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

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by Tengis, Jul 21, 2013.

  1. matteos

    matteos [H]ard|Gawd

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    Depends on what you are doing. If you are using digital out then having a sound card is pointless.

    If you use the soundcard as a DAC like I do for my two channel audio, then it is incredibly important.

    Your audio setup is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. If the weakest link is your soundcard it is important. If you are playing your audio through some $10 PC speakers then it's clear that it is not the weakest link in the chain and it is unimportant until it becomes the weakest link.
     
  2. matteos

    matteos [H]ard|Gawd

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    Or your speakers aren't revealing enough to get the most out of it...

    Like I said in audio you are only as good as the weakest part of your chain. That is the problem and that is why the cost and incessant desire to upgrade.

    I switched out my kenwood preamp the other day for a Denon 2805 (to use solely as a preamp). I just switched it back again, it made my whole system sound much worse. The other components haven't changed, but because the Denon isn't as good a preamp as my Kenwood everything sounded less revealing, more muddy... The bass was more bloated... and this is unfortunate as I'd hoped it wouldn't alter the sound very much as I'm tired of not having a remote control,,, But I can't live with it, it's that much of a difference... And all the Denon had to do was pass through analog sound without screwing it up. I didn't need the DAC or amp section, I had pure direct switched on, everything setup right, I don't know if it is just inferior circuitry or excess noise inside but the sound I loved was gone.
     
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2013
  3. Andyk5

    Andyk5 [H]ard|Gawd

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    +1
    A solid set of bookshelf speakers like AudioEngine A5's and the optional subwoofer will make much larger difference in audio quality than any sound card can provide over the integrated solutions while using inferior speaker system.

    Think about this. Anything that is sound related that goes on inside a computer is digital. What I mean by that is that it is sampled, it is ones and zeros, it is data, it is not sound.

    Your sound card takes these ones and zeros and creates an analog (continuous) electrical signal which in return then can be played from your speakers. Your speakers do the heavy lifting here. They generate the sound waves which reach yo your ears. Your ears than act as reverse speakers and send your brain the data. Having bad speakers are the same as having bad ears. No matter how quality the signal you generate, if you are def, it does not matter. Same with speakers. You can purchase the latest most advanced highest quality sound card ever which will generate a better quality electrical signal than your onboard audio card, but if you do not have the ears to listen or the speakers to generate the analog sounds, you will not hear the difference.
    As a person who owned many headphones and speaker systems in the past I can easily say that the weakest link in most computer audio systems is the speakers.
    If I was upgrading I would do it in this order.

    1) Good Speakers
    2) Good Subwoofer
    3) Good Sound card
    4) Replace good sound card with good external DAC
    5) Good amplifier
    6) Replace Good Speakers and Good Subwoofer with "Great" stuff
    7) Consider a Great receiver.
     
  4. Udgnim

    Udgnim Gawd

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    got a Xonar DG recently because it's cheap, has a $10 rebate, and I felt like buying something because I've been thinking of putting together a Haswell build

    not sure if I can tell a difference between my on board ALC889A with my speakers which are really old Cambridge Soundworks, but there's a noticeable difference with my headphones, Alessandro MS-1

    DG produces much more noticeable bass possibly to the point of too much but that could be because I've become so used to the on board over several years of use

    at flat EQ, the DG also sounds better with the head phones, but I don't like the flat EQ sound of either the on board or DG and adjust the EQ to something more to my liking

    anyways, just saying I noticed a difference between on-board & discrete but would not care that much if I had to go back to on-board. will probably miss the head phone amp at least.
     
  5. RedTalon19

    RedTalon19 [H]ardness Supreme

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    Much more articulated and crisp sounding, less muddy, better sound stage. My music listening experience opened up. I think the bass was a tad tighter. This was all through my Klipsch speakers which I understand aren't the greatest for critical listening.
    Makes me wonder what type of differences I could have picked up on through my headphones but I was more worried about jumping into some games. The audio upgrade was a secondary bonus to my upgrade, but I fear it has stirred something deeper in me... new headphones on the way and I fear some good 2.0 monitors in the future for critical listening.
     
