Are cheap sound cards worth it
Sound card vs. onboard: conclusion and summary
Whether or not you have to purchase a sound card depends on your requirements and the hearing sources used. Anyone who only uses Skype or other voice transmission programs on a computer is in most cases well served with onboard sound chips. This also applies to users who use music streaming in average quality or who watch YouTube videos every now and then. Anyone who uses an AV amplifier in connection with the PC and only wants to listen to music or enjoy videos should use the digital output of the onboard chip whenever possible. The DAC of the AV receiver then takes over the critical work of sound conversion. The computer only has to properly loop precoded sound packets from music or film sources via the digital output.
If you want to listen to music with headphones, even at a slightly higher volume and in good quality, you cannot avoid a dedicated sound card. This can be an internal or external solution, even pure headphone amplifiers do a good job. As a rule, the jack connections of an onboard solution rarely provide enough power to adequately power high-quality headphones. Then don't skimp on the sound card. Cheap products for a few euros usually have no added value compared to onboard chips - on the contrary.
When using active loudspeakers - even if they are not of high quality - for enjoying music and movies, even laypeople can quickly hear qualitative differences between the onboard chip and the dedicated sound card. The use of a sound card is recommended, especially if you value a detailed and clean sound. If the speakers have a digital input, you can do without the sound card when using an AV receiver.
Anyone who uses an AV receiver or box set with digital input and also wants to hear games or other "interactive" sound sources in 5.1 needs a sound chip or a sound card with Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect. Only then are there largely no errors in the sound output.
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