Do I Need A Sound Card?

From pro gamers to youtube content makers, online tutors, audiobook narrators, and business presenters, if there is one thing they have in common, it’s that they all use sound cards. It is no longer a secret that the device responsible for the high-quality sounds in their videos, audios, and presentations, are sound cards.

What is a sound card

A sound card is computer hardware that converts digital data to sound, allowing you to listen to music from your computer using speakers or headphones. A sound card is what is responsible for converting digital data to analog sound waves that can be heard by humans. For instance, the songs or music files on your PC, are digital files that cannot be heard, but this sound card converts these files to sound waves and sends the output to your computer speakers, headphones, pr external speakers as the case may be. If this process doesn’t take place, you won’t be able to hear your music. Sound cards are also what makes it possible to record audio with your computer. Although computers have inbuilt sound cards, most people still prefer to use special sound cards (generally known as “Dedicated Sound Cards”) to suit their audio preferences. 

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The basic components of a sound card and their uses

Part/ComponentFunction
DAC (Digital-To-Analog Converter)Converts digital data to analog sound
ADC (Analog-To-Digital Converter)Converts analog sound to digital data (I.e converts sound recordings to digital files)
PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect)Provide means of connection to the motherboard
Input and output connectorsProvide means to plug in or connect higher quality external devices like speakers, microphones, and headphones
DSP (Digital Signal Processor)Acts as the processing unit instead of the computer’s CPU to convert between analog and digital files/data.

Why Should I Use A Dedicated Sound Card?

Most computer systems have an inbuilt sound card in the motherboard. However, certain users who may desire higher sound quality will need an upgrade. The inbuilt sound card may work well enough with the inbuilt speakers, but may not give such a good output with external speakers. Users who love the quality sound, and want to use an external speaker/microphone, will need a sound card superior to the computer system’s inbuilt one. These soundcards have input and output connectors (to plug in speakers, headphones, and microphones), and some may even come with their own memory and processor.

You will need a sound card in any of these cases:

  • If you want good audio, and gaming experience while playing PC games
  • If you want top-quality sound while listening to music
  • If you want the best sound quality while watching movies
  • During audio and video conferencing
  • When making business presentations
  • When reading dictations, making audiobooks, or other important recordings
  • When the inbuilt sound card malfunctions or breaks

However, you may not need a sound card if what you want to do doesn’t involve any of the above. If there is no much demand for excellent audio, you can do away with sound cards and just use an audio enhancing app, or good quality external speakers to improve the sound quality a little.

Do people still use soundcards today?

Two sets of people who are known to be major users of sound cards are gamers and YouTube video makers/content creators. 

Benefits of sound cards for gamers include:

  • Improved surround sound and better gaming experience (especially in ‘shooting’ games)
  • Less load on CPU, since the sound card takes the sound conversion work from the CPU, leading to better frame rates and overall performance

Benefits of sound cards for YouTubers:

  • Better sound quality while recording 
  • Better audio quality while watching videos
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Types of soundcard

There are generally 2 types of sound cards:

  1. External sound cards: This type of sound card is simply a small box that connects to the computer at one end, with multiple ports at its other end for connecting speakers, audio jacks, etc. It usually uses a USB for connecting to the computer. It can also capture sounds when an external microphone is connected to it. 
  2. Internal sound cards: These are sound cards designed to fit internally into a computer system’s motherboard, increasing sound output significantly, and also making the sound suitable for certain configurations. 

The USB sound cards are the commonest type of external sound cards.

Comparison of USB and Internal Sound Cards

USB Sound CardsInternal Sound Cards
Small and portableLarger in Size
Connects and operates via USB portMust be integrated into motherboard before it can work
Easy installation (Simply attach, use, and detach after use)Installation needs some technical expertise
Overall lower risk of damage or breaking compared to Internal typeOverall better sound quality compared to USB type.

Can a soundcard stop my Computer from producing sound?

Yes. A malfunctioning or broken sound card is the number one reason your computer may have stopped producing sounds. The only solution here is to replace the sound card. 

Another issue that may cause this, is if there is a missing driver. In this situation, you’ll have to install the necessary sound card drivers.

How big is the sound improvement when using soundcards?

Sound cards can significantly improve the sound quality, but its effect truly depends on a number of factors:

  1. The quality of the sound card: Buying just any sound card and hoping for a miracle, will lead to disappointment. For best results, it’s advisable to go for the high-end ones. 
  2. Appropriate peripherals: A good sound card can only show its full power when connected to the right output source (speakers/headsets), otherwise the difference may never be noticeable. 
  3. Type of sound involved: Sound cards may not show a great difference when used to play sounds like regular music, or videos. But when it comes to sounds like game audio and recordings, then they perform at their peak. This is why gamers and YouTubers are the major users. 
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How expensive is a sound card

The average cost of a sound card is $20 – $100. USB sound cards are cheaper, ranging from $3 – $30, while premium sound cards can cost up to $200 or more.

Where can I get a soundcard

Sound cards are sold in several online marketplaces like Amazon, Aliexpress, etc.

Final Notes

The truth is that a sound card can only produce excellent results when it is a high-end one, and also has the right speakers/microphones to go along with it. Else, it may just be a letdown in the end. So it’s advisable not to hold back when purchasing one. 

However, at the end of the day, it all boils down to how much of an audiophile you are, and what exactly you want to use your computer for. If you need that phenomenal sound, then go for a sound card, but remember to go for the best.

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