Have you ever wondered how to upgrade your set-up and achieve professional-quality sound? Ultimately, it all comes down to having the right equipment – and, of course, having the skill and knowledge to use it properly.
Generally speaking, most standard PCs are not outfitted to meet professional production needs. The computer sound cards built into the average PC aren’t fit for high-quality production. Instead, you will need to upgrade to a professional sound card designed with broadcasters, musicians, and audio engineers in mind.
Many factors are involved in choosing the best professional audio sound cards to suit your needs. But first and foremost, you will need to understand what computer sound cards do and how they work. In this short and simple guide, we’ll cover the basics of computer sound cards, so you can be better prepared to create a set-up that will allow you to pursue your goals.
What Do Computer Sound Cards (Audio Interfaces) Do?
So, exactly what does a computer sound card do? In simplest terms, the sound card takes audio signals from “outside” the computer and then converts them to be used “inside” the computer (and vice versa). It is a key component in any audio set-up.
The sound card/audio interface takes in all analog audio signals from a microphone, turntable, or instrument output. Then, it converts it to a format that a computer can effectively interpret and use (digital audio signals) through Analogue-to-Digital (A/D) conversion. Your sound card can also take digital audio signals from the computer and translate those to analog audio signals, which can be output via your audio speakers, processors, mixing desk, and other equipment. This process is known as Digital-to-Analogue (D/A) conversion.
Your computer sound card is a tiny “translator” that makes it possible to use recording software with your PC or Mac.
Here’s the catch: the audio conversion quality largely depends on the quality of the digital audio converter on a given sound card and the audio drivers. So, a higher-quality computer sound card will equal a better audio quality overall.
Understanding Digital Audio Converters
Before searching for the best digital audio converters, you will need to know a few basic terms.
Sampling is the process in which an A/D (analog-to-digital) converter measures and captures the amplitude of a specific analog sound, occurring many times in a single second.
Each audio sample is made up of multiple levels of audio energy, which is measured in bits or binary digits. The higher the bit depth value, the more levels contained in a sample – the better the audio quality.
The sample rate is the number of times per second that the audio waveform is sampled by the A/D (analog-to-digital) converter. Higher sample rates equate to higher audio quality.
What Features are Important to Look for in a Sound Card?
When you’re investing in a top-quality computer sound card, here are a few things to look for:
- A bit of depth and sample rate that fits the quality you want to achieve
- The number of channels the sound card supports
- Industry standards such as Dolby Digital Live (DDL), DTS Connect, and Dolby Pro Logic can help you select sound cards that satisfy your specific needs.
- The option to use an integrated headphone amplifier
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