Building a computer can be confusing, especially if you need to work out what parts you need to get. One component that you may be unsure about is a sound card.
In the past, dedicated sound cards were essential when building a computer because motherboards did not have any onboard audio solution. As motherboards started to get onboard sound cards people often still opted to get sound cards as it would give them more performance and onboard solutions at the time did not sound very good.
The main issue is if a sound card is still necessary today if you are building a computer.
In short, the answer is no, you do not need to purchase a dedicated sound card if you are building a computer. Almost all modern computers, motherboards, and other electronics will have an integrated sound card and most sound good enough for the vast majority of people.
If you want to learn more about sound cards, see how one could benefit you, or you want some recommendations, then we will cover it all here.
Dedicated Sound Card vs Integrated Sound Card
There are two different implementations of sound cards, integrated and dedicated solutions.
A dedicated sound card is a component that can be connected to the motherboard of a computer or can be plugged in via PCB. Many may add one while building a computer or upgrading the audio of an old motherboard if it doesn’t sound very good.
An integrated sound card is one that is built into a specific device, in this case, a computer. Most motherboards will have an integrated sound card built-in. You will find integrated solutions in phones, tablets, and most computers.
Integrated solutions provide a convenience factor as it is one less thing that people have to consider. In fact, the vast majority of people don’t even think about sound cards are even know what they are while buying electronics. This is due to dedicated solutions being so popular.
A dedicated sound card typically requires a PCIe slot on your motherboard. This could be an issue with ITX-specific motherboards since they have one PCIe slot. If you have a graphics card taking up the slot then you won’t be able to use a sound card.
USB sound cards also exist but often do not sound as good. They are commonly included with gaming headsets and they are great if you need a sound card but you don’t have space or don’t want to add a component to your computer.
Integrated sound cards may not have as good quality as dedicated cards, but they take up less space, are more convenient, and the sound quality is good enough for most people.
Benefits of A Sound Card
In the past, getting a dedicated card was essential. Computer processors weren’t powerful enough for integrated solutions at the time.
As processors became more powerful, integrated solutions came about, but they still weren’t that great. For users who used their PC for more than just browsing the web and emails, a sound card was necessary.
Integrated solutions have constantly been improving but haven’t been that great until the past 10 to 5 years. Motherboard audio now suits the needs of most people. The main reason to get a sound card now is if you are creating with a premium audio setup or you are upgrading an older system.
Regular headphones most likely won’t see a sound benefit from a sound card but higher-quality headphones could see a sound improvement in clarity and quality.
Some sound cards support both virtual and true surround setups. Some models support 5.1 surround sound and there are some gaming options that support 7.1 surround sound. They are great for those who are looking for an immersive speaker or headphone setup for music listening, gaming, or movie watching.
It is also worth noting that a sound card may give you a bit better PC performance by taking some of the load off of your processor but if that is your own priority it is better to just invest that money into a better processor.
Consider Getting An Amp & DAC Instead
Many people consider a sound card to not be a worthy investment when instead you can get an amp and DAC setup with better performance for the price. Creating a setup with both or just an amp is a great way to improve your setup and you can get past some of the issues that sound cards face.
Another way an amp and DAC setup can be better than a sound card is the space and looks. Sound cards will take up a slot on your computer’s motherboard and they often don’t look that great but amps and DACs often look a lot better and instead only take up space on your desk rather than in your PC.
Arguably the worst thing about sound cards and onboard audio is interference. Interference will negatively affect the sound that is outputted by your audio device and is caused by other electrical components. This issue is especially apparent with IEMs as they are very sensitive but can also affect headphones and speakers. Interference can be better or worse depending on the card but it is on all models.
With amps and DACs, you will find not only better audio performance but also more features. You can find gaming DACs such as the Sennheiser GSX 1000 that features virtual surround sound, a mic input, and much more. While there are sound cards with similar features you will find more interesting and useful features in the amp and DAC market.
Like sound cards, amps and DACs are only really needed for more powerful, high-performing headphones but an amp and DAC setup has more potential as there are many more options, especially at higher price ranges. Often an amp and DAC is the better way to go over a sound card.
Recommended Sound Cards
Value Sound Card Recommendation
If you are on a budget but still need to upgrade your audio setup, the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX 5.1 is the best option for under $50. The Audigy FX supports 5.1 surround sound but if you want more inputs for 7.1 surround sound and slightly improved sound you can also upgrade for a bit more to the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy RX 7.1.
Both are a step up from motherboard audio and provide plenty of outputs. Additionally, both these options have enough power for many high-quality speakers and headphones as they are able to supply up to 600 ohms of power.
Best Sound Card Recommendation
If you want a surround sound setup, especially for speakers, the Creative Sound Blaster AE-5 is fantastic. The AE-5 delivers excellent sound performance and is considered one of the best sound cards regardless of the price. It supports virtual 7.1 surround sound that is very accurate, providing great immersion in games.
This sound card not only has solid sound quality but also great looks. The card has a sleek black or white casing with RGB lighting.
This card is a great way to improve the looks of your PC. It delivers enough power and lots of clarity for all kinds of music and premium headphones.
Today you will not need a sound card if you are building a PC but if you plan to build a setup that will run premium audio equipment or you are upgrading an older setup then you could notice a benefit.
Although they aren’t necessary they do provide specific benefits for those who those who want to run a high-quality audio setup or want an audio setup that could provide a more immersive gaming experience.
If you are looking at a higher quality setup then you should definitely consider getting a DAC and amp. They share many of the benefits that you can get with a sound card but don’t face some issues that they have like audio interference from other components.
Overall there are many ways to improve your audio experience but most people will be perfectly fine with the audio performance of modern motherboards.
As always thanks for reading and happy listening!