The most important function of the sound card is to convert the digital music signal into analog signal. The component that performs this function is called DAC (Digital-Analog Converter), and the quality of the DAC determines the quality of the DAC. The sound quality of the entire sound card, if the sound card is a digital output, then the final DAC determines the sound quality.
Most sound cards use AC97-compliant Codec (digital signal codec, a combination of DAC and ADC). Since the AC97 standard defines that the sampling frequency of the input and output is 48KHz, if Codec receives other sampling frequencies. The audio stream will pass the SRC (Sample Rate Converter) to convert the frequency to a uniform 48 kHz. During this conversion process, the data in the audio stream will lose some details due to the conversion algorithm, resulting in sound quality. The loss, so AC97 in addition to playing 48KHz audio stream sound quality is not bad, playing audio streams of other sampling frequencies cannot get good playback sound quality. Of course, if you do a correction circuit after Codec, you can improve some sound quality, which varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
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