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ordskiweicz
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So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 7:43 am

Reading the "what is your sound setup" posts, and looking at the TR sample builds, it seems the sound card is fully dead.

This will mean I have some terrific and costly PCI-e junk, but it seems a USB DAC like the Dragonfly or a Schitt is a better deal, more transferable and as good or better sounding.

What do you think?
 
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 7:54 am

ordskiweicz wrote:
Reading the "what is your sound setup" posts, and looking at the TR sample builds, it seems the sound card is fully dead.

This will mean I have some terrific and costly PCI-e junk, but it seems a USB DAC like the Dragonfly or a Schitt is a better deal, more transferable and as good or better sounding.

What do you think?

The on board sound chips have gotten more then good enough and have been for a long time now that most people don't need a sound card. And yes, USB DAC/sound cards are a better deal then internal sound boards as they can offer better S/N ratios and other features such as more ports.
 
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 7:55 am

It's been dying for roughly the past decade, since that's about when onboard became "good enough" for most people.

In the early through mid '00s I used PCI soundcards (M-Audio Revolution and Turtle Beach Santa Cruz); my circa-2008 build had decent VIA onboard audio, and I dropped the discrete soundcard (intended to install it but never bothered). The next couple of builds had Realtek onboard, which sounded reasonably good (though not as good as VIA...) but struggled to drive headphones at high volume. With the current build I'm back to discrete again (Xonar DSX), but it looks like some of the better motherboard audio solutions may rival or surpass it these days. The Xonar DSX is kind of ironic since I ended up getting an outboard headphone amp anyway, because I decided I really wanted a physical volume knob within ease reach; I would've probably been satisfied with Realtek onboard + the external headphone amp.

Something I have not been paying attention to lately is whether the USB solutions currently on the market have latency comparable to discrete cards or not. Higher latency would be an issue for twitch gaming and DAW applications.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 8:19 am

Pretty much. In ye olde times (XP and earlier) the sound card not only produced "sound", like the chime of Windows booting, but also had a popular dedicated sound API that could be used for 3D processing. Now Direct Sound 3D is dead, as is EAX. Unless OpenAL API's really take off I don't see that changing. Even then, there are CPU's with so many cores available that developers would probably just use the CPU.

The primary reason people use sound cards these days is they just sound better or the do some kind of editing. There have been some efforts by motherboard manufactures to improve the sound quality, making sound cards even more relegated to specific use cases or audiophiles. A lot of "audiophiles" use external DACs through their fiber or HDMI outputs or just use a USB DAC. While it sounds good, latency is usually given as a sacrifice in the name of quality. USB headphones with fancy software (and RBG LED's!) has replaced sound cards for the 1337 gamers these days.
 
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 8:36 am

Even at the professional side of the market, dedicated audio cards for input/output are seemingly dead too. Audio technologies that use Ethernet for transport have taken over which can carry upto 128 channels of 192 kHZ, 24 bit audio. There are cards like the Yamah AIC-128 which offers both the Dante NIC and DSP but for the most applications you could just grab the Dante software driver for ~$60 for 16 channel IO. The DAC and mixing is all done externally at that point.

The only downside to these professional setups is they're expected to be used in production environments and thus have various quirks dealing with DRM protected audio (think Dolby/DTS).
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 8:43 am

the wrote:
Even at the professional side of the market, dedicated audio cards for input/output are seemingly dead too. Audio technologies that use Ethernet for transport have taken over which can carry upto 128 channels of 192 kHZ, 24 bit audio. There are cards like the Yamah AIC-128 which offers both the Dante NIC and DSP but for the most applications you could just grab the Dante software driver for ~$60 for 16 channel IO. The DAC and mixing is all done externally at that point.

The only downside to these professional setups is they're expected to be used in production environments and thus have various quirks dealing with DRM protected audio (think Dolby/DTS).

Well I learned something new today as I didn't know that Ethernet sound cards even exist. Another good reason to have more then one Ethernet jack on the motherboard.
 
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 9:03 am

whm1974 wrote:
Well I learned something new today as I didn't know that Ethernet sound cards even exist. Another good reason to have more then one Ethernet jack on the motherboard.

