Are sound cards still relevant?

Recently, I supplemented my desktop’s arsenal of hardware with a stand-alone Asus Xonar DX sound card. This upgrade was something of a shot in the dark, fueled primarily by the sudden availability of the card, in conjunction with the excellent reviews and accolades bestowed upon the Xonar series. Heck, our own Geoff Gasior gave the thing an elusive Editor’s Choice award a few years ago. For me, this upgrade would come after many consecutive years using integrated motherboard audio exclusively.

In my early days, you would have found me firmly entrenched in the Creative camp, having owned a battery of Sound Blaster cards that included the Vibra16, AWE32, Live! 5.1, Audigy, and Audigy2 ZS. After the Audigy series, I dropped off the sound-card grid entirely. Instead, I opted for the simplicity, front-panel connectivity, and "good enough" sound quality of the SoundMax ADI1988 audio chip found on my Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard. I actually had a hard time perceiving any significant quality difference between the Audigy2 and the integrated audio chip when I made the switch.

Since then, I’ve swapped my speakers to a pair of Audio Engine A5s that remain the single biggest jump in audio quality I’ve experienced since upgrading from the AWE32 to the Live 5.1. These speakers sound fantastic. In fact, they even prompted an upgrade to my MP3 collection, which was previously made up of tracks encoded at 128kbps. My old speaker/amp setup muddied up the waters enough that one MP3 bitrate pretty much sounded like the next, but the A5s allow me to hear just how much is sacrificed by lower-bitrate encoding algorithms. I had to go back and re-encode or re-download high-quality VBR or 320kbps versions of many songs. I even took my Pandora addiction to the next level by subscribing to the Pandora One service for the sole purpose of exploiting its 192kbps audio streams.

With the Xonar in hand and a vacant PCIe x1 slot staring up at me, I decided to see if I could squeeze any more range and clarity out of the Audio Engine speakers. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. If I couldn’t really tell a difference between the 95dB SNR claimed by the SoundMax ADI1988 chip on my motherboard and the 108dB boasted by the Audigy2, I doubted the Xonar DX’s purported 116dB SNR would blow my mind. However, when I was comparing the Audigy2 to motherboard audio, my speakers weren’t as good as the A5s.

After popping the Xonar into my system, disabling my motherboard’s integrated audio chip in the BIOS, and installing the appropriate drivers, the moment of truth was at hand. I fired up Winamp and played the last song I had listened to before installing the new sound card: Pray from Jay-Z’s American Gangster album encoded in 320kbps MP3 format. I doubt it’s part of any professional audio testing suites, but I find that this particular song has a great range of sound that makes it easy to distinguish differences in audio quality subjectively.

With Pray, I could hear a definite, albeit slight, difference between the integrated audio and the Xonar. The track sounded a little bit crisper and cleaner than before. The difference wasn’t so great that I was wowed by the experience, though. Hoping for more, I loaded up a FLAC copy of Girl Talk’s All Day album to see if lossless audio would bring that wow factor to the table. Again, the sound quality was good, but nothing Steve Jobs would drag on stage and tout as "insanely great."

In gaming, the story is very much the same. The Xonar software comes with a whole slew of effects, equalization sliders, positional audio settings, and surround-sound emulation options. With only two speakers, I find that kind of post-processing detrimental to the overall quality of the audio. Except for some minor equalizer tweaks, I ended up leaving the other effects disabled.

One of the major problems with my sound cards of yore was the lack of a front-panel audio header. Creative offered the Live! Drive as a solution, but you had to pay extra and dedicate an entire 5.25" drive bay to the cause. Even cards like the Audigy2 ZS lacked the standard AC97/HD audio connectors that most cases and motherboards have provided as standard equipment for some time. I use the front-panel headphone jack constantly, making the absence of a compatible header a deal-breaker for me.

Sound card manufacturers are finally implementing front-panel headers on their products, and one can be found on the Xonar DX. Just when I thought I was safe, however, Asus decided to test my patience. The Xonar DX is unable to detect when headphones are plugged in and mute the rear speaker outputs automatically. This is something that the cheapest of motherboards have been able to handle with aplomb for over a decade. Frankly, I don’t understand this seemingly obvious omission. I now have to use Asus’ Xonar control panel to select manually whether I want sound routed to the front-panel headphone out or to the rear speaker jacks.

At the end of the day, the Xonar DX’s audio quality is just enough of an improvement over the old integrated solution to make me keep the sound card around. I can live with manually selecting the headphone jack, but I really shouldn’t have to considering that an entire motherboard supporting this feature can be purchased for the cost of the $82 Xonar.

Getting back to the integrated-versus-dedicated debate, I think integrated audio really is sufficient for most purposes. My motherboard is going on five years old now, and the audio is still subjectively good enough that I wouldn’t be heartbroken if the Xonar died tomorrow. After listening to both solutions consecutively, the thought of reverting back to integrated sound doesn’t make me cringe at all. Those with higher fidelity ambitions than my own are welcome to disagree, but I think the cost of a discrete sound card outweighs the benefits for the casual listener. Invest that money in a faster CPU, GPU, SSD, RAM, or concert tickets for you and a special someone.

If improved audio quality is your goal, I’m convinced money is better spent on your speakers and amplifier first. I can’t speak highly enough of the Audio Engine speakers connected to my PC; their impact on sound quality with my motherboard’s integrated audio was phenomenal. If you already have decent speakers that outclass the output of your motherboard’s audio jacks, then by all means grab a nice sound card. The jump in quality may not be huge, but you will notice the difference (or at least think you do).

Editor’s note — Since we regularly recommend discrete sound cards, we can’t let this one pass without voicing some dissent. Our audio coverage has included blind listening tests for quite some time, and our subjects have consistently preferred the sound of discrete cards to integrated solutions. Some of those listeners have clearly had better ears than others when it comes to detecting subtle differences in playback quality, though. Motherboard audio has also improved a great deal over the years—just as quality sound cards have become cheaper than the Xonar DX. Our current budget favorite, the Xonar DG, costs only $30 yet scored better in our listening tests than not only Realtek integrated audio, but also a much pricier Xonar Xense.

Comments closed
    • xiaomim
    • 8 years ago
    • Dr_b_
    • 8 years ago

    Haven’t used mobo sound in a while, because the drivers lacked support for advanced features like on the creative based cards “SVM” which is a sound volume leveling function which I leave on all the time. I have the card with the replaceable opamps, though im using the ones which came with the card and it sounds fine.

    Separate bass/treble and EQ settings also are/were missing on mobo sound. Have decent studio monitors which is a bit overkill for a PC, and I can notice the difference in sound quality, so beyond the lack of some extra features there is a noticeable difference.

    It all comes down to control and some extra features, and to a lesser extent sound quality. Is it worth it for everyone and is it a subjective test to have discrete audio? maybe not and probably so.

    • Chrispy_
    • 8 years ago

    Hmm, these threads seem to be full of people arguing over the lack of audio improvement a discrete card gives you.

    I suspect it’s because many of you with “good” speakers are in fact still below the threshold of what constitutes “good enough” to tell the difference between an onboard DAC and a discrete one.

    I would consider myself an audiophile, I hate MP3 compression for rock, since it just can’t handle the sound properly without introducing detectable degredation, and I have spent more on a set of headphones than I have ever spent on a graphics card, even though I’ve always been an avid and dedicated gamer without any major budget constraints.

    Don’t even get me started on speakers. There are good $200 amp and speaker packages that will blow the socks off any PC sound peripheral, and there are bad $1000 amp and speaker combinations that just don’t work well together. In short, every dollar spent on a headphone is always going to deliver better performance than the same dollar spent on a speaker, right up until $LOL because the need for less volume means there’s no need to worry about distortion, resonance, damping, and all these things that good speakers work around and bad speakers don’t.

    I would say that unless you have something like at least a pair of Grado SR60’s you don’t know what you’re talking about. With the exception of those Grados, the next thing I know of in the same league is a pair of HD595’s. So we’re basically talking $70 headphone for the first serious piece of kit able to unmask the differences between onboard and discrete DAC’s. When a discrete soundcard costs as little as $30, you get some idea of the relationship between the cost of your DAC and the cost of your driven speaker/headphones.

    I’ll say it one more time: If you are using a PC speaker system from Creative, Logitech, Altec etc, it doesn’t matter how much you spent on them, they are still the bottleneck for sound quality. Klipsh used to make a half-decent PC speaker set, but they shared a lot in common (size, cost, driver-materials, power) with the higher-end audio kit anyway.

      • clone
      • 8 years ago

      nothing against what you said but I don’t ever plan on getting headphones on my PC, I will not clamp objects to my head when speakers will suffice.

      I had Klipsh speakers on my system back in 2000 when they were the only company to offer quality audio and if I could go back I’d never have sold them but that said I’m content with my logitech 5300’s and they serve.

      sound to me is almost vapor, something I “waste” money on long after I’ve bought every other upgrade and toy I can think of and still have a bunch of money laying around that is burning a hole in my pocket.

      for an audiophile my position is anathema but for me the differences between good enough and very good aren’t worth $50.00 after tax.

        • Chrispy_
        • 8 years ago

        Agreed.

        I ditched my X-Fi precisely because the extra quality it provided was wasted on my cheap PC speakers and lossy MP3 files. What I find rubbish is people claiming they can hear the difference in subjective sound tests using cheap hardware, when in fact a few minutes with the graphic equaliser can make a Realtek sound almost identical to the “punchier, snappier clarity of a discrete solution”

          • Waco
          • 8 years ago

          “Punchier, snappier clarity” is exactly what people imagine when they swap sound cards in to their systems.

