How to choose a sound card for your computer

Most computers come with an integrated sound card. But its performance or characteristics are clearly not enough for high-quality playback or music recording.

How to choose a sound card

How to choose a sound card for your computer: what to look for

When choosing a sound card for a computer, it is advisable to pay attention to the following parameters:

  1. Type (external or internal);

  2. Format (number of output channels);

  3. Connection interface;

  4. Built-in amplifier;

  5. DAC parameters;

  6. Support for special technologies – ASIO and EAX.

A type

Sound card type

Sound cards can be external and internal. The former are connected via USB and are intended primarily for use with an audio system or multiple speakers. Due to the nature of their interface, they only support high quality audio on very rare occasions.

Internal sound cards are installed directly into the computer system unit. The top models of these devices support high-quality audio and are equipped with a powerful DAC. And the budget ones just allow you to connect good speakers or headphones.

Some models of internal sound cards are equipped with an external external block for connecting audio equipment. It does not affect the characteristics of the DAC.

Format (number of output channels)

When recording the number of output channels, the number of speakers is indicated first, and then the number of subwoofers that can be connected directly to the sound card. The following formats are found:

  1. 2.0;

  2. 4.0;

  3. 5.1;

  4. 7.1.

The number of analog output channels may not match the number of connectors. For example, sound cards of 2.0 format have only one 3.5 mm connector. It connects two speakers via a minijack.

Connection interface

connection type

There are three interfaces for connecting sound cards:

  1. PCI. Slow, designed exclusively for low-power expansion cards. Suitable for games, watching movies and listening to music – if there are no special requirements for quality;

  2. PCI-E. Fast, allows you to connect really high-quality equipment. Suitable for home studio;

  3. USB. Designed for connecting external sound cards.

  4. In all cases, you will need to install drivers.

Built-in amplifier

The built-in amplifier in sound cards is designed for use with headphones. Therefore, if you regularly listen to music or audio through these devices, it is advisable to purchase an expansion card equipped with it.

If you plan to connect an external audio system to the sound card, which already has an amplifier, then you can do without the built-in expansion card.

DAC parameters

A digital-to-analog converter (DAC) is a sound card module that, as the name implies, is designed to convert a digital signal (namely, all music downloaded from the Internet, including stores) into analog currents for subsequent sending to speakers or headphones. It has two parameters – bit width and limit frequency.

Bit depth – the maximum number of levels of sound intensity reproduced by the DAC. The higher it is, the more tangibly and richly each instrument in the overall composition will be heard. Sound cards can be equipped with a DAC of one of three bit sizes:

  1. 16 bit. Suitable for playing compressed digital audio (such as MP3);

  2. 20 bit. Suitable for lossless digital audio playback (FLAC, ALAC);

  3. 24 bit. Designed for Hi-Res audio.

Limiting sampling rate – the number of levels of sound frequency that the DAC is able to reproduce. Not loudness, but the sound spectrum. Sound cards can be equipped with a DAC of one of four frequencies:

  1. 44.1 kHz. Provides reproduction of sounds from the range audible to humans Suitable for listening to music from Audi o CD or compressed digital audio;

  2. 48 kHz. Provides reproduction of sounds from an audible range and partially inaudible. Suitable for FLAC playback;

  3. 96 kHz. Can reproduce sounds far beyond the audible range. Suitable for Hi-Res audio.

  4. 192 kHz. Designed for Hi-Res audio.

The higher the bit depth and the limiting sampling rate, the higher the cost of the sound card. Therefore, it is worth purchasing models designed for high-resolution audio playback (Hi-Res) only if they are really needed and there is suitable equipment in the form of appropriate headphones or speakers.

Support for special sound technologies

special technologies

Among the most common audio technologies, there are two that require software and hardware support – EAX and ASIO.

EAX technology is used to create realistic surround sound that simulates the environment. It is used in various movies, games, and similar content. EAX processes sounds by adding reflections and reverb effects to create a spacious audio environment.

ASIO is a special protocol for outputting streaming audio that provides a minimum delay in signal conversion, including within the DAC. For example, it allows real-time audio processing, which is very important for sound engineers and musicians.

Manufacturers

The following companies can be distinguished among the manufacturers of sound cards:

  1. Orient. Produces simple external sound cards that will work if the integrated one is broken;

  2. Asus. Produces sound cards mainly of the middle level, which are suitable for reproducing high-quality audio. However, the product line also includes top-end models that deliver superior sound;

  3. Creative Sound – one of the most famous sound card manufacturers, produces both mid-range and top-end models;

  4. Tascan, Steinberg – manufacturers of 'audiophile' sound cards.

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In the following articles, our experts will tell you how to choose the right graphics card for your computer, the secrets of choosing a power supply, and a complete guide to choosing a keyboard for a desktop computer.


Attention! This material is the subjective opinion of the authors of the project and is not a purchase guide.

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