Unless you're saturating the existing NIC with traffic and/or are extremely sensitive to latency, I'd think you could just run it through a switch.

Edit: Never mind. Looks like the device in question includes a PCIe card with its own dedicated Ethernet port. So it appears to be a weird hybrid between internal and external, with Ethernet as the transport.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 9:19 am

Creative vs Aureal, DirectSound getting axed, the appeal of USB audio (largely to using OS inbox USB drivers ) all make it tough. I do think USB has some shortcomings in this regard (500 mA max, not optimal for latency, stuttering?). I would think drivers wouldn't be too hard as software* does all the heavy lifting nowadays... Realtek seems to be ok, though they benefit from a massive install base.

*I don't think this is a problem at all, the cost of doing this is negligible with halfway modern systems
 
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 9:27 am

Full ATX is all but dead these days. Those of us who use them are resistant to change or just really like having a roomy build to tinker around with. We don't have the PCIe lanes to do much with if you go with a mainstream motherboard. Multi GPU has proven to be a huge waste of money for little to no benefit for games when you look at frame times.

When it comes to sound cards, if you have a low end motherboard and a slot to put it in, go for it. If you are planning a build, you could just spring for a gaming motherboard. Audio quality is pretty much the only real thing you get by upgrading to a gaming branded motherboard. That and RGB LEDs. Go with something like this:
http://techreport.com/review/32562/asus ... d-reviewed
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 9:48 am

whm1974 wrote:
Well I learned something new today as I didn't know that Ethernet sound cards even exist. Another good reason to have more then one Ethernet jack on the motherboard.

Well, those are for Really Professional applications, but yes.

As for the topic, I've been saying that for ages that mobo audio is really good these days, particularly in the higher-end tier with ESS Sabre DACs, etc. I no longer see a reason to get a PCIe soundcard and I always recommend people just go with a USB soundcard if they need to for convenience or quality. We were just having this discussion in another thread here in the Echo Vale.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 9:55 am

Well it's not something that people talk about much these days. What was the last well-written and well-tested as objectively as possible review of a sound card? We don't even get many new product announcements anymore. It's possible that sound cards are still a big upgrade, but good enough is good enough. Especially when you see everyone using cheap PC speakers and earbuds.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 11:32 am

There are a handful of audio over Ethernet technologies, a lot of them proprietary. CobraNet was the big standard a decade ago that which also had dedicated sound cards but was limited to 100 Mbit and had some routing limitations. Switches were permitted in CobraNet but all the audio devices had to be in the same subnet. There were limitations like a maximum of 32 in + 32 out per device which affected large installations. On the plus side, redundant networks were supported so if a cable was cut or a switch crashes, audio still flows. Management of Cobranet devices had to be done via a different interface.

Dante is the newer, more modern standard that supports layer 3 routing, gigabit Ethernet for a crazy amount of IO channels per system (128 in, 128 out) and a truly insane number channels that can be sent over the network via multicasting. Much of the underlying Dante spec has become AES67 which many of the more proprietary audio over Ethernet standards are now targeting for interoperability. Redundant networks are fully supported via Dante as well as management over the same network interface. Combined with PoE, many simple Dante interfaces only have a single RJ45 jack plus a couple of XLR. The one catch with Dante networking is that while a single Ethernet port is all that is necessary to work, management and audio get two separate IP addresses. Management and audio IPs don't need to be on the same network so that is a means of isolating traffic or permitting remote management while keeping audio streams more local. The Dante virtual sound card works on any NIC to my knowledge but be aware that not all work exceedingly well. Latency and processing overhead are indeed factors here. A fast processor is necessary more to meet latency targets in a burstlike fashion than it continually consuming compute resources.

