Sound cards have, over time, been significant components of personal computers. As time passed, they were hardly left out on PC motherboards. They are devices that aid audio relays to and from PCs to speakers, headphones, and other audio devices. Their uses on PCs range from video and audio editing to music creation, video displays, games, and many more. They are also instrumental in teleconferencing and voice-over IP.
The importance of sound cards cannot be underrated in terms of professionalism and improved sounds.
In fact, motherboards are built with great audio hardware devices (chips) that are prone to interference and electronic noise from the circuit. As a result, they do not give sharp quality sounds, hence, the need to get a sound card.
Also, in some instances, there is a need to run multiple audio devices on PCs, but because most motherboards have minimal ports for audio jacks, you may not be able to do this. You will then require a sound card.
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What is a Sound card?
A sound card is a hardware that has multi-points on its rear side. Being a rectangular-shaped device, it also has different ports by its side to aid its connection to audio devices.
It is fixed on either the PCIe, PCI, or the USB slot on the motherboard. With this provision made on the motherboard, the sound card is positioned so that its ports can be conveniently accessed.
Sound cards have chips that aid the processing of information. They can be standard sound cards, also referred to as expansion cards, and others are external sound adapters. They are independent as they do not rely on the computer.
With this separate property, like in standard sound cards, the computer experiences a reduced load, giving rise to a better system operation, and every produced sound is of high quality.
As an advantage over inbuilt motherboard sound chips, some sound cards have a 24-bit recording or multiple channel surround sound.
External adapters are connected via a FireWire or USB port. They have characteristics that cannot be seen in standard sound cards, including adjustable volume knobs and extra inputs and output ports. Also, they are easy to transfer to new PCs, compared to traditional sound cards.
Sound Card Features
Sound Cards have the following features which lead to their outstanding performance, which include:
- Polyphony: A sound card can process and produce many concurrent sounds while playing MIDI. Usually, every channel releases a voice. However, some tracks are connected to instruments that make use of more than one voice. An example is a piano that occupies one MIDI channel but can release three voices when three-note chords are struck.
Sound cards make use of hardware-based or software-based voices. Simple sound cards support 64-voice polyphony, which includes 32 in software and 32 in hardware. High-quality sound cards support beyond 64-voice polyphony, up to 1024 voices.
- Multiple Channels: Every MIDI link has 16 channels, with each for an instrument. If every channel has an instrument, they can play all at once. These kinds of cards are used for general and primary uses. However, for producing realistic sounds, cards with 32 channels are used primarily.
Other higher sound cards have an allowance for up to 48 instruments and play them all at once. They are used in intricate conditions. An example of these is the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live! Platinum.
- High-Frequency Response: Sound cards have been built to work with response to a wide frequency range of 20Hz to 20KHz, similar to that of the human ears.
Well-developed cards have a frequency response of 20Hz to 20KHz at 3dB. Higher ones even have a response of 20Hz to 20KHz at 1dB.
On the other hand, lesser grades have frequency responses of 20Hz to 20KHz at 10dB, which implies that these cards are most effective at 100Hz to 10KHz.
- Sampling Rate: Sound cards can work with waveform audio playback at 44,100 and 22,050 Hz. Some can even support 11,025 and 8000Hz. As much as sound cards work at different rates, the most used recording rate is 44,100 Hz; notwithstanding, the DAT-standard rate is 48,000 Hz.
- Signal-to-Noise ratio: S/N ratio, as it is called, is a yardstick to measuring the amount of signal compared to noise. It is measured in dB. Higher values denote a higher performance, and lower values release hearable whizz sounds.
Low-quality cards have S/N ratios of 85dB or lower. For intermediate sound cards, their S/N ratio approximates around 90dB, and for best quality cards, they have ratios of 95dB or higher.
As a matter of quality, high S/N sound cards have immunity from internal noise from the PC circuit and external noise from the surrounding. This, in turn, gives rise to reduced whizzes and better sound quality.
- Duplex Mode: Sound cards work in either full-duplex or half-duplex mode. Half-duplex cards either record sound or play sound and cannot do both simultaneously. Tasks like playing CDs and playing games are done with half-duplex cards.
Full-duplex cards like the intermediate and high-quality sound cards can run both tasks at once. With this type of card, more intricate tasks can be carried out. Some of them include voice recognition and Voice over IP.
- Sound cards significantly improve audio quality.
- With sound cards, there is a reduced load on the CPU or the graphics card.
- There is room for other operations on the computer, including the increase of graphics performance.
- They reduce internal and ambient noise.
- Price tags are usually expensive for quality sound cards.
- Sound cards are usually characterized by compatibility issues, making their uses trial and error.
- Some dedicated sound cards do not support operating systems like BSD and Linux.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sound Cards
How do I install a sound card on my PC?
Not every card information is to be used and ensure that the jumpers are correctly set up. Afterward, insert the card into the expansion slot and attach internal and external cables. After the hardware setup is made, ensure to install the sound card software. During the hardware setup, ensure that the computer is switched off.
How do I identify my sound card type?
Your sound card type can be identified on the Windows Device Manager. To do this, click on Windows+x and choose Device Manager. You will find the sound card in the option “Sound, video, and game controllers.”
What is the use of a DB-15 connector on a sound card?
It is used to connect MIDI equipment or joysticks. It is an analog socket with 15 pins.
How do I update my sound card driver?
Under the “Sound, video, and game controllers” option, make a right-click on the sound card and choose Search automatically for updated driver software, and further click on Update driver. If no driver is found, check the device builder website.
In essence, sound cards are essential for improved audio experience and better CPU performance. Once you begin using a sound card, you will find it difficult to return to your motherboard audio chip. No matter your audio listening device, ranging from expensive pairs of headphones to high-budget speakers, audios produced from motherboard chips will always sound like the 1960s. A noticeable change is experienced once there is a sound card installation, no matter how low its quality is.