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Help me choose a Sound Card or a new Surround Sound System

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April 7, 2013 10:29:07 AM

I need help deciding whether to buy a sound card or a whole new surround sound system (max budget= $500).

my pc:
mobo - Gigabyte Z77X-UD5H (ALC898)
gpu - GTX 670
sound system - Sony STR-K790 http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://elektrotanya...

The problem I currently have is that the only inputs my Sony STR-K790 have are coaxial and optical (no HDMI or analog), and thus requires audio files to be encoded to DTS for it to play 5.1 surround sound.

I can watch all my videos in 5.1 because I can play them through media players that encode DTS (potplayer, VLC, etc.), but not for video games.


Gigabyte tech support told me that my onboard audio (ALC898) does not support DTS Connect or Dolby Digital Live, and the only way to do what I want will require a different sound card (with DTS Connect or DDL), or a new surround sound system (with analog inputs for the speakers).


I don't have much experience with, or knowledge about sound cards and sound systems, so I need help figuring out my options.


Can anyone recommend an inexpensive sound card that has DTS Connect or DDL and a SPDIF (optical) out?

And/Or, can you recommend a decent surround sound system for under $500?



Thanks in advance.

April 7, 2013 11:18:56 AM

There are a number of Creative Labs sound cards which support Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect. I used to employ a similar setup.

I use the Creative Labs X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro as my sound card. It's a few years older than Creative Lab's current sound card lineup but many users regard it as being vastly superior to their current offerings.

Keep in mind that you will still have to download the DDL / DTS Connect packages separately as they are not included with the drivers.

Once installed and enabled, your SPDIF port and its associated audio device will be monopolized by the sound card drivers and will not be available to other applications. This can interfere with multimedia software that sends encoded AC3/DTS bitstreams straight to the receiver over SPDIF. All audio must be sent to the Speakers device attached to the new sound card, just set it as default in the Windows audio panel. Audio that is sent to the Speakers port will be captured and encoded into AC3/DTS in real time.

If you're listening to a native AC3 source the path will be:

AC3 source -> Software AC3 decoder -> Windows Audio Stack -> Creative Labs Driver -> Hardware AC3 encoder -> SPDIF -> Receiver AC3 decoder -> Surround speakers

If you're listening to a native LPCM source the path will be:

LPCM source -> Windows Audio Stack -> Creative Labs Driver -> Hardware AC3 encoder -> SPDIF -> Receiver AC3 decoder -> Surround speakers

As a final note, there is no feedback mechanism for SPDIF over TOSLINK so you must configure your Speakers device on your PC as if you were configuring your surround sound system independently of AC3/DTS. This can be done through the Playback Devices page on the Windows Audio panel, just right-click -> Configure. If you do not have full range speakers (you probably don't) you must turn these off otherwise your bass channel will be distorted.
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April 9, 2013 11:24:40 AM

The cheapest *good* card with DDL support is the ASUS Xonar DX or the Creative Soundblaster Z. That being said, Turtle Beach used to have a decent soundcard in the $20 range that did the job...
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April 12, 2013 7:25:11 PM

Thanks for the responses.

I have been looking at the Xonar DX http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... but I don't see an SPDIF port on it.


I am now considering buying a new receiver, but I'm still not sure what I would need, exactly. I am looking at a reconditioned Onkyo TX-NR515 for $270 https://www.shoponkyo.com/detail.cfm?productid=TX-NR515... . Would I be able to get 5.1 sound from games if I connect my pc to that receiver?

Will the HDMI inputs send 6 channels of audio to the receiver? Or is HDMI limited to 2 channels without DTS Connect or DDLive, like Toslink?

Is there a way to connect the analog outputs from my motherboard to the receiver to get 5.1 sound?
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Best solution

April 12, 2013 7:47:53 PM

Cheepnis said:
Thanks for the responses.

I have been looking at the Xonar DX http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... but I don't see an SPDIF port on it.


I am now considering buying a new receiver, but I'm still not sure what I would need, exactly. I am looking at a reconditioned Onkyo TX-NR515 for $270 https://www.shoponkyo.com/detail.cfm?productid=TX-NR515... . Would I be able to get 5.1 sound from games if I connect my pc to that receiver?

Will the HDMI inputs send 6 channels of audio to the receiver? Or is HDMI limited to 2 channels without DTS Connect or DDLive, like Toslink?

Is there a way to connect the analog outputs from my motherboard to the receiver to get 5.1 sound?


I use an Onkyo TR-606 which is the predecessor to the TX-NR515. It's an outstanding receiver for the money. If you do go that route I recommend running HDMI from your video card to the receiver and running the audio along that. HDMI supports 8 channel LPCM beautifully so you will not need to use DDL or DTS Connect.

