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Do sound cards matter anymore?

Last response: in Components
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January 27, 2010 5:01:56 PM

Right now I'm using the on-board realtek sound card (or whatever that would be called) using my Onkyo 6.1 sound system (yes 6.1 a few months later 7.1's came out ) via optical outlet. I'm a gamer and I listen to a lot of music and I'm pleased with my current setup but I can't help but wonder if getting a dedicated sound card would sound better? Thanks!
January 27, 2010 5:25:44 PM

jkapernicus said:
Right now I'm using the on-board realtek sound card (or whatever that would be called) using my Onkyo 6.1 sound system (yes 6.1 a few months later 7.1's came out ) via optical outlet. I'm a gamer and I listen to a lot of music and I'm pleased with my current setup but I can't help but wonder if getting a dedicated sound card would sound better? Thanks!


It depends how sensitive your ears are. Many mid-range sound cards come with 24-bit DAC's, which allows for very clean and accurate sound reproduction with a high degree of channel separation, often rivaling some of the best preamp units.

I will say this: If you are happy with your sound system now, don't change it until you aren't. Once your ears get tuned to high end stuff, cheaper stuff sounds like garbage, and you'll be paying through the nose forever.
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January 27, 2010 6:05:33 PM

Why fix what isn't broken. Have to agree with Malovane. If you are satisfied, why change. Realtek is as good as it gets for onboard sound and that doesn't mean bad. You are a gamer, so you can spend money on getting an SSD or faster GPU instead (unless you already have an SSD and a HD5970? :D 

That said, IF you still want to change, Asus Xonar DX is THE way to go. :) 
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January 27, 2010 6:10:58 PM

inquartata said:
Why fix what isn't broken. Have to agree with Malovane. If you are satisfied, why change. Realtek is as good as it gets for onboard sound and that doesn't mean bad. You are a gamer, so you can spend money on getting an SSD or faster GPU instead (unless you already have an SSD and a HD5970? :D 

That said, IF you still want to change, Asus Xonar DX is THE way to go. :) 



Creative Soundcards are the standard which everyone recognises...

I dont think this company will be around for much longer...


The problem is that the software produced for these cards has been as buggy as hell... really is a poor show from creative and really have not pushed the format further...

9.1 comes out soon so that will need some processing power.... Realtek on board uses processing power compared to a proper sound card but the speed difference is negligable
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January 27, 2010 7:27:17 PM

^ Creative has been going down hill since the days of the first Xi-Fi. The whole Daniel K thing also damaged its rep among gamers and dedicated customers.

Anyway, dedicated sound cards do make a difference as far as sound quality, especially with 5.1 and gaming. As far as listening to music and movies, especially with anything less than 5.1 speaker setup, the difference is pretty small or nonexistent to most people. Dedicated sound cards use to make a significant difference in gaming performance, due to the CPU overhead of many onboard sound solutions, but modern CPUs are much less impacted by it.
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January 28, 2010 10:06:21 AM

Yes, Creative is, and has been, in a downward spiral for quite some time.
While their X-Fi chip is quite nice (and completely unused since EAX died), their cards and business practices are terrible :pfff: 
jkapernicus said:
Right now I'm using the on-board realtek sound card (or whatever that would be called) using my Onkyo 6.1 sound system (yes 6.1 a few months later 7.1's came out ) via optical outlet. I'm a gamer and I listen to a lot of music and I'm pleased with my current setup but I can't help but wonder if getting a dedicated sound card would sound better? Thanks!

As long as your onboard CODEC does DDL or DTS Connect encoding (giving you surround sound in games and such), there will be NO difference between it and an aftermarket sound card.
If it does not, look into the inexpensive Xonar Ds, which can handle DTS Connect encoding for real time output of 5.1 surround.
Anything more expensive would be a total waste as they focus on analogue quality and your receiver is doing all the DAC work....
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January 28, 2010 2:51:16 PM

outlw6669 said:
...look into the inexpensive Xonar Ds, which can handle DTS Connect encoding for real time output of 5.1 surround. ...


Thing is, that card only does DTS and not Dolby, and it has only optical SPDIF and not coaxial. Just a heads-up so the OP can check his receiver first for compatibility.
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January 28, 2010 3:00:16 PM

That is correct, DTS Connect only, no DDL Encoding.
Should not be an issue though.
I have never seen a semi recent Onkyo receiver that could not decode DTS.
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January 29, 2010 3:05:32 PM

asus is better then creative in every way, sound quality??? asus wins

drivers??? asus wins.... SNR?? THM?? IMD??? asus wins

...HANDS DOWN

im biased and im gonna mke it clear, asus wins over creative.
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January 29, 2010 3:23:41 PM

^^ I'm not disagreeing...still, Auzentech gives them a good run for your money.
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January 29, 2010 4:04:38 PM

As does HT|Omega....

Yes, ASUS' Xonar line is top notch but there still is a little competition here ;) 
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January 31, 2010 5:42:50 AM

Sound cards do matter in the sense that it's less work for the CPU, thus it can use the free time to focus on other processes, so-to-speak. :D 
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January 31, 2010 10:03:17 AM

Not so much as you might think...
Modern multicore CPU's are quite powerful and using a few % of an unused core's untapped potential will have no effect on system performance.
To be sure, ALL sound cards, dedicated or onboard, will use some CPU cycles.
Taking a look Here, or at the available slides, will demonstrate.