          They just spent the money…they better hear something from it to justify their purchase. πŸ˜›

          Even with good headphones, a good amp, and a nice DAC it’s essentially impossible to tell the difference between 192 Kbps MP3s and lossless WAV or FLAC files.

          128 Kbps is almost easy to pick out if you know what to listen for – but nobody would ever really hear the difference in casual listening.

            • clone
            • 8 years ago

            “128 Kbps is almost easy to pick out if you know what to listen for – but nobody would ever really hear the difference in casual listening.”

            exactly my experience, when I did have better audio I had to stop and focus on the differences really looking for them and then pointing them out.

            but I only waste the time searching for the “benefits” when it’s new and quickly lose interest in trying to justify the money I spent/wasted.

            that said the nice thing is that soundcards are cheap comparatively speaking but personally I just can’t be bothered when integrated is “good enough”.

            • Chrispy_
            • 8 years ago

            Whether something is acceptable bitrate depends entirely on the type of content:

            A lot of music converts to 192Kbps almost perfectly.
            Some simple pop tracks sound exceptionally clean at 128Kbps

            My problem with MP3’s is on full-orchestral stuff (John Williams etc) or heavy and busy rock that includes elements of distortion and clarity at the same time. I don’t really understand how the MP3 codec works but I’m guessing that it’s like compressed video – as the action and motion goes up, the quality of each frame goes down. So in extreme cases, say Black Sabbath or similar, even at 320Kbps, the waveform is so complex to encode that it suffers. The crappy human ear can only really pick out the loss of accuracy on things like cymbals and hi-hat drums, but it’s quite easy to pick out once someone’s told you to listen for it specifically.

      • Sunburn74
      • 8 years ago

      Agreed 100 percent. I’d take it up a notch and say if you’re not using something at least on par with the 595s, don’t waste your time with headphones.

      People can really believe all they want that there is no difference between headphones or between sound card vs integrated. People can also believe that its all subjective and once you buy them you want to accept there is a difference. All we can say is that sound cards have features (surround sound, bass and treble adjustments, clean shielding, etc) that once you get used to them will never go back.

      I remember sending my auzentech x-fi back for RMA for 2 weeks about 6 months ago. I called them almost everyday about the status because plugging in the same headphones (hd 600s) into my front panel or back panel ports was horrible! The sound was flat, the max volume was way diminished, and the background electrical noise was incredible. I remember completely pulling out the sennheisers and just using my speakers for pretty much the entire time.

      If you’re not into headphones, sure I can understand your sentiments. But its been very well established by pretty much anyone who reviews sound that a 200 dollar set of headphones can produce sound on quality of a 1000 dollar speaker set. That being said, those of us rocking 200 dollar headphones certainly notice when something is amiss. Its not imagined, its very real.

    • Draphius
    • 8 years ago

    audio fidelity on pc’s has taken steps backwards in the last few years. i can still tell a huge difference between onboard audio and any old sound card ive thrown in my rigs to playa round with compared to the onboard audio. realtek is the worst imo. the best way i can describe it is onboard audio sounds like your listening to a boombox and a dedicated soundcard sounds like your listening to a decent home stereo system. it used to be alot more noticeable when EAX was around but to my ears i can still tell the difference. i also have a set of logitech g35’s and when i switch from my x-fi card to those it actually loses a bit of quality in the low end and it come sout raspy or completely distorted but if i plug headphones directly into my sound card that all dissapears. now when u get into all the issues with drivers and incompatibilties id say going with onboard audio today is probly the way to go atleast until the industry wakes up and decides to put some work into the audio again.

    • holophrastic
    • 8 years ago

    These types of subjective “tests” always illicit the same comment from me. The test is invalid. Sit in a dark room and listen to a discrete card continously for five hours. Next week, do the same with the motherboard sound.

    See which one gives you a headache first, which one angers you, which one just seems to have ruined your day.

    Anybody who’s ever fallen asleep while driving should be blaming their car. You don’t fall asleep on a roller coaster, and you won’t fall asleep in a sports car. If you car can’t keep you awake, it sucks, I don’t care how comfortable it is.

    Typical listening tests only test what people think they like more. That’s very different than what they actually like more.

    So the next time you shoot zombies for a few hours, or watch back-to-back movies, and stop early because you’re honestly just not-up-for-another, maybe your ears are just plain tired of crap, even if you just didn’t notice that it was crap.

    Of course putting the money towards the CPU is an option. And to some extent, spending money on the very foundation of the computer is always a good idea. But I draw a very big circle around the human interface elements of my machines in general. And audio is a big part of that.

    • DarkUltra
    • 8 years ago

    With the combination of the auzentech X-fi hometheater hd and denon 2807 we can have the cake and eat it too! 7.1ch lpcm, audyssey “room correction” and dynamic loudness eq, and alchemy.

    ALchemy
    Less audio lag, eax and multichannel audio with old games in windows 7, like for instance doom legacy and Battlefield 2.

    Audyssey multieq
    “Room correction” (1). Gives flatter frequency response so I hear proper bass in all games and music (well if they are all mixed at same level in a room with proper frequency response).

    Audyssey dynamic eq
    digital Loudness eq that adjusts the bass level according to volume level of the receiver. This is because humans percieve bass different at different volume levels. Get good bass no matter what volume you listen to.

    1. Only equalizing if you want real room correction to reduce muddy bass/modal ringing and comb filtering treat your room with angled walls and bass traps

    2. receivers usually do not support room correction and dynamic eq with the analog 5.1/7.1 input.

    • indeego
    • 8 years ago

    I guess I don’t understand the “dissent” in the Editor’s note at the end. You don’t really make a case at all for discrete audio, just that subjective tests show listeners prefer it to integrated. This does not make or break a case for discrete audio.

    Did you ask said listeners if that $30 out of their pocket would be worth it? Did you ask them to power off their machine, install the card, install the drivers, and deal with almost certain incompatible drivers with some program or another?

    Far more important IMO is lowering ambient noise within a listeners vicinity. I would GLADLY pay $300 for total silence in my work/home areas so that even the cheapest audio has an opportunity to be heard.

      • travbrad
      • 8 years ago

      Asking if it’s “worth it” doesn’t really reveal anything about the sound cards tested. It just reveals how much that particular person values good sound. Most people wouldn’t feel a $200 GPU is “worth it” either, but plenty of gamers do because they want good quality visuals. On top of that, most people would be scared to open up their computer so of course they aren’t going to want to install the card.

      I haven’t run in to any incompatibility problems with my card, and I haven’t updated the drivers since I installed it. YMMV of course.

      It depends a lot on the quality of your speakers/headphones too. TR didn’t test speakers at all in that review (which most will agree can sound better than headphones), and the headphones they tested were good, but there are much better ones available. A TR poll showed a lot of us have more expensive gear than what TR used.

      If you have a $50 set of speakers then a $30 sound card is probably a waste, but if you have a $1000 set I think you’d be crazy not to have a discrete card/DAC.

    • moog
    • 8 years ago

    The next generation playing angry birds on their phones/tablets/latptops don’t need discrete cards and the hardcore gaming crowd moved to the consoles.

    Not much of a market left for PC gaming :-(. Actually I can’t remember the last time TR had a soundcard review…

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      Oh, you mean July? You can’t remember July?

        • travbrad
        • 8 years ago

        To be fair there’s a holiday during July which includes copious amounts of liquor. Short-term memory loss is bound to occur.

    • Chrispy_
    • 8 years ago

    I took my x-fi out the other week to give my graphics card more breathing space. Historically, onboard audio wasn’t powerful enough to drive my HD580’s. That no longer seems to be the case.

    Most of the time I’m using a sub-$100 speaker set, so I doubted I’d be able to tell the difference. Even with the HD580’s though, the on-board codec is enough to let me distinguish between 256 and 320kbps encodes of the same song.

    Anyway, my x-fi is on eBay now – it was Β£75 I didn’t need to spend, and my GPU fan runs slower and quieter because it can breathe properly.

    • vargis14
    • 8 years ago

    Ill take a Reeses cup over Godiva anyday,along with Mcdonalds over Caviar.
    Things do not have to cost a lot to be good.If you want the best plan to pay for a name along with the product.
    I remember when having a SB,SB16,or up discrete card could gain you 5-10fps and give my old klipsc promedia 5.1s fantastic sound,but how things have changed the last 5-6 years i did not game,until this aprils 2600k build.Plus I have yet to buy a good set of usb cans with dolby headphones.
    I am Thinking About going corsair HS1 usb,Along with those new corsair aluminum cherry switch keyboard and that nice k60 mouse.
    Do you guys think i could have all 3 items above on one usb port via a hub,or would it best to run keyboard to pc ,then mouse into keyboards usb port,then the headphones on there own usb port. I dont remember if running 3 perifs listed above on one usb port will degrade performance.

    • Coulda
    • 8 years ago

    If you don’t have market share, you’re irrelevant. Technical difference or superiority is immaterial. The market has spoken. Though add-in sound card market will keep live on as niche market.

    • thefumigator
    • 8 years ago

    I’m a video editor and I have to use a professional sound card.
    The E-mu (creative pro series) are really good sounding cards. Despite their low price.
    I also play the guitar and keyboards and I hooked my hi fi stereo systems (an old 1985 sony and often I switch to an Aiwa NSX V300) to the E-mu card

    I can’t live without this setup. I know there are better setups out there, better sound cards, better equipment, better stereo systems, but my config as it is, makes me think that I would never go for other stuff.

