No matter what you like to do with your computer, whether it is a PC or a laptop, you will want to experience your applications with the best quality sound available. Integrated sound cards are usually good but they don't provide sound that will blow you away: a crisp, clear, rich sound that only a higher quality sound card can offer. If you're interested in upgrading you need to know how much is enough so that you don't overspend. Also, if you have a really great sound card, know that low-quality speakers will not do it justice.
How would you qualify your audio profile?
* '''Music professional''' or audio connoisseur interested in making recordings
** M-Audio Delta Audiophile 2496 or the 192
** Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite Pro
* '''Hardcore gamer''' looking to make virtual reality seem more realistic
** You will want something to reproduce '''3D sound and voices''' that react to your movements
** Some good sound cards for this purpose are the: Sound Blaster Live 5.1 or the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy Gamer
* '''Basic user''': Music, gaming, watching DVDs
** If you just want to listen to music, then a basic sound card will work. However, if you are interested in watching DVDs, you will probably need to get something that provides surround sound. The Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic card has extremely good quality for a good price.
* '''Laptop User'''
** Your laptop will come with an integral sound card however, it may be nice to have more quality sound, so you will want to look into having an external sound card that hooks up via a USB or FireWire port.
** For recording music check this out the M-Audio MobilePre USB or the M-Audio Sonica Theater.
Safe and Sound
The worst mistake you can make when choosing a sound card is buying one that is not compatible with your other input/output components:
* Speaker and microphone connections most often come included
* Midi/game ports
** Joysticks and controller hook up
** Ability to plug in synthesizers and other electronic equipment, such as instruments, etc.
Browsing for Sound Cards by Most Frequent Specifications
If you want your sound card to run flawlessly, opt for one that has an integrated DPS (like a GPU), so as not to waste useful computer CPU.
* '''Bit Depth''' measures CODEC (ADC & DAC are analog/digital converters) capacity: 24, 32, 64, 168
* '''Output Channels and Mode''': Stereo, Mono, 4.1-7.1 (refers to the number of speakers and number of sub woofers, seperated by a '.' ) channel surround sound, 3D, AC-3 Dolby Digital
* '''Max.Sample Rate''': 48, 96, 192
* '''Form Factor''': Plug-in Card or module, External
* '''Interface''' aka how the sound card connects to the motherboard: PCI, ISA, USB, CNR, and FireWire
Search by Brand Name
For all types of users, and for users with all types of things to accomplish, there is the new X-Fi (Xtreme Fidelity) sound card by creative. Basically it is a do-all chip that enables you to adjust sound options per action so that it works in all applications, whether it be a game, DVD, or music creation.M-Audio Revolution 7.1 is a comparative card.
With over 100 brands to choose from, searching by brand is not so easy. The brands that follow are the most popular though.
* Creative, also see Sound Blaster
* Terratec Electronic