The last standard is AVB which is also gunning to also be a video over IP standard. Many of the audio features of Dante are supported and it is also AES67 compliant for the audio side. Just like Dante, AVB has a software based virtual sound card and there are a couple of hybrid DSP + Ethernet cards. 10 Gigabit Ethernet is fully supported as is IPv6 so the number of pure audio IO channels is limited by DSP and processing power. I have some experience with some 420 in x 420 channel out AVB DSPs. Redundant interfaces are also an option with AVB, though oddly I have not seen a piece of AVB equipment with both management and audio on the same NIC like Dante can do and I'm unsure if this separation is required via the spec. The catch with AVB is that it requires deterministic Ethernet to so that latency is predictable and guaranteed on the remote end. Thus AVB requires some premium switches for it to work right. (In fairness, AVB isn't the only technology in this space requiring deterministic Ethernet.) The other catch is that AVB is one of many technologies that is vying to be the standard for video IP standard. The video side is one of those things that I know will happen but until there is a clear dominate player or a good interoperable standard, I'd sit things out for now. The last catch is that the AVB virtual sound card does require an Intel NIC to function currently.

The neat thing about all of these audio over IP technologies is that your raw inputs and output can simply be embedded devices that use PoE. So the microphone/line inputs can be located near the device. Output can be done to a dedicated amp with the networking interface or even speakers up to 25 W that can use PoE+. The UPoE standard should permit future speakers up to 100W that only have a single networking cable going to them. Powered speakers with a Dante input are always an option too. At this point, you're limited to the DAC that is included in the amp or speaker. Factors like surround processing need to be decoded to their individual channels for transport over IP but routing them is straight forward. From there all sorts of neat things can be done, especially if an external networked DSP is used.

With AES67 being standardized and UPoE set to be a feature in future switches, networked audio will likely move from the professional space down to consumer. The remaining barrier would be that none of networked audio standards play nice with Wi-Fi due to latency. Oddly, there are a few BlueTooth to Dante interfaces so the cord can be use for simple stereo playback but wireless range and channel count severely restricted. The real game changer here would be if some NIC or SoC included Dante/AES support out of the box complete with some DSP acceleration.

Edit: grammar, typo fixes and some clarifications/reordering for better reading
Last edited by the on Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 11:48 am

Wow, that was mega-informative, thanks. I knew that Ethernet audio was a thing in the professional arena, but didn't know exactly how it works.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 11:50 am

DragonDaddyBear wrote:
Pretty much. In ye olde times (XP and earlier) the sound card not only produced "sound", like the chime of Windows booting, but also had a popular dedicated sound API that could be used for 3D processing. Now Direct Sound 3D is dead, as is EAX. Unless OpenAL API's really take off I don't see that changing. Even then, there are CPU's with so many cores available that developers would probably just use the CPU.


Even for non-3D setups, a dedicated quality sound card could make a performance difference in the days of single core CPUs. For a competent sound card with a proper DSP - be it Aureal, Turtle Beach, or even Creative Labs - you could expect a 10-15% performance bump in demanding games over integrated audio by offloading sound processing via DirectSound. But that came at a price: if you were listening to an mp3 in the background but were using DirectSound for a game with 22 KHz, 8-bit audio, all audio being played would be transparently thunked down to 22 KHz 8-bit audio. This was finally fixed around the time of Windows Vista (which, for all its deserved criticism, did make some difficult but necessary steps to modernize Windows) and the handling of all audio as 32-bit floats. That smoothed out consistency issues but basically deprecated audio acceleration. By then it was mostly moot: between escalating SIMD speed and flexibility and the steady increase of available processing threads, offloading sound processing to a separate DSP became quaint for gaming and increasingly irrelevant in most of the professional sphere.
Last edited by Concupiscence on Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 12:08 pm

Great info and ideas!

Perhaps TR could test the USB latency issue in the near future? Jitter maybe too? (or is this already known well?)

There are many of us who enjoy fine sound.
 
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 12:17 pm

ordskiweicz wrote:
Great info and ideas!

Perhaps TR could test the USB latency issue in the near future? Jitter maybe too? (or is this already known well?)

There are many of us who enjoy fine sound.


As long as there is nothing wrong with your hardware or software, latency to a USB audio device just isn't going to be an issue. It's just not. And even then, it only REALLY matters if you're doing something like real time stuff, recording etc etc. I don't mean to say you'd want a bunch of latency introduced by an audio device because it'd be really odd to listen to especially for something like gaming, but with today's computers it's just not really that big of an issue.