Tested with a stock E6700 under Windows XP (best case scenario for Creative's X-Fi chip).
Does the onboard codec lose, sure but it still does not use excessive resources.
With a newer CPU, you will see even lower usage (more/faster cores).






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February 9, 2010 11:19:05 PM

Best answer selected by jkapernicus.
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February 15, 2010 4:07:20 PM

gamerk316 said:
^^ I'm not disagreeing...still, Auzentech gives them a good run for your money.



Have to jump in. Whilst the hardware and features of the auzentech cards are good, their x-fi chipset card (forte, prelude, x-fi hd, etc) drivers are based on creative drivers further modified by auzentech.
This means that if you find the waiting time for updated drivers for creative cards ridiculous, you'll be waiting the same amount of time + a few months for the auzentech drivers to be updated.
Case in point is the Windows 7 drivers. The Auzentech drivers were last updated July 09. They are still buggy and can (and will) cause BSOD's and game crashes. Creative have just got around to updating their drivers, you'll be waiting even longer for auzentech to update theirs.
If you're going to get a sound card then you should really go for the asus based ones. Whilst Asus have had a bad reputation (ok, not as bad as creatives) in the past for providing timely driver updates, at least they appear to be on the ball with the Windows 7 soundcard drivers and have provided several updates since the official Windows 7 release. Auzentech are still on the beta drivers from beforehand and creative have only just released an updated one.
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February 15, 2010 4:49:21 PM

Hellboy said:
Creative Soundcards are the standard which everyone recognises...

I dont think this company will be around for much longer...


The problem is that the software produced for these cards has been as buggy as hell... really is a poor show from creative and really have not pushed the format further...

9.1 comes out soon so that will need some processing power.... Realtek on board uses processing power compared to a proper sound card but the speed difference is negligable


actually, Vista/Win7 does ALL sound via software now. The new sound system for Vista/Win7 uses all 32bit Floating point calculations for excellent quality. All applications submit their sound streams to the sound API where Vista uses more 32bit calculations to mix the sound together. This also lets each application have it own volume set and the 32bit processing does VERY accurate volume scaling and mixing. The end resulting sound is then converted to whatever the soundcard outputs.

For backwards compatibility, the old sound API will accept whatever format the application throws at it then up-converts that bit stream into 32bit format before getting output to the lower level APIs. New applications can output directly to the New sound API but it all has to be in 32bit format.

Sound cards are treated as dumb output devices and Windows just sends a bit-stream to your soundcard and your soundcard output the bit-stream via DAC/Optical/COAX/etc

This means a soundcard is nothing more than a DAC with a small buffer and a bunch of physical outputs. About as useful as a hardware accelerated LCD monitor.

Yes, Vista/Win7 does support HW accel of sound via OpenAL, but the developers of Bad Company 2 said the quality of HW accelerated sound is MUCH worse than doing all your calculations on the CPU as 32bit. Also, HW based mixing is MUCH more limited on effects than CPU based, since you can do whatever you like using the CPU, you just have to use your own math instead of the premade EAX style stuff. Any decent game will have it's own sound engine and do all special effects on the CPU

edit: A good soundcard will still have a good DAC, so don't think a high end "gaming" soundcard will be a waste. But ignore the "gaming" aspect and concentrate on the DAC and physicals supported.
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February 16, 2010 2:07:43 PM

we get soundcard, for clarity and clearness. using a standard alc888 is nothing compared to the xonar. it doesnt matter if the cpu uses 24 bit or 32 bit or higher if there even is, cos the output is what effects the greatest.

what u are saying here is like the same as having worlds gretest graphics card, with a black and white screen, without output, input is nothing.
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February 16, 2010 2:14:31 PM

"Let's simplify all this down and say that 5.1/48kHz/16-bit will get you the best experience on PC" dont soundcard, ouput higher then this,

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February 16, 2010 2:17:21 PM

MEgamer said:
we get soundcard, for clarity and clearness. using a standard alc888 is nothing compared to the xonar. it doesnt matter if the cpu uses 24 bit or 32 bit or higher if there even is, cos the output is what effects the greatest.

what u are saying here is like the same as having worlds gretest graphics card, with a black and white screen, without output, input is nothing.


not really. What I was getting at is that the "gaming" aspect of the Xonar is completely irrelevant to the quality of its sound because all decent sound is computed by the CPU. The Xonar does have excellent DACs, but anyone could make a sound card that is nothing more than a really high quality DAC, good insulation, and a small data buffer. It would be a cheaper and sound just the same.

On a side note, if you use digital out, then you'll get absolutely no difference because the digital out on every soundcard will output the exact same bits, assuming you're just streaming sound from the CPU.

Quote:
it doesnt matter if the cpu uses 24 bit or 32 bit or higher if there even is, cos the output is what effects the greatest


Meh, to a degree. The sound coming out of Bad Company 2 is considered one of the most realistic and best sounding game ever, yet it only outputs 16bit at 48khz. All of the calculations are 32bit floats, so there's less loss of sound in the mixing, which adds up VERY fast.
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February 16, 2010 2:59:00 PM

the only reason i have an add on sound card is to be able to have music playing through the speakers and have a headset for skype on a different card
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