Sound card: How to choose the best model of 2021?
Today we are going to talk about the sound card, a hardware that sends and receives sound signals from the sound equipment (internal and external) of a computer, converting the signal from analog to digital and vice versa.
The sound card can be internal, attached to the computer, or external, connected to the computer via USB or Firewire device. Another model of sound card is the one used for recording and editing professional audio.
The quality of the sound card is directly linked to the quality of the audio that comes out of the speaker or headphones. In this Buying Guide you will learn everything you need to buy the right sound card for your needs.
First, the most important
- Although not essential for the computer to function, all modern devices come with a sound card, either in an expansion slot or directly connected to the motherboard.
- The sound card processes all files and programs that have a sound element. It is used to watch movies, listen to music, play games, use the personal computer assistant, make sound recordings and more.
- The sound card can be internal (onboard) or external (offboard). The external model is connected to the computer via USB and can have an audio quality far superior to the card that comes on the computer.
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Ranking: The 4 best sound card models
Discover the best sound card models now. There are two models: the onboard and the offboard, we chose models of both types, taking into account the cost-benefit of this equipment and the acceptance of consumers.
Nothing better than listening to your favorite music, movie or series on your computer with high sound quality. The hardware that projects the sound of the multimedia files is the sound card.
It can be internal or external and the choice for a particular model will depend on the uses you make of the PC and how much you value the audio quality.
What is a sound card?
The sound card, also called an audio card, sound adapter or audio adapter is rectangular-shaped hardware that has several contacts on the bottom area of the card and several ports on the side to connect to audio devices.
This expansion card converts analog signals to digital (and vice versa), and sends that information to audio devices connected to the computer, such as speakers and headphones.
The sound card processes audio files in various formats and reproduces them with high quality. Everything related to audio (voice, musical instruments, music) goes through this plate.
How is a sound card formed?
The sound card consists of three internal devices: the DSP, the DAC and the ADC.
- DSP (Digital Signal Processor): Works with sound and its effects, from vibration to special 3D effects.
- DAC (Digital to Analog Converter): Converts the digital information transmitted by the computer to a digital signal that will be transmitted to external devices such as speakers and headphones.
- ADC: Transforms the analog signals transmitted by audio capture devices such as microphones and musical instruments, into digital signals for the sound card.
What is a sound card for?
The uses of a sound card are diverse: from listening to music, watching content on streaming services, playing games, making recordings, recognizing the user’s voice by the personal assistant, among others.
The common sound card model has an interface with input and output ports and is located on the back of the computer.
The output ports are used to connect headphones and speakers and the input ports are used to connect external devices (such as a microphone) and record.
The sound card can also come with a port for digital sound, greatly influencing the type of audio captured and output. The quality of the card itself directly affects the computer’s audio performance.
And even if your computer already has a sound card, you can disable it if you want a higher quality card. But, be aware that the model that comes on the PC is already of sufficient quality for home use.
Despite the importance, the sound card is not essential for the computer to work. Even so, all machines have this card, either in an expansion slot or installed next to the computer’s motherboard.
There are also external sound card models with a USB connection. These devices allow you to connect audio devices to your computer via a small USB adapter.
The external sound card, or portable, usually has much higher sound quality, similar to a home theater with five or seven channels, making the sound more powerful and looking like it comes from several directions. In this case, it is also good to invest in top quality speakers.
Some operating systems, like Microsoft’s, detect and run non-branded sound cards. Others only accept products from the same line or brand. Stay tuned!
What is the difference between internal and external sound cards?
There are two models of sound card for the computer, both work by converting analog sounds to reproduce them digitally or the other way around.
The internal one, also called onboard, comes inside the computer. The external, also known as offboard, is a card connected to the computer via USB or PCI. Let’s explain better how each one works.
Internal sound card (onboard)
The internal sound card (onboard) is already integrated into the computer and is soldered next to the motherboard. The processing of this hardware is done together with the integrated action software, which comes with the part.
The onboard sound card offers satisfactory audio quality for videos, music and games and is ideal for home use. Some models allow you to install speakers with a 5.1 sound system for an even better sound experience.
However, if you work with recording and editing music, audiovisual products or are a gamer, we recommend more powerful sound cards, offboard style.
External sound card (offboard)
The external sound card (offboard) is ideal for those looking for superior sound quality. This type of hardware is considered better, as it has several audio features that guarantee a clear sound, without interference or noise.
These parts also come with RAM, and process the audio independently. They are connected when computing via PCI slot or USB cable. And there are several models of external sound cards, from the simplest to the most sophisticated models
The price of a sound card varies widely. There are very cheap models for less than R $ 20, excellent quality options between R $ 100 and R $ 200 and more expensive models, which can cost almost R $ 10,000.
So that you can choose the best one for your pocket, we list cards from R $ 100 to R $ 1,900.
Where to buy?
Purchasing criteria: Factors to compare the different models of sound card
Sound cards can be different from each other in many ways. For anyone who is a layman on the subject, so much information can be difficult at the time of purchase. So, in this last section, we’ll talk about the most important features of a sound card. Are they:
- Noise signal
- Board inputs and outputs
So that you don’t have any doubts, we will explain each of the items. This way, you will be right in choosing a sound card for your computer.
The sound card usually comes with reading software. This software interacts with the hardware and allows the computer user to establish some settings and controls.
The software that comes with the sound card may already come with tools for capturing, recording and editing audio.
The most sophisticated models come with advanced software for recording and editing sound. They support powerful sound qualities (such as surround sound), ensuring a very high quality audio experience.
The processing rate of the sound card refers to the bit rate, and the higher the index, the better the processing of the hardware.
To give you an idea, most internal sound cards (onboard) operate with 16 bits, while those for external use (offboards) work with up to 128 bits.
The SNR specification, translated from English means Signal-to-Noise Ratio, concerns audio interference measured in decibels.
The higher the SNR, the clearer the audio. In this regard, offboard boards also win.
THD refers to the Total Harmonic Distortion Index. In this case it is a little different, the smaller the better. This is because the percentage of distortion directly influences the sound quality that needs to be objective and clean.
Board inputs and outputs
The inputs and outputs of the sound card can be behind the CPU (onboard sound card) or in front (offboard sound card). Having these inputs and outputs on the front of the computer is advantageous if you are going to use the PC as a recording studio.
These inputs include a recording instrument port, a headphone jack with independent volume control, Firewire (USB port for Apple devices) and more.