  6. Godmachine

    Godmachine [H]ardForum Junkie

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    In short? No. A good quality can will do wonders for soundstaging. I think in general all the "headphone" mode stuff rarely gains you a real edge , but a well suited pair of cans on the other hand will make an impact.

    I've yet to hear a modern day mode from any sound card that is anything other than just post processing with little actual benefit.
     
  7. runs2far

    runs2far Gawd

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    Average person/gamer can easily just use onboard, it's not the best but it is good enough just like mp3's, DVD's and 720p laptop screens.

    But when you look at a lot of [H] members, why not spend the extra $50 on a proper sound card? It's a luxury that one might as well pony up for after spending a ton of money on screens, a bad ass CPU and possibly a pair of GPUs to maximise the visual part of the user experience.
     
  8. Nenu

    Nenu [H]ardened

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    Yep, a soundcard/external DAC will last you many builds so the cost is diluted greatly over the years.
    Seeing as it will last that long you can have your cheese and eat it for years.
     
  9. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD [H]ard|Gawd

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    Well I have tested ASUS Xonar D2, Titanium HD and ZxR and yet returned to onboard. :p I'm actually also hanging daily on head-fi forums, probably the biggest headphone enthusiast forum around, have like tested like maybe around 15 or so different headphones and a couple of different amps etc (what I'm saying I'm not the casual gamer but actually very interested in music and headphones too even). Weird yes, but that's just how it is, I've not had a fully satisfying experience with any soundcard yet (at least not to the point I thought it was worth paying the price for). Haven't tested HT Omega Claro, it's maybe one option but those are like 4 years old already so feels a bit outdated.

    The onboard sounds bad on its own, give it some amping (which a serious headphone listener should be using anyway) and result are much better. But the real reason I'm sticking to it is that so far I think I get the best soundstage experience with it when using 5.1 speaker config with headphones. It's like the Realtek drivers adds some kind of virtual HRTF surround tweaks that also affects slightly how music sounds even if it's stereo. This isn't true for example with Creative cards. For me this 5.1 surround sound seems to work just extremely well also for games. I've yet to hear a game I wasn't able to get convincing positioning with, it's like everything turns smoothly when turning around the character then every sound effect moves in relation to that.

    For me the only very annoying thing with onboard is EMI noise, so you have to go for options that has the lowest possible EMI, it can vary a lot from a board to another, for example Extreme6 Z87 has very noisy board with like -52dB(A)! rating but an ASUS Z87 ROG Maximus Hero for example measures ~-78dB(A) , a 16dB(A) difference which is huge!
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2013
  10. elzeus

    elzeus [H]ard|Gawd

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    Headphone amp, 3d sound...that's about it
     
  11. Zenshi

    Zenshi Gawd

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    I think this depends on the person's taste and budget, as well as the weakest link. I often see people buying very expensive sound cards and then connecting it to cheap PC speakers at which point there is an imbalance. At some point the speakers will be so limiting, the improvement in the card will not be noticed. However, it is cool to put the sound card on the sig. :D

    I think if someone is expecting very high end audio and has the speakers to go with it (I am talking about good studio monitors costing $300 or more or good passive speakers of the similar price), then it is worth it to invest in a decent sound card. Ditto for cans. Or if you find a great deal on a card that makes the investment very small, go for it. If not, you may not be able to notice the difference for the investment.

    I go digital out to a receiver and then to passives so I gave my sound card to my wife and though it looks nice with her Altec Lansing speakers, the speakers are just not good enough to really tell any difference.

    For me one of the biggest improvements was a decent sub, then the bookshelves, then the receiver (I probably could have done similar with a set of active monitors like the Adams, Swans or the Emotivas but I would still need a sub).

    I think as people say, if you are going to invest in audio, start with a semi decent set of speakers plus sub, and/or headphones. Then with the remaining budget either go external DAC or sound card and an amp if needed.

    JMO
     
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2013
  12. DeathFromBelow

    DeathFromBelow [H]ardness Supreme

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    Onboard still sounds like crap through my external tube amp.

    I've been happy with the Creative Titanium HD.
     
