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What is a sound card and how to choose it

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    There are the words “spring comes birds sing” in one fun song. Indeed we are constantly surrounded by all kinds of sounds world, from birdsong and to the classical symphonic music. Due to the fact that the personal computer has important place in life of many people, so many different sounds are played with PC very often. Today we will talk about how to choose the sound card for the computer, because it is responsible for sound output.

What is a sound card?

A sound card (fee) is a special sound device that allows you to play and record audio on your PC.

The sound card structure consists of sound card mixers, analog-to-digital (digital-to-analog) converters, processor, and the related inputs/outputs.

Many people believe that the sound card isn’t such an important part of the PC, as the power supply or video card. We can partially agree with this, but “dumb” computer will be very uncomfortable even with the best PSU or video.

Sometimes people ask: “What is my sound card now?” or “How to check sound card?

This can be determined visually or by looking at the same cost or through special programs that reflect all the hardware components of the computer, such as EVEREST or other.

Let’s take a closer look at the basic sound card features:

1. Types of sound cards (form factor).

Sound card form factor is a way of its technical realization. Currently you can find such basic types of sound card:

  • Integrated sound card. The integrated sound card is a card that is built into the motherboard of the computer. Most modern motherboards come with integrated sound cards already.

    In most cases the possibilities of built card are enough for home using.

    Now there are many debates about whether to buy other sound cards in addition to built.

    For the question: “Do I need a separate sound card?” we can answer from experience: if you don’t use your computer with 5.1 (7.1) speakers or don’t recording high-quality sound tracks on PC, you can really fully use integrated cards. Otherwise, you should look to next types of sound cards.

  • Internal discrete sound cards. These cards are sold in the form of a separate card that is installed on the motherboard in the system unit, often in port PCI, PCI Express or Fire Wire. If you think about buying of a new sound card you most likely will get just such a card.

    It should be noted that the all benefits of external sound cards using you can feel only if you uses high-quality acoustics. If you have simple speakers or not very expensive headphones buying of such card does not make sense.

    But if you want to arrange a small private home sound studio, without a discrete card you can not do this.

  • External discrete sound cards. External sound card is placed outside the PC system unit. Connecting an external sound card is often carried out via USB.

    External cards can often used to improve sound performance of notebooks. So if you need a sound card for a notebook, seek just such card.

2. Sound card frequency.

Frequency is a sound card characteristic that shows the number of signals which card processes per unit of time when working with sound. It is measured in hertz.

Most of the sound cards have a 96 or 192 kHz frequency. The higher frequency figure is the better. In general you should focus on these frequencies.

3. Converters rate.

As I mentioned, the structure of music card includes the analog-to-digital (ADC) and digital-to-analog converters (DAC), which are responsible for converting audio from analog format to digital and vice versa.

Converter rate indicates the number of signal levels with which a card can work. It is measured in bits.

New sound cards have usually the bit converters with 24 bits, which is enough.

4. Signal/noise (S/N).

This figure indicates the signal audio card and noise that occurs when playing this signal. This ratio is measured in decibels.

For good external sound card, this figure should be greater than 90 dB. A professional sound card may have a ratio of 100 dB or more.

5. The number of sound card connectors and ports.

A various number of devices can be connected to the sound card and from the number of inputs/outputs the number of such devices you can connect depends.

The minimum set of sound card ports should provide availability for the microphone input and following outputs:

  • Headphone output – allows you to connect headphones directly to the card.
  • SPDIF. SPDIF port is the digital port through which you can connect to the card most existing devices or even other sound card. SPDIF connectors allow you to receive a very high quality of signal transmission.

This is the minimum necessary sound card inputs/outputs, but it can be other inputs/outputs on the card. So if you know exactly what devices you will connected to this unit, check the presence of the required connector. Sound card manufacturers try to respond to the most common requirements by the presence of connectors.

Before you will buy a sound card pay also your attention to how many channels it supports.

In the article about how to choose the speakers to the computer, I said that modern computer speakers can have from 2.0 to 7.1 form-factors, so they used for audio playback from 2 to 8 channels. So your sound card must support the same number of channels as your speaker system (usually you need a multi-channel sound card).

For example, if you have 5.1 speakers, then the multi-channel sound card must also support 5.1.

     I hope this information will help you to know which sound card you can buy to upgrade your computer or optimize the old PC sound system.

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