You couldn’t buy a computer today that didn’t have sound built in. Every computer out there, whether it’s something you buy from a name brand or a machine that you build from the ground up with parts, you can be sure that there is going to be a Realtek high definition sound chip in there that’s good to go right out of the box.
So computer retailers really have their job cut out for them when they try to sell you a new computer sound card.
The first question you ask is, “Why on earth would I want that when I have a perfectly good soundcard built right into my computer?”.
If you have a PCI slot on your computer, you certainly have room for the discrete sound card. You’re supposed to buy and install a card in there the way you buy and install a separate graphics card for gaming purposes.
Now it’s extraordinarily difficult to convince computer buyers to upgrade with the discrete computer soundcard.
You certainly have it pointed out to you often enough in the ads that just because you have a CD player in a boombox, it doesn’t mean you wouldn’t appreciate the sound of a proper discrete CD player.
The difference is in the sound quality, of course. But in the matter of a sound card, there are differences that would come down entirely to function.
It’s like half of America is in a band – or at least, they like to experiment with playing and recording music by themselves right at home.
Music equipment is certainly cheap these days, and music software can turn any old computer into a fully-fledged multitrack recording studio. You just need to add a $100 USB music keyboard, and you would have nothing stopping you. Except your computer soundcard.
The thing is, that inbuilt sound cards or even cheap discrete sound cards, are only capable of playing recorded music well. They aren’t capable of producing music well. How so, you ask?
If you were using onboard sound or if you had a cheap Sound Blaster installed, if you tried to play a software instrument on your computer with it, every key you pressed, you’d hear a sound for it about a half second later.
In other words, you need a sound card that’s intended for music production. Look for something that is capable of ASIO software drivers.
And look for something that has as many pairs of inputs and outputs as you would wish to have separate software instruments playing at the same time.
Let’s say for second you have no interest in producing music. What if you’re just a gamer or someone who likes a little bit of entertainment?
Well, you’ll certainly notice how much richer and deeper and crisper the sound is when you plug your home theater system into discrete soundcard.
Do try that once. And since video games these days have sound design built into them that would put a big budget Hollywood blockbuster to shame, your gaming well benefit from a new computer sound card too.
It doesn’t even have to cost much. A professional $85 soundcard from a brand like M-Audio would do.