    No onboard sound cards for me. Nor even in laptops. I would just buy the USB version of the Emu sound card in that case.

    • ronch
    • 8 years ago

    Looking at this article I just remembered AdLib. It’s really too bad AdLib no longer exists today. Many years ago I clearly opted for the Sound Blaster Pro (2.0) instead of the AdLib Gold 1000 due to compatibility reasons. If they made the Gold 1000 compatible with Sound Blaster, they could possibly have lasted longer, perhaps even still be around. But then, even if Gold 1000 was SB compatible the chances that AdLib would still be around would be slim, considering all the other big name sound card makers of that day such as MediaVision, Gravis, and Aztech are pretty much out of the picture.

    What I’m saying is, it’s amazing that Creative is the very last major big brand sound card maker that’s still alive and Asus just recently joined in. Integrated audio solutions pretty much killed the add-on sound card market and there were just too many players in a shrinking pond, some of them with goofy products that wouldn’t have helped the situation either. As it is, someone here said killing off this niche market wouldn’t do the PC market good and some people do really care about having the best PC audio quality they can get their ears on. I really hope that, despite being a niche, Creative and Asus soldier on and keep offering these sound cards. Not that many of us would buy from them, but at least the option is there if you want to.

    • pedro
    • 8 years ago

    I bought an M-Audio FireWire Solo for $185 in 2005/6. I needed balanced outs for active monitors and low latency for Ableton Live. It’s driven a range of studio monitors over the years and currently links up some KRK VXT6’s. It has been round the world twice and battered brutally. It still does the trick. It’s bus-powered.

    I realize that DA conversion has come a long way since 2005 and also that latency with lowish track counts is now better riding the USB bus rather than Firewire. But I’m not seeing anything for $185 that makes the upgrade worthwhile. The unit probably has another five years left in it. $18/year is a good IT investment for the balanced outs alone.

    In any case, with an upgrade I wouldn’t notice any difference in AD/DA in an untreated room. That becomes the issue after a point. If you have a 25 dB null at 70 Hz and a 6 dB peak at 110 Hz due to room modes, then buying/building some fibreglass broadband bass traps will get you more quality per buck by many orders of magnitude. The gear you have is already *way* flatter than the room you’re in.

    Sound cards are *definitely* relevant today. They will continue to be so for as long as musicians make music on computers.

    • I.S.T.
    • 8 years ago

    I [i<]have[/i<] to use a soundcard with my headphones. My onboard audio produces hiss like crazy. My motherboard was on the cheap/low end side of things, though... That could be the problem.

    • Rza79
    • 8 years ago

    The fact that David couldn’t hear the difference between his Audigy 2 and his onboard ADI1988 just speaks testaments of his complete lack of …. eeeuh … ears i would say. Headphones or speakers are not something you have to replace every 3 years. I’m using my Sennheiser headphones and Altec Lansing speakers for more than 5 years now, so it’s worth the investment.
    Most people, just like David, take SNR like a given fact. It’s not because ADI rates the 1988 at 95dB that your actual motherboard implementation results in the same figure.
    Soundcard manufacturers like Asus and Creative give the actual SNR rating of their soundcard output (and not just that of their DACs). Taiwan motherboard manufacturers use the same dirty trick for many years now and just give the DAC’s rating.
    I’ve also noticed that while onboard audio doesn’t sound terrible on it’s outputs, it most of the time sounds horrendous on it’s inputs.
    And David, seriously, which $5 speakers were you using that you couldn’t hear the difference between 128kbps MP3 and higher?
    TechReport, I sincerely hope David Morgan is not a payed member of your staff.

    • yammerpickle2
    • 8 years ago

    My previous gaming rig had Windows XP and a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio with break out box optical connected to an Onkyo 7.1 A/V receiver and Polk 2x Monitor 70, 5x Monitor 40 speakers, and Polk Audio PSW Series PSW505 12″ Powered Subwoofer. I now have a Win 7 64-bit pro and Gigabyte GA-P67A-UD7-B3 on board with optical out butchering the sound through the same set up. Maybe my wife spilled something on the receiver and never told me, but the level of background noise is way higher, the sound stage is muddier, and positional information is way less accurate. I can’t barely stand to use my Sennheiser PC 360 headphones with the system it is that disappointing. It may be all in my head or maybe my hearing has fallen off that much as I get older, but somehow I don’t think is it just me. Too bad Win 7 and Creative’s terrible Win 7 drivers crippled my old sound card.
    Basically if you have cheap speakers, and lower bit rate MP3s you should spend your money on better things. The better your speakers or headphones the more you will notice the difference. Also for the price of some of the higher 5.1 speakers you might as well go out and see if you can find a deal on some on a true A/V receiver system.

    • Malphas
    • 8 years ago

    A cheap soundcard can be worth it just to avoid the annoying driver issues that inevitably come up with using onboard audio.

      • JohnC
      • 8 years ago

      I think you have it backwards.

        • Malphas
        • 8 years ago

        Nope, it’s pretty common for Realtek or Via drivers to be the cause of games crashing, Creative Labs drivers rarely cause such issues.

          • Meadows
          • 8 years ago

          Suuure.

          • axeman
          • 8 years ago

          TIL I learned Creative fanboys exist. Onboard audio being inferior hardware wise – pretty obvious. Creative drivers being “good”? Some sort of RDF is in effect here.

            • Malphas
            • 8 years ago

            Not a fanboy and don’t have a soundcard at the moment actually, I’m not even saying Creative drivers are good, just that they don’t seem to cause the same crashes that onboards do. That’s been my experience anyway. Google “realtek crash” or something if you want examples.

          • Chrispy_
          • 8 years ago

          Try using Google.

          “Creative audio stuttering” 3.1 million results
          “Realtek audio stuttering” 200K results

          Stability issues aside though, I’ve been using creative soundcards since 1996, and not once have I ever had a set of drivers that wasn’t defective or quirky in some weird way. Stupid things like resetting levels or EAX mode, or getting stuck in a mode. Creative drivers are some of the worst I’ve seen among all the hardware I’ve used since my 486, – a combination of garish skins, bloatware masquerading as “driver utilities” and flat-out bluescreening coding errors.

          Give me the Microsoft driver for the generic “HD audio device” any day of the week…..

            • Malphas
            • 8 years ago

            As I said before wasn’t vouching for the quality of Creative’s drivers or disputing them being free from all problems. I’ve still never had a Soundblaster cause a game to crash or fail to launch, or anything on that level of severity. Can’t say the same about Realtek/VIA. The onboard guys are just as guilty of the garish skins and bloatware as well, although it’s not really a driver issue.

          • JohnC
          • 8 years ago

          If you’re trying to troll, you are failing terribly. I have a built-in Via codec on my Asus P55 mobo, I’ve been using default “Microsoft HDA” drivers for it (from Windows Update) since the beginning, had 0 issues with any game I’ve played (I have over 150 titles in my Steam account), same goes for every application I’ve been using since I got this mobo. Sure, I don’t use Via’s own drivers, but why should I, if everything works perfectly?

          • willyolio
          • 8 years ago

          did you mean Daniel_K drivers?

          • clone
          • 8 years ago

          claiming pretty common would imply just that, that I should have seen and be seeing many problems with my motherboards integrated audio, not just mine but also from the ppl who’ve bought off me over the years.

          instead 20 motherboards in 8 years and no sound issues in any of the games I played, the previous 4 years I used Creative until I stopped at Audigy 2 and my only complaints with them was cost and lack of tangible benefits.

          I haven’t had any significant complaints from my customers either about integrated audio since 1998, the complaints I did get back in the day were all about Creative because Creative is / was the dominant player at the time and not because they were bad.

          if I look up “realtek integrated sound issues” on google would I be learning about a systemic problem that is inherent to integrated audio or getting an indication of how dominant realtek is in the integrated market?

          p.s. how many complaints are valid vs how many involved outdated firmware and outdated drivers?

          not saying anything’s perfect but I have updated integrated audio drivers in the past while most ppl don’t fix what isn’t broken and also dont’ realize what is broken in order to fix it.

    • Corrado
    • 8 years ago

    All the people decrying ‘audiophiles’ are semi-correct, in that there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to audio equipment. However, there is a HUGE HUGE HUGE difference between a $50 setup and a $250 set up. You can hear it IMMEDIATELY. You can feel it as well. However, the difference between a $250 set up and a $1500 set up, there is a difference, but its not as readily noticeable unless you know exactly what you’re looking for.

    I drive, build and race all kinds of automobiles. I can drive a commuter box with no soul and know that it has zero driving dynamics, handles like crap, and has no mid range torque. However, someone thats never driven competitively, or even been IN a fast car (anything 13 seconds or quicker in the 1/4 mile should be considered “fast”), they aren’t going to be able tell the difference. Heck, a lot of auto enthusiasts can’t even tell you why your corner weigh a car when you’re dialing in the suspension.

    Thats neither here nor there. To put it in simpler terms, if you’re only playing games on a 1920×1080 monitor, having a triple SLI GTX590’s isn’t gonna be any faster or better than running a single 560 Ti. But if you went from a 430 GT to the 560 Ti, you’d notice a HUGE difference.

      • cynan
      • 8 years ago

      This post = nail on head.

      I realize that I may come across as a bit of a snob when I say it, but I 100% agree that one of the reasons why discrete sound cards are not more popular is that many (most?) people just can’t tell the difference. The surprising thing is that this might have less to do with how “good” someone’s hearing is than you’d think. More to the point is the fact that most people aren’t used to appreciating good sound fidelity, and so they don’t miss it when it is lacking – how can you miss something you don’t recognize is supposed to be there in the first place?

