Laptop DAC?

Alright… forgive me as I am new to all of this. For the past three or so years I have been making music on my great laptop, which recently died. I’ve been using Cubase Artist 7 and had been creating many a song using only the internal soundcard and headphone-out… which I am realizing might have had some serious negative impacts on quality. (I am using Etymotic hf5’s as earbuds)

I am now looking at a new laptop with a higher resolution/size, updated CPU and everything else an upgrade should have. This is where I need help: should I get some sort of external sound solution? I am sure the internal soundcard (pretty sure its lumped in with the chipset) is not that great (but what do I know?).

There are so many options now doing some research, should I go for an external sound card? Or maybe a cheap DAC? (think college level budget). I don’t need any microphone/vocal recording inputs or anything of the like, as I am quite happy with Cubase’ fantastic included VST’s and midi/audio manipulation. Basically some small cheap USB connected device to get my sound up to par for music creation… once again I apologize, this might not even be an issue :neutral_face:

Any help would be appreciated!


It depends on the laptop. Through the context I’m assuming you’re on Windows and those DACs vary widely in quality and what I call “forced SRC”. Additionally any Windows sounds can change the sample rate of the DAC, and then Windows does SRC from Cubase to compensate. Overall it’s best to go with an inexpensive but decent quality small usb interface with a decent headphone driver, then assign Windows sounds to the built-in output or disable them entirely. It’s fine to use the built-in headphone out when doing editing and sequencing then switch to your small usb headphone driver when needed.

Take a look at the wide range of small usb interfaces out there. There are lots. Don’t worry about chipsets and such at this time, you’re looking for good quality at a low price and small size. Read the reviews, don’t be mislead by the cool looks.

Good luck,

+1. Keep the DAW to the external interface, and let Win use the internal as its defaults.

Another +1 from me, it’s what I do as well.
Been using Firewire audio interfaces with my laptop all the time and disabled windows sounds.
If you set your audio interface as the default device it’ll also be used when doing other stuff than Cubase, and when you pull the plug it’ll automatically switch to the onboard soundcard.