Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

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Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 3:24 am

Hey Gerbils. I've been using my MSI 990FXA-GD65 board for a few months now, which came equipped with a Realtek ALC892 audio codec. It's fine for most things although it's audibly not as good as the best I've laid my ears on. Now I know many people believe a proper sound card such as those from HT Omega, Creative (ok, no talk about their drivers now) or M-Audio can blow any onboard solution clear out of the water, but most folks are also perfectly happy with their onboard audio, considering, perhaps, they haven't tried listening to a proper sound card connected to some proper speakers. As the old Inifiniti slogan used to say, "Own One and You'll Understand."

I have a Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium PCIe lying around here which I bought four years ago, and which I've used mostly during the time when I still owned an ECS A780GM-A, which had an IDT 92HD206. Quite frankly, the IDT audio is what spurred me to get a sound card because it just sounded too... uh, lifeless. I had that ECS board from June 2008 to June 2010 and was succeeded by an MSI A785GM-E65 with a Realtek ALC889. The ALC889 was audibly better than the 92HD206 assuming it wasn't just a 'placebo' effect: The ALC889 had very respectable specs especially in the SNR dept. where it boasted 108dB SNR for the DACs. Of course, the board maker's implementation ultimately determines how the audio codec will sound, but in this case, it looks like the A785GM-E65 puts the ALC889 to good use. Bottomline, I found that the ALC889 lets me tuck the X-Fi away and live off onboard audio quite happily.

So now that I have a new board with an ALC892 (a very ubiquitous codec particularly with desktop motherboards) on it, I've been wanting to revisit this topic, and to know what you guys are using out there. Are you using onboard? Which board and which codec? Or are you using a sound card? What speakers are you using? What do you think?

Here are my subjective scores for the last few audio solutions I've had based solely on sound quality:

Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium : 95%
IDT 92HD206 : 65%
Realtek ALC889 : 87%
Realtek ALC892 : 77%

Just share.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:28 am

Ah this is a good topic, I'll try not to ramble too much!

Onboard audio's come a long way. I've had far more motherboards than I could possibly remember, but I do remember the 'gamechanger' being nForce 2 on the Socket A. That was a nice step up from the usual crummy onboard audio. After using that until my Gigabyte board gave out, I switched to dedicated audio processors for a long time. Started with a Live! 5.1 I think, then had a Hercules GameTheater for donkey's years. I loved that card and it's swanky breakout box. Still have it in the shed somewhere. A couple of Audigy's did me until the newer CMedia codecs came into their element, when I picked up a BlueGears B-inspire or something. Top little no-frills card for the price.

Then I got proper jobs, and treated myself to digital outputs on speaker sets. I 'upgraded' to the newer X-Fi Platinum at the time, and what a waste that was. Quickly ditched it, picked up an original PCI Xonar for a bit and truly enjoyed it. I was only pumping to Logitech Z-5500s, but I was a bit younger and liked the 'doof', so they were great. Still in service at my Mum's place, actually.

I gave away dedicated processors after the last build, where I retired an Auzen X-Fi Prelude and shifted my Edifier S-550Ds to the lounge. Sounded better than the Creative, but the same bloated **** drivers.

I currently use the onboard solution on my Maximus V Formula feeding optical to Logitech Z-960s, with the bundled ASUS 'ThunderFX' headphone amp (which is fair to middling) for cans.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 4:51 am

For a long time I relied solely on onboard audio and never gave it much thought. One the Xonar started showing up on system guides I bought the cheap Xonar DG and gave it a try. I was very impressed by the difference in sound quality even though I was only listening through Logitech z2300.

Recently I've gotten a cheap external Chinese made DAC (a Topping D20) which sounds dramatically better than the Xonar and only costs a little over $100. The Xonar DG has now been passed down and is being used (with much success) in my secondary computer.

I don't think I'll ever go back to Realtek on a future system.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 6:03 am

Onboard audio is only really relevant to analogue systems as far as I can tell.

In many cases these days sound is pumped out via HDMI or SPDIF to a receiver/HDTV. Unless I am mistaken, the majority of the sound processing is handled by a DAC in that device rather than the PC's sound card/codec.