      Major contributors of this is the ubiquitousness of highly compressed, poorly mixed popular music (loudness war). Funrthermore, many just aren’t used to listening to music on higher end stereo systems or headphone setups.

      And then there are the many people who just don’t care about sound quality. My girlfriend is a good example. I have a reasonably high-end audio setup at home, but, to my confoundment, she is just as happy listening to her itunes collection on a set of crappy computer speakers…

      That said, a half-dencent sound card over integrated, to me, can make quite a profound difference, especially if listening to well recorded and engineered loseless music tracks.

    • WaltC
    • 8 years ago

    Strange article, and reminds me of why I don’t like reading 3d-card reviews written by people who don’t play 3d games–except, wait–I’m not really sure how many of [i<]those[/i<] I've actually ever read...:D But the conclusions are similar--discrete [s<]3d cards[/s<], uh, I mean sound cards are not worth the price of admission compared to integrated motherboard components, etc. and etc. I really wish these folks wouldn't bother reviewing these products [i<]because they confess to not using them and confess to thinking them superfluous even before they pick them up.[/i<] OTOH, I can actually state that I could hear the difference in sound quality between my Audigy 1 and Audigy 2Zs, and between my Audigy 2zs and my Creative XFi. And that's through a Klipsch 5.1 speaker set I've had for a long time and which is still functioning wonderfully. I've had sound cards for decades, but those are the only ones I can recall clearly. Most/all of my use of 5.1 cards is for game playing--I've yet to find anything that would top Creative's products for 5.1 gaming sound. Then there's the non-headphone Dolby 5.1 reproduction for movies to consider--but I have a separate, much more powerful sound system setup for my TV and BluRay (that cost far, far more than any Creative sound card ever made...;)) Also, and apparently Morgan isn't aware of this, but hardware acceleration is still supported pretty darn well, at least by Creative through the use of the [url=http://www.creative.com/soundblaster/products/gaming/article.asp?articleID=62367&categoryID=13<]ALchemy[/url<] for windows Vista and Windows 7, OS X, and Linux. (It was Microsoft who did away with native hardware API acceleration under Windows beginning with Vista.) The notion that multicore cpus render hardware acceleration obsolete is just plain silly when you consider how few games there are which actually use more than a single core, and that of the few games that can use more than a single core most of those use no more than two cores, and will run happily on just one. So while theoretically Morgan is correct--practically speaking, he is pretty much mistaken on that point. But it is obvious Morgan doesn't use or need much sound capability for the limited gaming he does--so I can forgive him for writing this article (even though he shouldn't have written it.) And yes, I have no ax to grind with Creative at all, so I can freely bring myself to use and test their products without prejudice...:D I still prefer them for headphone-less, 5.1 gaming sound reproduction--have never used or heard anything better. Yea, there are people out there who don't need computers and for whom the lowly iPad (or another tablet) will suffice. And there are people for whom minimalist computers are fine in the areas of graphics and sound, because these people don't ask for much from their systems in the first place. But for me, sound reproduction for games is just as critical as graphics for games, and I would no more be content with integrated sound as I would be with integrated gpus (like Intel's horrific current crop of sub-par IGPs.) I get the whole minimalist shmear, though. I can even sympathize with it for folks for whom technology itself is obnoxious and possibly even repugnant. But for me, quality and capability are the names of the game--and I currently spell that as d-i-s-c-r-e-t-e. I don't see that changing, really.

      • JustAnEngineer
      • 8 years ago

      +1

    • Firestarter
    • 8 years ago

    I’ve been using a stereo headphone amplifier (usb) for the last few months (porta corda mk3), works great for me.. The amp does what it’s good at (DAC and amping), the rest gets handled by the OS/DirectX.

    edit: I should mention, I use it to drive my Sennheiser HD595’s and HD25-1’s, and for that they’re without a shadow of a doubt infinitely better than the Realtek stuff integrated into my laptop. But, in my experience, desktop motherboards have better audio than laptops, and a lot of headphones with more sensible pricetags are less sensitive to proper amplification. The Sennheiser PX100’s for example work just fine with my laptop integrated stuff, in fact, they sound better than the HD595’s from the same output.

    • JohnC
    • 8 years ago

    Haven’t used any discrete cards for the last few years… My current mobo’s built-in audio codec, VIA VT1828S, sounds perfectly for just about anything I do on my PC, using default Windows 7 drivers (I never bothered to update these drivers) and connected to my “original” 2.1 Klipsch ProMedia speakers (which are still going strong after more than 5 years). I also have some good Sennheiser headphones (HD 280 Pro) which I sometimes use if there’s too much background noise in the room or if I can’t use the speakers for any particular reason and they also produce good enough quality of sound when connected to “headphone” jack on the speakers. Don’t really need any advanced features like RCA analog outputs/inputs or digital/analog multichannel outputs or anything like this and don’t want to waste more time and $$$ trying to test the limits of my hearing abilities or how susceptible I am towards “placebo effect”.

    • ClickClick5
    • 8 years ago

    I create, edit and mix with FL Studio. And when using the built in mobo audio, I have to run a 50+ms buffer so the audio does not pop and the spectrogram does not lag to death. With my XtremeGamer, I run a 10ms buffer flawless. No popping audio, no lag, smooth fps. So for what I do, or recording studios, I say yes they are important. But for the non-audio studio people….only if you want to I guess. Can’t really think of any other reason other than bragging rights OR to claim pure audiophile.

    EDIT: I tried the roach coach lunch truck today. Not that bad. Not bad at all.

    • ALiLPinkMonster
    • 8 years ago

    Specifically when it comes to the high end gaming headsets, most of them either use usb or optical connections and rely on software to create a 3d environment. So on that front, a discrete sound card probably won’t make a difference at all. However, if you have a $300 5.1 setup it might be wise to invest in one.

    I used to have a pair of true analog 5.1 TBs that ran off of realtek integrated. I knew it was a good headset but the sound quality just wasn’t up to my expectations. A simple addition if an x-fi (I forget which model) made the sound quality skyrocket. That was years ago, but I still can’t bring myself to trust realtek to drive the higher end of audio products.

    • vargis14
    • 8 years ago

    My question remains ,does HDMI output from video cards compare to optical output,using a receiver with passthrough?

      • RyeGuy6111
      • 8 years ago

      HDMI and optical are digital signals, so they should sound the same because it’s just binary. What the DAC and amp do would be the factor that changes the quality.

        • continuum
        • 8 years ago

        Heck, HDMI usually has much more bandwidth than optical S/PDIF. S/PDIF actually is pretty limiting as far as bandwidth goes.

          • northreign
          • 8 years ago

          Plus, optical requires use of Dobly live and DTS connect for greater than two channel. HDMI is multi-channel all the way and does not require use of those cpu using extras.

          One other point is that if you stay with sound blaster & hdmi you get the benefit of older games being able to be output in multi-channel with WinVista & newer – especially over hdmi. If you don’t play older games than that issue is void.

    • just brew it!
    • 8 years ago

    I would say that the situations where a discrete sound card is needed are less common than a few years ago, but they do still exist:

    A. You’re picky about sound quality, already have very good speakers/headphones, and want to take things to the next level.

    B. You need to record high quality audio from the analog line-in or mic jacks.

    C. You’ve got an older motherboard (or a bargain basement 3rd tier newer motherboard) with a for-crap onboard sound implementation.

    IMO if you’ve got a motherboard with reasonable onboard audio, and the most demanding audio applications you use are gaming, watching YouTube, and listening to 160 kbps MP3s, you don’t need a discrete soundcard; onboard isn’t the weak link in your system’s audio chain. Ditto if your speakers or headphones cost less than $100; you’ll probably do more to improve your audio quality by upgrading those than by installing a discrete soundcard.

      • LoneWolf15
      • 8 years ago

      Good post. I’d add one other possibility

      D. You want a gaming-oriented card with better 3D-positional audio capabilities than what most Realtek codecs have to offer, and the right surround speakers to back it up.

      It doesn’t take a super-expensive card for that, but it’s IMO the main reason the X-Fi line continues to work well for gaming.

    • Krogoth
    • 8 years ago

    Discrete cards only matter if you have them driving decent speakers and headphones, otherwise integrated sound is adequate. What is happening is that sound cards have become nothing more than an overglorifed DAC with superior EMI shielding.

    Hardware accelerated audio has been dead for years. It was killed by powerful, cheap multi-core CPUs. The audio overhead for software-based DSP is pathetically small on a modern CPU. One of the most common threads that programmers off-load in games is audio. See the problem? πŸ˜‰

    The only reason that I pick-up a Xonar DG is because, I wanted EAX support and 3D audio gaming support on the cheap with none of the Creative BS. ASUS is the only solution on the market.

    It is a shame that 3D gaming audio has been stagnant for years due to Creative’s death grip on certain patents……

      • Sunburn74
      • 8 years ago

      I don’t think you are properly ascertaining the value of good shielding.

      I can’t remember which motherboard it was, but there have definitely been boards where if the CPU was anything more than frank idle, your speakers would be inundated with a high pitched whine and whir enough to really affect the music. Vocals would be pretty much destroyed.

        • just brew it!
        • 8 years ago

        This was a serious issue on a non-trivial number of motherboards until around 2005 or so. Things seem to have gotten much better lately.

