Computer Sound Card Reviews - Guide to the Best PC Sound Cards

By Phillip P Daniel

Sound cards are those nifty pieces of hardware in the computer that makes the pretty noises come from your speakers. Without a sound card in your machine, you would never be able to listen to the latest Hanson track, or a slightly out of tune rendition of "Oh Holey Night" performed entirely in Klingon. Yes sound cards are definitely important, but with this here guide, hopefully you will able to pick the right one for you.

Sound card users can be divided into three main categories:

1. People who want to watch Star Trek DVDs or listen to Star Trek soundtracks.

2. People who want to hear every inch of the light saber they are wielding when playing the latest Star Wars game (people who play video games).

3. People who want to make bad electronic music on their computer or produce their next door neighbor's gangster rap album (people who want to make music).

Each of these users (I fall in the all of the categories) needs to consider different elements when purchasing a sound card, as some are more tailored for specific usages. Letís go through each instance and see what these unique users should consider.

1. DVD watchers are basically looking to hear in their living room what they hear in the movie theaters that they frequent, hence they should be more concerned about things such as Dolby Digital 5.1 support. Dolby Digital gives users that real"surround sound" 3D feeling that they would expect when watching the latest Star Trek movie in the theaters. In order to achieve this feeling however, you must have speakers that are compatible as well as the correct sound card.

2. Computer game players should make sure that the card they buy supports something called "DirectX" which is what Windows uses to play games. Without this technology, users may not get any sound out of their games. Usually games come with a list on the box of the cards that they support, letting you know what types of cards you should look into purchasing. High end cards tend to incorporate EAX technology which letís games generate 3D sound that is similar to that of movies. People who wish to experience the most enjoyment from their games will generally have to pay a premium, but it is well worth it to be able to hear exactly what the programmers wanted you to experience (not to mention the cries of death from a leval 20 ogre when you slay him with an enchanted elf blade on Everquest 2).

3. Music producers will want to look at many aspects that can affect the quality of the music they are producing. The S2N (signal to noise) ratio measures the amount of noise that electronic components generate. The higher the S2N ratio, the better sound you will get from your card. Another factor is THD (total harmonic distortion). The lower the THD, the better sound you will achieve as it eliminates distortion in the signal. Music creators should consider wave table synthesis support. Cards with this enabled will generally be able to produce sounds that are more believable for individual instruments.Lastly, music creators should also consider if they really should be composing music that no one will listen to. I spent three weeks of pure agony putting the finishing touches on my "Star Symphony" (a cross of all the Star Trek and Star Wars theme songs with hip hop beats and profanity filled Klingon and Wookie rhyming) only to recieve cease and desist orders from both George Lucas and the estates of John Williams and Gene Roddenberry. To me it was a labor of love, but to them it was "blatant copyright infringment" and "destruction of music integrity". I tried to explain that I considered myself to be the Puff Daddy of the Star Trek world, but that only got me in hotter water.

That is not to say that all users need not consider other aspects. Sound card memory is as important as more memory equals more efficiency and better sound quality for all aspects. The bit rate level is also highly important. Generally, cards are 8, 16 or 24 bits, allowing greater levels of sound with increased bit rate, but also greater price. Music aficionados and people with professional ears will most likely want to splurge for the 24, but that is not to say that you wonít be fine with the 8 or 16, itís all preference.

Well, I hope this helps you pick out a sound card. Just remember that you get what you pay for and no one has lower prices on sound cards then Newbie.

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