Just curious: Why does your average person or gamer need a sound card in 2013?

Tengis

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Recently Ive noticed that a lot of people I talk to want to buy sound cards because they "care how their audio sounds" or that they "want their music and games to sound the best".

Ive had multiple hearing tests (maybe 5) in the last year which pretty much confirmed I have phenomenal hearing. According to the hearing tests I took I apparently have the best hearing that a human being can possibly have - I heard every single frequency in every test 100% of the time.

That being said: Ive always noticed a difference in car audio going from garbage audio equipment to high end audio equipment. I can notice the difference in quality going from one set of decent Logitech speakers to their highest end speakers. I notice the difference with headphones and earbuds. I think the issue a lot of people dont realize is that their audio equipment sucks and not their sound cards... anyway...

Why do people need sound cards? Why do people think they need sound cards? When I was younger (10-15 years ago) I always bought sound cards because sound cards always seemed to offer a better experience with fancy features you dont need and they potentially gave you higher frame rates in games.

Ive seen multiple computers that friends own (casual gamers, music listeners, etc) in the last few years get their sound cards upgraded with aftermarket ones because they "need better sound quality" and in not one of them have I noticed anything different. Right now my HTPC is using the built in audio and hooked up to home theater equipment and it sounds fantastic.

Just a rant I had after a friend told me he wanted to budget a couple hundred bucks minimum into his gaming PC build for a "bad ass" sound card.
 

RedTalon19

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Well, 15 years ago if you wanted sound you HAD to buy a sound card. 10 years ago all integrated sound was absolutely horrid both in sound quality and resources used. I think today's basic onboard solution is actually pretty good, but you're still going to get better quality with a dedicated card.

I had a Xonar D2 for a few years and when I upgraded to my Maximus V Formula I shockingly discovered the onboard was better sounding than my Xonar. I haven't heard a SB Z in person so I can't compare it but currently I am satisfied with my (very well implemented) onboard solution. I also have an external DAC for my headphones when I want truly crisp and accurate music... but I've found it also works well for gaming.

I guess some people feel they need to spend more money to get the best, which isn't always the case. For me, I spent extra money on the motherboard instead of a separate soundcard.
 

Tengis

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I dont know if this is still an issue at all but Ill tell you one thing... I definitely dont miss having retarded driver issues with Creative sound cards.
 

spaceman

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You really only need around $100. The Creative Zx makes games sound better. Not sure why exactly but there is a difference b/w using my Z and even the Asus DX I used to have. The difference bw the Z and onboard is even bigger.

Most of the changes are just being able to accurately hear the game sounds and the distances. Kind of like walking around with earplugs in with onboard and taking them out with the Zx.

Your friend will not hear any difference bw the Zx and the ZxR unless he actually spends a "couple of hundred bucks" on his speakers or headphones btw.

The driver issues with the Z series are gone. The only issues I have seen are people getting bad cards. Even this is rare but it certainly appears that the driver issues are long gone.
 

polonyc2

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my Auzentech X-Fi Prelude 7.1 is still better then any onboard sound solution and I have no intention of removing it anytime soon
 

J Macker

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I dont know if this is still an issue at all but Ill tell you one thing... I definitely dont miss having retarded driver issues with Creative sound cards.
Ditto. SPDIF -> receiver FTW!
 

bman212121

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Onboard is still lagging way behind even with todays solutions. My friend has issues with their Audigy 4 card and isn't able to get the mic working. So we turned on the onboard on a Z77 board and it's night and day difference. The 8 year old Audigy still sounds a lot better.

If you are doing playback through SPDIF it's not going to matter since the card is basically a pass thru. Same for using HDMI audio out to a receiver or tv. The main thing is that onboard DACs (Digital to Analog Converter) are bad, so whenever you are using an analog input/output you will be able to tell the difference.
 

J Macker

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Right now my HTPC is using the built in audio and hooked up to home theater equipment and it sounds fantastic.
yep, if you did it right, the audio on your htpc should be going out via HDMI to a receiver. The receiver does all the decoding & processing. That's why it sounds awesome. No HTPC would ever benefit from a sound card due to this.


... I think the issue a lot of people dont realize is that their audio equipment sucks and not their sound cards... anyway...