        • Bonusbartus
        • 8 years ago

        Had that exact problem with my prev. High-end…. Asus M3A32MVP-deluxe mainboard,

        switched to an asus xonar DG and even with my cheap-ass Cambridge soundworks SW-310 speakers I can clearly hear the difference

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      Accelerated audio and premade DSPs, like EAX, were killed off by Microsoft by not incorporating DSound into their new OS’s and then by video game developers for not using OpenAL (which is the work around for DS).

      None of the above was Creative’s fault. Hating Creative for drivers is one thing, saying they’re the downfall of all good sound in video games is another. It’s just another victim of the plague that is know as consolization.

        • Krogoth
        • 8 years ago

        DSPs are still around. The only difference is they are entirely software-based and driven by CPU.

        The need for dedicated hardware DSPs are gone. Modern CPUs are simply too powerful and have cores to spare. We are not running Pentium IIs and K6-IIs anymore. The overhead for software-based CPUs is laughable with a current bargain basement chip.

        Microsoft didn’t do anything, they simply followed the entire industry who have abandoned hardware-based DSPs long before Vista/7 came about.

        The real problem is that old games were build around the utilization of older DSPs (EAX/A3D). Creative still retains a death grip on the IP, which prevents third-party emulators from being developed. Full OpenAL support outside of Creative products is a hit-miss (Realtek doesn’t have it).

          • HunterZ
          • 8 years ago

          You’re 100% on-point. Due to Creative’s business practices, I gave them up for on-board sound around a half-dozen years ago and haven’t looked back. I did buy a Xonar DX after a couple years, but only because I wanted to play with Dolby Digital Live encoding in combination with my Logitech Z-5500d speakers.

          I’m a gamer, not an audiophile. I was part of Creative’s original core audience. Now that everything is being done on the CPU and output via a DAC (or AC3/DDL/SPDIF encoder), Creative has nothing to offer me.

          Even before that, however, EAX was mostly a marketing gimmick (a la PhysX, Glide, etc.). I don’t remember it ever making a huge difference, except MAYBE in Half-Life 1.

            • Kaleid
            • 8 years ago

            EAX made a huge difference in many games. All the Thief games and system shock 2 especially.

            Non-EAX sound still sounds quite dead to me and when I hear similar effects in modern games like Deus Ex 3 it’s quite great. Audio is so forgotten these days, it’s too much about the visuals.

          • Bensam123
          • 8 years ago

          Have you heard the audio in modern video games? While they’re still around they completely suck, if they’re even present at all. About the best I’ve heard now days is the Battlefield series, but that is still lackluster compared to what games used to be.

          It’s not just about accelerating DSPs, rather having prebuilt ones that people could easily use and implement. That was one less thing developers had to concentrate on. Now developers have to make their own and when they have a choice between where they’re allocating resources, it’s not going to be on audio for the most part… as is the trend.

          Microsoft eliminated DSound in Vista. That is, well, eliminating DSound and axing EAX, which in turn destroyed the baseline game makers were developing on.

          The IP has nothing to do with it. EAX had the same licensing scheme as OpenAL, yet pretty much every game developer used it… Why would that be any different then OpenAL now? When people switched over to Vista and coincidentally consolization happened around the same time, game developers simply never switched over to OpenAL. It died off and turned into a chicken and a egg scenario. No one demands it because there are almost no gamers left that know what really great in game audio sounds like.

          Conversely while Creative soundcards may no longer be needed to run such DSPs, they’ve designed the DSPs… companies need income somehow or they die off. In the case of Creative, they designed EAX which I would say is most definitely worth paying a extra $80 for per system (at least when it was implemented).

          What you’re saying is akin to saying DirectX isn’t needed because it’s proprietary and does not provide any benefits that outweigh it. There was a game developer who said something similar. EAX was the standard of video game audio and did a really good job of it.

          That said, there isn’t any sort of software now days that actually pushes audio technologically speaking. So, saying we don’t need accelerated audio is a moot point. For all you know, having 128 voices operating at the same time with two DSPs ontop of them could bring a modern PC to a crawl, similar to purely emulating Crysis through software on a quad or hexa core.

          However, it simply does not exist so there is nothing to compare it to. Finding a game that sports even 16 voices now days is quite hard. Just listen to the amount of sounds happening at one time. Even the source engine has some issues with sounds cutting off other sounds. Sound in video games is so anemic that you guys are tooting your horn about accelerated audio being dead when there is no basis for it except the lack of it.

          There are tons of different graphical benchmarks out there, someone really needs to make a audio benchmark.

          A3D wasn’t a DSP, it was just positional audio.

            • Krogoth
            • 8 years ago

            Software-based DSPs are just as good as the latest version of EAX if not superior. Audio engineering on the other hand is an entirely different matter.

            EAX is dead, because Creative required game developers fees/sponsoring in other to use it, it only runs on Creative hardware and isn’t cross-platform friendly.

            Full OpenAL support requires driver developers to pay licensing fees, otherwise it reverts to stereo only. Realtek and most of the other driver developers aren’t paying the fees.

            It is a lose-lose situation for gaming who want full surround audio on all of their titles.

            Creative is holding onto a ton of DSP related IP, but their upper management is too stupid to utilize it to its full potential. They are already paying the price for missing the software DSP boat. Creative is now a rotting corpse.

            I find it be utter rubbish that 128 audio sources would stress out modern CPUs, when it only pounded Pentium IIs of the day with a 40-50% hit. Modern chips are so much more powerful and have threads to spare.

            • Bensam123
            • 8 years ago

            Software based DSPs? Like what? There is NO competing standard for EAX. There IS NOTHING that does what EAX did unless game developers write their own specific audio DSPs. EAX was the standard for video game audio, just like Directx is now.

            Sure other companies could mimic EAX so they could put the fancy label on their sound cards, but when it comes down to it they had NOTHING to do with EAX. They were attempting to leech off the success of it. Just as they aren’t striving now to put forth a new standard of video game audio now that it’s gone.

            Current audio in video games is ultra terrible.

            OpenAL runs cross platform, that’s why the project was originally founded.

            There is licensing for sound cards to use EAX and be certified, but as far as I can tell OpenAL soft and EAX are free to redistribute and use. One of the most recent games to feature it is Killing Floor, which is a indie game and definitely doesn’t have a huge budget for licensing. You’re welcome to point me to a source that contradicts this.

            Positional audio has nothing to do with EAX or DSPs… Positional audio was included in EAX, but it’s still in video games, including those on consoles. When I refer to ultra terrible sound, generally I’m not referring to positional audio as this is relatively well done in most scenarios (although I still find it done better on Creatives cards).

            You see, the thing is, you can’t DISPROVE it either. About the closest thing to a audio benchmark that exists is rightmark, but that analyzes the signal and signal quality. It has nothing to do with processing or virtual environments. That would be like graphical benchmarks only analyzing the signal, which is a small subset of testing and they only do it on TR when Nvidia or AMD try to skimp on quality to make their cards artificially faster.

            That’s only looking at the technological aspect to. There are simply no games that utilize sound to anywhere near that level. I’m currently thoroughly enjoying the shear amount of sounds in BF3. It makes everything feel so alive and at most that’s like 10-12 different sounds happening at once.

            • just brew it!
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]When I refer to ultra terrible sound, generally I'm not referring to positional audio as this is relatively well done in most scenarios[/quote<] So what [i<]are[/i<] you referring to? Given the CPU horsepower available, I'd really more inclined to blame the game engine architects and/or people responsible for creating the audio content if the quality of sound effects is lacking. EAX isn't (and never was) a panacea for poor execution by the game developers.

    • swoof
    • 8 years ago

    I’m interested in knowing how sound cards compete compared to integrated amp/DAC’s like the uDAC2 (http://www.nuforce.com/hp/products/iconudac2/) or the Fiio e10 (http://mp4nation.net/catalog/fiio-e10-usb-dac-amp-96k24bit-preorder-p-653.html)

      • Kaleid
      • 8 years ago

      Well, avoid the UDAC2:
      [url<]http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2011/02/nuforce-udac-2-drama.html[/url<]

    • dashbarron
    • 8 years ago

    I bought a DG because there was a $10 rebate on an already cheap card and because TR recommended it more than once.

    I really need to find a decently priced 5.1 setup. There’s [b<]sooo[/b<] products out there I don't know where to start.

      • northreign
      • 8 years ago

      Just pick one that has good reviews in your price range and the connections you need. Any 5.1 will be better than stereo.

        • Corrado
        • 8 years ago

        I disagree. I’d rather have 2 good monitors with a decent amp on them that produce great sound than some $40 5.1 that sounds muddy and has a hole in the middle of the frequency range because the left and right channels are 2″ drivers while the sub is 10″ and over powered.

          • travbrad
          • 8 years ago

          Yep. Having a lot of poor quality speakers is no replacement for having 2 good ones.

          Just think logically about it for a moment. Say there is a 5.1 system that is $120. Since it has 6 speakers that means the average value of each speaker is $20. Does anyone really believe you can get a good quality speaker for $20?

          Now take a stereo system for $120. Each speaker has a value of $60 (3x more). When a speaker costs 3x as much that means they can use a lot higher quality materials and design a speaker that will sound a whole lot better and clearer.

          I wouldn’t take this logic all the way to mono though, because we have 2 ears, not 1. πŸ™‚

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 8 years ago

    I have a response to this question. I was looking at getting a sound card and a 7.1 setup for my pc. That was until I dropped in on the AVSforums They pointed out I could get a better 7.1 setup if I bought a decent 7.1 Home theater package for about half the amount of money and bypass the need for a sound card by running an optical to the reciever and letting it process the sound. I don’t know what kinda legitimacy there is to this yet but I got LOTS of recommendations to go that rought. Then they mentioned it would be more worth my money if I was set on pc speakers to fish around on Ebay for old 7.1 setups since the current ones have dramatically inferior subs and cost a new premium. Really I only found one or two currently manufactured 7.1 offerings, they were both logitech. One was 500 and one was 1,000. I could get a decent Onkyo HT reciever and speaker set for 300-400. I think sound cards are sure cool if you use headphones or 2.1 pc speakers but I kinda don’t think I’ll be going that way.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 8 years ago

    The difference, to me, is in actively listening vs. just something playing in the background.

