Haven't built a rig since the i7-3770k was king, is hardware offloaded audio still a thing? I'm finding very little [H]ard evidence on the subject.

xMAGIUSx

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The rig that I'm about to replace is an i7-3770K with a 980TI and has a Sound Blaster Z installed. Eight years ago, all the top gaming rigs had dedicated sound cards but that no longer seems to be the case.

Both my headphones and the Klipsch 2.1 setup sound great to me, but I will admit to not being an audiophile. At the time, I went with the Sound Blaster Z over motherboard audio (which also happened to be Sound Blaster) because it not only increased FPS by a few percent, but also offered 3D sound. Is 3D sound still used today?



The new rig will likely be a 5900X with a 3080 (Don't have a final build list yet, but that's the performance level I'm shooting for)

Would using a card like the Sound Blaster AE-7 (or an Asus or EVGA card) in a modern rig yield better performance, even if only marginally, by offloading sound processing from the CPU? My google searching has yielded mixed results on this subject. Some sources say this functionality was broken starting in Vista but Microsoft's website seems to suggest it's still possible.https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-hardware/drivers/audio/hardware-offloaded-audio-processing

It seems that external DACS/Amps setups are the rage these days, but with their USB interface they don't seem to offer quite the same benefits of the internal cards. I am aware that having the DAC/Amp externally isolated from the rest of the PC is desirable for sound quality purposes, but what about performance?

Is this all a moot point for gaming nowadays since the processor will have 12C/24T?

Thanks for reading all of that! Any insight would be greatly appreciated.
 

djoye

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All game audio now days is processed by the CPU (software based), nothing is offloaded to soundcards. If you were an audiophile, maybe you could justify buying a sound card, but I've used a nice modern sound card (not a Creative card, but a very nice dual-PCIe card) and couldn't tell a difference between it and the audio coming from my GTX 1080 HDMI to my Denon AVR-3806 audio receiver (2006 model). I am not an audiophile, I just like positional audio in games. Games don't typically have what I would consider high-fidelity audio (I think movies consistently sound better).

If you are using analog output (3.5mm connections to speakers) from your PC, then you may very well benefit from a modern sound card since those are designed to transmit clean audio to analog receptors, but if you're transmitting audio digitally (HDMI or SPDIF), then a sound card is not beneficial, in my opinion. Hardware-accelerated 3D sound died over a decade ago, but if you're using the 3.5mm output on your computer, consider a nice sound card, if you're using SPDIF or HDMI for audio, no additional sound card is necessary.
 

Starfalcon

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Still using the Soundblaster Zx in the new rig in my sig, still works fine with my headset. Already had the card, so no reason not to use it in my new build.
 

GotNoRice

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Hardware audio surround sound is not really a thing anymore. In the XP era we had EAX. EAX support was dropped starting with Vista. As a replacement for EAX, we got OpenAL. Creative also had/has a program called Alchemy which can translate an EAX game to use OpenAL. Unfortunately OpenAL really never took off. Only a couple dozen games ever supported it and none within the last 10 years that I know of. But it's not a big deal. EAX helped and made sense back in the era of single-core CPUs but most CPUs now have plenty of cores.

The Sound Blaster Z is a fine card, even today. You should consider giving it a try in your new system before you buy anything else. Creative has been good in keeping up with new drivers. I use several X-Fi cards and they are even older than the Sound Blaster Z.

The main benefits of a soundcard these days comes down to features. For example with my X-Fi cards I can use CMSS-3D, which allows me to select 5.1-7.1 sound in a game, and it will downmix that into 2 channels (I use headphones for gaming) while retaining much of the positional audio information. It's much better than simply selecting stereo sound. I know that the Sound Blaster Z has a similar feature. That would be the main reason to keep the sound card. But if you don't use any of your soundcard's features, then it doesn't really matter.

You can use a soundcard in conjunction with an external DAC. Run a cable from the digital output (coax or optical S/PDIF) on your soundcard to the digital input on the external DAC. In that config you can still use all of the features on your soundcard while allowing the external DAC to handle the digital to analog conversion. The best of both worlds, and an optical digital connection isolates from your computer even better than a USB connection.
 

Spartacus09

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The rig that I'm about to replace is an i7-3770K with a 980TI and has a Sound Blaster Z installed. Eight years ago, all the top gaming rigs had dedicated sound cards but that no longer seems to be the case.

