Many questions appear on forums along the lines 'I'm thinking of buying the Superwizzy 123 card - is it any good?' I suspect that this implied lack of confidence is largely due to so many manufacturers advertising 'CD Quality' on every soundcard from £25 upwards. All this means is that the card can be used for 16-bit recording at a sampling frequency of 44.1kHz - not that it will produce recordings to rival the best commercial CDs.
In general you do get what you pay for, and the price of each new soundcard is set to
be competitive with what is already in the market. This means that you are unlikely to get 'professional' quality with many cards under £100, although recent advances in the design of PCI soundcards have resulted in a significant increase in the audio quality of even 'cheap' soundcards.
Many factors determine the amount of background hiss and hum from a soundcard - the design of the circuit board, the circuitry itself, and in particular the quality of the converters. These convert analogue signals at the input to digital ones for storing on your hard drive (A/D converters). In general, you will get lower noise when recording with converters having more than 16 bits (see Which Soundcard 03).
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Which Soundcard 02: How can I gauge recording quality?
For anything relating to music-making on Windows computers, with lots of FAQs. Moderated by Martin Walker.
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