultra soundcard, which has 4 inputs (an extra one for my loop machine and sampler).
If you only need the two imputs, or intend to get a mixing desk, something like the M-Audio Fastrack Pro (shown above) is a good choice and comes with 2 inputs and is available for around 155 euro. The Presonus AudioBox is another low cost option, and in both cases www.thomann.de is about the best place to order these- if you have a bigger budget, other recommendable brands incluce MOTU, Digidesign, and Native Instruments.
For the guitar and vocal combo, this may be all you need. Install the soundcard, plug in the USB cable to your PC, plug in your guitar and mic, and you are done with step one of the signal chain. If you are a band, or you want extras like effects, then go onto ingredient 2 below.
Ingredient 2. The mixing desk. If you have a mixing desk with good preamps, you can often take a line out of the desk straight into your computer. Certainly there are people that do this and come out with a good sound. If you have a 2 channel soundcard and more than 2 inputs, then a mixing desk is a good workaround. It is also a good option if you want effects, because many mixing desks come with onboard effects. Simply plug your instrumments into the desk, and take two lines out from the desk output, pluging one into the left, and one into the right channel of the soundcard. The number of channels you need will depend on how many instruments you want to use. If you are getting a mixing desk because you need effects, consider the Behringer Xenyx FX series. I use a Behringer Xenyx 1202 FX (shown below) and find the reverbs on there to be adequate for vocals and guitar.
Hopefully, having read this, you have decided on what you need: A: just a soundard, B: just a mixing desk or, C: both. Please feel free to comment below or ask questions. There will be loads of you out there too with more helpful advice too, so we’d love to hear from you!