    If you enjoy [b<]actively[/b<] listening to music - if you put on a pair of nice headphones or output to a pair of monitors via an analog connection and you sit back and look for details and nuance in music - then yes, you want a discrete audio solution. In that case it's all about where the digital to analog conversion happens. If it's happening on outboard gear and your motherboard has a digital audio output, then no, absolutely not. No reason to blow money on a sound card. For me, the onboard audio is fine for everything except actively listening to music. For Windows sounds or playing games or watching videos of somebody's cat, I don't need it. For Winamp, I use my Mbox - I gave up iTunes because it can't (or at least previously couldn't) handle sending output to the non-default audio device, but I can configure the Output plugin in Winamp to send the audio where I want it.

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]Editor's note β€” Since we regularly recommend discrete sound cards, we can't let this one pass without voicing some dissent.[/quote<] That's unfortunate that you felt compelled to say that. Heck, his concluding words toed your party line anyway. I think it's ridiculous for you guys to need to have some sort of HardOCP-like global stance on audio cards, but if you're going to have one, you could hardly do better than to state it as he did: [quote<]If improved audio quality is your goal, I'm convinced money is better spent on your speakers and amplifier first. I can't speak highly enough of the Audio Engine speakers connected to my PC; their impact on sound quality with my motherboard's integrated audio was phenomenal. If you already have decent speakers that outclass the output of your motherboard's audio jacks, then by all means grab a nice sound card. The jump in quality may not be huge, but you will notice the difference (or at least think you do).[/quote<] Jeez, that's just good and practical advice right there.

      • David_Morgan
      • 8 years ago

      While I really do appreciate you having my back, I fully expected some flack for this one. πŸ™‚ All things considered I think editor went easy on me considering the sheer number of man-hours this site dedicates to illustrating the advantages of a good discrete audio card. Scientifically testing and quantifying such things is very time consuming, and the results are very useful and revealing to those who have been bitten by the high performance audio bug.

      It is certainly not my intention to discredit previous efforts, it’s more of an indictment of my own audio preferences, usage patterns, and hardware priorities.

    • StuG
    • 8 years ago

    I can tell a huge difference between my onboard audio and my Asus D2X with Klipsch ProMedia 2.1’s. For a speaker set known as “overly bassy” it can effect the music I listen too…which is mainly fast paced metal. With onboard audio during fast repeating double-bass drums the bass hits start to melt together, not sounding individual or distinct. “Blending In’ if you will. I notice instantly on the D2X the more responsive and precise bass response, along with other people actively noticing the difference in a blind test. Likewise, with the bass drums being more defined, the background sounds (small high-hat bell hits, the different types of snare hits) become much more apparent. A song that comes to mind in that light would be the end of Toxicity by System of a Down.

    I will say that the difference is hard to hear below 100 kbps audio quality. As well, many types of music do not seem to benefit as much…mainly Electronica and Pop/Rap. I suggest that if anyone is seriously considering a sound-card you attempt to find someone with it first and hear for yourself. I also believe being a long-time musician (let alone a drummer, so I’m listening to a largely “behind the scenes” instrument) has probably aided me in hearing/noticing a difference.

    • RostokMcSpoons
    • 8 years ago

    I bought a Xonar card expecting an epiphany, and didn’t get it. In fact the sound quality was worse in the game I was playing most of the time: Battlefield Bad Company 2. The sound of distant machine guns was replaced with something that sounded like a nearby typewriter.

    This prompted me to search for an updated driver, and at that point I discovered various forums where people were complaining about the lack of updates and the various problems.

    I pulled the card out and went back to the AC889 onboard sound, where everything sounded as it should.

    Maybe one day I’ll reinstall the Xonar card.. have there been any driver updates in the last 6 months?

      • StuG
      • 8 years ago

      I think this is in your head, as BFBC2 does all audio processing on the CPU and just passes it through whatever chip you use.

        • RostokMcSpoons
        • 8 years ago

        Do you think I’d really go to the trouble of pulling out a card I’d just spent Β£30 on, if the difference in sound was just ‘in my head’? No, it was a very obvious change in that one particular sound-effect.

          • northreign
          • 8 years ago

          My assumption is that you didn’t set the card up properly. It should at the very least sound about the same.

          Even onboard sound has control options that should be set up of which I doubt many people do or even do correctly.

    • kidsafe
    • 8 years ago

    You won’t be able to hear the difference in typical 2.1 or 5.1 ‘multimedia’ systems like many PC oriented brands offer. You should be able to hear something of a difference in your A5s though. I can certainly hear the difference with my KRK Rokit 6s. The difference should be even more pronounced with headphones, even cheap ones. Buy a pair of Grado SR60s for $70 and you may have something of an aural epiphany. Trade in the Xonar DX for something like a uDAC 2 as well. PC sound cards don’t have to be internal PCIe adapters…they can be USB DACs as well. With a USB DAC you also get the side-benefit of easily moving it between PCs without fuss.

    My only wish is that someone would put out a portable USB DAC with balanced outputs at a decent price.

      • [+Duracell-]
      • 8 years ago

      Yep. The difference is night and day between my X-Fi Elite Pro and onboard sound on my system with a pair of Sennheiser HD 280 Pros.

      • udo
      • 8 years ago

      Could you elaborate on the balanced output part? What exactly do you mean? I use a uDAC with S/PDIF optical output –> A/V input

        • derFunkenstein
        • 8 years ago

        It’s a 3-pin connection, like XLR or TRS (tip-ring-sleeve, which looks like 1/4″ headphones but it’s mono, not stereo). On top of several physical means to reduce interference (shielding, etc.) the cable carries two copies of the audio signal and the impedance at both ends is identical. That helps the amplifier weed out noise when it sees a difference in voltage between the two sources on the receiving end and the result is better audio quality.

        edit: balanced audio signals is for analog audio. Since you’re using digital outputs to an amplifier that does D/A conversion, you wouldn’t see any benefits.

          • udo
          • 8 years ago

          Thanks!

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      [quote<]My only wish is that someone would put out a portable USB DAC with balanced outputs at a decent price.[/quote<] The M-Audio MobilePre says "o hai!"

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 8 years ago

    What you probably need is a semi-decent pair of headphones to easily hear the difference between on-board audio and a discrete sound card. Distressingly, the worst on-board audio that I currently own is on my laptop, where I use headphones most often.

    I like the surround re-mixing capabilities and the PCIe X1 interface of the Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium. I’ve picked up several refurbished cards for half price through Creative’s store on Amazon.

    • bwcbiz
    • 8 years ago

    Where’s the other half of this story? You didn’t compare recording, just playback.

    Many onboard sound chips introduce incredible amounts of noise into the analog microphone playback. Especially through the front panel jacks where that long wire stretching through the case acts as a receiving antenna for all the interference inside the case. Sound card specs frequently omit the SNR measurements for recording, which is usually a bad sign.

    With all the folks posting YouTube podcasts, live streams and other stuff using their PC audio, recording quality should be part of the evaluation too.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      Nobody (I think) is going to tell you that you can get high-quality recordings from onboard sound. Most people producing podcasts are doing so either with cheap audio interfaces like an M-Audio Fast Track or the like, or they’re using USB microphones. Both of those solutions bypass your onboard audio.

      I think the majority of people doing YouTube videos are using external cameras. If they’re using their webcam, they’re not interested in production values in the first place. :p

      • Farting Bob
      • 8 years ago

      You can probably count the number of people using their intergrated audio microphone plug on one hand, its not exactly relevent. USB microphones and webcams are dominant in the cheap section.

    • Lianna
    • 8 years ago

    First, I absolutely, positively agree with the article – you need good speakers to hear any difference at all.

    Second, I positively agree with dragosmp comment – integrated audio vary wildly. If you have premium model and/or a good sample – you may hear little difference. If you have el cheapo model and/or a bad sample, e.g. with electronic noise or hissing creeping in – any good sound card will be a big step up. I experienced it both ways, having both very good and very bad laptop and integrated audio, and buying better and worse sound cards, including Pro, 16, 32AWE, Live, X-Fi and PCMCIA versions.

    Third, I’d really welcome on TR a test of a good mobile USB (hopefully thumb-drive-like) sound card – for all laptop/notebook/netbook users out there, or just everybody hopping between two or more PCs every day. Please check for both 44.1kHz _and_ 48kHz clocks.

    • crystall
    • 8 years ago

    I have never been interested in premium audio cards especially because if you really care about audio quality the analog circuitry on *any* card will never be able to match a good external setup. I prefer to just use the S/PDIF optical with a couple of excellent Behringer MS20 studio monitors with digital input. The analog circuitry they sport is miles ahead of anything that could ever be put on a sound card, let alone on an integrated solution and they happen to cost *less* than quite a few premium audio cards. Besides since you’re sending them a digital signal it is completely clean of the EM interference that might affect analog circuitry inside your machine. The only troublesome part of this setup is that motherboards with optical S/PDIF connectors are not as common as they used to be. Even my old budget-class Abit KV7 had one but now most of the non-premium boards have only a stub whose external connector is usually not present in the motherboard’s package and will set you back $10 or something on eBay. Annoying.