It seems that external DACS/Amps setups are the rage these days, but with their USB interface they don't seem to offer quite the same benefits of the internal cards. I am aware that having the DAC/Amp externally isolated from the rest of the PC is desirable for sound quality purposes, but what about performance?

Internal dedicated cards were used previously (10+ years ago) because there was very little to no power filtering for onboard audio, most current gen motherboard separate the audio power and use decent capacitors to filter noise (look for the giant yellow japanese capacitors).
External DAC/Amps are all the rage because alot of gamers also like quality audio/music listening and really good headphones require an amp to get past the higher impedance, in todays audio digital vs analog is almost no difference from a gaming perspective in quality or performance.
So for gaming just get the best USB headset that you like, you dont need a dac/amp unless you're wanting to mix in a pair of high end audio headphones for music.
If you're stuck on wanting analog, I've heard good things about the Sennheiser 37x: https://drop.com/buy/massdrop-x-sennheiser-pc37x-gaming-headset

All game audio now days is processed by the CPU (software based), nothing is offloaded to soundcards. If you were an audiophile, maybe you could justify buying a sound card, but I've used a nice modern sound card (not a Creative card, but a very nice dual-PCIe card) and couldn't tell a difference between it and the audio coming from my GTX 1080 HDMI to my Denon AVR-3806 audio receiver (2006 model). I am not an audiophile, I just like positional audio in games. Games don't typically have what I would consider high-fidelity audio (I think movies consistently sound better).
Most audiophiles aren't going to use an analog output from the computer anyway, they're going to use USB to a dedicated DAC+Amp or DAC/Amp combo.
I'm currently using the Sennheiser HD6XX and a Schiit Jotunheim with the AK4490 DAC module in it, one of the most popular recent sets have been the Magni/Modi DAC+Amp stack as they only run $200 for an upper mid-tier audio processing and power.
 
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GotNoRice

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in todays audio digital vs analog is almost no difference from a gaming perspective in quality or performance.

Computers are digital and hearing is analog. If you're hearing sound, then there is a digital to analog conversion taking place at some point. There is no "digital vs analog" in terms of computer audio.
 

Spartacus09

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Computers are digital and hearing is analog. If you're hearing sound, then there is a digital to analog conversion taking place at some point. There is no "digital vs analog" in terms of computer audio.
Thanks captain literal, I don't think thats quite the depth OP was asking about though.🙄

Let me rephrase then digital audio ports/outputs such as USB and HDMI do not have a substantially noticeable difference in sound quality or spacial perception compared to analog audio ports/outputs such as 3.5mm or RCA in gaming.
 

GotNoRice

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Let me rephrase then digital audio ports/outputs such as USB and HDMI do not have a substantially noticeable difference in sound quality or spacial perception compared to analog audio ports/outputs such as 3.5mm or RCA in gaming.

The USB and HDMI ports have as much "sound quality" as the PCI-E slot that a soundcard is plugged into, aka none. "Sound", as you hear it, begins at the DAC. If you use motherboard audio, that DAC is located on the motherboard. If you use a soundcard, the DAC is located on the soundcard. If you use an "external DAC", the DAC is located inside the "external DAC" enclosure. If you use a USB headset, the DAC is located within the headset. Which of those will result in better sound depends on the components involved. The location of the DAC does also potentially change environmental variables that could impact the sound (interference from nearby devices, etc).

You can't say that there is no difference in sound quality between a setup using analog outputs from the computer vs a device attached to USB or HDMI because that is 100% dependent on the actual devices involved. A digital interface doesn't have any inherent "sound quality".
 

Spartacus09

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Read the quote you snipped again, I didn't say there was no difference, I said there wasn't a substantially noticeable difference in sound quality or spacial perception for gaming.
What you're describing is interference due to subpar components which are few and far between on most modern/name brand parts.

It didnt seem like OP was looking for nitty gritty audio discussion, just whether he needed a sound card and/or dedicated dac/amp to get good sound for gaming.
Of which the answer is no as long as you don't cheap out on your headset and/or motherboard ~ which I think we agree on.
 

xMAGIUSx

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I ended up buying Razer Kraken Tournament Edition Headphones with USB control for $59.99 which was on sale today for Prime day.

