Internal vs. external sound cards: What are the main differences?

Sound Cards

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So you’re buying a new sound card for your PC and you aren’t sure whether you should get an internal or an external one? Well, since both of them have their strengths and weaknesses, there is no straightforward answer. There are no right or wrong choices here either – it’s all about picking what best suits your needs. With that in mind, what are the main differences between these two options?

1. Latency

No matter what model or brand you pick, there’s bound to be some latency when it comes to an external sound card. This is because it’s not a part of your core PC, so some of it is inevitable. That being said, you can reduce it quite a bit by getting a USB soundcard that’s compatible with your USB port which should be at least 2.0 for optimal results.

2. Noise floor

Internal sound cards, in general, have a higher noise floor compared to their external counterparts. The fact of the matter is, electrical devices are subject to interference and depending on how you’re planning to use the sound card, it may be a problem or you may not even notice it. For instance, to hear any hissing and crackling noises, you’d probably have to crank the volume all the way up, which is probably not going to happen if you’re a casual user.

In case you’re a professional musician, for example, producing a clean output when recording music is essential, in which case you should definitely think about investing in an external sound card.

3. Connectivity

All in all, external sound cards have more connectivity options than internal ones. With the latter, conserving space is important, so the back of the device and what goes on it needs to be carefully considered. The former, on the other hand, are often placed atop your desk (where there’s plenty of space), with various input and output jacks readily available, allowing you to plug in all sorts of musician gear such as MIDI keyboards, guitars, etc.

4. Price

By now, you’re probably getting the impression that you get a lot more functionality out of an external sound card device. While this is true, you do have to consider that it comes at a (steeper) price. Sure enough, there’s something you can get in every price range, but in the end, getting the cheapest option is never a good idea; it’s much better to find a good balance between price and functionality.

If there was a general recommendation, what would it be?

Even though the final call lies on you and your own judgment, in general, gamers and casual users typically go for the internal sound card. It’s cheaper, conserves processing resources, and the drawbacks associated with it don’t really bother them that much. However, if you’re a musician, streamer, or podcast producer, getting an external sound card should definitely top your lists of future investments, since the improved sound quality you’re going to get out of one will definitely show in the recordings you make.

Conclusion

Before making the final decision, it’s a good idea to go through some of the models and find your favorite one. This is easily done by reading a couple of reviews online. After that, decide what kind of sound card would best suit your needs, set a budget, and go shopping. Best of luck!

Internal vs. external sound cards: What are the main differences?