What is a Sound Card – Sound Cards Explained

What is a Sound Card?

What is a Sound Card?

It doesn’t matter if you are a hardcore computer gamer, home theater enthusiast or even a musician, you need to know just what is a sound card if you are going to select the right one for your needs.

Today I’m going to explain all about sound cards so that you can decide exactly which kind you need, plus I’ll also discuss some general connection and installation tips to help you when it comes to setting up.

The answer to the question, “what is a sound card?” can be simply defined; a sound card is an expansion to your computer that lets it send audio data to devices like your headphones or speakers. You may sometimes see the sound card referred to as an audio card, sound adapter or audio adapter. Rectangular in shape, the sound card has numerous connections on the bottom of it, as well as multiple ports on its side so it can be connected to speakers and headphones.

As well as knowing what is a sound card, you need to know how it’s installed. The sound card is installed onto a computer motherboard via the PCI slot. Because the computer motherboard, its case and other cards are designed to be compatible, the way a sound card fits onto the motherboard exposes its side, so that you can easily access the ports to plug in your speakers etc.

Many sound cards will have ports for other devices, such as a microphone, a joystick and auxiliary devices as well as the speakers. There are even more advanced sound cards available that come with input and output ports for other uses, such as professional audio output and audio editing.


What is a Sound Card - Sound Cards Explained


What sound card do I need?

Now that you know what is a sound card, you need to find the best one for your needs. There are three common uses of sound cards:

  • Home Theater – If you are upgrading your PC or building a new one from old bits and pieces, you should remember that most motherboards have something called an onboard audio chipset, and these are usually quite good for 5.1 channel surround sound.

    However, if there is no 5.1 ability on your motherboard, you can install a sound card like the Hercules’s Gamesurround or the AOpen Cobra AW850. Both of these represent great quality sound for home entertainment and are good starting points. Remember though, if you go down this road you’ll need to get a good set of surround sound speakers or else you won’t gain any benefit from the sound card.

  • Video Gaming – If you’re a hardcore video gamer, then you are probably going to want to immerse yourself in your fantasy world, and so your requirements are going to be similar too, if not greater than that of a serious movie buff. There is a difference though, in that you will need to get a sound card that is capable of producing the advanced 3D audio in the way it was intended too by the game developers. The best thing for you to do is to check the audio hardware requirements of your favorite game. Some good cards that you might want to consider are the ones made by SoundBlaster and Hercules
  • Music Production – Although you might think that any old sound card will do, in actual fact the more advanced your music production needs are, the better the sound quality and features you will need. So what is a sound card that is good for music production? In recent years the market for mid level to pro level music production specific sound cards has exploded, and there are now cards ranging from $300 right up to card that cost $1000 or more!

    There are sound cards available with external boxes that allow for easy access to multiple ports, and they also help in reducing the amount of interference from the computer too. Connectors that you may require include a 3.5mm jack and a 6.5mm jack, as well as S/PDIF coaxial or optical jacks. Other features you might want to consider are the necessity of MIDI input and output ports. Alternatively, if you are only interested in the most basic level of functionality, then there are cheaper options such as the sound cards produced by Creative and AOpen.

Remember that most audio connections are color coded. Usually, the microphone input is pink, the headphone or single channel line out will be green, while the line out will usually be blue color. However, you will still want to consult the sound card manual before you start connecting things, because sometimes the color coding is different and some of the icons can be confusing.

Sound Card Installation Tips

What is a sound card going to do if you don’t install it correctly? The chances are that, at best it simply won’t work, while at the very worst you may even damage or break it! Follow this advice to make sure your hooked up correctly

  • Make sure that all of your previous sound card software and drivers and completely removed beforehand. In order to lessen the amount of interference, install your sound card far apart from any other devices and cards that you may have attached to your computer.
  • A large number of new sound cards that are meant for use in conjunction with modern CD and DVD-ROM drives will allow for digital CD playback. This is achieved via the IDE cable that connects to the computer motherboard. This allows for much better performance than the older cards, which needed a separate cable and was connected internally between the CD or DVD-ROM and the sound card. Make sure you check your sound card’s manual to see which type you have.
  • Make sure that the sound card ports are correctly aligned, so that you can plug in all cables and devices securely. Also, check that the bracket is screwed in properly.

Sound Card Integration Tips

  • Before you go sending out invites to all of your friends for an evening of movies and popcorn or a mega gaming session, remember that you may require the right connection adapters so that you can convert certain types of cable connections that your sound card uses to the ones your TV, console or hi-fi uses. For example, it might be that you require a stereo RCA to stereo 3.5mm cord in order to run the sound card output to your hi-fi’s input. You can probably buy these from the same store where you purchase your sound card.
  • Make sure that the volume is either turned off or at least very low when you start connecting cables, otherwise you could accidently damage your speakers.
  • Learn the mixer controls for your sound card. By using the Window’s programs audio mixer, you should be able to adjust things like the bass and treble, but if you want more control then you will have to select the advanced controls option.


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