A sound card is a computer expansion card that is fixed on the motherboard to support audio input and output. It is also known as a PC sound card, audio card, or audio interface. It converts digital signals from computers to analog signals to be played on the speakers. Computer sound cards can be internally built within the motherboard or they can be external for more professional audio production.
The main features of a sound card are CODEC, audio input/output, digital signal processor, and amplifier among other components. An audio card is used to convert digital signals to an audio signals and vice versa. The main advantage of using the card are the improved quality of sound and more features than the inbuilt sound card.
Functions of sound card
The main purpose of the audio card is to convert the digital signal to analog that can be outputted on the speakers. Other functions of the card are:
- Allows for audio input and output: the card has ports that allow a microphone for sound input and a speaker port for sound output.
- Enhance sound quality: the cards are designed to improve the quality of the sound that the system produces. For professional audio producers, the external audio card can even offer better-quality sound.
- Convert audio from digital to analog and vice versa for playback and recording.
Features of an audio card
- Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC): the component converts analog audio signals to digital signals for recording. Most current cards have a combination of ADC and DAC to create a CODEC which performs the function of both components.
- Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC): Converts digital audio signals to analog signals for playback to the speakers.
- Audio Input and Output Ports: a standard sound card at least has an input connection for a microphone and an output for the speaker or headphones.
- Motherboard to card connector: for the card to be able to communicate with the computer processor it requires a connection interface through the computer motherboard. The most common audio card-to-motherboard connectors are ISA and PCI, or PCIe interfaces.
- Digital Signal Processor (DSP): some advanced sound cards have a processor built within that can do most of the processing. This is similar to how we have a graphics processor in graphic cards. This makes the processing of audio data fast. They perform digital signal processing tasks such as audio mixing and sound enhancement.
- Memory: sound cards have a small capacity RAM that can be used to speed up audio data processing.
- Amplifier: it is used to boost the audio signals to the output device such as a speaker or headphones.
- Firmware ROM: this is the memory that stores basic data such as card drivers that control the card. It also helps the sound card to initialize when booting for the first time.
Uses of sound card
- PC audio playback: Without the sound card your computer would not be producing any sound. So the components are used to play music, movies, and other audio content on all types of personal computers.
- Audio recording: the card comes with an input port for the microphone that can be used to record voice, musical instruments, and other sounds.
- Voice recognition systems: to be able to use a voice recognition system that can help visually challenged users, they should have an audio interface. The card helps the user to input sound as input to instruct the computer.
- Sound for gaming: for the best experiences when playing games users can even use an external audio card to improve positional audio and surround sound.
- Music production: Using external sound cards music producing companies can improve their production. It can also be used by individuals who want to start personal music production. They can be used either for starter or professional music production.
- Voice over IP (VoIP) communication: devices that are used for online communication require to have a sound card. They can be used for making voice calls over the internet, and used in video conferencing devices among other online communications.
Advantages of using a sound card
- Improved audio quality: sound card improves the quality of audio produced by devices compared to if they don’t have them. For even better quality users can go for external sound cards that have more features. They have lower noise, more detail, and a better soundstage.
- Additional audio features: Sound cards often come with features such as equalization, surround sound, and noise reduction. This means users have more control over the kind of audio they produce.
- Better compatibility: the cards are compatible with a variety of audio devices and musical instruments. This means users can use any instrument to produce the best audio.
Disadvantages of an audio card:
- Extra cost: external sound card is expensive depending on the type and features that it has.
- Additional hardware: expansion card requires space on the computer or laptop to be fixed on. Some computers may not have enough space and if they have they make the computer bulky.
- Sound card motherboard connector compatibility issues: depending on the types of connectors that the computer has will determine the type of card to be used. Connectors can be PCI, PCIe, or ISA among others.
- Sound drives installation. To use the device your computer should have audio card drivers. Drivers come as part of the package or users can download them online. For optimum benefit from the card, the user should also be able to configure the card with the best practice setting.