Certainly for high-end analogue headphones, I prefer the sound characteristic of a Xonar to Realtek onboard but it's probably because it adds some artificial punch at certain frequencies to compensate for the human ear's non-linear perception vs frequency curve. I am now driving BX8's via a Realtek codec and apart from almost imperceptible bit of EMI chatter it's picking up from the board (a lowly P8P67-M) it's practically indistinguishable from the Xonar. I think the thing I miss about the Xonar was the tunabilty of the sound via the Control Panel with added DSP. These fake after-effects actually made the sound more pleasant to listen to, despite being a less true and accurate representation of my Music/media.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 8:00 am

kumori wrote:For a long time I relied solely on onboard audio and never gave it much thought. One the Xonar started showing up on system guides I bought the cheap Xonar DG and gave it a try. I was very impressed by the difference in sound quality even though I was only listening through Logitech z2300.

Recently I've gotten a cheap external Chinese made DAC (a Topping D20) which sounds dramatically better than the Xonar and only costs a little over $100. The Xonar DG has now been passed down and is being used (with much success) in my secondary computer.

I don't think I'll ever go back to Realtek on a future system.


Logitech Z-2300's! Me too man! I know they're not considered audiophile grade, but they're very nice for the price. Too bad they've been discontinued.

Also good to know from your post - Realtek HD Audio isn't enough to do justice to my Z-2300s. I've been wondering that for a while now. Always had a discrete sound card in the days of AC97 awfulness, but wasn't sure whether I still needed them. Gonna stick with it then.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 8:06 am

I took the X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty PRO out of my previous rig for a day to eliminate it as an option as to why BFBC2 was crashing all the time, and HOLY COW integrated realtek sound was awful. This was on the EVGA P55 FTW, a 3 or 4 year old board at this point, using a pair of Sennheiser HD555 and a quality analogue receiver as a headphone amp.

Haven't tried the integrated sound on my current motherboard, the ASROCK x79 Extreme4, and can't say I want to.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 9:11 am

Onboard audio has come a long way, though I think I would put the turning point where I considered it to be "good enough" for most purposes a couple of years after juzz86 did, and there were still sporadic crummy implementations after that, even from some of the big name motherboard makers (I'm looking at you, MSI).

Designing high quality analog electronics to operate in the harsh (EMI-wise), cost constrained environment of a consumer motherboard is a daunting engineering challenge. Most contemporary motherboards do an amazingly good job with the analog audio, all things considered; IMO it is no surprise that it took a while for the motherboard makers to figure it out. Discrete will always have superior analog specs, since a discrete card gives the designer the freedom to use dedicated DACs, high-quality op-amps, additional PCB layers, full metal shielding for sensitive circuits, dedicated power planes and voltage regulators, etc...

These days I tend to resort to discrete audio only if I'm doing something that requires high-quality analog line in (e.g. vinyl rips). I've got an M-Audio Revo and a Turtle Beach Santa Cruz for those occasions, but haven't bothered to install either of them in my current build yet.

Couple of tips for headphone users:

1. Crappy (unshielded) front panel case wiring is a common cause of noisy headphone audio. You can test this by plugging the headphones into the rear line out jack instead, and seeing if the noise persists. If plugging the headphones into the rear jack cures the noise issue, you either need to replace the front panel wiring, or use the rear jack for the headphones.

2. If you have a Realtek-equipped motherboard and don't have a discrete headphone amp, make sure headphone mode is enabled for the jack you've plugged the headphones into. Current (HD) Realtek codecs have a built-in headphone amp, but this is disabled if the jack is configured to operate as a line out; and unless you've got efficient headphones, line level isn't enough to give you sufficient volume. For Windows users, this setting should be in your Realtek audio control panel somewhere. For Linux users, you'll probably need to download the "HDA Analyzer" tool from the ALSA web site and poke around until you find the correct setting (look for a node with "Headphone Drive" listed under "PIN Caps", and make sure the "HP" box under "Widget Control" is checked).

Edit:

3. (Linux users only) If you are using the rear line out jacks and are experiencing occasional skips or dropouts with your Realtek onboard, make sure the "Auto-Mute" feature is disabled. This can be done via the alsamixer tool, which should be installed by default. The Realtek Linux driver apparently has a bug which can cause it to occasionally decide you've plugged headphones into the front panel jack when you haven't, causing it to briefly (for just a fraction of a second) mute the rear outputs. Disabling the Auto-Mute feature fixes this (at the expense of not automatically muting whatever you've got plugged into the rear jacks when you plug in headphones up front).
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 11:38 am

