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Onboard vs Dedicated Audio

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September 18, 2008 9:29:59 PM

Hello everyone!

Hopefully you guys can help settle a discussion between two friends of mine. Both have massive ego's and neither wants to be wrong so I refused to get involved because their discussions usually turn into heated arguments lol.

One of them is insisting that onboard audio chips on todays current motherboards are just as good as any dedicated audio card in terms of playback quality. He insists there is no reason at all for anyone to get an dedicated audio card unless they have a recording studio and are in need of the fancy input connectors found on the drive-bay panel included with a few models.

The other friend says that dedicated audio is far better then any onboard chip. He insists playback quality of mp3's is superior, 3D positioning in movies and games is more accurate and that dedicated cards have support for features like EAX and Dolby Digital which onboard cards don't.

Thus the numbers started flying! Khz this, dB that, frequency response something or another. I am neither a sound engineer or an audiophile.

Who is right?

(This does have relevance to me as i'm looking at the Logitech Z5500's and the new X-FI Titanium PCI-E card but don't want to waste money. Currently I have whatever onobard audio is on an Asus P5K and Logitch X530's.)
September 18, 2008 9:53:34 PM

I, too, have logitech x-530's and I love them with my audigy 2 zs sound card. Honestly, I do like my soundcard's options to change all sorts of settings on my setup to get different sounds. I would probably go for a card if I were to build a new rig now. However, I don't think I would go for anything super super expensive. I'd just spend around $100 or less for a decent card.

I haven't really heard bad things about onboard audio. I have never used mine to compare the difference, but I do not think that my onboard audio has the ability to change all the settings like my card does.

September 18, 2008 10:01:57 PM

SizroSpunkmire

Generally speaking: most dedicated soundcards will almost always perform better (both CPU wise and sound quality wise) because there is more hardware devoted for the task at hand (I.E.: producing sound). Comparably: a dedicated sound card has many chips and transistors to create sound, whereas many of the integrated on-board solutions have only 1 chip, few transistors, and often rely on software emulation to produce sound. This causes CPU load and can also degrade the sound experience (and even cause the sound to "stutter").

but on the other hand I don't use a sound cards and I only have used onboard sound for the last 10 years.it's good enough for me,and also they have improved onboard sound over the years.hope this helps you out
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September 18, 2008 10:13:05 PM

These days on board sound is really good, but I still think there is a slight edge for buying a sound card as far as quality and performance.

The first sound card I bought was the original Audigy and I have to say at the time VS built in, the quality was amazing.
September 18, 2008 10:17:41 PM

Agreed, onboard sound is pretty good, though a soundcard may be slightly better. But like my board even has HD sound outputs. Save the money and get better speakers, you will probably hear more difference there.
September 18, 2008 11:46:49 PM

Discrete sound cards win hands down for gaming, music and output versatility.
Tell your ego fevered onboard loving friend: [:thegreatgrapeape:9]



September 19, 2008 2:15:26 AM

I have tried a separate sound card, and found it not to be worth it. Realize, though that I am not much of an audiophile.

My suggestion is to try your new speakers with onboard sound first.

If you think an add-in card might be better, see if you can borrow your friend's card to try it.
September 19, 2008 2:36:57 AM

Sound cards DO output a higher quality "cleaner" sound, but it's really hard to tell the difference.
The main advantages of a soud card are:
A Miriad of options to tweak to get the best out of your speakers
Offliading work from the CPU to the sound card (at most 3~5% CPU usage)
Lots of connection options (input and output)
e-penis size boost.
September 19, 2008 2:37:51 AM

True surround sound in games will not work with onboard sound. So if your gaming then I suggest getting a basic one. I use my audigy 2 zs paired with logitech z5500s and I haven't had a reason to switch to a more "powerful" sound card. My 8800gt playing games like COD4, Unreal tournament, Half Life 2 at 1920x1200 still gets the same fps it did running just stereo sound.
September 23, 2008 3:30:25 AM

Sound cards are probably just a gimmick nowadays unless you're making a studio.
September 23, 2008 9:32:18 PM

spellbinder2050 said:
Sound cards are probably just a gimmick nowadays unless you're making a studio.



Well yes, unless you want quality audio, or a digital output, or surround processing or, or

;) 

September 25, 2008 1:02:44 PM

Depends mostly upon the quality of your speakers. If using average computer speakers such as the Logitech z5500/x530 the difference between onboard and discrete will be minimal. However if using higher quality stereo speakers or a home theatre setup (Using proper amplifiers and speakers) then the difference between onboard and discrete is much larger as the speakers can actually show the differences in quality.

So basically - if you're using cheap computer speakers there's no difference, if you're using proper stereo gear, the more high end you go, the bigger the difference between onboard and discrete.
September 26, 2008 12:54:41 AM

quantumsheep said:
Depends mostly upon the quality of your speakers. If using average computer speakers such as the Logitech z5500/x530 the difference between onboard and discrete will be minimal. However if using higher quality stereo speakers or a home theatre setup (Using proper amplifiers and speakers) then the difference between onboard and discrete is much larger as the speakers can actually show the differences in quality.