  13. Liver

    Liver [H]ardness Supreme

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    I use headphones and they require some amplification to sound the best. I figure I'm spending hundreds (thousands if you count the headphones in the closet) on headphones, getting some amplification is required.

    If I'm getting amplification, may as well get a superior DAC. If I am getting both, may as well get one with USB input.

    Lucky for me one reference level USB/DAC/headphone AMP exists. And its quite inexpensive and has the numbers to back up its claims. I know some audiophile will come in and say, numbers (objectively measured specs) aren't the whole story, what matters is how it sounds.

    I will respond by saying, if you have crap SNR, bad jitter, then it'll sound like crap. Nothing out there sounds great with bad numbers.

    So that is why I have a dedicated USB sound card.
     
  14. Warrior

    Warrior [H]ardForum Junkie

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    I think everyone can agree in this thread that The answer to the OPs question: if you're using analog for headphones or your speakers then a sound card is a must. If you're using digital passthrough then on-board to a receiver with good speakers is a must.

    These setups provide the best sound.
     
  15. Nenu

    Nenu [H]ardened

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    The best solution for headphones music is an external DAC and headphone amp, like those mentioned already.
    For surround gaming, if you need the features, a good analogue soundcard is best, like the Creative ZXR, but you need an amp that has analogue inputs.
    If you dont need the gaming features, a quality AV surround processor is best and if chosen well can be exceptional for stereo as well, like the Oppo 105 Blu Ray player/HDMI surround DAC + Stereo USB DAC. Again you need amps that have analogue input to get the quality from the DAC.

    Hardly any AV amps have good DACs, those that do are very expensive.
    You can get a nice result from an AV amp for surround, but they arent generally the best idea for music.
     
  16. Meeho

    Meeho [H]ardness Supreme

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    Is there a site that lists DACs used in various receivers?
     
  17. Nenu

    Nenu [H]ardened

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    I've not come across one, each amp is taken on its merit.
    Its not just the DAC chip either, its the circuit design, implementation, power supply, clock quality and other circuits that can reduce sound quality, these have less attention paid to them on AV amps because it costs a lot to get right.
    Having 24bit 192KHz support only means it can play them, it doesnt guarantee how it will sound.

    Another issue.
    Any DAC with less than 32bit internal operation will need to use analogue volume controls to prevent loss of detail (unless they employ an extra 'high bit' EQ stage with volume control before the DAC which will cause its own issues and extra cost).
    For example, when playing back 24bit music on a 24bit DAC, there are no bits left to use for volume changes so the signal must be altered to reduce its volume level.
    Whereas playing back 24bit music on a 32bit DAC gives you an extra 8 bits (256 levels) to play with for volume changes without disturbing the signal.

    ie the Cambridge Audio Azur 752BD uses the Wolfson 24bit DAC and doesnt sound at its best unless near maximum volume from its analogue out, when it regains most of the lost detail. Because this player upsamples ALL audio to 24bit 192KHz, this affects even 16bit CDs.
    Its competitor, the Oppo 105 BD player uses the Sabre32 reference 32bit DAC chip and doesnt suffer quality changes when changing the volume level on the player.
     
  18. buttons

    buttons [H]ard|Gawd

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    I have a few things at my disposal. Various onboard sound (laptops, desktops, sony receiver, Fiio E10 usb/dac amp, asus DGx sound card. I bought the sound card because my headphones need more juice then my desktop onboard could muster. Its interesting but here is what i found paired with Denon AH-D600 headphones.

    Fiio E10 sounded best
    Asus laptop sounded 2nd best
    Sony 5.1 receiver tied with asus dgx sound card
    onboard desktop sounded worst.
     
  19. chronic9

    chronic9 [H]ardness Supreme

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    i was contemplating getting a sound card for my home theater... but then I would need to run two HDMI cables to my receiver, and all my movies have the audio processed by my Onkyo receiver... so i dont think its even necessary... hell, i dont even have the onboard sound enabled.
     
  20. Nenu

    Nenu [H]ardened

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    Its the opposite.
    The point of a soundcard is to improve sound quality, it cant do that via HDMI, only using analogue out.
    So you would need one HDMI lead for video and RCA leads for audio.
     