From Razer’s website:
“The Razer Kraken Tournament Edition is the first gaming headset to introduce THX Spatial Audio—creating realistic depth by simulating positionally-accurate sound in a 360° sphere around you for greater awareness in your in-game surroundings”

I look forward to seeing if the spatial audio actually makes a noticeable difference. I’m also curious to see how these will sound in comparison to the other headphones I’ve got at home since I now know that my onboard sound is going to be Realtek ALC1200, which is nothing to write home about.
 

Algrim

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My wife has an older version of the Razor Kraken. It doesn't sound that bad but it's no match against the built-in computer audio out to my Sennheisers.
 

xMAGIUSx

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My wife has an older version of the Razor Kraken. It doesn't sound that bad but it's no match against the built-in computer audio out to my Sennheisers.
I have Sennheiser HD 280 Pros that need near ear foam and a Sennheiser PC360 with a defective microphone.

Both products were great when they worked properly. I’m not hard on my gear by any means, so I was a little put off on the Sennheiser brand this time around.

For the $60 ($100 MSRP) I paid for the Kraken TE, my expectations are that they sound at least as good as the Steel Series Arctis 3 that I bought for my PS4 for $70. If they do, they are good enough for me.
 

daglesj

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Personally, I use the optical out from the PC, not USB.


I would too if I had the option. I don't see the point in running 24-bit/384kHz or higher media when 99.9% of speakers/headphones cut out at 22kHz or thereabouts...not to mention your hearing.

Keep it Redbook man!
 

DoubleTap

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I would too if I had the option. I don't see the point in running 24-bit/384kHz or higher media when 99.9% of speakers/headphones cut out at 22kHz or thereabouts...not to mention your hearing.

Keep it Redbook man!

You also get electrical isolation and for me, I use an optical matrix switcher to send my Blu-Ray, CD Player and Nvidia Shield audio to my Speakers and Headphones as needed because:

1. It allows me to keep the volume for the headphones and the speakers at a consistent level (when I use my headphones on my amp, I have to turn it way up, then way back down for speakers)

2. I only have one optical input on each output device

3. I can play a game on headphones but still play the speakers low if someone is watching

4. I can play one source on the headphones, another source on the speakers.

Pretty cool device for about $20-25

1602775064230.png
 

xMAGIUSx

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I don’t have an update on the Kraken headset yet but I will say that I’m very glad I didn’t order a Sound Blaster for my new build.

I was playing WoW on the old rig with the Sound Blaster Z in it last night when I noticed I only had audio from one channel in my headphones. I swapped the headphones and the problem still persisted. A quick google search told me my drivers were outdated, and they were so I downloaded the latest-and-greatest from Creative. This fixed the 2-channel audio issue, but now my previously rock-solid machine crashes while gaming. The audio stops working right before the crash, so I know it’s the culprit.

I stumbled upon a Reddit post where a user suggested making registry edits to fix the available buffer size. I made the updates around 1am last night and didn’t have a chance to test them yet.

If it doesn’t work, I’m going to yank this card out out of my old machine and be done with Creative for good. It’s mind blowing that they still don’t have good drivers for their products.
 

xMAGIUSx

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I ended up pulling the Sound Blaster Z as nothing I could do would get it working properly in WoW.

I’m using the motherboard audio now, which happens to be a Sound Blaster Recon 3Di. Using the default windows driver and no creative software installed, everything is working as it’s supposed to.

I do notice a difference in sound quality with the motherboard audio, so I think getting something with a USB audio controller for my new build was the right way to go.
 

GotNoRice

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Very odd about your soundcard in WoW. WoW is the main game I play and I'm not having any issues with my X-Fi cards, which are older than the Z series. I don't have any Z series cards at the moment to test with unfortunately.
 

xMAGIUSx

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Very odd about your soundcard in WoW. WoW is the main game I play and I'm not having any issues with my X-Fi cards, which are older than the Z series. I don't have any Z series cards at the moment to test with unfortunately.
I’m not sure what the deal is either. I couldn’t get the Z working in WoW though. I honestly don’t use that computer for anything else, so I don’t if the issue is confined to WoW, or would pop up elsewhere.

I tried the latest drivers with the control software, and the windows 10 recommended driver with no control software. I had audio cutouts with both, so maybe the card is faulty?
 

