However, if we want to manage a more advanced audio system (a 5.1 or better a 7.1) or we often work with audio files, we cannot be satisfied with the chip integrated into the motherboard but we will have to buy a dedicated sound card, to be installed inside the computer or to be connected by optical cables (in case of external drives).
In this guide, we will show you in fact how to choose a dedicated sound card and we will also show you the best models that you can buy online, so as to save money and also have the maximum guarantee in case of problems or difficulties.
How to choose a sound card
Choosing a sound card is not easy, since we will have to pay attention to many parameters before buying. If not, we are practicing with the internal hardware components of a computer. We strongly advise you to get help from a computer technician friend, who will certainly be able to advise you and help you in assembling the chosen board.
Sound card features
Before buying any sound card, make sure that the following features are present, so as to buy only quality products:
- Type of connection: most sound cards can be connected to a PCI-E X1 slot, present on all modern motherboards. External sound cards must be digitally connected to the PC using a USB connection or, more rarely, a TOSLINK (SPDIF) connection.
- The number of channels supported: a good sound card must support audio on 5 channels (satellites) and a dedicated bass channel (subwoofer), so that spatial audio can be recreated. Many high-end models allow you to go up to 7.1 channels.
- Digital converter: an element to pay attention to is the DAC, which must be of excellent quality otherwise we will not have any gain from the listening point of view (we might as well use the integrated DAC on the motherboard). A good way to check if the DAC is quality is to view the sampling frequency: it must support at least 192kHz and 24-bit.
- Connections: a good quality sound card must have the classic 3.5mm Jack plugs for the connection of the satellites (each plug supports the audio for two speakers), but we can also find the RCA plugs, the dedicated plugs for the microphone or the headphones but also a digital optical output (also called TOSLINK or SPDIF) and a coaxial optical output. On the high-end models, we also find the digital optical input, to be able to sample musical instruments or mixers.
- Signal to noise ratio: this value indicates the relationship between the quality of the output signal and the quality of the signal produced by the various noise components. To go well it must be equal to or greater than 100 dB (decibels).
- Latency: if we are musicians it is also essential to know the latency, that is the delay between the recorded sound (for example from the voice or from an instrument) and its perception by the operating system. The lower the value, the faster we can capture and process the sounds emitted.
These parameters can be taken into consideration both for internal sound cards (the most common) and for external sound cards (dedicated to home use).
After having seen some of the features that a sound card must have, we can proceed to purchase the necessary component online, having the certainty that, in the event of problems or incompatibilities, we can easily return it to Amazon, as seen also in our guide The Amazon guarantee reimburses the money spent within two years.
The cheapest sound card we can view is the Creative Soundblaster Audigy Fx, on sale for less than € 50.
This internal sound card features a chip capable of delivering a 24-bit bit rate at 192 kHz, a 106 dB signal-to-noise ratio, SBX Pro Studio technology, and a 5.1-channel audio system with 3.5mm jack plugs.
If we want something more powerful we can try the ASUS Xonar SE, which is also on sale for less than € 50.
On this sound card, we can have a 116 dB signal-to-noise ratio, various 3.5mm jack plugs for speakers, microphones and headphones and a digital optical audio output, to obtain the maximum quality of the sound from a home theater system.
Are we a sound freak and want only the best of technology? In this case, you should aim with your eyes closed on the Creative Sound Blaster AE-7, available for less than 230 €.
This high-end sound card features a dual control unit, various Jack and RCA sockets for connecting satellites, a digital optical output, a coaxial optical output, and two audio inputs (one digital and the other coaxial). The entire unit is manageable via the convenient remote control, which we can place on the desk to control the volume or to connect headphones or a microphone.
If we are looking for a sound card designed and optimized for gaming, we will have to evaluate the purchase of the Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5, for sale for less than 140 €.
This elegant sound card has the sockets necessary to connect a 5.1 system, a digital optical socket for the connection of a home theater system, and various technologies designed to increase the quality of the audio, such as DSD Audio.
If instead, we are looking for an external sound card (to be connected via USB), we can view the Creative SB X-Fi Surround 5.1, available for less than € 80.
By connecting this card via USB we can get many additional ports to control the audio, such as the two RCAs for the front stereo front, two audio mini-jacks for the rear and central / LFE channels, and the inevitable S / PDIF port to connect in digital home theater. The peculiarity of this device is the dedicated infrared remote control, with which we will be able to control the audio reproduction and the output volume even when we are away from the PC.
Most computer users don’t need a dedicated sound card, as the one on the motherboard is more than enough to listen to music, play games, and watch a movie.
However, if we are audiophiles or we often work with high-quality music files, we cannot be satisfied with an integrated chip, but we will have to equip our PC with a higher level sound card, such as those present in the guide above.
Always on PC audio theme, we invite you to read also our guides How to update/install Realtek Audio drivers is Hear PC audio on TV, cable or Wi-Fi, so that we can easily control every need when we hear computer sound.
If instead, we want to update our computer station, we invite you to read our article Update your PC: Parts to replace or add to your computer.