Statistics have shown that the sales of sound cards these days have dropped. However, it shouldn’t come as a surprise – it was predictable since now most of the PCs available on the market have one already built-in. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that they are entirely irrelevant. There is still a difference between using only on-board audio and using an external audio interface. People still buy them, just not on a scale as big as it was once upon a time. There are a few reasons for that. But let’s start from the beginning.
What is a sound card?
What exactly classifies as a sound card? To put it simply, it’s an expansion card that allows the registration, conversion and replay of sound as well as listening to music. It allows it to be heard through the speakers or headphones.
Not so long ago, the computers were limited to square weave production, and the only sound they could produce was “beep”, hence the nickname “beeper”. The frequency and duration could be changed, but not the volume. Creation of other noises was also not possible. That changed with the invention of external audio interfaces in the 1980s. The first few ones were able to produce the sound that was functional, but often was of low volume and had a distorted output. Also, while the audio was played, all the other processing had to stop. Initially, the first sound cards were not designed for gaming.
Another significant event would be the introduction of the Sound Blaster in 1990. It could record and playback digital audio and allowed connecting a joystick to it. The invention started a new era of multimedia computer applications. Nowadays, its compatibility is a standard.
Relevant or not relevant? That is the question
The quality of on-board audio has improved throughout the years, which is not good for audio cards as the main reason that they were even invented was that the on-board audio was not working well. It doesn’t change the fact that nowadays, most of the PCs have one already built-in the motherboard.
If you are a basic user and you don’t need an extra high quality of audio, then you will be fine without it. Especially, since apart from buying the device itself, you will need to buy all the other equipment like better speakers, amp and other extras. If you don’t own the appropriate headphones set, you’ll never get the effect you desire.
If you need a sound card to improve the quality of the audio in games, then a better option for you would be buying a good pair of headphones. Right now, wireless headphones are dominating the market. They are just more convenient than the wired ones. If you have troubles with choosing, you can either go to the store for a professional opinion or search for it on the internet. There are many rankings of the best wireless headsets for gaming available online, some of them can be found on https://headphonesaddict.com/ which is a great source of information for any audiophile out there.
Sound cards are not very important for a person who only uses the laptop to play games, as games focus mainly on visual quality instead of audio. They tend not to feature high-quality audio, and even if you buy one you might not be able to hear the difference.
Though they are almost useless for gamers, they are very useful for people who use the computer to watch movies or listen to music. They will improve the quality of audio, making it possible to create your own home movie theatre.
Internal sound cards are getting replaced by, for example, DAC and amp combos. They are more practical as they don’t require drivers, and can with almost every device that comes with the required ports. They are more expensive, but their performance is also better.
External audio interfaces have changed the IT industry. Since they were invented in the 1980s, they have developed a lot. However, alongside their development came also the development of on-board audio, which is threatening for them.
Sound cards are more useful for people who tend to watch movies and listen to music on their PC, than for the ones that would use it for gaming – the first ones will be able to hear the difference, while the second ones not so much. Gamers, instead, prefer to buy wireless headsets or the DAC/amp combo, with which they will actually be able to obtain desired effects.
Was that the reason why the sales dropped and their relevance was being doubted? Kind of. The sales’ drop was caused by new products that got introduced to the market. However, people still buy sound cards, just not as much as they used to. They are not irrelevant. Yet.