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How On-Board Audio Works

Views: 0     Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2022-05-30      Origin: Site


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Audio can be available in two different formats: analog or digital. Computers are digital systems so they can only produce and manipulate audio in digital format. The problem, however, is that in the real world audio is an analog entity. Speakers are expecting an analog signal so they can reproduce sounds; you can’t feed speakers with a digital signal – the so called “digital speakers” are in fact analog speakers with a digital-to-analog (DAC) converter converting the digital signal sent by the computer into analog signal. On motherboards there is a chip called codec (short for coder/decoder) that is in charge of converting digital audio signals into analog and vice-versa. This component is very important as it defines the audio quality of a sound card, and we will talk a lot more about it later. The process of converting the digital signal sent by the computer into an analog signal, so you can hear sound on your speakers – for example, when you play an MP3 file or when you play a video file – is called digital-to-analog conversion or DAC for short. The inverse process, i.e., converting analog sounds sent to the computer through a microphone or through its “line in” input into digital – for example, when you hookup a tape deck or a turntable to your PC to convert old music into MP3 files – is called analog-to-digital conversion or ADC for short. On any sound card – including those embedded on motherboards – you can find two types of connectors: analog and digital. Analog connectors (usually 3.5 mm mini jacks) allow you to connect your sound card directly to speakers (i.e., “analog speakers”). This is the cheapest and easiest way to connect speakers to your PC. Digital connection, also known as SPDIF (Sony/Phillips Digital Interconnect Format) can be found in two flavors, coaxial (using a mono RCA connector) or optical (using a connector called Toslink). This connection allows you to connect your sound card to home theater receivers and digital speakers. As we have already explained, loudspeakers are analog devices. Home theater receivers and digital speakers have a digital-to-analog converter inside that converts the digital signal received into analog and then send the signal to the speakers. Digital connection provides some advantages compared to analog connection. First, usually home theater receivers and digital speakers use a better codec than the one used on the motherboard and because of that the audio quality is higher (lower noise level, mainly). Secondly, home theater receivers and digital speakers may provide features not found on analog speakers, like Dolby Pro Logic, which simulates surround sound when the original sound source is just stereo (i.e., two channels only) – using analog speakers you can only have this kind of feature if the software you are using provide them. And in third place, with digital connection you need just one cable to connect your PC to your home theater or digital speakers, while with analog connection you need one cable for each pair of speakers (on a 5.1 system you will need three cables, for example). The drawback of digital connection is price, as the components involved with digital connection are more expensive (the cost of a home theater receiver and a set of speakers is far higher than the cost of a set of analog speakers for your PC), the reason being the use of a more expensive codec and also the cost of the decoders for several additional enhancements, like the abovementioned Dolby Pro Logic.

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