Pretty much every PC these days has high quality 16 little bit audio output. Why is computer sound, generally, lousy? You can find three basic factors that determine the quality of what you can hear out of your home hi-fi or PC: Source quality, amplification distortion and noise, and loudspeaker quality. Everything you do hear at the final end of most this is bound by the quality of your hearing. In youngsters, that covers a frequency selection of roughly 20 Hertz (Hz, or cycles per second) to 16 kilohertz (kHz), with high frequency response dropping off steadily as you age. Each musical octave represents a doubling of frequency. Audio source quality for computers varies.

Most PCs have at least a Sound Blaster 16 or similar sound cards installed, which means they can play digitised sound with 16 pieces per test at high sample rates. The more pieces per test are there, the more the digitised sound can follow the initial analogue waveform finely, with 16 bits generally accepted to be enough.

And the more samples per second there are, the higher the utmost reproducible regularity, which is half of the test rate. CD quality is 16 bit stereo at a 44.1 kilohertz sample rate, giving a maximum reproducible rate of recurrence of 22kHz, well above the best threshold of hearing. This won’t, however, mean your sound card will be playing sound of this quality – a complete lot of digitised computer sound, particularly in older games, is significantly less than Compact disc quality substantially.

This is because lower quality occupies less memory, drive space and processor power. An eight bit 22kHz explosion sounds very as good as a 16 bit 44kHz one nearly, especially when there are umpteen other explosions going on at the same time. MIDI music audio quality may differ enormously between sound credit cards.

The old-fashioned FM synthesis utilized by the abovementioned bog standard SB16 and many other cards noises tinny and unrealistic. Any PC with a connected CD-ROM drive can play CD sound correctly. The quality of the CD audio has to do with the quality of the sound card little, because it’s played by the CD-ROM drive, not the card.

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The cards just stations (and amplifies, unless you’re using collection out) the analogue indication from the CD-ROM. More recently, CD-ROM drives that can deliver digital sound have become common directly, so it’s easy for a computer to play audio CDs without using a simple analogue connection from the CD-ROM drive.

The same principle still applies, though; the sound card isn’t making the audio, it’s just providing it. Either way, CD sound played through the computer is generally just as good, for many but hi-fi purist fantastic eared types, as the same sound played through a separate audio CD player. Computer CD-ROM drives in sound mode often deal poorly with scratched discs, and the sound card amplifier (if you’re utilizing it) can add noise and distortion, but by and large CD audio seems great, on old systems even.

Amplification noise and distortion can be saturated in PC applications. If you have powered loudspeakers, they’ll have their own amplifiers built-in and these are often really cheap and nasty. If your audio speakers are unpowered, you may need a sound cards with an onboard amplifier (any audio cards with a “speaker” as opposed to “line” level output comes with an amplifier), and onboard amps are usually lousy, too. But this is less of a problem than you’d think – given the raucous character of most computer sound, high amplifier distortion figures are not noticeable quite.

Small cheap amplifiers likewise have lousy signal to noise figures – since computers are extremely electromagnetically noisy items, cheap audio cards and loudspeaker amps pick up interference from the computer often. This expresses itself as hiss and other semi-random sounds that are audible during quiet moments. Again, this is no big deal for some users, because so many computer audio is well above this “noise floor”. Definitely the most important limiting factor in most computer sound applications – and in pretty much all hi-fi applications, – is the quality of the audio speakers too. The speaker in the average TV puts most PC speakers to shame.