Except for my IDT 92HD206, I never really thought of onboard audio as bad, as some folks are saying particularly with early AC'97 codecs. It's quite acceptable, really, at least with the boards I've owned. It's just not as good as an X-Fi or some other audiophile-grade sound card out there. Going even further back, before I had the ECS A780GM-A with the IDT 92HD206, I had an Intel D865PERL motherboard with an Analog Devices AD1985 AC'97. (I actually had a Realtek ALC888 and SB Audigy Value between the IDT and the D865PERL, but that's beside the point at this point.) It was branded SoundMax. The card I had before that was an SB Live! Value. Despite being used to the SB Live! I accepted the AD1985 just fine. My PC was hooked to a JVC Hi-Fi component system back then, so I guess the speakers weren't too shabby either. Perhaps Intel just implemented the AD1985 into the D865PERL very well or I wasn't this fussy yet. Or my JVC speakers are crap by today's standards. Guess I'll never know.

Back to the present, although the X-FI is noticeably superior to the ALC892 I somewhat appreciate the ALC892 more. Sure, it's not audiophile grade but for the money, it's awesome. It's the little engine that could for me. I'm willing to bet it can hold its own against some well-received sound cards 10-15 years ago such as the SB Live! and SB Audigy. Of course, that was a long time ago but hey, I paid real money for those cards back then while this ALC892 I'm using now probably costs less than a burger.

Btw, I'm not really a big fan of EAX or Crystalizer or any X-Fi / Creative gimmick. Normally I just turn these off through the Creative control deck or within the games I play.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 12:28 pm

It's all about the DAC, and how clean the signal stays the rest of the path once it is converted from digital to analog. I doubt onboard audio will ever be as good as a dedicated card, as long as we are talking about analog. I think onboard audio is ok with sending out a digital signal, such as SPDIF or HDMI, since from there, the quality is up to the device you are sending it to, such as a receiver. That answer is probably too simple, and there may be an advantage to using a discreet card to send out a digital signal, although I can't think of any reason. If anyone else has any more info, enlightenment would be appreciated. I would say either go with a good discreet card, like a Xonar Essence or Hammerfall RME, or just send out the signal via SPDIF or HDMI to a good high-end receiver.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 1:14 pm

confusedpenguin wrote:It's all about the DAC, and how clean the signal stays the rest of the path once it is converted from digital to analog. I doubt onboard audio will ever be as good as a dedicated card, as long as we are talking about analog. I think onboard audio is ok with sending out a digital signal, such as SPDIF or HDMI, since from there, the quality is up to the device you are sending it to, such as a receiver. That answer is probably too simple, and there may be an advantage to using a discreet card to send out a digital signal, although I can't think of any reason. If anyone else has any more info, enlightenment would be appreciated. I would say either go with a good discreet card, like a Xonar Essence or Hammerfall RME, or just send out the signal via SPDIF or HDMI to a good high-end receiver.


Well, digital is digital, and output from any onboard audio codec's S/PDIF ports should be pretty much flawless. The only difference I can think of between the S/PDIF outputs of onboard and discrete is that discrete cards often support things like Dolby Digital EX, Dolby Digital Live, THX, and other neat tricks. The Realteks claim support for these but I think they're optional and up to the board maker to license those or not. For example, the Realtek ALC892 product page states:

optional Dolby PCEE program, SRS TruSurround HD, SRS Premium Sound, Fortemedia SAM, Creative Host Audio, Synopsys Sonic Focus, DTS Surround Sensation | UltraPC, and DTS Connect licenses


I don't think there are many boards that explicitly specify support for these standards. if a particular board supports one or more of these, you can be sure they'll flaunt it on their product's web page.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 2:11 pm

I know there are a lot of creative haters out there, but Ive been pretty happy with my creative cards over the years. Ive been rolling an Audigy 2 ZS for around the last 8 years or so, mainly because I didn't see any reason to upgrade. When I started planning my new rig PCI slots are going the way of the dodo so I started looking what was available in PCIe. I heard some good buzz about the new Sound blaster Z, much improved from the disaster that was the recon3D. So I ened up picking up the sound blaster ZX.

I threw this card in my old rig just to see how it was, and was blown away by how good this card sounds. My old audigy was a decent card but tended more to bass and the highs and mids tended to be a little muddy. The sound is much cleaner and crisp, along with improved sound quality. In a lot of my games the music would just kind of blend into the background noise and not really stand out, but now I can discern individual instruments where as before it was more or less all smeared together.