Starfalcon

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I use a Zx in my rig and play wow it works completely fine for me. You may want to check the settings in the wow sound control pannel.
 

xMAGIUSx

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I use a Zx in my rig and play wow it works completely fine for me. You may want to check the settings in the wow sound control pannel.
I checked all of the settings, even tried a registry entry to expand the buffer size. Nothing worked, so maybe the card was on its way out. Motherboard audio has been working great, and I’m sure airflow improved a little with the Sound Blaster Z gone.
 

atarione

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blah blah... unless you have audiophile headphones or Speakers / Amps that are HiFi and not PC there is basically no reason to use anything but onboard audio at this point...

For me one of the greatest days of computing was realizing I would basically never have to deal with creatives **** house drivers ever again probably.. currently (mainly) using a FiiO D03K and the optical out on my motherboard.. I do have a USB DAC and a Steinberg UR22mkII DAW as well for various reasons..
 

daglesj

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blah blah... unless you have audiophile headphones or Speakers / Amps that are HiFi and not PC there is basically no reason to use anything but onboard audio at this point...

For me one of the greatest days of computing was realizing I would basically never have to deal with creatives **** house drivers ever again probably.. currently (mainly) using a FiiO D03K and the optical out on my motherboard.. I do have a USB DAC and a Steinberg UR22mkII DAW as well for various reasons..


I have to say the FIIO D03K is an amazing bit of kit. Everyone should have one laying around just in case.
 
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Ideally you would use either the HDMI in your video card or digital out of your onboard sound card to send the signal to an AV receiver where you can use proper speakers hooked to it.

But of course, that depends on how much you are willing to spend for your setup or how you want to use it. For headphones a good external DAC will suffice.

Personally I went the AV receiver setup and have never looked back, sounds great and have had no issues.
 

xMAGIUSx

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Ideally you would use either the HDMI in your video card or digital out of your onboard sound card to send the signal to an AV receiver where you can use proper speakers hooked to it.

But of course, that depends on how much you are willing to spend for your setup or how you want to use it. For headphones a good external DAC will suffice.

Personally I went the AV receiver setup and have never looked back, sounds great and have had no issues.
If I were gaming alone I’d be out in the living room on my 75” 4K TV with surround sound.
Since I am not, the headphones are a necessity. my girlfriend’s desk is directly next to mine. If we had speakers it would get annoying quickly.
 
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If I were gaming alone I’d be out in the living room on my 75” 4K TV with surround sound.
Since I am not, the headphones are a necessity. my girlfriend’s desk is directly next to mine. If we had speakers it would get annoying quickly.

Well, with an AV receiver, despite the headphone output not being as great as in a dedicated headphone amp/DAC, you can also use headphones whenever someone is around, not use them when you are alone, best of both worlds.
 

dj_taboo

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I ended up pulling the Sound Blaster Z as nothing I could do would get it working properly in WoW.

I’m using the motherboard audio now, which happens to be a Sound Blaster Recon 3Di. Using the default windows driver and no creative software installed, everything is working as it’s supposed to.

I do notice a difference in sound quality with the motherboard audio, so I think getting something with a USB audio controller for my new build was the right way to go.
I used to have issues with an older Xfi card. It was a PCI card. It was replaced a while back with a Zx card which is PCI-e. It's been working just fine.
The older Xfi card was amazing but the lack of support when the newer cards were released made some games unenjoyable.
 

RPGWiZaRD

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You shoulda used kx project drivers they lacked some bs features but just worked with creative cards.

The word "kx" caught my attention so couldn't resist replying. Those drivers awesome back in the days, eventually old hardware got old and thus made the project irrelevant but at the time it offered something really nice. Especially how the whole software stack built directly on the hardware on the lowest level possible. I was able to work out a nicely working virtual surround config I stuck by for a long time as it sounded so natural with every game and the positioning seemed spot-on besides the good audio quality compared to Creative drivers. It also had the best working software EQ I've used by far if we talk cleanliness in how it alters the sound. I remember for the giggles putting 3 EQs on top of each other boosting the bass by 30 dB just for fun and some 10dB in the highs, suprisingly it didn't distort the audio, it just provided the sound you expected to get (as in not enjoyable but it was "clean" which was the point). Compare to say Realtek onboard audio's EQ which provides noticeable audio distortion when moving bars past +/- 1.5dB or even the best freeware "system-wide" option today Equalizer APO couldn't compare to how cleanly the audio was altered, a more fair comparison would be a couple of hundred dollar hardware based EQ.

Wish some project like that could happen in the future but I won't hold my breath, the software side is so tightly closed source typically.
 
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