DeadOfKnight wrote:
Well it's not something that people talk about much these days. What was the last well-written and well-tested as objectively as possible review of a sound card? We don't even get many new product announcements anymore. It's possible that sound cards are still a big upgrade, but good enough is good enough. Especially when you see everyone using cheap PC speakers and earbuds.


Y'know, that's the thing about "good enough." Once you reach a certain point most sound on PCs these days is subjective. As long as you don't have a ton of noise in the signal or a compleeeeeeeeeeeeeeetely awful implementation on the board, it usually really is "good enough."

Having said that, here is a more recent review I found. I do not, however, advocate for its accuracy or objectivity. I just found it and haven't even read it.

https://overclock3d.net/reviews/audio/a ... e_review/1
Last edited by DancinJack on Tue Nov 07, 2017 12:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 12:23 pm

DeadOfKnight wrote:
Well it's not something that people talk about much these days. What was the last well-written and well-tested as objectively as possible review of a sound card? We don't even get many new product announcements anymore. It's possible that sound cards are still a big upgrade, but good enough is good enough. Especially when you see everyone using cheap PC speakers and earbuds.

Yes decent speakers and headphones will make all the difference and in the past I had to convince people to buy better speaks/headphones first and then only purchase a sound card if they still need one.
 
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 12:48 pm

Hi Dancin Jack. This is a great review of yet another sound card. (I use an Asus Essence and like it a lot).

My question was about USB alternatives to sound cards. Are there reviews of latency, jitter, etc on them - and does it matter?

I think I'd use my DragonFly on my next build - but haven't tried it with gaming, etc. Haven't tried SPDIF out yet.

(I run Grado 325s or new Senn 650s. Yes, final source is important but the whole stream matters once you reach a level of quality with headphones, etc. The Audioquest Jitterbug - which I had my doubts about - to me makes a noticeable difference on my larger component system.)
 
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 1:28 pm

morphine wrote:
Wow, that was mega-informative, thanks. I knew that Ethernet audio was a thing in the professional arena, but didn't know exactly how it works.

Agreed, it's cool. I use an in-ear monitor setup where my on-stage mixer is connected to a gigabit switch that goes back to the main board. Cool to read how this stuff works.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 1:35 pm

ordskiweicz wrote:
Hi Dancin Jack. This is a great review of yet another sound card. (I use an Asus Essence and like it a lot).

My question was about USB alternatives to sound cards. Are there reviews of latency, jitter, etc on them - and does it matter?


Like I said, with today's hardware, USB sound devices generally aren't an issue. I use a USB DAC/amp for all audio on my PC (lossless audio, web browsing, gaming etc) and I have zero issues with latency or jitter.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:08 pm

I've been using my motherboard since it came out in 2013 - and after all those times of having a cable plugged in the jack doesn't make proper contact. Good thing I have the front panel audio jack.

Have you guys experienced this or is it just my mobo's fault (Asus M5A99x EVO)? It's the only thing that makes me look at a discrete sound card.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:31 pm

If you're plugging/unplugging it frequently it's probably just worn out. If the cord ever gets yanked sideways that's gonna be rough on the jack too.

I typically route an extension cable around to a more convenient location so I don't need to fumble around behind the system to plug/unplug the headphones. More convenient than using the rear jack directly, typically better S/N than the front jack, and saves wear and tear on the jack (I'm just wearing out a $3 cable instead of the jack on the mobo).

You can probably replace the jack yourself if you know how to use a soldering iron.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 2:36 pm

Crayon Shin Chan wrote:
I've been using my motherboard since it came out in 2013 - and after all those times of having a cable plugged in the jack doesn't make proper contact. Good thing I have the front panel audio jack.

Have you guys experienced this or is it just my mobo's fault (Asus M5A99x EVO)? It's the only thing that makes me look at a discrete sound card.

