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General questions about sound cards

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June 27, 2011 8:02:14 AM

I'm trying to understand audio components a bit more, and have a few questions I was hoping I could get some insight on. I apologize in advance if any of my questions are obvious or rudimentary to some, but I don't have that much experience/knowledge in this subject. I've Googled around prior but not everything is clicking for me per se.

First, here's an example sound card I was looking at:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

I've never really had to use a blue "Line In" jack before (always have just used the green colored port on various computers for stereo headphones). That being said, Line In seems to be a really versatile port, and I don't fully understand all of its functions. One image of the product details the blue port as being "Line In/Mic In/Digital I/O jack."

Perhaps a very basic question, what exactly does "Line In" mean, and what does this port mainly do? For whatever reason, I've always been under the impression that it was the designated port for a center speaker in a surround sound setup. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

With its three designations (Line In, Mic In, and Digital I/O), I have it in mind that it can also use a microphone (replacing the typical pink port) in addition to a digital SPDIF coaxial cable (because of the Digital I/O listing) all within that same port. This doesn't make sense to me though, because I'm fairly certain that SPDIF has a termination point similar to RCA (which doesn't fit with a general port like what this card has). So how can this port possibly be a Digital I/O? Additionally, would microphone quality be better or worse than using a traditional pink port?

Also, I've deduced that the other three Line Out jacks (the green, black and orange ports) correspond to the following:

Green - Stereo headphones or front speakers
Black - Rear speakers
Orange - Subwoofer

And additionally on other models:

Pink - Microphone
Silver - Side speakers (used in 6.1 and 7.1)

Correct me if I'm wrong on any of these. The reason why I list all this out is because, on that card's specifications, it says it is capable of 7.1 channel. This doesn't make sense to me at all since there doesn't seem to be enough ports for that many speakers. It has blue (center), green (fronts), black (rears), and orange (sub) for a total of 1+2+2+1 (basically a 5.1 setup as I see it). Unless, of course, that Digital I/O somehow plays into achieving the full 7.1.

Again, I'm sorry if a lot of my information is incorrect, and I really appreciate any and all help on all these concepts.
June 27, 2011 8:53:53 AM

http://uk.store.creative.com/sound-blaster/sound-blaste...
it doesnt actually SPDIF have it it supports it if u buy another creative module for SPDIF it seperately.
the line in is for connecting a stereo or a mic in to your computer, usually you have the option of connecting a mic to a orange jack port and then ur stereo to a blue line in port. green being for output to spreakers etc
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June 27, 2011 10:26:34 AM

Line In means that it will accept an input at "line" voltage. There are a number of devices you can plug in there. Things like a stereo tuner, or a stereo tape deck, or the audio output from a CD drive - that sort of stuff.

Mike In (or Mic In, depending on where you are from) will accept an input from a microphone. Catch is, there are several kinds of microphones, and not all of them can be plugged in here. You can't use any microphone which requires phantom power, because there's nowhere on the socket to supply the phantom power. Same thing applies to the "regular" microphone input. Don't expect the microphone input on a sound card to be super-high quality. If you want really good microphone sound, use a good external microphone preamp, and plug that into Line In.

Digital In depends on the card. There are some "digital in" sockets that can take an optical connection that looks like a 3.5mm plug with a clear end - but bigbang's comment suggests that this is not one of those.

The most important thing to realise is that this socket can only do one of those things at a time. You tell the sound card which one it is doing.

Some sound cards put sub and centre onto the same connector (because those signals are essentially mono), so they can fit 7.1 onto four connectors - sub/centre, front L/R, surround L/R, rear L/R.

BTW: there may be no point in buying a sound card, depending on the motherboard you have - most motherboards today have decent sound functionality built in. I haven't felt any need to buy a sound card for quite a while, but I only use the audio for listening to music and gaming.

If you want more than you can get from the on-board audio, you might want to consider something other than Creative - perhaps something from M Audio, for example - they make a wide range of cards (plus other ways to interface audio with your PC, including USB and Firewire connections).
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June 27, 2011 10:37:10 AM

I was also looking into getting a sound card on my new multimedia gaming system but every post I made or looked at the majority opinion said it was a complete waste of money, unless I was a serious audiophile I wouldn't notice the difference and there was no difference whatsoever in regards to gaming.

confirm/deny?
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June 27, 2011 11:10:25 AM

lieutenantfrost said:
I was also looking into getting a sound card on my new multimedia gaming system but every post I made or looked at the majority opinion said it was a complete waste of money, unless I was a serious audiophile I wouldn't notice the difference and there was no difference whatsoever in regards to gaming.

confirm/deny?