Why do people need sound cards? Why do people think they need sound cards?
..
Just a rant I had after a friend told me he wanted to budget a couple hundred bucks minimum into his gaming PC build for a "bad ass" sound card.
Well, you should explain to your friend that he should skip the soundcard and use the $300 towards a good set of bookshelf speakers and a receiver. Add $150 more for a subwoofer.

It will be a long time before I ditch my receiver.
 

evilsofa

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I bought a sound card with a headphone amp (the Xonar DG) recently for the sole reason that the IEMs I use has 25 ohm impedance, and the past three motherboards I have owned (two Intels and an ASUS) cannot drive them properly. I am severely deaf, so when it is irritatingly apparent to me that the motherboard audio is not as good as my iPhone, it's safe to say that anyone would notice that there is a problem.
 

trick0502

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i dont have a dedicated sound card for 2 reasons.

1 when i game i use usb headphones (logy g35). being usb they bypass the internal audio card.

2 i have cheap ass 8+ year old set of logy 2.1 speakers. i could use a $1,000 sound card with them and they still sound like shit.
 

GotNoRice

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If you're not gaming, then all that really matters is the quality of your DAC (whether that is external or integrated).

If you are gaming, then yeah a good soundcard can still help.
 

defaultluser

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If you're not gaming, then all that really matters is the quality of your DAC (whether that is external or integrated).

If you are gaming, then yeah a good soundcard can still help.
I can't tell the difference between my onboard sound and my Xonar DGX (universally hailed as 'better than onboard'), or my Sansa Clip+ (noted in audio circles for being a surprisingly balanced audio source). All sound the same on my M-audio AV 40s. Now, I can't hear above 16,5, but I can hear everything below that with excellent clarity, and yet I can't tell the difference!

I guess I should count myself lucky...audiophile-quality soundcards can get incredibly expensive :)
 
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Nenu

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Ditto. SPDIF -> receiver FTW!
The DAC quality in nearly all receivers can be beaten by PC soundcards.
Also the method you are using will give compressed multichannel sound quality, theres no way you can get the best from your system in games, movies or multi channel music using SPDIF.
If you have a low quality hifi, maybe you dont care.
But its not ftw for anyone who cares.
 

VulcaN

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Seriously... If your using a receiver and want it to do all your processing the easiest / cheapest way to get the best quality sound is to use HDMI, its been a standard for quite some time now.
 

GotNoRice

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I can't tell the difference between my onboard sound and my Xonar DGX (universally hailed as 'better than onboard'), or my Sansa Clip+ (noted in audio circles for being a surprisingly balanced audio source). All sound the same on my M-audio AV 40s. Now, I can't hear above 16,5, but I can hear everything below that with excellent clarity, and yet I can't tell the difference!

I guess I should count myself lucky...audiophile-quality soundcards can get incredibly expensive :)
The reason you don't hear a difference using your Xonar DGX is because it's a cheap POS. Your card uses a budget DAC (the most critical component) that is good for 105dB SNR. In comparison my EMU 0404 from 2005 is good for 116dB SNR, and my X-Fi Titanium HD is good for 122dB SNR.
 

ourfpshero

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Doesn't somebody bring this up every year or so? Why bother upgrading anything that you're happy with? Some of us like higher quality audio, video, etc: others don't care. I can very easily tell the difference between a high end sound card and very good onboard audio.
 

Tengis

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Some of us like higher quality audio, video, etc: others don't care.
Thats exactly my point. People think they like higher quality audio and they buy sound cards and then convince themselves its superior in some way even though they are using a $30 headset or have a $50 set of speakers.
 

Nenu

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Thats exactly my point. People think they like higher quality audio and they buy sound cards and then convince themselves its superior in some way even though they are using a $30 headset or have a $50 set of speakers.
Some people think a Robin Reliant is quick.
So what?
 

J Macker

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The DAC quality in nearly all receivers can be beaten by PC soundcards.
Also the method you are using will give compressed multichannel sound quality, theres no way you can get the best from your system in games, movies or multi channel music using SPDIF.
If you have a low quality hifi, maybe you dont care.
But its not ftw for anyone who cares.
I only have a 2.1 setup. For that it's not compressed, iirc. So yes, it does work optimally.
 

Megalith

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I will never use a sound card again due to the possibility of interference from nearby components.

For stereo, at least, the best thing you can do is buy a high-quality DAC with balanced outputs and a pair of neutral studio monitors.
 