One other thing to touch on, you can skip all their other programs and just install the base drivers. The card works perfectly fine without all the other stuff, I did both to see what It was like. With the control panel, it does open up a ton of other setting you can play with and tweak, but the card sounds the same without all the extra fluff. It all depends on how much you like to play around with your card to get it sounding the way you like it.

All in all, I am very pleased with my new card, and tell people not to let creative hate blind you from a very decent card.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 2:26 pm

I've been using on board sound for a few years on various motherboards... Then I decided to try out dedicated sound card again. Creative happened to release new SoundBlaster Z cards recently (which use same exact processor as Recon3D, only with better DAC/ADC components), I bought one, noticed a (subjectively) improved audio quality over motherboard's audio and continued using it. The drivers are perfectly stable with all my hardware and the card "sounds" good with my Klipsch Pro Media speakers and my Sennheiser headphones.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 3:14 pm

On board audio is useful to deliver a digital stream to a stand alone DAC. The environment in a computer is pretty nasty with even a good sound card challenged by stray electromagnetic radiation at many frequencies and levels.

I would be interested in a comparison of digital out from both a sound card and the modern on-board setup, but I suspect it won't make much difference as any modern DAC will re time the signal anyway.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 3:21 pm

PenGun wrote:On board audio is useful to deliver a digital stream to a stand alone DAC. The environment in a computer is pretty nasty with even a good sound card challenged by stray electromagnetic radiation at many frequencies and levels.

I would be interested in a comparison of digital out from both a sound card and the modern on-board setup, but I suspect it won't make much difference as any modern DAC will re time the signal anyway.


More so with older DACs. Newer ones are starting to have pretty decent USB implementations that seem to be becoming superior to what you'd get from S/PDIF from onboard. Obviously I don't have any jitter data or whatnot to back this up, but I recently upgraded my DAC to a new USB chipset and I'm quite impressed with it. It also offers more functionality (eg, ability to support up to 32 bit/384KHz - not that either are really that beneficial at this point)
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 5:21 pm

Generally if the output isn't noisy (the analog output that is) I don't really mind onboard audio.

My HTPC just uses the standard Realtek crap and since there's no audible hiss at the maximum gain I use on my receiver there's nothing to really complain about.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 6:32 pm

Waco wrote:Generally if the output isn't noisy (the analog output that is) I don't really mind onboard audio.

My HTPC just uses the standard Realtek crap and since there's no audible hiss at the maximum gain I use on my receiver there's nothing to really complain about.


Funny, I prefer the sound from a good cassette deck, hiss and all, compared to many CD players and probably all of compressed audio. A Teac V8000S will murder most digital sound.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Tue Jun 04, 2013 6:40 pm

I use HDMI for my speakers and Realtek for my headphones. Realtek really dropped the ball on win8 drivers, which surprised me since they'd released pretty regularly up to that point. the latest ones are decent enough.

My Creative card...appeared to melt somehow. There was odd goo all over the card. I don't really want to spend 100 on something I can't pass to my HDMI at any rate.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Wed Jun 05, 2013 12:29 am

PenGun wrote:Funny, I prefer the sound from a good cassette deck, hiss and all, compared to many CD players and probably all of compressed audio. A Teac V8000S will murder most digital sound.

Yeah, a decent cassette deck properly used with high quality media can sound really good. But IMO that's more an indication of a lack of attention to quality in a lot of modern consumer digital audio equipment than an indication of inherent superiority of cassettes (or analog tape in general). I'd be willing to bet that a modern compression codec, when properly used with conservative compression settings, will beat the fidelity of cassettes in a blind listening test on most (but not all) source material.

And don't forget that Dolby B noise reduction (which is pretty much a necessity to reduce the hiss of cassettes below blatantly objectionable levels) sometimes introduces audible artifacts of its own. So much for the "purity" of analog formats... :wink:
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Wed Jun 05, 2013 12:39 am

Speakers, speakers, speakers, speakers
(dances around stage)
Speakers, speakers, speakers, speakers
(dances around stage)
....... and so on.

95% of people need better speakers, 5% of people need better soundcards.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Wed Jun 05, 2013 1:03 am

PenGun wrote: Funny, I prefer the sound from a good cassette deck, hiss and all, compared to many CD players and probably all of compressed audio. A Teac V8000S will murder most digital sound.

