You just bought a nice gaming headset, but you’re worried that it won’t work to its highest potential when plugged directly into your motherboard. Some people have been talking about getting a sound card separately and installing it onto the motherboard for better sound.
But does it actually make a difference?
You will not need to purchase a separate sound card for your gaming headsets unless you are choosing to use high fidelity audiophile headphones as a gaming headset. The integrated sound card on your motherboard will most likely support up to 7.1 surround sound and function well for gaming. A dedicated sound card is an additional expense at this point.
There are situations where a dedicated sound card will improve your sound quality for gaming. However, that also depends on what you’re connecting to your sound card.
What is a Sound Card?
A sound card is a separate piece of hardware that gets installed onto your motherboard to connect with different multimedia for audio such as headphones, speakers, and microphones.
Another name for a sound card is an audio card. Unlike other parts of a computer such as a CPU, RAM, or power supply, a sound card is completely optional.
The sound card is installed into a PCI or PCIe slot into the motherboard. So before buying one, make sure that you do have some slots available. In addition, there are separate USB sound cards that will connect to your computer via a USB port. These sound cards are not installed into the motherboard.
This is because your motherboard already comes with an integrated sound card that will allow you to connect speakers, microphones, and headsets. That integrated sound card comes with a DAC and amp to convert the digital signals to analogy signals so that you’re headsets can deliver the sound to your ears.
What Does a Sound Card Do?
Sound cards convert digital to analog signals, similar to a DAC. Sound cards will also have amplifiers within them to amplify the sound signals for higher impedance headsets.
A sound card is convenient because it is installed straight into the motherboard. This saves USB ports for other devices such as mice, keyboards, controllers, speakers, etc.
A sound card also protects the audio components from the hostile environment of your computer.
Inside of the computer, there are many components that will interfere with the audio processor. This interference could result in hissing, crackling, audio distortion, and more.
In recent motherboards, there is additional shielding and innovation to protect the audio processors. However, this will only reduce sound degradation. It won’t necessarily improve the sound quality.
Who Should Get a Sound Card?
A sound card is usually recommended for music lovers and audio professionals who work with audio production and music creation.
For many people, the onboard sound card within the motherboard will be enough.
However, there are situations when someone should get a dedicated sound card.
If you plug your headset into your computer and it sounds worse than your phone or tablet, a sound card will help improve that sound.
If your headset is making hissing noises, crackling sounds in the background, or other extraneous noises, chances are a sound card will help improve the quality of your music and game sounds.
Alongside this, a sound card provides more outputs and inputs than onboard sound cards. If you’re a music professional or really care about the audio quality and have invested in solid audio equipment, a sound card will help you access all of the potentials of your equipment.
Using a sound card will help you do things such as connect musical instruments and microphones to your computer as well as connecting out to subwoofers, different aspects of speakers, and more.
What If I’m Using a Laptop?
For people who want improved audio quality or a sound card but are stuck with a laptop, there are separate DACs and amps that can be used instead. Also, there are USB sound cards that you can pick up that will do the things that dedicated sound cards do.
These devices aren’t as good as having the dedicated sound cards. But for portability’s sake, they do the job better than a laptop sound card will.
These USB sound cards connect via a USB port. They will have inputs and outputs for microphones and headsets/speakers. Alongside this, there usually are external controls such as a volume wheel, surround sound toggles, and more.
Depending on what you choose, the effects may be more limited than others.
Another version of a sound card is one that is meant to connect directly to your headphones such as the HyperX USB Sound Card.
These are meant to be used with gaming headsets and allow you to access functions such as mute, volume up, volume down, microphone up, microphone down easily. It’s very convenient when you’re in-game and want to change the sound settings really quickly without going out and accessing your PC controls.
Difference Between a Sound Card and DAC/Amp
Sound Card Features
Dedicated sound cards generally come with drivers and software that will allow you to customize the settings, depending on what you want such as the equalizer settings, audio quality, and more.
Dedicated sound cards also come with more ports, more than just one input and one output.
These will allow you to connect more lines, more speakers, and more accessories.
Sound cards also exist within the PC, which will lead to some electrical interference. Even if the dedicated sound card has ways to shield this interference, by being inside the PC, it’s subject to these other devices and their signals.
Sound cards also don’t need any cables and wires to connect or ports because they connect directly to the motherboard PCI or PCIe slot.
DAC and Amp Features
A DAC/amp is external and is housed within a small rectangular box.
By existing outside of the PC, these devices are not subject to any of the electrical interference that sound cards experience.
For this reason, many people are preferring external DAC/Amp combos than sound cards.
These devices typically do not come with any software or have as many ports as sound cards do.
They are extremely easy to setup. You typically just plug it in to the computer and that’s it! It’s plug and play.
There are no drivers that you need to install, most of the time.
On the DAC and Amp are usually some buttons, toggle sliders, and a large volume knob to quickly adjust volume.
For casual gamers and even competitive gamers, the integrated sound card on the motherboard will do just fine. An external sound card at this point is an additional expense, especially if you’re connecting them to gaming headsets.
If you’re a music professional who does audio production and editing, then a dedicated sound card will have more ports for you to connect instruments and lines into.
For casual gamers, a nice place in the middle exists if you also want to listen to music at a high standard. This place is called external Dacs and Amps. For more reading on if you need a DAC or amp for your gaming headphones, see this article we wrote on the topic.