Nenu

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I only have a 2.1 setup. For that it's not compressed, iirc. So yes, it does work optimally.
Unfortunate, yep stereo isnt compressed.
You are still at the mercy of your receivers DAC, SPDIF isnt the best recommendation for others using stereo.
For 5.1, if your amp supports multichannel analogue in or HDMI in, you can improve on the quality by using either of those, the better being analogue in with a good sound card.
The worst would be SPDIF, its not ftw :p
 

J Macker

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Unfortunate, yep stereo isnt compressed.
You are still at the mercy of your receivers DAC, SPDIF isnt the best recommendation for others using stereo.
..
The worst would be SPDIF, its not ftw :p
There are diminishing returns. You can't argue that. Purchasing a sound card for $80 or $100 would still require the purchase of an amp for at least another $100. I like the flexibility and options I have by using passive speakers instead of powered studio monitors.

By using a receiver, it provides both functions and does a pretty good job at it. There's something called bang-for-the-buck. I bought a used receiver, which powers the speakers and provides a good DAC.

I'm not in it for the "best". I'm in it to get really good at a reasonable price.
5.1 is useless for me on the computer. So SPDIF works great. I don't play enough games where positional audio is important and don't want to spend the time or money to try to get the best positional audio setup. I don't have the room to put speakers behind me for my computer and don't want the additional wires. I don't care how "bad" SPDIF is for 5.1 setups. That's not what I'm using it for.
 

Nenu

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There are diminishing returns. You can't argue that. Purchasing a sound card for $80 or $100 would still require the purchase of an amp for at least another $100. I like the flexibility and options I have by using passive speakers instead of powered studio monitors.
When using analogue stereo, you can use your receiver still, it has analogue stereo in.
You dont need to spend that much to improve on a receivers DAC.

By using a receiver, it provides both functions and does a pretty good job at it. There's something called bang-for-the-buck. I bought a used receiver, which powers the speakers and provides a good DAC.
You're missing the point, it does it at lower quality, it isnt a good DAC.
You wont need to spend much to beat it.

I'm not in it for the "best". I'm in it to get really good at a reasonable price.
5.1 is useless for me on the computer. So SPDIF works great.
Its not ftw though, its basic.

I don't play enough games where positional audio is important and don't want to spend the time or money to try to get the best positional audio setup. I don't have the room to put speakers behind me for my computer and don't want the additional wires. I don't care how "bad" SPDIF is for 5.1 setups. That's not what I'm using it for.
Fair enough.
 

J Macker

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You're missing the point, it does it at lower quality, it isnt a good DAC.
You wont need to spend much to beat it.
The receiver has a better DAC than the integrated audio on the motherboard. It was a $500 receiver back in 2003. You think a $100 sound card will sound so much better that you call the DAC in the $500 receiver "bad"?

Amazing. I know audiophiles are elitists, but to say that the DAC in my receiver is "bad" is just trolling.
 

Warrior

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Break out the model numbers, it's gonna be shitstorm....



My 2c: I use analog and can easily tell the difference in on-board audio. It's a no brainer for audiophiles. This thread has to be a troll thread....
 

Nenu

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The receiver has a better DAC than the integrated audio on the motherboard. It was a $500 receiver back in 2003. You think a $100 sound card will sound so much better that you call the DAC in the $500 receiver "bad"?
Sigh, yes.

Amazing. I know audiophiles are elitists, but to say that the DAC in my receiver is "bad" is just trolling.
Its not my fault its cheap to get better sound!
Would you rather this issue wasnt covered?
 

Tup3x

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Between Zx and the integrated pos, it's no contest. The pos just sucks. So does the 50€ stereo speakers I used to use before going headphones only.
 

RPGWiZaRD

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Well I've tested ASUS Xonar D2, Creative Titanium HD and now ZxR and I didn't like ZxR because it handles 5.1 speaker config on headphones not as good as onboard does. The soundstage with onboard sounds much more open and free, ZxR is much more closed-in sounding no matter how I do the speaker config. The instruments and all sound great but I can't get around the closed-in sound of ZxR so I decided to go with onboard for now as it's "you lose some and you win some" and for 200 EUR paid, that's unacceptable. And ALC898 and ALC1150 with onboard opamps sounds very nice to me for onboard, in fact the current ASRock Extreme6 with ALC1150 + TI NE5532 opamps sounds very close to how ZxR sounded, what I do notice it matters a lot what Realtek drivers are used though. I'm going to swap the ASRock board for an ASUS ROG Maximus VI Hero though so will see if I'm equally pleased then as well.

