What Is the Meaning of Audio Output Devices?

By Cathryn Chaney

Updated September 22, 2017

Speakers are one type of audio output device.
i computer speakers image by sarit saliman from Fotolia.com

The term "audio output device" refers to any device that attaches to a computer for the purpose of playing sound, such as music or speech. The term can also refer to a computer sound card.


Speakers are the most common type of audio output device.On laptops and other mobile computing devices, speakers are usually built in. External speakers can attach to a computer using a variety of audio plugs, or they can attach using a USB connection. Some external speakers require a separate energy supply, and must be plugged into the wall or a power strip.


Headphones are another type of audio output device. Variations on the headphone concept include ear buds, which fit inside the ear, and headsets, which include both headphones and a microphone.

Sound Card

A sound card is a computer component that converts information from digital audio files into electronic sound signals. These signals are then passed on to an audio output device, such as speakers or headphones. Although sound cards do not themselves play sound, they do output audio signals. For this reason, they can be considered audio output devices.

Device Drivers

A device driver is a small computer program that tells your computer how to access and use devices attached to it, including sound cards. Some specialized speakers and headphones require their own device drivers, particularly if they attach using a USB connection.

Error Messages

If a computer cannot find the device driver for its own internal sound card, users may receive an error message stating that no audio output devices have been installed. This might happen, for instance, if a user accidentally deletes the driver file, or if the file becomes corrupted. Replacement device drivers can usually be downloaded for free from the product manufacturer's website.