When shopping for a sound card for your computer, the main concern is whether to buy the internal or external model. Both the internal and external types have strengths and weaknesses, and by determining this, you will be able to decide which sound card best suits your needs.
When it comes to features, internal and external sound devices are equipped with a variety of features that depend on the target market for a specific device rather than whether the system has an internal or external slot provided. Features may vary, though the usual items you might find on a sound card include digital outputs, RCS, 24-bit 192Hz recording quality settings, MIDI keyboard ports, and for gaming it has ambient sound enhancements. It is recommended to choose a sound device based on its intended use, as sound devices intended for musicians and gamers have different characteristics.
Keep in mind that when purchasing an external sound device, there is some latency associated with this type of sound card, since a wired device is further away from your computer’s processor than a device located right inside the computer. High latency can cause vocal and instrumental tracks to align incorrectly during a music recording. You can minimize this latency by choosing an external device that uses a FireWire or Hi-Speed USB 2.0 interface.
However, the quality of a sound device depends on its hardware and not on the sound device itself. Based on testing with spectrum analyzers, internal devices have a higher noise level than the external sound card. This means that for devices with a lower noise floor, you’ll actually need to turn up the speaker volume before any hissing sounds are heard. The main reason for this is true for all devices that all electrical components are subject to interference.
Compared to external models, internal sound cards have fewer connectivity options due to limited space on the back of the device. External sound devices typically have digital input/output connectors, MIDI keyboards, and RCA. They provide easy access for making these connections as they can be placed directly on your desk.
Another thing to consider when choosing your sound device is the price range. Internal models are generally less expensive than external ones, since internal sound cards don’t require a metal or plastic case. In 2009, the price range for a device that produces high-quality sound with no other special features is expected to be around $30 for an internal device, while $45 for the external model was the usual price. Although these sound devices can be purchased at the extremely low price of less than $10, those cheap devices are often questionable when it comes to quality.