The only real prob with onboard sound is EMI / interfearence with onboard components. With this ASRock board it's slightly more than I had wanted if using headphone amp, one of the reasons I'm testing swapping boards.

I'd love to find a 3rd party solution making me more satisfied (able to provide as nice soundstaging as with onboard when set to 5.1 speakers despite using headphones). The Creative driver package's way to handle speaker config seems to not handle it equally well as Realtek drivers. Especially "headphones" in Creative driver software panel tends to make it more closed-in sounding from my experience (something I've noticed since Audigy days) and on Z-series you are FORCED to use "headphones" if plugged into headphone port, you cannot select speakers.

I seem to be the only person that actually likes the onboard sound but wish I could completely kill the EMI noise... If you could buy a small addon-card with the ALC1150 chip solution I'd buy it in a heartbeat haha.
 
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Flopper

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asus essence stx with sennhiser hd600 headphones and gaming and music sounds good.
totally enjoyable for me.:)
 

Meeho

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Well I've tested ASUS Xonar D2, Creative Titanium HD and now ZxR and I didn't like ZxR because it handles 5.1 speaker config on headphones not as good as onboard does.
What are your imppressions of the first two, especially regarding headphones surround?
 

RedTalon19

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The only real prob with onboard sound is EMI / interfearence with onboard components. With this ASRock board it's slightly more than I had wanted if using headphone amp, one of the reasons I'm testing swapping boards.
....
I seem to be the only person that actually likes the onboard sound but wish I could completely kill the EMI noise... If you could buy a small addon-card with the ALC1150 chip solution I'd buy it in a heartbeat haha.
I preferred the onboard sound over my Xonar D2, and with the Asus ROG implementation of onboard shielding and circuit separation for audio, it reduces EMI to the point where I don't notice it unless I go listening for it specifically.

I'm about to get some much better quality headphones and DAC + AMP so I'll have a much better comparison to go by, but I doubt I'll be disappointed with my onboard.
 

spaceman

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Well I've tested ASUS Xonar D2, Creative Titanium HD and now ZxR and I didn't like ZxR because it handles 5.1 speaker config on headphones not as good as onboard does. The soundstage with onboard sounds much more open and free, ZxR is much more closed-in sounding no matter how I do the speaker config. The instruments and all sound great but I can't get around the closed-in sound of ZxR so I decided to go with onboard for now as it's "you lose some and you win some" and for 200 EUR paid, that's unacceptable. And ALC898 and ALC1150 with onboard opamps sounds very nice to me for onboard, in fact the current ASRock Extreme6 with ALC1150 + TI NE5532 opamps sounds very close to how ZxR sounded, what I do notice it matters a lot what Realtek drivers are used though. I'm going to swap the ASRock board for an ASUS ROG Maximus VI Hero though so will see if I'm equally pleased then as well.

The only real prob with onboard sound is EMI / interfearence with onboard components. With this ASRock board it's slightly more than I had wanted if using headphone amp, one of the reasons I'm testing swapping boards.

I'd love to find a 3rd party solution making me more satisfied (able to provide as nice soundstaging as with onboard when set to 5.1 speakers despite using headphones). The Creative driver package's way to handle speaker config seems to not handle it equally well as Realtek drivers. Especially "headphones" in Creative driver software panel tends to make it more closed-in sounding from my experience (something I've noticed since Audigy days) and on Z-series you are FORCED to use "headphones" if plugged into headphone port, you cannot select speakers.

I seem to be the only person that actually likes the onboard sound but wish I could completely kill the EMI noise... If you could buy a small addon-card with the ALC1150 chip solution I'd buy it in a heartbeat haha.
Try using stereo and see how open things get.

If you are using 5.1 headphones.....can't say I would advise that. I have never liked the way those sound compared to stereo speakers or headphones.
 

Meeho

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I preferred the onboard sound over my Xonar D2, and with the Asus ROG implementation of onboard shielding and circuit separation for audio, it reduces EMI to the point where I don't notice it unless I go listening for it specifically.
What was better/worse? Stage, bass, hiss...
 

