Utilizing dual sound cards can bring a great deal of versatility to a computer audio system. It allows greater control over sound quality and may prove to be a money-saving decision in certain cases. Using dual sound cards in a single system, however, is not without its cons. An additional sound card can take up space that could be used for more useful peripherals and contributes to rising system temperatures. In many cases, dual sound cards can complicate computer usage for the owner, making the addition not worth the effort and investment.
The main advantage to having dual sound cards in a single system is the ability to have two distinct audio outputs. This is especially useful if the computer is being used as the home's main multimedia center. For instance, one sound card can be hooked up to the television for movie viewing, while the other sound card can be connected to headphones for private music listening. In a sense, the computer is able to multitask and generate two dedicated audio streams for multiple users.
Having dual sound cards can also improve overall sound quality, especially in a device that's being used to simultaneously play back two audio streams. This is most often seen in online gaming, in which players communicate in real time through live chat servers. In many cases, a single sound card will be taxed from playing both the game sounds and the audio from the chat server, resulting in lower sound quality. Dual sound cards allow for a dedicated gaming sound card to play all the software sounds, while the other card is used for communications. Similar uses are applicable in sound engineering.
In a few cases, using dual sound cards can also be a money-saving option. A laptop sound card, for instance, is often built into the motherboard and cannot be replaced. If the on-board sound card is missing a few desired features, an owner can simply purchase a cheap sound card to fill in the gap.
More often than not, however, using dual sound cards will cost a user money rather than produce savings. Additional sound cards usually require additional output devices, which add to an owner's expenses while taking up more space in his workstation. The extra sound card will also take up more space in the computer, leaving less room for other useful peripherals. Dual sound cards also tend to generate more heat when used simultaneously, which might be damaging to the hardware in the long run.