Sound card or onboard sound for gaming?

Cally

Limp Gawd
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Jan 27, 2005
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490
i have a Gigabyte Z170 gaming 5 board I have been using for a year or two now. When it was set up I was advised to use the onboard sound as it was as good as any sound card available. In my old system I had a Xonar sound card I was pretty happy using. I do not have any complaints about this onboard sound I am just wondering if I am using too many resources of the board and if I could maybe get even better sound from my games?
 

GotNoRice

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Jul 11, 2001
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It really depends on what your goals are. There are several different things at play here.

1. The quality of the DAC (Digital to Analog converter). Everything that puts out analog audio has a DAC. That includes soundcards, onboard sound, and of course "external DACs". A better DAC will give you better audio quality. Some onboard audio solutions actually have good DACs these days. Soundcards also have DACs of various quality depending on the card. "External DACs" are popular because having the DAC outside of the PC can potentially reduce background noise and interference. That isn't guaranteed though, and there are still plenty of soundcards, and even onboard audio solutions with VERY good dacs on them.

2. Sound Card features. Features like CMSS-3D or SBX Pro Studio on creative cards can do things like downmix a 7.1 source into excellent virtual headphone surround, etc. There are many different features. It's up to you to decide how important these are.

3. Internal AMP. If you plan to power your headphones directly from the motherboard / soundcard / DAC, then the quality of the internal amplifier is a big factor. You can always purchase a separate amp and use that in conjunction with your sound source.

Note that all of these things are not mutually exclusive. You could, for example, have a soundcard where you utilize all of it's features, feeding out to an external DAC via S/PDIF, and then have the output from the DAC going into an external amp, taking advantage of the best parts of all three.
 

DoubleTap

2[H]4U
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Dec 16, 2010
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Also, do you use or plan to use speakers? If you're just using "computer speakers" then it might not matter that much, but if you're using speakers and an amp or receiver then you might notice the better DAC.
 

margrave

Weaksauce
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Feb 15, 2018
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For gaming? It won't matter. In this case speakers matter. Sound cards don't.
 

Meeho

Supreme [H]ardness
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If you game with headphones, Xonar and Creative cards have surround processing which you may find beneficial.
 

ajrettke33

Limp Gawd
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Dec 7, 2014
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very few people can tell the difference between basic audio output and high end sound cards (and then you also need incredibly expensive headphones/speakers). Personally it's not even worth considering an add on card and if you have to ask you probably don't have the hardware to go along with a good sound card.
 

margrave

Weaksauce
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Feb 15, 2018
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I have a digital piano attached to my computer, and I use VST software on the computer to generate the piano sounds.
In this case an external audio interface makes sense, both for audio quality and especially for reduced audio latency.

But for a video game? Can you really tell the difference between game noise/clatter coming from a top-notch audio interface vs. an on-board cheapo? Nope.
 

B00nie

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I have a digital piano attached to my computer, and I use VST software on the computer to generate the piano sounds.
In this case an external audio interface makes sense, both for audio quality and especially for reduced audio latency.

But for a video game? Can you really tell the difference between game noise/clatter coming from a top-notch audio interface vs. an on-board cheapo? Nope.

It's not that straightforward. If the built in card doesn't fully support the surround (dolby dts etc) then the difference will be tangible.
 

margrave

Weaksauce
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Feb 15, 2018
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Well, my point is that for video games I'm not really concerned about the sound. Any cheapo sound card and cheapo speakers will do.

Okay, the under-$30 speakers won't do. But that aside it's a don't-care for me. Fidelity here doesn't matter.
But it does matter for the piano. :)
 

spaceman

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Jan 7, 2005
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Decent headphones like the Phillips 9500 and a creative zx combine to create a hell of a nice gaming experience. That's around $100 total. The creative sbx surround works really well for directional sound. Bf1 is awesome with it.
 

ReaperX22

Gawd
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Oct 29, 2013
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720
I haven't used onboard sound for about 7 years. (excusing a period in between where I had to drop an internal sound card that was PCI when my new board only supported PCIE), then I eventually moved to a USB external DAC. I don't even hook up my front panel audio headers as a result.

If your board has it's own dedicated audio section with its own amp, etc (like most 'gaming' motherboards these days, even the more budget ones). 9/10 times it'll be enough for you/your games. Better headphones/speakers should come first IMO. You can have a 300 dollar DAC, and use a 30 dollar set of speakers or a gaming headset, it's not going to help your terrible hardware. But a solid pair of headphones, and a decent set of speakers will do the job for most using the onboard audio, before considering any type of aftermarket sound output device.

That said, I'd personally never go back to onboard, but I may now be bias. Lol.
 
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