Backing tracks on a laptop

Thankyou to Neil from England for submitting this question: 

A question for Kenny. If I used a laptop to play my
backing tracks on stage, would I need a good sound
card in the laptop or would the sound be fine when
amped through the PA?

Hi Neil

Generally the quality of sound you get from your laptop WILL be dependant on how good the sound card in your laptop is.

However, most computers (and even cheaper laptops) manage to put out a reasonable sound quality and if you’re playing your backing tracks in a live environment where the audience are talking etc, usually the general burble of noise in the venue makes any small sound quality issues pretty much unnoticable.

I used various laptops on stage to play backing tracks for years without too many problems (before moving on to using the iPod).

The only downsides to using a laptop on stage are the obvious ones – keeping it away from spilled drinks, making sure no-one trips over the power and audio cables and bring it crashing down on a hard stage floor, the abuse the keyboard can sometimes suffer when being used in the high charged excitement of a gig, and the audio output jack (and mains plug) tending to break because they’re being continually plugged and unplugged at every gig (they’re only plastic and eventually just break).

Also bear in mind that there is one other well known issue with laptops when using them for playing music live on stage – and that’s mains hum.

It’s very common (and very annoying) and is caused by an earth loop. Sometimes it takes the form of a loud hum but in some laptops it sounds like a low frequency crackle, a bit like if your TV wasn’t tuned to a channel properly. There was a school of thought which suggested that the chipset on the laptop motherboard could be to blame for this because the interference seems worse on some laptops than others, but as far as I know nothing has ever been proved one way or the other. The interference is most noticable when the music is either not playing at all or during quiet parts of a song.

Whatever you do DO NOT do what a friend of mine did and remove the earth wire from the laptops mains plug!!! Earth loop noise can be safely, easily, and inexpensively cured by buying a simple ground loop isolator which only costs about £12.