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How Do I Choose the Best External Sound Card?

Sound cards may vary greatly in price.
It's important to make sure that a computer has enough RAM before buying an external sound card.
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  • Written By: H. Bliss
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 13 July 2014
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The best external sound card is different for each situation. Getting the best external sound card means understanding the features you need and what your computer can handle. External sound cards can vary greatly in quality, features, and price, and range from basic audio cards to professional recording consoles. To choose the best external sound card, know what you want, research external sound choices on the Internet, read product reviews online, then go to a computer hardware store and compare the external sound cards in person. Features to consider include high-definition (HD) sound, stereo or surround sound capabilities, and recording functions.

An external sound card adds sound capability without the trouble of installing an internal audio chip and is usually a Firewire® or universal serial bus (USB) audio device. The biggest advantage to an external sound card versus an internal sound card is its capability to quickly give sound capabilities to a computer with no sound. Generally, Firewire® and USB are the two types of connectors used to enable external devices to interface with your computer. Firewire® is considered to be faster than USB, but connectors for Firewire® devices are less common on home computers than USB plugs.

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Professional audio recording engineers often use pricey high-end external sound cards as their recording consoles, but for most people, a relatively cheap sound card with the right capabilities will offer more than enough audio control. External audio card setups for home theater need to have multichannel sound capabilities to get the best out of movie and television sound. If you will be watching movies on your computer and would like high-quality sound, look for a sound card with high-definition HD and 5.1 or 7.1 stereo capabilities.

Before buying an external sound card, make sure your computer has enough random access memory (RAM) to run it. Ensure that your computer has available connectors that can accept a plug from the audio device, and make sure you have speakers and headphones with compatible connectors to plug in to the new sound card. If you will be carrying the external sound card in a laptop case, make sure that it is not too bulky to be portable. Read product reviews to find out whether previous customers liked your sound card choice. Exploring product reviews can help reveal common problems users experience with sound hardware.

Every internal and external audio card, even a cheap sound card, needs a sound card driver to function on a computer. External sound card drivers for new sound cards are included in the retail purchase package. For many external sound cards, the driver software to run them is already pre-installed on major operating systems. Some new sound cards come with extra software that gives you more control over sound in your computer. If you are looking to record and arrange audio using your new sound card, check for extra audio programs included with the sound card packages you consider, since they may add extra value to the sound card.

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