So basically - if you're using cheap computer speakers there's no difference, if you're using proper stereo gear, the more high end you go, the bigger the difference between onboard and discrete.



Generally if your using a hifi or AVR youll be running optical or coaxial digital to your amplifier, wouldnt this negate the need for a descrete card. As I thought there was minimal processing done for a straight pass through?
September 8, 2009 4:27:28 AM

Just my two cents.

I find that a separate audio card is better than on board.

The on-board may have 7.1 etc. Buts its mostly done in software which steals cpu cycles.

The onboard chips have more pops, hiss, etc. Not as clean.

I use high quality stereo speakers vs cheap 5.1s. They sound much better.

I have used Audigy 2 ZS and SB live budget cards. Both did better in terms of gaming compatibility and sound quality.

On board sound is ok, about as good as on-board video. I still say the older PCI SB cards are best.
September 8, 2009 5:00:28 AM

To add my 2c...

I am a bedroom DJ. My onboard sound uses ALC888. As a DJ, I occasionally need 2 stereo inputs and 2 separate stereo outputs (one for master, one for cue/pre-listening) plus low latencies.

For this purpose, I use a Native Instruments Audio 4 DJ external USB audio interface which, according to some respected audio professionals, has pretty decent-quality output and uses high-quality Cirrus Logic AD/DA converters (this thing is $200 and doesn't even support more than 2 times 2.0 output). It turns out I also have KRK Rokit VXT 8 (2nd generation) studio monitors which run $1000+ for a pair.

So loudspeaker-wise my equipment is pretty high quality. Nevertheless, I CANNOT hear the difference between onboard ALC 888 audio and the Audio 4 DJ. Dedicated audio might give you additional *features* (multiple stereo in/outs and lower latency in my case) but I think you a WON'T hear a difference in sound *quality*.

Even claims that external sound cards are better than internal ones are dubious. I thought differently myself until recently but it appears that, nowadays, even professionals say that EMI/RFI is not an issue anymore on internal PCI/PCIx or even onboard sound.

EDIT: sick bump, ^^, I didn't realize LOL
September 8, 2009 5:24:19 AM

If you are just sitting there in windows and playing music, some on-board sound is decent.

But it degrades once you start pushing the system. Games do this.

And not all on-board is bad. I have not tested them all.

The Realtec ALC 888 maybe good. I have heard that its much better than the previous generation on onboard sound.

but...
On the Audigy ZS
Yep it will be better than onboard in many ways....
Movies=Has hardware decoding Dolby,Dolby ES(If its the ZS version u get DTS as well)
Games=Advance HD 4.0(with driver update) which is awesome if u have surround speakers...u can actually hear the the bullets shell falls down n when u move the sound also changes to the direction.......
Also all effects are hardware accalarated....

Those are just some points.....which are used in day to day life.......

September 8, 2009 5:32:25 AM

If your not a gamer the newer realteks are probably good enough. A few notes from people that purchased the new SB X-FI gamer card.

Pros: HD audio hook-up for front panels on cases that support it like mine. The sould quality destroys my integrated audio chip. Realtek on a P35 Gigabyte board if you care to know. Really smoothed out audio issues in COD4 like studder when attacked by dogs. Bioshock sounds fantastic with headphones. I really like the fact I can use the front panel headder audio out now. Cheaper than the department store.

Pros: Amazing card. Huge upgrade over Realtek HD integrated mobo audio. Crystal clear music, movies, and games. Vista 32 recognized the card and automatically installed drivers via windows device manager with no problems. Also can connect to the front audio ports on your case.

September 15, 2009 1:32:22 PM

SizroSpunkmire said:
Thus the numbers started flying! Khz this, dB that, frequency response something or another. I am neither a sound engineer or an audiophile.

Who is right?)


Couple of considerations

1. Not all on board sound, or dedicated sound cards, are created equal. For example, the Supreme FX X-Fi which is an accessory board which is provided with hi end MoBos like the Asus Rampage II Extreme are a bit different than what you will find on a $60 generic MoBo. The Supreme FX X-Fi should be expected to give a better sound experience than a generic add on card.

2. The experience will vary depending you listening to them on ? The sound card need only be as good as the speakers.

3. We're talking mp3 playback right ? So, the sound is already compromised. If sound really matters, you won't be listening to mp3's but something better like SHN files.

http://www.etree.org/shncom.html
http://www.etree.org/shnamp.html

4. While sound performance improvements, or lack of, may vary with the addition of a separate card, you will free up the CPU from bearing this load resulting in better overall performance.

5. As a fading but still dedicated audiophile (the ear's ability to hear wide frequency response fade with age :(  ), I have to say I have never heard anything come out of a computer that approaches a home audio system (have 3 sets of Logitech 5500's at home).
September 15, 2009 11:56:42 PM

Quote:
this has been beaten to death before, just google the damn thing as this is flame bait.



