Thursday, July 21, 2011

"Do you really need a sound card in 2011?" We have onboard audio don't we?

"When integrated on a motherboard, audio is usually handled by a single codec chip. Apart from the processing done in software by an associated driver, this lone piece of silicon is responsible for translating binary bitstreams into something that can be output to your speakers or headset. That's quite an important role, but as is too often the case, motherboard makers tend to opt for the simplest and cheapest implementation that will get the job done. I understand their dilemma, at least to some extent. Audio must compete with other peripheral chips in a world where board real estate is at a premium, and it's not really as sexy as USB 3.0 or 6Gbps SATA.

Obviously, discrete solutions have a natural advantage. Not only do they get to focus solely on delivering quality sound, they can also spread out on an expansion card. With plenty of room to breathe, sound cards are free to tackle tasks that would otherwise be performed by a single audio codec with a small army of chips and auxiliary components...

That brings me to the question we posed at the beginning... which is whether you really need a sound card at all. The simple answer is no. You can get by with integrated audio and live blissfully unaware of what you're missing or stubbornly claim that no difference exists. I bet you could get by playing games at lower resolutions and without antialiasing and anisotropic filtering, too. You probably don't really need a solid state drive to load games a few seconds faster, and you'd likely survive with two CPU cores rather than four or six. The question is not whether you need those upgrades, but if they're worth the additional expense." Geoff Gasior - TechReport

Considering the current popularity of the MP3 file formats and the reinterest for many in music and personal audio in general, considering all that time you spent debating the abilities of one brand or series of audio cassette over another, considering how much you spent on that turntable, amplifier and your lounge room speakers. Considering, just for one moment, how important music is in your life....

Taking a step back - and you still think that muddy, opaque sound you're getting from your onboard audio source 'does the job'? If you think so, I can only suggest you actually take the time to compare the same MP3 or CDA file played between the two sources. The small expense on a quality, dedicated audio card is nothing to what you'll spend this year on iTunes or at your local music vendor. So start hearing your music the way it was meant to be heard – and you’ll shortly agree that there is no better money spent!