Thursday, May 27, 2010


I don't know if it's just my advancing years but increasingly I find new technology and the direction it is going in completely incomprehensible. Phones are becoming so complicated that they can now only be understood by teenagers. But the topic of today's rant is computer sound cards.
One of the reasons I prefer a desktop or tower PC in the shack is that you can install additional soundcards in them. This allows you to interface with one or more radios for digital modes, EchoLink and so on and still have normal computer sound available. Yes, you could do this with a laptop and external USB soundcards. But it has always seemed to me to be better RF practise to have the digital electronics inside the nice tightly screened metal PC case with only screened cables going from the PC to the radio. USB looks like a radio amateur's nightmare with these often unscreened cables carrying high speed data and the USB devices usually in completely unscreened plastic cases radiating digital hash everywhere. In fact I would not be surprised to find that the proliferation of USB devices is mainly responsible for the increasing HF noise environment that one day soon will result in my giving up HF altogether.

Once upon a time you could buy a 16-bit soundcard for £15 - £20 ($25 - $30) that was more than good enough for computer sound or amateur digimodes. But one of the advances in computer technology has been the disappearance of PCI slots. The new computer I bought a few months ago, to my surprise, turned out to only have something called PCI Express slots, for which the cheapest sound cards available cost around £70 ($100.)

The specifications of these "bottom end" PCI Express soundcards are way above what I need to either listen to computer sounds and video soundtracks on my PC speakers or decode PSK31 signals. Why do ordinary computer users need 24-bit 96kHz recording or a direct digital input? What on earth is "sound output 7.1" and why do I need three or four different speaker outputs (the presence of which make finding the socket for the PSK31 TX audio by trial and error while groping round the back of the PC in the dark about as likely as winning the lottery?)

I understand that some people might want these features but those who didn't want them weren't forced into buying them because more basic products were available. Who decided the simple, stereo 16-bit soundcard without 3D special effects such as computers had for years was no longer needed by anybody?
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