Today's off the shelf computer systems often skimp on the computer sound card inside of it since most new computer buyers just don't know what the stats mean. Most new computer buyers look at ram, processor speed, hard drive size and the video card quality, but almost never on the quality of the sound card installed. This is unfortunate since most computer users today listen to music through their PC and/or play games which have been specifically written for high end, or at least quality computer sound cards.
Lets go through the features of the typical computer sound card
These are the important stats you'll find on a computer sound card, in no particular order. Understanding what these are will enable you to pick up a box, or look at a product screen and instantly know what that particular card is good at.
- Db rating: in a nutshell this is how loud the computer sound card can go, this has nothing to do with how clear it is at maximum volume, that's determined by..
- S/N ratio: This is the signal to noise ratio, or how much of the sound you hear is actually noise. The higher S/N rating the better the computer sound card is at being clear at higher volumes. If you listen to music with loud and soft passages, the S/N rating is critical to you. For you gamers, this is a must, especially for FPS games where listening to the environment is crucial.
- THD: Total Harmonic Distortion, simply put this is how accurately the sound is produced compared to the input. The less distortion, or THD the computer sound card has, the more accurately you'll hear what the artist intended you to hear, important for music.
- Frequency range: This is how high and low the computer sound card can go. Once again, an important stat for music.
I just want a new computer sound card, what features should I be looking at??
Different stats are more important in different situations.
- If you listen to loud rock music the S/N ratio may not mean much to you, but the Db rating sure does.
- For classical music the frequency range and THD may be more important to you.
- Strictly for gaming, well maybe the Db rating doesn't mean anything, but the S/N rating will be more important.
So you see, choose the computer sound card based on your needs, not by the pretty graphics on the box.
Anything else important when choosing a computer sound card?
Yep, there sure is. Make sure the computer sound card you're interested in is compatable with many different sound formats, called APIs. Some games may require DirectSound3D, make sure the computer sound card can use this. EAX is another popular format.
You should also make sure the sound card can use your current speaker setup or you may have to buy new speakers too.
How much does a great computer sound card cost?
If you're a gamer you'll want to read this article to help you find the best computer sound card for gaming.
That depends on the features as well as if it's on sale or not. For additional savings I'd suggest using ebates if you're purchasing online. I suggest reading sound card reviews on such sites as ConsumerSearch and ConsumerReports. They have unbiased sound card reviews written by users just like yourself. You will also find many useful links right here on this page to help you find the best computer sound card too.