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A sound card is an expansion component used in computers to receive and send audio. Sound cards are configured and utilized with the help of a software application and a device driver. The input device attached to receive audio data is usually a microphone, while the device used to output audio data is generally speakers or headphones.
The sound card converts incoming digital audio data into analog audio so that the speakers can play it. In the reverse case, the sound card can convert analog audio data from the microphone into digital data that can be stored on the computer and altered using audio software.
Sound cards are also known as audio adapters.
Way back when, computers were originally only capable of producing beeps using a narrow range of frequencies. These beeps were used mainly as warning alarms.
The growth in multimedia created a need for high quality sound for both professional and entertainment reasons. AdLib was a pioneering sound card created to fill this need. AdLib made programmable audio possible, featuring a 9-voice mode and a percussion mode that could be used with AdLibs composition software.
The introduction of Sound Blaster sound cards by Creative Labs increased the capabilities of sound cards by enabling the recording and playing of digital audio. For this reason, Sound Blaster is considered to be the pioneer of digital audio sound cards. This heightened functionality led to a multimedia evolution in computers and software applications, and resulted in Sound Blaster becoming a dominant producer of sound cards.
Sound cards have continued to evolve both in terms of hardware and software. The modern sound cards can output 3-D sound and surround sound of increasingly high quality. Computer games and other applications are being developed to make full use of the new capabilities of sound cards.
The use of sound cards is so widespread that most motherboard manufacturers offer built-in sound cards for computers. Advance users, however, generally prefer to customize using expansion cards selected to meet their specific needs rather than generic, built-in cards.