Well, not really surprising considering it was priced at $1300 :wink:
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Wed Jun 05, 2013 1:16 am

AbRASiON wrote:95% of people need better speakers, 5% of people need better soundcards.

No argument there! (Other than I'd probably change the 95% to 99%. We can leave the 5% as-is, the 4% overlap are the people who need to upgrade both!)

I *know* my computer speakers (an ancient set of Yamaha 2.1s) are crap. Big peak in the midrange, big rolloff at both the low and high ends. But with a little aggressive EQ they're tolerable, at least for moderate volume levels. Just don't crank the volume up high or the sub really starts to distort... yeah, that'll happen when it has a ~15dB boost applied relative to the midrange. :lol:

My headphones are much better, but still not "audiophile grade" by any means.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Wed Jun 05, 2013 6:07 am

AbRASiON wrote:95% of people need better speakers, 5% of people need better soundcards.


I think even my old BX8 speakers (which are probably better than what 95% of people are using) are still the limiting factor on the Realtek codec I now use.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Wed Jun 05, 2013 7:13 am

Every time I've tried out the onboard, even via TOSLINK, I've heard noise, usually high pitched whine.

I'll stick with my Xonar DX for now, although I am looking at picking up a Mini-ITX Haswell box to fool around with. Newer ALC 1150 audio on that.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Wed Jun 05, 2013 8:56 am

PenGun wrote: Funny, I prefer the sound from a good cassette deck, hiss and all, compared to many CD players and probably all of compressed audio. A Teac V8000S will murder most digital sound.

Funny, I don't think I mentioned anything about the audio sources I use. Why do you assume it would be compressed (in terms of data or dynamic range)?

AbRASiON wrote:Speakers, speakers, speakers, speakers
(dances around stage)
Speakers, speakers, speakers, speakers
(dances around stage)
....... and so on.

95% of people need better speakers, 5% of people need better soundcards.

Also, this. There's a reason most of my money has gone towards a good set of towers and a bigass self-built subwoofer. It always makes me cringe seeing a $1000+ receiver or amp hooked up to a $300 set of crappy speakers.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Wed Jun 05, 2013 9:20 am

I noticed a distinct difference between the ADI codec on my old Asus P5B-VM motherboard and the Asus Xonar DX I'm using now - less noisy, and probably other differences I've not got the vocabulary to describe. Haven't compared the Xonar to the Realtek codec on my current P8P67-LE.

The two were compared with a decent headset, the Sennheiser PC151 mentioned in my signature.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Thu Jun 06, 2013 12:46 am

Yeah I used to hate onboard audio for the noise factor, but it's been good to me recently.

I don't use it much so it's not really worth spending on a card for maybe 2-5% of the time.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Thu Jun 06, 2013 4:49 am

The first "soundcard" I ever had was a piece of software a friend of mine at Bonn University wrote (I suppose one could call it a driver) which turned the PC speaker into being "Ad-Lib Compatible" back around 1985. So everything which followed couldn't be worse.

I wouldn't say I was tone deaf, but I don't have an absolute ear - or anywhere close to it - so I am perfectly happy with the on-board sound on my Gigabyte X58A-UD3R. I have it connected to my Bose Radio speakers and that does me very nicely.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Thu Jun 06, 2013 7:58 am

Nec_V20 wrote:I wouldn't say I was tone deaf, but I don't have an absolute ear - or anywhere close to it - so I am perfectly happy with the on-board sound on my Gigabyte X58A-UD3R.

The problem with badly implemented onboard typically isn't a pitch issue; it is noise and/or distortion. But (as with artifacts from lossy compression algorithms like MP3), some people are more bothered by it than others.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Thu Jun 06, 2013 8:51 am

just brew it! wrote:The problem with badly implemented onboard typically isn't a pitch issue; it is noise and/or distortion. But (as with artifacts from lossy compression algorithms like MP3), some people are more bothered by it than others.

Yup. Between the usual hiss of cheaper onboard solutions the one that really tends to pop up on bad implementations is HDD seek noise and power noise. The former is mitigated somewhat with SSDs becoming more common but IMHO if there's any audible noise when "playing" a silent track then it's due for replacement.

Thankfully even the low-end Z68 board in my home theater exhibits none of the above.
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Re: Share Your Thoughts about Onboard Audio

Postposted on Thu Jun 06, 2013 7:41 pm

I've used onboard audio since the late 90s, it gets the job done. I didn't have decent headphones until about a year ago, well past the point where onboard stopped sucking.
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