When building a computer, there are many components that you need and after doing some research, you may be wondering if you need a sound card in your build.
With older computers, a dedicated sound card was essential when building. Motherboards didn’t have onboard audio. When they started to get built-in audio solutions, the quality was not very good.
Now the question is… do you need one today when building a computer?
Modern computers and motherboards have integrated on-board sound cards. Therefore, it is not necessary to purchase a separate sound card when building a PC. Dedicated sound cards will improve the sound quality but will also take more space within the PC build.
If you want the complete answer to this question and our suggestions, then keep reading to find out.
Dedicated Sound Card vs Integrated Sound Card
If you are building a computer with modern components, you don’t need a dedicated sound card because modern motherboards have integrated sound cards.
A dedicated sound card is a component that you put into the motherboard of your computer. Many may add this while building a computer or to upgrade old motherboard audio that is not very good.
An integrated sound card is one that is built into a specific device, in this case a computer. All modern motherboards have an integrated sound card.
A dedicated sound card will require a PCIe slot on your motherboard, so if you have an ITX-specific motherboard, then you won’t be able to have one if you have something taking that slot like a graphics card.
There are also USB sound cards that won’t take up space in your computer or have a large impact on your sound quality. They are more helpful if you want a mic and headphone splitter or if you want 7.1 surround sound for your headphones.
Integrated sound cards may not have as good quality as dedicated cards, but they take up less space and provide good sound for the majority of people now.
Benefits of A Sound Card
In the past, getting a dedicated card was essential.
Processors weren’t powerful enough back in the day for integrated solutions.
As processors became more powerful, integrated solutions came about, but they still weren’t that great. Getting a sound card was still a component that many would need and use.
Integrated solutions haven’t been great until recently, and a sound card was almost essential until the past 5 to 10 years when motherboard audio became sufficient for most people and their needs.
Nowadays, sound cards are more for audio setups or upgrading the audio on an older system. Most onboard solutions are sufficient for listening to music, gaming, watching movies, and more.
The main reason people get sound cards is for the improved audio quality.
With regular headphones, you won’t notice a sound difference, but if you have a high-quality audio setup then you would see an improvement in quality and clarity.
Another reason to get a soundcard is if you want a great surround sound engine, either for your headphones or a speaker setup. Some sound cards support 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound, usually, if they are a gaming-specific card.
If want to get the most out of your processor, a dedicated sound card could take some load off of it, potentially resulting in more available horsepower and a few extra frames in games.
Consider Getting An Amp & DAC Instead
Amps and DACs are another way to improve sound and gaming performance. Creating a setup with an amp, DAC, or even both should be another option that you consider.
An amp/DAC stack functions in the same way as a sound card would, as both options improve audio quality, can process more information, and provide more power to headphones.
Compared to a DAC and amp setup, sound cards are often cheaper.
This is for multiple reasons. Internal sound cards take space in your computer, most don’t look that great, and they often have interference since they are inside your system, which is why many spend the extra money to get an external setup.
Gaming DACs usually have an amp built into them. They compete heavily with gaming sound cards and are often at the same price point.
However, they have a bit better sound quality, have an easy volume adjustment via a dial, take up space on your desk rather than in your computer, and may look better.
The fact that they take up space on your desk may be a pro or a con depending on your situation.
Often people decide to get amps and DACs over sound cards for all these reasons. Sound cards aren’t always a bad option, but it depends on your use case, your budget, and your preference in multiple fields.
An amp and DAC setup will be needed for high quality headphones over a sound card as they usually will deliver more power for your headphones compared to a soundcard.
Recommended Sound Cards
External Sound Card Recommendation
One of the best options for external solutions is the HyperX Amp USB. This USB sound card is a solid option for gaming and a great sounding external solution.
If you are using a headset you can change the volume of your mic as well as the audio that you hear. The card also supports virtual 7.1 surround sound which can be an upgrade for those with stereo headsets.
Value Sound Card Recommendation
If you are on a budget and need to upgrade your audio setup the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy FX 5.1 is the best option for $40 to $50. The Audigy FX supports 5.1 surround sound but if you want more inputs for 7.1 surround sound and improved sound you can also upgrade for about $10 to $30 more to the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy RX 7.1.
The Audigy FX provides enough outputs for the majority of speaker setups and will be a step up from modern motherboards.
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.
Surround Sound Card Recommendation
For a surround sound setup especially with speakers the Creative Sound Blaster AE-5 is fantastic. This card delivers excellent sound performance and is considered one of the best sound cards regardless of the price.
This sound card not only has great sound quality but also great looks. It supports virtual 7.1 surround sound with a great system that is very accurate providing great immersion in games. 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, clarity, and will process enough information for all kinds of music and premium headphones.
Best Sounding Card Recommendation
For peak sound card performance the Asus Essence STX II is one option to look at. The STX II delivers fantastic sound and build-quality and for audiophiles.
There is a metal case around the card and high quality components. The audio is clear, accurate, and provides a lot of power. This card can process enough information for listening to high fidelity audio recordings.
It also has other features like being able to change how much power physically goes to your headphones and the option to change the sound signature.
Recommended Amp & DAC
Solution for Gamers
If you game getting a gaming DAC can add to your level of immersion. A gaming DAC will have an amp built in. They also provide options for mic inputs ports for speakers and headphones. Two great options are the Creative Sound BlasterX G6 for $130 to $145 and the Sennheiser GSX 1000 for $150 to $220.
Both deliver great audio and give you the option to enable virtual 7.1 surround sound for a new level of immersion in games. The Creative G6 has software, and the GSX 1000 has a screen built into it to change settings and EQs.
Both have mic inputs which greatly improve the quality of sound.
Solution for Music Listening
Another solution is getting an amp and DAC from Schiit. The Schiit Magni Heresy is one of the best value amps you can get. Then pairing that with a Schiit Modi 3 DAC will give you a great setup that will possibly outperform sound cards that are the same price or more.
Nowadays, you will not need a sound card for your system, but they are still useful for upgrading older audio solutions or being a step up from integrated solutions if you want better audio or need to support a high-quality audio setup.
Although they aren’t essential, sound cards could be useful for you if you are interested in audio or want a more immersive experience while gaming. Then, looking at sound cards should be an option for you.
You should also consider getting an amp and DAC as they share many of the same benefits of sound cards but also have better sound quality if you are willing to spend more.
Overall there are many options to improve your audio but with modern computers your motherboard audio most likely be sufficient.