    • Bensam123
    • 8 years ago

    I think personally this is a very subjective experience. Honestly there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to have a sound card anymore since EAX is toast and there really isn’t any sort of audio acceleration or anything technological keeping them in the market besides SnR and good components.

    That’s why I’m still using my PCI X-Fi Fatality that I bought when they first came out and will be till I buy a motherboard without a PCI slot or something ACTUALLY happens in the audio front in games (unlikely) that would warrant buying a new one. Even as it is now games have trouble reproducing more then like 16 concurrent sounds, let alone 128… it’s really sad.

    • dundee60
    • 8 years ago

    Optical out on my asus into my onkyo amp made me take out my ausenteck xfi card
    if sound the same and has no distortion

    • dale77
    • 8 years ago

    Very good point in there. If you don’t have decent speakers, integrated is certainly all you need.

      • NeelyCam
      • 8 years ago

      Top headphones give top quality sound on the cheap (at least compared to speakers).

    • ronch
    • 8 years ago

    I have an X-Fi Titanium in its box sitting on my shelf. I’m sure it sounds better than the Realtek ALC889 on my mobo, but what amazes me about the ALC889 and made the X-Fi pretty much irrelevant is the fact that it’s practically free, doesn’t sound too different from the X-Fi, has no-fuss drivers, and uses a tiny chip. All that quality sound from so little hardware and cash. I give it more credit than the slightly better-sounding X-Fi which cost me $100. The Realtek’s automatic jack detection and re-tasking are advantages as well.

      • Kaleid
      • 8 years ago

      Send the titanium to me, and I’ll give my Xtremegamer to my brother. Trickle down..

        • ronch
        • 8 years ago

        LOL. I knew someone would ask for it. πŸ™‚

          • Kaleid
          • 8 years ago

          You asked for it πŸ˜›

    • swaaye
    • 8 years ago

    You only need a sound card if you know you need one. πŸ˜‰

    Say you need analog output and your onboard is noisy and scratchy. Or you want MIDI capabilities. Or maybe you like Creative Alchemy, or their up/downmiximg. Etc.

    • Coulda
    • 8 years ago

    Snobbish audiophiles are keep spreading lies and perpetuate discreet sound card market that should have died already. It’s not worth the price for 99% of PC users. Please people…keep your hard earned money or spend it on something worthwhile!

      • NeelyCam
      • 8 years ago

      I don’t understand your downvotes. Somebody please respond to him and explain why he was so wrong as to warrant a downthumb..?

        • Derfer
        • 8 years ago

        Because everything he said was BS? For every audiophile I’ve seen encouraging something wasteful I’ve seen a dozen more putting them inline. At least amongst pc enthusiasts. I was reasonably happy with onboard in the beginning, upgraded my board and was appalled at the sound quality of the onboard. I was no audiophile, just someone noticing this sounds like shit. I went up to a X-fi Fatality and noticed a massive difference. This on some crappy logitech 2.1s. Now I have a forte which was yet another leap forward, and downright necessary to drive my 598s. I mean plugging these into any onboard system just gives such a horrible result. If you can’t notice these differences you’re probably trying not to so you don’t have to fork out the $$$. It’s all mental. The people that say they can’t notice a big difference and the people on the other end that notice massive differences spending more on digital cables. The reality is in the middle.

        • Bensam123
        • 8 years ago

        I thumbed him down because he started his post “Snobbish audiophiles are keep spreading lies…” and felt it wasn’t conducive to a good and productive conversation. Regardless of the point of his post, there is no reason to be a douchebag to start it out.

          • Bensam123
          • 8 years ago

          lol… -2 for coulda… -2 for us for saying something like ‘he sounded like a douche and he could’ve been nicer’ and yet Neely is unblemished.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 8 years ago

            You’re right – “responding to a dbag” is the most important reason to downvote someone. It’s effective in displaying your dislike and you don’t engage the troll in conversation. πŸ˜€

            • FranzVonPapen
            • 8 years ago

            FYI, I thumbed you down for being incoherent.

        • Palek
        • 8 years ago

        For making absolute statements like discrete sound cards have no real value and that the market should die – the first one is plain untrue while the second would actually cause harm to the PC market. Plus there’s the suggestion that all audiophiles are snobs. (Full disclosure – I’m not one of ’em.)

        There is nothing wrong with niche markets that cater to a certain demographic – some people want their PCs to sound [u<]really[/u<] good. Besides, would it really be to anyone's advantage if discrete card manufacturers disappeared? What's so terribly wrong with having choices? Also, someone has already pointed this out, but not all on-board sound is created equal, and Realtek's dominance of the market has actually resulted in a general downward trend it terms of audio quality.

          • ModernPrimitive
          • 8 years ago

          Well put Palek. The whole tone of the post was off. Funny thing is I never considered myself an audiophile but I can easily tell the difference between onboard sound and a good discreet card thru a set of Klipsch speakers. I can also tell the difference between a 320kbps and a 128kpbs mp3 through the same time.I find it offensive that just because I’m willing to spend the money on sound (because I enjoy it) that someone who doesn’t thinks the market should die.

          The onboard on my Envy 14 sounds good (to me) through a set of $70 Eagle Arion 2.1s. Sound is a subjective thing. If one can’t tell the difference between cheap audio or don’t care then I’m happy they can spend their money on things more important – to them.

          • Krogoth
          • 8 years ago

          I disagree that the dominance Realtek is the cause for the downward trend of audio quality.

          I blame the popularity of lossy audio formats and sub-par audio editing and mastering to be the curplits.

          It probably doesn’t help that most of the 3D audio API is locked in patent hell (Creative).

        • Vasilyfav
        • 8 years ago

        Being wrong warrants a thumbs down.

      • BestJinjo
      • 8 years ago

      Some people can’t “tell” the difference between Sennheiser HD800 and Monster Turbine (horrible boomy bass) headphones. Or so they claim. One of the main reasons is that they were never taught what proper sound should be like (or just weren’t born with great hearing). Many people can’t tell the difference between premium and low-end vodkas, between halloween chocolates and Godiva/Lindt, between a Honda Civic and a Porsche 911, etc. The beauty of life is choice. Ignorance is a bliss.

        • Coulda
        • 8 years ago

        Oh Yes, of course. We all should have $1600 Sennheiser HD800 headphone so as not to be labeled “ignorant” sobs who don’t know the difference because they’re not cultured or their hearing is genetically inferior. People have no problem being moved and inspired by good music regardless of the medium. The beauty of life is not shallow consumerism but you seems to have been institutionalized by the said force.

      • Kaleid
      • 8 years ago

      Compared to actual hifi gear the soundcards are very cheap, even if you go with a premium HD titanium card which I’ll get. It’s extremely cheap compared to Benchmark DAC1 for instance.

      • Dr. Zhivago
      • 8 years ago

      As a working sound engineer, I can assure there is a difference between onboard audio solutions and a good, dedicated sound card when using the Analog outputs. The differences are things like maximum Analog output voltage, Signal to Noise Ratio, and Frequency Range and Response for instance. You need good equipment and the ability to notice these differences and also care about these things. As a sound engineer, I have such things and do care about them. I have to, it’s my job.

      If you are using the onboard audio’s SPDIF or Digital Optical output to drive an AVR, or connect to a mixing console with SPDIF inputs or to a set of speakers with SPDIF inputs, then the differences may not be as noticeable or there may be no difference at all.

      But, as I mentioned, when using the Analog portions of the 2 different solutions, the differences can be drastic. I will concede that when properly implemented, the Realtek ALC889 with Dolby Home Theater Technologies fully enabled sounds pretty damn good for onboard audio. It doesn’t have as much Analog output voltage as a Xonar DX for instance, but it’s certainly better than any other onboard solution I’ve ever heard. I built 2 new systems for high end media playback recently, using the Gigabyte GA-990XA-UD3 motherboards with the ALC889 and Dolby HTT, and decided to leave out a discrete sound card since it sounded so good all by itself. There is Zero Hum and Noise in the Analog outputs, and the inclusion of Dolby Digital Live on the Digital side of things side is a nice plus.

      I can’t say the same about other onboard solutions I have heard or been forced to use, including the ALC892 or ALC888. Maybe it’s the way they have been implemented on the motherboards, but they certainly sound far inferior to me.

      My .02

    • Ashbringer
    • 8 years ago

    Sound cards most definitely matter. It’s sad how the industry went from something like Nvida’s SoundStorm as the epitome of PC sound, to just everything using Realtek chips. I got a new motherboard a few months ago, and it came with Via’s Vinyl sound chip. Not the best sound, but much better then using a Realtek chip. Sound was much better, and has better options and features. God I love the Q-Sound.

    Onboard sound rarely if ever comes with DDL. Something I’m finding myself needing nowadays. Realtek chips barely work at max quality settings of 24bit 192hz sound. Hardware accelerated sound is nowhere to be found, but everything back then used accelerated 3D sound.

    PC sound took 1 step forward, and 5 steps ass backward. Just because the sound quality is OK, they don’t care enough for it to be awesome. Especially with a lot of people buying laptops.