RPGWiZaRD

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Try using stereo and see how open things get.

If you are using 5.1 headphones.....can't say I would advise that. I have never liked the way those sound compared to stereo speakers or headphones.
Nah I'm using stereo headphones and I've tried all possible configs with the ZxR and ofc tested "stereo" too but my opinion remains I got better soundstaging and positioning with Realtek onboard (only when using 5.1 speakers with the onboard). Especially noticeable in the game UT3 which I feel have VERY GOOD positional audio and played for like 5000hrs+, it just had much more accurate positioning for me with Realtek onboard set to 5.1 (only "Front and left" and "Surround speakers" checked, rest speaker options like center, rear etc disabled). Also "Disable all sound effects" must NOT be checked, seems to interfere with how this 5.1 speaker setting works on Realtek.
 

spaceman

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Yeah I am sorry that is what you hear. People do sometimes get completely different results due to our brains simply interpret sound differently. I get crazy good directional sound with just stereo or sbx pro enabled.
 

reaper12

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Nah I'm using stereo headphones and I've tried all possible configs with the ZxR and ofc tested "stereo" too but my opinion remains I got better soundstaging and positioning with Realtek onboard (only when using 5.1 speakers with the onboard). Especially noticeable in the game UT3 which I feel have VERY GOOD positional audio and played for like 5000hrs+, it just had much more accurate positioning for me with Realtek onboard set to 5.1 (only "Front and left" and "Surround speakers" checked, rest speaker options like center, rear etc disabled). Also "Disable all sound effects" must NOT be checked, seems to interfere with how this 5.1 speaker setting works on Realtek.
Wow, People are different is all I can say to this :) Sound stage is critical for me, while gaming I would sacrifice any amount of sound quality to get better postional audio in FPS games. I spent a couple of months with onboard sound and various realtek drivers and was never happy. The best setup for me using realtek drivers was what you described above.

I moved from that to the Creative Z and what an upgrade, great sound quality and brilliant positional audio. I had tried a Xonar DG in the between the onboard and the Z but wasn't happy with it.

So I am really surprised to hear you say that the Zxr has worse sound stage than onboard. Like you I have played 1000's of hours in UT3, Quake, Counter strike(1.6, source and go) and COD. It would be disappointing if the flagship card from creative was worse than the entry level one for gaming audio.

MY only gripe with the creative Z is that one setting does not suit all games. You have to trick around with SBX pro on and off and various levels of it until you find the best balance for you and whatever game you are playing. With the Realtek, just set and forget!!
 

RPGWiZaRD

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Yea that's the crazy thing about it, I have the means, I have the will to spend for a great 3rd party solution like ZxR yet I don't get nice results with it, however I want to try like it. I really enjoy especially how mids sound in the music, very fullbodied and detailed, not fully satisfied with the bass though, it's like too bloated down very low possibly on my headphones at least, with more basslight headphones it may be welcome though as it's certainly the bassiest source I've used but I cannot get around that soundstage issue though.

Also should be noted some games need 5.1 speaker config to sound appropriate, for example Skyrim, such a night and day difference using stereo vs 5.1. Ideally I'd also prefer some source that sounded best all the time with 5.1 config so I could just set n forget like I do with Realtek.

I don't know I'm just equally shocked why onboard works so well for me soundstage and positioning wise, if I play games like Skyrim and UT3 it seems when I turn around the sound effects always move around very realisticly smoothly so I can pinpoint exactly the direction very easily (I often did a few blindtests to just shut my eyes and turn around while focusing on a buzzing sound or whatever and it tracks so realisticly!), I have often used the sound to my advantage when playing UT3. For example a good example was when I defended a "node" in the warfare gamemode, I hear a vehicle (Manta) coming the "backroute" like from our base side and just timed it so that the avril would hit him just as he shows up around the corner of the building. Guy afterwards was like "WTF HAX". lol In Deathmatch it's good to use it to know when to expect guy jump around a corner somewhere if you are near enough to someone or just listen where other guys are fighting about and shoot them in the back while they are too busy focusing on killing themselves haha (yes that's why I often had pretty successful k/d ratios why I always tried to be the annoying guy stealing kills of some1 else without having to be in the "focus"). :p
 
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