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Until advancements in the past several years with sound cards, audio from PCs was very limited. Older chips lacked an important feature of today's: polyphony. This meant that the audio capabilities of computers were so limited that they could not support multiple simultaneous sounds independently since they only had one channel for output. If they carried three sounds they would be mixed together onto one channel.
Today's audio cards allow for these sounds to be represented at the same time but independent of one another. The result is audio that is clearer and each sound fully represented. Today's lower end sound cards will have fewer channels than higher end ones, so they still mix some sounds together. To maximize polyphony and have the clearest sound, you would need to buy a higher end card, or even a professional level sound card. However, professional cards are not designed for home use.
For gaming and multi-media machines the higher-end cards would be ideal. For average home users, a mid-tier card would be more than enough.
When installing a new sound card the first thing you want to do is ground yourself. Since sound cards are acutely sensitive to static electricity, it is best to wear a static cancelling wristband while installing the card as a precaution. Make sure the computer is turned off and the power cable is unplugged before opening the case. Now unscrew the side off of your case and open the computer.
Locate the proper slot on your motherboard. If you have plenty of room try and keep your cards spaced out so they generate less heat. Remove the slot cover by unscrewing the small screw holding it in place. Lift the cover and gently push the card into the slot.
Now use that screw to secure the card in the slot. Once the card is secure close the case, give the inside a cleaning with a can of compressed air before closing it up. Now plug in your power supply and turn the computer on. You may have to install some software and sound card drivers depending on the type card. At this point you should be on your way to a new and improved audio experience.
There are many things that can cause a sound card not to work. One of the reasons for your sound card to stop working can be software related. Usually the addition or deletion of software from the computer's registry can cause the system's sound card to not function properly.
The first thing you should do when you notice the sound card is not working is to reverse the last major change you did to the computer. If this does not help, downloading the drivers for your sound card and installing them should work.
If you have experienced reduced sound quality and would like to improve your sound, consider replacing your sound card. The type of sound that is produced depends on the specifications of each sound card.
Replacing a sound card that is still using the ISA system will greatly improve the quality of sound coming from your computer.
However, if you have an older computer, the option to replace your sound card might not be available to you. Instead the motherboard will have a sound chip, and your computer manufacturer will have information on working around it.
Sound cards have really changed the entire video game experience on computers. Companies like Creative Labs have developed cards that take 3D audio to a whole new level.
Surround sound is one thing, but these cards manage to throw in a special filter. This filter does not just produce the sound from the proper direction, but mimics how the human ear would interpret the sound and then accurately reproduces it.
The sound of a bullet bouncing off a metal door or the way we hear a voice in a tunnel or cave. All of these are made possible through the sound card and serve to create a sense of realism not found in gaming before. You feel as if you are actually in the tunnel and that is how a voice would sound in an environment like that.
Sound is not only accurately reproduced and placed in the front, back or sides. Instead these sounds can be placed in very specific locations in the 360-degree plane, horizontally or vertically. No you will hear sound behind and above you. The realism will amaze you.
If you were to take a look at the sound card in your computer, you would see that it has various connections attached to it. The most common connections anyone can expect would be for the speakers and microphone.
However, a sound card can also have connections for FireWire and USB, MIDI connections that can be used for synthesizer or other instruments which create music.
It is also possible to have connections that provide an input or output to the sound card such as coaxial connections. Based on this, the sound card is more complicated than it would first appear.
Motherboards typically have basic integrated audio built into them. For surround sound, connecting music equipment to your computer and a myriad of other audio features, you need to install a sound card. This sound card is comprised of several different parts.
The Digital Signal Processor (DSP) is similar to a video card's GPU. It will process multiple channels simultaneously, lessening the load on the computer's processor. Sound cards will also typically have their own memory, much like a video card. This also lessens the load for your processor.
A basic sound card will have inputs and outputs for microphones and speakers. Higher end ones will also sport features such as surround sound speaker connections, Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI), and USB and Firewire connections.
Most will have sound card drivers needed for full functionality, so you will probably need to install software after the hardware installation is complete to use the card. The common software applications include DirectSound and MacroFX. These applications allow the sound card to communicate with the operating system.
Professional sound cards are optimized for multi-channel studio quality sound and usually use card drivers meant for professional sound engineering. There are features found in non-professional sound cards that will not be in the professional cards because they are geared more towards video gaming. Features that have to do with background and ambiance noise are good examples of this. Such sounds are not ideal for studio music, therefore professional cards are not ideal for home users and vice versa.
Sound cards geared towards the home user will place a greater emphasis on casual playback and entertainment. A drawback of these cards, however, is that they take longer to convert an audio sample and transfer it to the computer's memory. This is known as latency. Such high latency would not be conducive to the work of a music professional at work in a studio.
So while one card may be considered professional and the other more casual, they both have advantages and drawbacks that prevent them from being interchangeable with one another. Yet in their proper setting, both perform as needed.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|