When it comes to audio on a PC, most people think that the integrated audio is good enough. However, there are many benefits to using a sound card, which we will discuss. So, do I need a sound card? The answer is not as clear-cut as you may think.
This article will give you a basic introduction to sound cards, what they do, and how they differ from integrated audio. We’ll also cover who might benefit from using a sound card and whether or not it’s worth the investment. So, let’s get started!
What is a sound card?
A sound card is computer hardware that allows you to input and output audio. It typically connects to your motherboard via PCI or USB and has ports for headphones, speakers, and microphones.
Sound cards aren’t as standard as they used to be, as most motherboards now come with integrated audio that can handle basic needs. However, sound cards still offer many benefits over integrated audio.
What does a sound card do?
A sound card converts digital audio signals into analog signals so that you can listen to them through headphones or speakers. It also handles the processing of special effects like echo and reverb.
Creative was one of the most popular sound card manufacturers in the 90s and early 2000s. However, your regular motherboard has integrated audio that converts digital audio into analog signals.
How is a sound card different vs. integrated audio?
The main difference between sound cards and integrated audio is that sound cards have their own processor, which offloads some of the work from your CPU. This can result in better audio quality and special effects like EAX support and surround. Sound cards also typically have better input/output options than integrated audio.
It’s worth noting that most CPUs are so powerful nowadays that offloading the audio doesn’t make much of a difference. Even smartphones have powerful enough processors to handle audio processing.
Sound cards have a higher signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), which means they can produce clearer audio and have less background noise/buzzing. They also have lower total harmonic distortion (THD), which results in less of a distorted sound.
Also, many sound cards include amplifiers for headphones or speakers, improving audio quality.
Who uses sound cards?
Sound cards are most commonly used by gamers and audiophiles who want the best possible audio quality. They can also be helpful for people who need to use specialized equipment like microphones or mixers.
People who do streaming or audio recording can also benefit from using a sound card as they come with more input/output options and support more channels.
If you buy a pair of high impedance headphones, you might also need a sound card as they typically have more powerful headphone amps than integrated audio.
Does a sound card improve your audio?
Sound cards can improve the audio quality of your PC in several ways. As we mentioned, they have higher SNR and THD, which results in better-sounding audio. They also often come with amplifiers, which can improve the quality of your headphones or speakers.
Some sound cards also offer special features like Dolby Digital support or virtual surround sound. So yes, in general, a sound card will improve the audio quality of your PC or laptop.
And talking about laptops, remember we mentioned PCI ports and USB? Since laptops are way more popular now than 20 years ago, many USB sound cards are available. Some people know them by the name of DAC or Amplifiers, as they do similar functions.
Sound card vs. Amp or DAC
The most common way to connect a sound card for a desktop PC was using the PCI or PCI Express port. This meant you had to connect your audio devices from the rear of the chassis, which could be kind of a pain.
Connecting your audio devices through the front panel meant you suffered from quality loss, as the cables were usually unshielded.
Nowadays, there are way more laptops than desktops, so it only makes sense that USB-powered DACs or Amplifiers are more popular. And they sound just as good as regular sound cards! They even look super cool sometimes!
A DAC is a digital-to-analog converter. It takes a digital signal and converts it into an analog signal. Sounds familiar?
And an AMP is an amplifier. It takes a low-power signal and makes it stronger so that you can listen to it through headphones or speakers.
Most AMPs have an integrated DAC. And yes, soundcards do both functions as well. So they’re pretty much the same, but we connect them via a USB port and have fancy designs to be aesthetic on our desks.
Each brand comes with different software, and audio presets, though. Some of them even have cool RGB lights!
Is a sound card worth it?
If you’re looking to improve the audio quality of your PC or laptop, a sound card is worth considering. They offer better audio quality than integrated audio and often come with extra features like amplifiers and support for multiple channels.
They can be an excellent investment for gamers or audiophiles who want the best possible audio experience. And if you use streaming or recording software, a sound card can also be helpful as it offers more input/output options and higher power output.
However, the truth is most people won’t notice a huge difference in audio quality between a sound card and integrated audio unless you play them side-by-side.
Do I need a sound card then?
The bottom line is that it depends on what you need and how much you’re willing to spend. An external DAC or amplifier might be better if you’re looking for better audio quality.
For most people, a sound card isn’t worth the money. In fact, buying a better pair of speakers or headphones will probably improve your audio experience more than a sound card will.
But if you’re an audiophile or gamer who wants the best possible audio quality, a sound card is worth considering. If you have a pair of headphones with high impedance (if you don’t know what that is, chances are you don’t have them) or if you want to use multiple speakers for surround sound and multiple audio effects, then a sound card is probably a good investment.
Sound cards cost anywhere from $50 to $200, so it’s not a small purchase. But if you’re serious about audio quality, a sound card can make a big difference.
The bottom line
There you have it. Now that you know the difference between a sound card and integrated audio and the pros and cons of each, you can make a more informed decision about which is right for you.
We hope this article helped clear things up for you. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions. And be sure to check out our other articles on all things audio! Thanks for reading!