I have my home theater connected to my PC via a 50 foot HDMI cable. When I play games I use my 5.1 headphones which are connected via 3.5mm analog jacks to my Creative Labs sound card. When watching movies I just pump the video and audio over HDMI to my receiver.
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April 12, 2013 8:34:24 PM

Pinhedd said:
Cheepnis said:
Thanks for the responses.

I have been looking at the Xonar DX http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... but I don't see an SPDIF port on it.


I am now considering buying a new receiver, but I'm still not sure what I would need, exactly. I am looking at a reconditioned Onkyo TX-NR515 for $270 https://www.shoponkyo.com/detail.cfm?productid=TX-NR515... . Would I be able to get 5.1 sound from games if I connect my pc to that receiver?

Will the HDMI inputs send 6 channels of audio to the receiver? Or is HDMI limited to 2 channels without DTS Connect or DDLive, like Toslink?

Is there a way to connect the analog outputs from my motherboard to the receiver to get 5.1 sound?


I use an Onkyo TR-606 which is the predecessor to the TX-NR515. It's an outstanding receiver for the money. If you do go that route I recommend running HDMI from your video card to the receiver and running the audio along that. HDMI supports 8 channel LPCM beautifully so you will not need to use DDL or DTS Connect.

I have my home theater connected to my PC via a 50 foot HDMI cable. When I play games I use my 5.1 headphones which are connected via 3.5mm analog jacks to my Creative Labs sound card. When watching movies I just pump the video and audio over HDMI to my receiver.

that is exactly what I needed to hear.

One question though:
Is it truly best to use the HDMI from the GPU for audio, over the motherboard's HDMI?
I imagine it would be perfect for making sure that audio and video are properly synced up but,
would sending the audio through the GPU hinder performance at all while playing games?

The other reason I ask is that my motherboard's onboard audio (ALC898) seems like it is pretty good for onboard audio, and I am just assuming that it might be able to send a higher quality audio signal than my GTX 670. But I don't really know much about this stuff.

Thanks so much for the help. I am going to order the 515 tonight!


I'm also looking to upgrade my speakers. Any recommendations?
Thinking about buying this system from monoprice http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=109&.... Thoughts?
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April 12, 2013 9:17:34 PM

Cheepnis said:
Pinhedd said:
Cheepnis said:
Thanks for the responses.

I have been looking at the Xonar DX http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... but I don't see an SPDIF port on it.


I am now considering buying a new receiver, but I'm still not sure what I would need, exactly. I am looking at a reconditioned Onkyo TX-NR515 for $270 https://www.shoponkyo.com/detail.cfm?productid=TX-NR515... . Would I be able to get 5.1 sound from games if I connect my pc to that receiver?

Will the HDMI inputs send 6 channels of audio to the receiver? Or is HDMI limited to 2 channels without DTS Connect or DDLive, like Toslink?

Is there a way to connect the analog outputs from my motherboard to the receiver to get 5.1 sound?


I use an Onkyo TR-606 which is the predecessor to the TX-NR515. It's an outstanding receiver for the money. If you do go that route I recommend running HDMI from your video card to the receiver and running the audio along that. HDMI supports 8 channel LPCM beautifully so you will not need to use DDL or DTS Connect.

I have my home theater connected to my PC via a 50 foot HDMI cable. When I play games I use my 5.1 headphones which are connected via 3.5mm analog jacks to my Creative Labs sound card. When watching movies I just pump the video and audio over HDMI to my receiver.

that is exactly what I needed to hear.

One question though:
Is it truly best to use the HDMI from the GPU for audio, over the motherboard's HDMI?
I imagine it would be perfect for making sure that audio and video are properly synced up but,
would sending the audio through the GPU hinder performance at all while playing games?

The other reason I ask is that my motherboard's onboard audio (ALC898) seems like it is pretty good for onboard audio, and I am just assuming that it might be able to send a higher quality audio signal than my GTX 670. But I don't really know much about this stuff.

Thanks so much for the help. I am going to order the 515 tonight!


I'm also looking to upgrade my speakers. Any recommendations?
Thinking about buying this system from monoprice http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=109&.... Thoughts?


The HDMI port on your motherboard will be connected to the Intel/AMD IGP. I am not sure if the audio source for this device is the ALC898 or a pure software device. Since it's LPCM no actual hardware components are needed to synthesize the audio, just something to write arbitrary data to the HDMI cable. The digital to analog conversion is done by the receiver. You should see next to no performance loss when piping audio through your video card, similarly you should not see any sync issues when piping audio through your onboard. Try both and stick with whichever one suits you best.

As far as speakers go, I purchased my receiver and my speakers together for about $800 (I think). 1200 watt receiver plus full 7.1 surround, all Onkyo branded. The sound quality of the speakers is outstanding.
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