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Laptop Sound Cards - How to select the right laptop sound cards for your needs

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In order to get sound in and out of a laptop, laptop sound cards are required. Although all modern laptops include a dedicated sound card, these pre-installed sound cards may not be able to meet the needs of all computer users, and they will be especially inadequate for anyone who is interested in making music, watching movies with high quality audio playback, or hardcore gaming. Fortunately, there are tons of sound cards to choose from both in stores and online, and some are versatile and powerful enough to meet even the most demanding user’s needs. Before purchasing your next laptop sound card, be sure to follow these useful tips.

Set a budget:
The price ranges for laptop sound cards vary greatly and typically range anywhere from just under $50 to well over $1,000. It’s important to set a budget, so you can avoid overspending.

Think about what the laptop sound card will be used for:
Every sound card has been designed to fit a different type of user’s needs. You need to think long and hard about whether the sound card will be used for listening to music, playing games, watching movies, or producing music. Sound cards that have been created with only gamers or movie watchers in mind will not be suitable for music production. However, many high quality sound cards, which are often called audio interfaces, that have been designed for recording and mixing music are versatile enough to meet any user’s listening requirements.

Only consider compatible sound cards:
Some sound cards will only work with certain operating systems due to their available software drivers, and some may not be able to connect to a laptop due to the type of hardware interface they rely on.

There are several types of hardware interfaces used by modern sound cards, including USB, FireWire, PC Card, and ExpressCard. The most versatile sound cards that also offer the highest level of connectivity are USB and FireWire laptop sound cards. For musicians and sound engineers, USB and FireWire cards are a must, since they are the only sound cards that are capable of providing the speed and sound quality required for producing music.

PC Cards, which are sometimes called PCMCIA Cards, and ExpressCards are also available, but their connectivity is highly limited, since many laptops do not contain the appropriate slot. Additionally, many cards are only designed to work with a single operating system. For the average music listener and gamer, PC Cards will provide the necessary level of sound quality.

Figure out how many output channels you need:
While all laptop sound cards will be able to output stereo sound, some can output as many as 16 or more channels of audio simultaneously. There are also cards that have been designed for surround sound listening, which are suitable for both gamers and movie fanatics.

Typically, sound cards that output more than two channels of audio will be necessary for anyone who is creating music. Having multiple audio outputs allows you to send your sounds to studio monitors, mixers, and outboard effects. The average amateur musician will be served well by any card offering four or more separate audio outputs.

Most hardcore gamers and self-professed movie lovers tend to opt for surround sound cards. These are typically available in 5.1 and 7.1 options, and are used for creating a 3D sound space. These systems include a dedicated subwoofer for reproducing low frequency audio and five or more speakers, which are used to fill the space with directional sound. These systems typically take a stereo sound signal and apply DSP signal transforms to the audio in order to create the surround sound effect. Due to this process, such laptop sound cards are generally not desirable for mixing or mastering music.

Think about how many input channels are required:
Most sound cards will contain at least one input audio channel for attaching an instrument or a microphone. Although this is usually more than sufficient for both gamers and movie fanatics, it may not be suitable for musicians and producers.

If you plan on recording live bands or yourself playing an instrument, you’ll need to think about how many instruments, including vocals, you’ll be recording simultaneously. Each instrument should be recorded to its own audio track, so you’ll need one input channel on your laptop sound card per instrument.

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