Yes many things have been beaten to death when it comes to PC discussions.
You would think there would be no discussions about anything.

One thing you did not take into consideration. The speed at which this technology moves.

Video cards today are not the same as 1 year ago. Prices, heat, power etc all change on a monthly basis.

It was once thought that separate sounds destroyed built in. Maybe that is not the cases anymore. One should not get set in their ways when it comes to PC hardware. All things change and unfortunately this mean rehashing what on the surface appears to be the same old song and dance.

Its only flame bate if you want it to be.
April 14, 2010 7:58:54 PM

Whether or not the quality is better with a card vs onboard audio, doesn't really matter. The difference anymore isn't all that noticeable. And if it is, then it just means you have better hearing than others.
This is all opinionated. However, the issue I have with anything integrated, (whether it be video, audio, or even networking) is that if it were to go bad, you have to replace the entire board, whether the board itself is bad or not.
Integrated may be cheaper, and space-saving (especially for laptops), but in the end you have to ask yourself if you're going to upgrade or repair your PC. If so, then you should go with a dedicated card, not integrated.
Integrated was designed with only one thing in mind; disposable and cheap PCs'.
Such as the horrible e-machines that you can buy for $400 at Wal-Mart. It's as simple as "You get what you pay for" theory.
April 14, 2010 8:08:51 PM

You know this thread is from 2008 but to tell you the truth there is a big difference between onboard and dedicated the problem is people get so used to the sound from their onboard audio. Most people will be able to hear the depth and the quality of sound that is produced from a good sound card.

Check my thread out for more info.
http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/279364-28-sound-card
May 1, 2010 9:29:23 PM

In terms of playing back sound from today's games and common audio files I would say buying a discrete soundcard is like purchasing a herd of cattle to get a glass of milk...
May 2, 2010 5:25:07 PM

a true audiophile knows that analogue is better then digital.

digital is a compressed form of data, that has to be PASSED to another DAC

so if theres anyone out there saying ... oh w8 its got digital so it must far more superior then 'yours'... go suck out. (not being rude or anything)
May 2, 2010 5:39:05 PM

alc 888 have a high stereocrosstalk, i actually tested this with my integrated soundcard (alc888) on my old mobo.

and u can easily hear teh sound bleed of the opposite speaker when u unplug the other one. get a soundcard, and assuming u have a decnet audio system, the stereo imaging and the soundstage shuld be improved.

so its not always to do with 'quality' and cpu handling, theres a lot more then jsut numbers and theorectical facts, when it comes to dealing with perception that is subjective as sound.
May 3, 2010 6:02:57 PM

Hi
So, I just got a Blu Ray player, I get really annoying, scratchy noise when I have to put the volume up that extra notch to really get the Blu Ray sound quality. It basically ruins the watching of really quiet, emotional scenes, because I get this continual 'beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep' going on. I think it's probably the highest pitch a human ear can handle.

Aaaanyway, I'm guessing that getting a decent 5.1 soundcard should help me eliminate this right? I'm only using a creative 5.1 setup with 3.5mm inputs.

May 3, 2010 6:04:32 PM

Oh and there's a lot of static. Silly amounts.
May 6, 2010 2:55:47 AM

It is not the quality of the chips that hurt the onboard sound, it is the poor quality connectors.

The better sound cards or USB/firewire outboard units have XLR connectors to speakers. This is massively better than the junk connectors on the back of motherboards.
May 6, 2010 4:19:31 AM

I tried the onboard audio. It sounds muddy. Then i tried my Auzentech Prelude, Boom the sound was clear and distortion free.
May 21, 2010 5:13:40 PM

For playback of mp3's and Youtube, most onboard sound cards will do the job more than adequately. For playback of uncompressed sound and for use with a high quality speaker system, they don't always do the job so well. I've got an Asus P6T Deluxe V2, and the onboard is nothing to be impressed by. I've got it hooked up to a pair of Alesis M1Active 520 monitor speakers (pretty cheap as monitor speakers go), via a Omnitronic 4 channel mixer. I get a high frequency noice whenever I move my mouse pointer. I've had this on other computers in the past as well, both with onboard and add-in soundcards. From experience, this problem seems to be caused by noise/interference made by the graphics card, that is picked up by one or more of the components on the sound card. However, with an add-in soundcard, you can fix this problem by moving the soundcard to the PCI slot located as far as possible away from the graphics card. This has worked well for me in the past. However, with on-board sound, you cannot change the distance between the graphics card and the sound card components. The noice from moving the mouse pointer, can be very annoying when I'm not listening to any form of music or game sound, and as such, I would always go with a dedicated add-in soundcard rather than the onboard one. With Windows 7 being a bastard to older soundcards though, I've been spending some time making up my mind on which one I wanted to try out this time. I've decided to go with a ESI ProDigy 7.1 Hifi. It should be with me next week, and I can finally get rid of the mouse pointer noise.

By high quality speaker system, please disregard anything labeled "Logitech" or "Creative Labs". They can be "good for the money", but I have yet to come across one that truly sounds GOOD.
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