USB Sound Cards Explained: Technology, Benefits, Do I Need Them?

Introduction

Built into the motherboard and already present in every computer, a sound card is one of those pieces of hardware that most people don’t think to buy. Additionally, owners of exceptionally inexpensive speakers, headphones, and headphones have little reason to invest in a discrete sound card because it won’t give them any significant advantage over an integrated solution.

Before moving forward with this educational article, let me be very clear: not all built-in sound cards are horrible. Higher quality motherboards usually come with better integrated sound cards, ones that have cleaner (less noisy) inputs and outputs, provide more power to the headphones, and offer more software features. However, there’s still a lot to be gained from upgrading to a proper external USB sound card.

The inside of the computer case is a dreadful environment for a sound card, as every component can and will cause noise and electromagnetic interference, which negatively impacts the proverbial “purity” of the audio signal, thereby degrading the overall sound quality. One of the most obvious examples is background noise from the microphone, which often shows up when connecting a gaming headset to your computer’s built-in sound card. Unaware that it would completely disappear if the microphone was connected to the input of an external sound card, most users attribute the audible hiss and static noise from the microphone to the poor quality of the microphone itself.

A loud microphone will not only make it difficult for your friends on Discord to understand what you are trying to say to them, but will also create problems with using such apps in the so-called voice activation mode, where the microphone is activated when you speak and automatically turns off when you are silent. If the microphone input has a lot of interference, it will be nearly impossible to adjust its sensitivity so that it switches on and off seamlessly when it should. As a result, you will inevitably annoy your virtual peers and end up having to use the so-called push-to-talk mode, which is both inconvenient and tiring as it requires pressing the assigned key every time you want to say something. thing. A possible solution to this problem is to buy a USB gaming headset (based on microphone quality alone, my recommendation and personal choice remains the excellent Creative SXFI Gamer). However, if you want to continue using the headset you already own and still get the best possible microphone and sound quality with your upgrade, a suitable external USB sound card is the way to go.

In this article, we will first review the critical parts of the digital audio chain. Next, we’ll cover some common misconceptions that constantly confuse those not fully at home with DACs, headphone amplifiers, sound cards, and everything in between. Finally, I’ll recommend three excellent USB sound card options, ones that have been proven in real life and that I personally use on a daily basis.

Full disclosure: This article is sponsored by Creative, but the thoughts and opinions expressed herein are 100% mine. It’s written to be as informative and educational as possible, and accessible even though it’s completely new to the world of digital audio. US-based TechPowerUp readers can take advantage of a 15% discount for the Creative Sound Blaster X4, Creative SoundBlaster GC7, and Creative Sound Blaster X G6 mentioned in this article, as well as all other external and internal sound cards from Creative , using the POWERUP15 discount code at Creative’s online store until July 31, 2022.

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