Sound card and quality of the produced sound

• Oct 9, 2020 - 13:39

I am looking for the best sounds I can have when Musescore is playing, therefore the question: does PC sound card influence the sound quality, And if yes, which one would you recommend?
To this I must add that I am much interested into the export function, so the same question applies here, if the quality of the produced wav, mp3 is also influenced by which sound card is the PC using.
Thank you!


I couldn't say for sure about MuseScore. Other notation software that I know of does not involve the sound card in export. Export does not play the file. Neither does making a copy of an mp3.

Do you have a particular score in mind that you feel could sound better? Maybe it has been scored very simply without much use of dynamics or phrasing – like most of my scores.

Are you talking about full orchestral scores, small ensembles, piano solos, guitar pieces, something else? There are free soundfonts available which may sound significantly better than MS's built-in offering. They are easy to install but which would suit you may depend on the instruments that you listen to.

If the above has been taken care of then it might be worth trying a better soundcard but I'm not convinced. Maybe you have a friend who could let you hear MS with a better soundcard and see if it would be money well spent.

Try this score through headphones. To me it sounds pretty good; gets my foot tapping and doesn't sound mechanical. It's not mine but one of my recent favourites:

Check out dynamics in the MS handbook:

Check out this article on phrasing:

These sites have some nice soundfonts:

If you have a local, specialist computer shop then you could take your headphones and ask to hear a score that you know well being played on a PC with a good soundcard. When they see that you are serious about buying a soundcard if the quality proves worth the cost then I'm sure they'll be helpful. You wouldn't need to install MS, just play the score online.

And to answer the first part of your question, better than onboard sound will make a difference in playback. But pretty much only on your computer. Sample and bit rate can help with export. Plus you might be able to fix some EQ problems in other software. But in some ways you can't really control what others hear when they play your music. It might get played through laptop speakers. Or on a phone. Maybe nice speakers or earbuds. It's going to sound different on each one.

Thank you for all your replies, they are very helpful.

Any suggestion about a competitive sound card, which might improve the export quality?

In reply to by yonah_ag

The only way to test it is to export in another PC which has an expensive sound card on it. Of course at the same machine it sounds the same in both ways. Anyway, if at all, it would be a minimal difference as I understand it from the replies here. I still wonder why do very expensive sound cards exist. I thought they are targeting professional musicians who want to export their music.

In reply to by bach_leipzig

  • Surround sound processing
  • HiFi requirements, e.g. studio monitoring / mixing, better dynamic range and lower noise
  • Serious Gamers (if that's not a contradiction in terms)
  • Home audiophiles using a PC as some sort of media centre
  • Mic recording (just copied this from JoJo!)

Are you actually perceiving any quality problems with your current setup or just interested to find out what a better soundcard can do? If the latter then visit a specialist computer shop and do some testing. The soundcard is all about playback.

In reply to by yonah_ag

I write music for real instruments and I wish that the sound is as close to them as possible. Between several thoughts and research, I also try to find out whether an investment on a sound card would help or not.

Not to my ears, but to those of others. Meaning that when I upload the file on the internet the casual visitor will enjoy better quality (in this case meaning closer to real sounds maybe?)

Apparently it is not so relevant to the sound card.

In reply to by bach_leipzig

Yes, the quality of an audio file in uncompressed format that you create with export in Musescore software is only related to the soundfont used. And if you are exporting to a compressed audio format, the quality you will get is also closely related to the compression ratio setting used by the exported file format.

But there are other factors:

You never know if the user is listening with a high quality sound card or a poor quality sound card. Also, you can't guess whether the user is using a good speaker / headphone or a cheap listening device.
For example: A bass instrument that I listen to in my headphones with exquisite quality can give a rattling and humming sound on another listener's desktop speakers.

Because there are users who listen with a poor quality earphone in one ear, and those who listen with a quality stereo speakers or also those who listen by hearing a very small bass frequency from the mono speaker of their mobile phone, etc...
There is no choice but to hope that they are using good or average quality (stereo) headphones / speakers.

In reply to by yonah_ag

Not necessarily. The sound coming from the pc with the good sound card is going to be affected more by the sound card than by the file. A better test would be for the pc with the sound card to make two exports. One using the card and one using onboard sound. Then play them on a different pc with onboard sound only. I would be surprised if there was enough difference to worry about. Again, the purpose of the card is to work with sound that is produced by the device in which it is installed. Output, not export.

In reply to by bobjp

@bobjp: No, the export will NOT be affected by the soundcard.

1) Make ONE export from any computer running MuseScore. Make it a WAV file for best quality.
2) Copy the wav file to a memory stick NOT to a CD or DVD
2) Use a good pair of headphones
3) Playback this WAV file from stick using the same headphones on a computer with integrated sound and one with a dedicated soundcard. Ideally plug in round the back of each computer for most direct connection.

This will let you hear the differences between the sound systems as you will be comparing sound output from an identical source through identical speakers, (i.e. your headphones). Then you will be able to decide whether it's worth the investment. (I'd be interested to know the result myself but I'm guessing that it will be negligible.)

In reply to by yonah_ag

I think a better test would be to play the file on the same computer. Once with the sound card active, and once without the sound card (onboard). It would also depend on what the wav file is. Something with wide frequency and volume changes might be good.

In reply to by bobjp

I don't think that the data route from USB stick to soundcard or soundchip is going to make any difference as it's all in the digital domain. It's really only the DAC that's going to affect things, maybe a small effect from higher quality connectors on a good soundcard. (This is why I said no CD/DVD drive since the optics can make a difference, e.g. a dusty laser.)

It would certainly be useful to listen to something with wide ranging dynamics and frequency.

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