Check the plug on the cable, it could be too short to make contact. I had a cheap audio cable who's plug was barely long enough to make proper contact and caused poor S/N ratios. That sure taught me not buy cheap cheap audio cables. :o
 
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 3:33 pm

ordskiweicz wrote:
My question was about USB alternatives to sound cards. Are there reviews of latency, jitter, etc on them - and does it matter?
Yes, final source is important but the whole stream matters once you reach a level of quality with headphones, etc. The Audioquest Jitterbug - which I had my doubts about - to me makes a noticeable difference on my larger component system.)


After reading several other's sound setups in this related thread here I've been looking into more of the external DAC/Amplifier integrated options with multi-input selection including USB, optical, Bluetooth, etc. I still enjoy my PCIe internal sound card and the software that came with it for gaming/general use. I still own an X-Fi Music edition PCI card (unused in a box) that was great at the time but PCI connections are obsolete now.
I'm interested in dipping my feet deeper into the audiophile pool on the music side. I have some decent passive bookshelf speakers (and soon some studio head cans) and I'm leaning toward an integrated box like this one: Denon PMA-50 or one of the smaller DAC-Amps from TEAC, NDA or this one from SMSL: AD18
Been watching Zreviews on Youtube lately and he does a lot of DACs, headphones, speakers and related gear reviews. Not bad and he has done hundreds of various audio-tech items but I'd prefer to see more analytical data vs the sound demos and less gabbing but that's the engineer in me :wink:
Last edited by G8torbyte on Tue Nov 07, 2017 8:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 3:52 pm

I should note that "external soundcard/DAC" does not imply "audiophile." I'm just putting this out here lest people think that the discussion is about going from $50-$100 soundcards to $500-$1000 dedicated DACs.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 3:58 pm

morphine wrote:
I should note that "external soundcard/DAC" does not imply "audiophile." I'm just putting this out here lest people think that the discussion is about going from $50-$100 soundcards to $500-$1000 dedicated DACs.

Actually it does since the average computer user only uses the on board sound their systems come with. In fact it is fairly common enough experience for me to have to explain what a soundcard/DAC is to folks.
 
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:06 pm

whm1974 wrote:
morphine wrote:
I should note that "external soundcard/DAC" does not imply "audiophile." I'm just putting this out here lest people think that the discussion is about going from $50-$100 soundcards to $500-$1000 dedicated DACs.

Actually it does since the average computer user only uses the on board sound their systems come with. In fact it is fairly common enough experience for me to have to explain what a soundcard/DAC is to folks.

I think he meant in the context of this thread. Everyone here knows what a soundcard is, and most probably have at least some idea of what a DAC is.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:21 pm

DancinJack wrote:
Having said that, here is a more recent review I found. I do not, however, advocate for its accuracy or objectivity. I just found it and haven't even read it.

https://overclock3d.net/reviews/audio/a ... e_review/1

I like this guy's videos, but all he seems to do is sing praises about Asus and Corsair stuff for the most part. To be fair, I'm a bit of a fanboy myself for those two brands, they do make good stuff.

However, I just don't give much credit to reviewers who don't offer much criticism. They need to do more comparisons with competing products and also be able to tell you what not to buy.

OC3D is my go-to when I want to watch an unboxing and drool over something that I have already ordered and is coming in the mail.
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:26 pm

just brew it! wrote:
whm1974 wrote:
morphine wrote:
I should note that "external soundcard/DAC" does not imply "audiophile." I'm just putting this out here lest people think that the discussion is about going from $50-$100 soundcards to $500-$1000 dedicated DACs.

Actually it does since the average computer user only uses the on board sound their systems come with. In fact it is fairly common enough experience for me to have to explain what a soundcard/DAC is to folks.

I think he meant in the context of this thread. Everyone here knows what a soundcard is, and most probably have at least some idea of what a DAC is.

Sorry, but these day I'm mostly around people who if they do own computer they only it use for very basic tasks.
 
derFunkenstein
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Re: So is the sound card dead?

Tue Nov 07, 2017 4:43 pm

DeadOfKnight wrote:
OC3D is my go-to when I want to watch an unboxing and drool over something that I have already ordered and is coming in the mail.

So glad to read that I'm not the only person who does this. :lol:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

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