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USB Headset vs Mobo/Headset vs Sound Card/Headset Sound Quality

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June 2, 2011 5:24:33 AM

I'm currently looking for a pair of headsets (for gaming, movies, and music) and I'm trying to determine what type of headset I should get first, one with onboard sound (i.e., USB headset), or one that connects to a PC.

This brought me to wonder, what are the differences in sound between a USB headset, a headset connected to a PC with integrated audio (I have integrated audio, Realtek HD ALC890B), or a headset connected to a PC with a dedicated sound card?

Is the sound exponentially better from one to the other, or are there barely any differences?

I assume the order would be, in terms of sound quality:

Headset + Dedicated Sound Card
USB Headset
Headset + Integrated Audio

A breakdown of the sound quality of the three different headset setups would be greatly appreciated.

(I would also like to note that I'm looking for headsets that have virtual 7.1 surround sound, and would prefer if it were wireless, which means it would likely be USB...)

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June 2, 2011 12:08:28 PM

Depends a lot on both the output device (onboard/soundcard/USB) and the speakers you are using. Onboard is good, and beats almost all USB implementations, but even a cheap dedicated soundcard is an improvement in the audio department.

The only wireless 7.1 headset I know of it Logitechs refresh of the G35 [I forget the model# offhand]. Razer, Astro, and Turtle Beach all have virtualized 7.1 headsets though, but all are wired. [Some are USB, some are Optical + Upmixing]

I do note: Virtualized 7.1 is basically a combination of Dolby Pro Logic IIx [Upmixing], Dolby Virtual Speaker Shifter, and Dolby Headphone, all of which most soundcard offer as enhancement settings. So I get the same effect with my ASUS Xonar Xense and Seinhessier PC350's as I did with my Logitech G35, just with a higher quality audio output.
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June 2, 2011 3:48:52 PM

I believe the headset you speak of is the Logitech G930, which I've been eyeing for some time. The only reason I haven't jumped on it was because it was a USB headset, and it only works for PC, as opposed to some Astro and Turtle Beach which also work on an XBox and a PS3.

So your suggesting that integrated motherboard audio has better quality sound from a USB headset?

See, this is my scenario/problem/whatever:

I'm trying to determine if it would be better to connect a headset to my pc mobo (integrated audio), or just to connect it to my pc through USB. If the sound quality is better with the headset connected to the PC mobo's integrated audio, then thats the route I want to take.

Furthermore, if I go with headset + integrated audio, then I might not be satisfied anymore KNOWING that I can now easily increase my sound quality by buying a dedicated sound card. However, before I go dropping more money on a sound card, the increase in sound quality must justify the purchase. If a sound card is only going to provide me with a slight boost in sound quality over integrated audio, then I don't think I'll be willing to spend the money to buy the sound card.

You seem to suggest, though, that a headset connected to integrated audio is better than a USB headset. And, you also suggest that a sound card would provide an improvement, even a cheap one. I've read, however, that sound cards aren't worth it anymore or almost at that point. This is due to the increase in quality over the years in integrated audio. I've also read that USB headset sound quality isn't too shabby either...

Also, you trying to tell me you can simulate 7.1 surround sound on you non 7.1 surround sound headset via your sound card? That sounds interesting. Pun intended :lol: 
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June 2, 2011 8:59:17 PM

Quote:
The only reason I haven't jumped on it was because it was a USB headset, and it only works for PC, as opposed to some Astro and Turtle Beach which also work on an XBox and a PS3.


The Astro/TB both use Optical output, hence why they work with consoles. Essentially, they can take a 5.1 Dolby/DTS signal, upmix it to 7.1, then virtualize it onto a 2.0 output. And I know the G35, while it can't output audio from the PS3, you can still use its mic.

Quote:
So your suggesting that integrated motherboard audio has better quality sound from a USB headset?


Depends on your definition of quality; sone USB solutions do a good job of masking their shortcommings, and a handful [those with good drivers] offer a lot of post processing to clean up the audio signal. But at the end of hte day, 90% of USB headsets are worse then what you'd get with onboard.

Quote:
I've read, however, that sound cards aren't worth it anymore or almost at that point. This is due to the increase in quality over the years in integrated audio.


While hardware acceleartion is gone, you still go through drivers, which are very bare bone for onboard solutions. You still output through the soundcards DAC, which is much higher quality. You have a lot of enhancement options [Pro Logic, Dolby Virtual Headphone], can adjust specific fequency bands to your liking, etc. Even a low tier soundcard [ASUS Xonar D1/DX, HT Omega Striker] is a significant improvement in my eyes.

Quote:
so, you trying to tell me you can simulate 7.1 surround sound on you non 7.1 surround sound headset via your sound card?


Yep, Dolby Virtual Headphone is included in most soundcards software, which allows for a 5.1/7.1 signal to be mapped to a 2.0 output. Thats EXACTLY how the Logitech G35, Astro A40, and other virtualized headsets get their surround effect. [VERY few headphones actually offer true 5.1 output, and no headphones I know of actually offers true 7.1. Almost all are virtualized]. The only downside is the side channels do get a bit muddled in the effect...
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June 2, 2011 11:02:08 PM

I suppose I'll select a headset that isn't USB based then. Saves me having to install extra drivers too... I can also later obtain a sound card if I feel its necessary. Hopefully, though, my integrated Realtek HD audio will be satisfying enough.

However, selecting a non USB headset means that the headset will likely be wired. Do you know of any gaming wireless headsets that aren't USB based?

Actually, I think astro has wireless a40's. Those are expensive though, and probably reverts to USB...
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June 19, 2011 2:52:47 PM

Best answer selected by madscientist24.
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