  21. DaRuSsIaMaN

    DaRuSsIaMaN [H]ard|Gawd

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    But if there's already a receiver, why get a sound card?
     
  22. Nenu

    Nenu [H]ardened

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    Start at post #1.
     
  23. spaceman

    spaceman [H]ardForum Junkie

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    Works better. Drivers are superior, less conflicts. You don't have to but if you really want the best possible game sound, don't skimp on the source.

    My Zx is louder and cleaner than onboard. Even if you just output optical into the receiver it is better than on board. I use a Creative Zx optical out into my preamp/headphone amp which also controls the subwoofer and then output analogue rca into a 400 watt stereo amp.

    Onboard doesn't do nearly as good a job placing sounds in the room around me as the Zx does. I wish I could bring people over to hear the tricks this system can play on your ears. Almost magic how things just appear where they should around you. Very solid sounding too. Like there really is something there. Surprised I don't shit my pants more often.
     
  24. RPGWiZaRD

    RPGWiZaRD [H]ard|Gawd

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    Funnily this is exact my opposite experience. I'm a headphone user only, I agree if using "stereo" speakers config, the onboard has like no positional sound to offer... BUT... if using 5.1 speakers, I've found with my extensive testing that Realtek do the best job applying a virtual 5.1 surround experience for a headphone listener, like a HRTF tweak that just sounds natural with no artifacts like using different virtualizationing sound techniques usually do. The soundstage becomes much larger and more open "free-roaming", in fact it also apply to how stereo music or sounds sound like (which doesn't happen with Creative for example). Music just sounds much more out of your head, open, free-roaming around you.

    I've had a ZxR for a while (still got the card but it's already sitting in the cardboardbox waiting to get sold) but I'm going to return back to onboard (ALC1150 with onboard opamps, ASUS Z87 are best if you want a good realtek implementation btw, especially Gene mATX board with 115dB SNR rating).

    I've tried to find a 3rd party solution which would also satisfy me with the soundstaging like Realtek do with 5.1 speakers used but so far I've been unable to find a solution that satisfy me also in that aspect and for me soundstage is rather important, the ZxR just makes everything sound more closed-in no matter how speaker config is setup (windows control panel + creative software speaker config, tried all possible combos in order to try replicate the onboard's results).
     
  25. spaceman

    spaceman [H]ardForum Junkie

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    Interesting. I can't test the 5.1 anymore bc my surround receiver lost the left channel. Every room and ear is different though so always test what you have before buying something you might not need.

    Funny thing is that I would swear my 2.1 sounds better than my 5.1 did for surround. I run 4 channel stereo into 4 speakers. I took two center channel speakers and put two bookshelf speakers on top of them. I angled the bookshelves slightly down by placing a little wedge in the back bw the speakers. Angled in and far enough away from the wall, they put clear sound all around me. Spooky to "see" footsteps right beside you and there is nothing there but air.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
  26. DaRuSsIaMaN

    DaRuSsIaMaN [H]ard|Gawd

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    Just curious, do you live in a cave? :D
     
  27. spaceman

    spaceman [H]ardForum Junkie

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    Yup. That room is in my basement and I think the ceiling is about 14' high with round walls. It does look like a cave but hey, it's a MAN cave.
     
  28. dustNbone

    dustNbone [H]ard|Gawd

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    The AVERAGE person does not need a sound card in 2013. Even the average gamer probably does not. I spend many hours a day in front of my computer listening to higher than average quality music on my PC, with much better than average quality speakers and headphones. For me, there is no question that $200+ on a sound card is money very well spent.

    I am very far from average.
     
  29. biggles

    biggles [H]ard|Gawd

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    A lot of it depends on the age of the motherboard. When I upgraded from onboard on the asus p6t deluxe v2 to a lowly Asus Xonar DG, there was a large improvement in sound quality. The Z87 boards have the new alc1150 realtek codec. I have not seen the alc1150 reviewed scientifically yet. It will be interesting to see how it fares in comparison to the discrete cards.