      • Vasilyfav
      • 8 years ago

      I agree. Realtek onboard chips are garbage and anyone who says otherwise is wrong or is using apple earplugs and should keep their mouth shut when knowledgeable people are talking about sound

        • BestJinjo
        • 8 years ago

        Agreed. The same people who claim that a discrete sound card like X-Fi or Xonar doesn’t provide better clarity of sound unless you have $1000 of audio equipment are using stock Apple headphones with their $700 iPhone 4 and claim that it makes “no sense to upgrade them unless they spend thousands on audio equipment”. My X-Fi Platinum cost me $70 and it BLOWS away onboard sound (Yes I tried P965, P35, P45, P55 and now my latest P67 motherboard). My speakers are only $100 and when I toggle between onboard and creative, the difference in clarity, detail, controlled bass, surround effects is mind-blowing to me. If my discrete card ever fails, I’ll have to make a trip to the store the same week. I can’t live without discrete sound when it’s only $70-100 and is miles better to my ears.

        For my mp3 music listening on the go I also use Ultimate Ears TripleFi 10. I think Apple headphones are complete garbage. Also, considering the X-Fi has been with me for 5 years now, its total cost of ownership is very little over so many years and it continues to put a smile on my face.

        For other people who don’t care or don’t have great hearing, well that’s great –> Invest your $ into SSD, GPU, CPU etc. To each his own.

        • Waco
        • 8 years ago

        I run a Realtek onboard chip in my HTPC hooked up to many thousands of dollars worth of equipment. My Creative card? It’s sitting in a drawer. Why?

        Because, subjectively, the difference between the two isn’t worth the hassle of installing the Creative card again. I did a back to back comparison a while ago and the *only* noticeable difference between the two was that the Realtek chip has a much hotter output (with a slightly, and I do mean slightly, higher noise floor) versus the Creative card. Distortion, “muddiness”, etc are nonexistent on both when driving the inputs of my preamp (though when driving headphones the Creative card is worlds better).

        Don’t paint everyone with such a broad brush.

        • clone
        • 8 years ago

        not garbage, just not the best.

        the market has spoken and doesn’t care, improving sound isn’t expensive and is virtually hassle free, the reason Realtek rules is because it’s not garbage, it’s good enough.

        garbage is something that doesn’t work, garbage is sound that is so muddied it’s difficult to tell what’s being said, sung, portrayed.

        Realtek isn’t garbage, I agree it’s not perfect but sound doesn’t matter enough for it to need to be.

      • Zoomer
      • 8 years ago

      Market demand. A lot of people can’t hear it. And they want to save that last cent without considering quality.

      See TN vs PV or IPS
      See Betamax vs VHS

        • Corrado
        • 8 years ago

        I don’t think its that they CAN’T hear it, its just that they don’t have the opportunity too. Goto best buy or HH gregg, or anywhere that people buy a PC retail these days and find me a PC with a discrete card… you can’t. Just like the TN vs IPS, people can MOST DEFINITELY see the difference. But unless its side by side, its tough to make a comparison, and theres not a lot of places you can go see an IPS next to a TN, so no one ever is able to make a valid comparison.

      • Coulda
      • 8 years ago

      Lol…you guys don’t get it. Question is not whether there is difference. The question is why you decided the difference *matters*, enough to warrant spending hundreds and thousands, and then, turn around and say other people are using garbage. There is something so *artificial” about goal of pursuing such things (like overclockers and so called graphic card whores). It”s merely expression of one’s ego than a practical meaningful pursuit. Look how easy it is to offend these audio geeks who then comes out of the woodwork and goes berserk in defending their obsession.

      • rephlex
      • 8 years ago

      SoundStorm and Realtek are not mutually exclusive. Shuttle’s FN41 motherboard (as used in the SN41G2) uses a Realtek ALC650 codec and is one of the few motherboards which has actually been SoundStorm certified. I have a SN41G2B and it sounds surprisingly good, actually quite noticeably better than the highly rated first generation Apple Shuffle when driving a pair of Grado SR40 headphones. Cleaner, less grainy high frequencies than when driven by the Apple Shuffle.

      • HunterZ
      • 8 years ago

      Creative likely killed SoundStorm (and crippled other sound card producers such as M-Audio) by buying out Sensaura in 2003. I’m sure that Creative either yanked the licenses, or else jacked the price to the point that nVidia had to drop them for the nForce3 (also in 2003).

      I’d really, really like to see a journalist do some digging into Creative’s business practices like this and suing Aureal into oblivion, etc. It’d make for an interesting read and an interesting timeline chart.

    • Jigar
    • 8 years ago

    I have been saying this for years, Xonar has never impressed me compared to my XFI Xtreme music card. My friend uses Xonar and he envys me because he cannot buy XFI Xtreme music. I know creative driver team cannot be trusted but when you have PAX, why the hell bother with official release.

    • ColdMist
    • 8 years ago

    Drivers.

    Creative Labs sound cards can – and once in a while do – detect front headphones and mute the rears. The problem is the drivers break this, and they never care to fix it. I even had it on one card/driver setup where it was backwards, but swapping the outputs when it detected a change – to no effect at that point.

    I will never buy a Creative Labs sound card again. Ever! Not bad hardware, but the software is junk.

      • insulin_junkie72
      • 8 years ago

      I had the opposite problem.

      The X-Fi XtremeGamer I had from late 2006 until earlier this year handled the autodetection of headphones perfectly.

      The Xonar DG I replaced it with (because I wanted the integrated headphone amp) has autodetection that works only when it feels like it.

    • ChangWang
    • 8 years ago

    Yes!

    • MadManOriginal
    • 8 years ago

    Expensive soundcards – not very relevant unless you truly need good sound quality internal to a PC case. External DACs are comparable in quality and better in sound quality although may lack features like surround, etc, but then there are surround receivers for that.

    Inexpensive sound cards – relevant because you can get a very good boost in sound quality for not much money.

      • mako
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, I’d go for an external DAC if sound quality was the priority. I don’t care about 3D positioning or anything fancy, just stereo.

      • HunterZ
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, I’m confused that people are hung up on putting DACs inside their PCs and then running interference-prone analog connections to expensive speakers. If sound quality is that important, wouldn’t it be better to run the pure digital stereo data over SPDIF to a high-quality DAC that is built into the speaker amp?

        • travbrad
        • 8 years ago

        Well it makes sense for cheaper cards like MM said. You won’t find an external DAC anywhere remotely close to $25 (about what a Xonar DG goes for) without stealing it.

        I agree those expensive sound cards make very little sense though.

        • pedro
        • 8 years ago

        It’s often to do with latency issues and can also enable massive track counts. Whack the sound ‘card’ in a PCIe slot and have breakouts to a larger box (see: Apogee, RME, PT, Lynx, etc.).

    • riviera74
    • 8 years ago

    I disagree for two reasons: One, [url=http://audioengineusa.com/Store/Audioengine-5<]Audio Engine A5[/url<] speakers are expensive. Because they are expensive, a mediocre sound card does not sound as bad from an output perspective as you might think. Two, [url=http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&N=100009293%2050001315&IsNodeId=1&name=ASUS<]Xonar cards[/url<] are not all PCI. There are several PCIe models that exist. Moreover, most speaker setups are not as good as those Audio Engine A5 speakers, hence the need for a better sound card separate from the motherboard. The only exception to the no onboard audio rule is having digital speakers that output sound using a USB or SPDIF port. USB speakers are not always very good; SPDIF based speakers look a lot like those A5s and are just as expensive.

    • Sunburn74
    • 8 years ago

    Are sound cards worth it? Very much yes but only if you have a decent playback system (ie speakers or headphones worth more than 150 dollars).

    In order to use my Sennheiser HD 600s I had to buy a sound card with the amps capable of driving the headset. In addition, the shielding on the dedicated sound card is superb; with the onboard sound card I frequently got static, electrical noise, even radio signals as background sounds.

    Concerning the 3d sound (surround sound), it is a very powerful feature once you’ve been exposed to it. However it doesn’t work well with 2 speakers, only with headphones. The idea is that the sound feels like its coming from all directions, but it won’t work if both speakers are across the room. If one speaker is on each side of your head (as in headphones), then it noticeable and depending on the music is very very pleasant.

    I also enjoy the bass boost feature of my card. It allows me to set a frequency at which bass is boosted. As opposed to simply turning up the bass and making all sound more bassy, I can make things that are supposed to be bassy more bassy whilst leaving vocals and other things intact.

    By the way my card is the auzentech x-fi forte.

    • Kurotetsu
    • 8 years ago

    For digital output, no.

    For analog output, yes. <– This, of course, assumes you have speakers and/or headphones that are worth a damn (i.e., not Logitech or Skullcandy).

      • Deanjo
      • 8 years ago

      I disagree with the “for digital output, no” for the simple reason that most onboard solutions do not include a solution like DDL or the DTS equivilent meaning that multichannel gaming through the digital out isn’t an option.

    • continuum
    • 8 years ago

    Sounds more or less in-line with my experience.

    That said, $30 for an Xonar DG isn’t bad. Given that it’s PCI-only tho, that kinda sucks for my wants. And $80 for less-than-obvious-improvements with an Xonar DX…

    I dunno. I’ll keep my PSB Alpha A/V’s and Paradigm Titan/Atom/CC-170 setups around tho. =P

      • dragosmp
      • 8 years ago

      Something should be said in this blog post: in this experience you guys compared one integrated soundcard and extrapolated for every integrated soundcard. The chip ADI 1988B isn’t “the best” on the market, but it’s certainly among the top contenders, and the M2N32-SLI Deluxe is a very high end board that is (supposedly) engineered with great care for details – this usually amounts to lower than average EMI on the analog outputs of the soundcard.

      The Realtek chip Geoff and Cyril are using isn’t in the same league as the ADI 1988B, and neither is the board they’re using. Bottom line is a Xonar DG may very well be relevant and even more so if the integrated soundcard is just a checkbox 7.1 chip

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