For gaming I have not needed anything more than the motherboard audio in the past several years.

I have seen home theatre PCs using M Audio 2496 cards.

I can imagine an audio studio PC using some of the more advanced M Audio cards, but you are looking at real money for those.

If you are not connecting your PC to hifi, then I can't imagine you needing a sound card (unless you blew up the sound chip on your motherboard).
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June 27, 2011 1:55:12 PM

first person shooters like call of duty utilise 5.1 and 7.1 even TXH systems because it is essential that you know where the sound is coming from. pair it up with a 5.1 headset and u got urself an extra tool to shoot em big guys down
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June 27, 2011 1:55:53 PM

that is to say, if someone throws a grenade, u can hear the proximity and the direction from ur headset
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June 28, 2011 3:04:55 AM

So you do hear more sounds with the sound card in FPS then? sound direction and intensity? how close an enemy may be etc? and you wouldn't hear these things without the card?
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June 28, 2011 9:31:00 AM

yes it is definately an advantage in FPS. highly recommended
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June 28, 2011 9:31:13 AM

its also good if u want to be a ninja
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June 28, 2011 11:53:08 AM

I'm worried that so many people think the ExtremeAudio is a good card lately...[Its not; even among Creatives offerings, the Extreme Audio is horrendous.]

Anyways:

1: Paired with a good set of speakers, a decent soundcard is still significantly better quality wise then onboard audio. Quality of audio is simply better. Not a matter of new audio signals, just better processing and higher quality components. Having a 12-band EQ helps a ton when it comes to tuning as well.

2: Unless doing professional level audio, there is very little reason to get a professional level card.

Quote:
Correct me if I'm wrong on any of these. The reason why I list all this out is because, on that card's specifications, it says it is capable of 7.1 channel. This doesn't make sense to me at all since there doesn't seem to be enough ports for that many speakers. It has blue (center), green (fronts), black (rears), and orange (sub) for a total of 1+2+2+1 (basically a 5.1 setup as I see it). Unless, of course, that Digital I/O somehow plays into achieving the full 7.1.


Green = Front Stereo
Black = Rear Stereo
Orange = Center/Sub
Silver = Side Channels

Remember that in PC audio spec, each wire contains TWO audio channels, so it takes four outputs to get 7.1.

In addition:

Pink = Mic Input
Blue = Line Input

The line input is basically used to connect a non-microphone analog stereo input to a soundcard. Very little reason to use this, though if you want to connect older [mostly RCA] devices to your soundcard, its the only option avaliable. I can count the times I've head to use Line Input on one hand.

SPDIF can carry 5.1, provided the audio track is encoded to Dolby/DTS format, else you are limited to just 2.0. Hence why most cards these days come with either Dolby or DTS encoding tech built in.
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June 28, 2011 6:22:56 PM

gamerk316, i really think you should hurry up with the soundcard article... im struggling to answer many questions that is always repeated in this forum XD
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June 28, 2011 7:10:37 PM

^^ ITS GETTING THERE!

...Really, it is. I'm just debating what to put up first: MY soundcard comparisons guide, or the soundcard tech overview.

I'm off next week, and plan to get AT LEAST one of them up...
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June 28, 2011 10:50:56 PM

gamerk316 said:
Remember that in PC audio spec, each wire contains TWO audio channels, so it takes four outputs to get 7.1.

Wouldn't you need a splitter of some sort for the sub/center cable in order to feed them both? (Considering they're two entirely different types of speakers and are both mono connections.)

compulsivebuilder said:
Digital In depends on the card. There are some "digital in" sockets that can take an optical connection that looks like a 3.5mm plug with a clear end - but bigbang's comment suggests that this is not one of those.

It's strange that the manufacturer would list that specification, then. Interesting. Are special TOSLINK-type cables the only type that fit 3.5mm jacks in this way?

compulsivebuilder said:
Some sound cards put sub and centre onto the same connector (because those signals are essentially mono), so they can fit 7.1 onto four connectors - sub/centre, front L/R, surround L/R, rear L/R.

Specifically referring to the card on my first post, I still don't see how 7.1 is possible. It has line in, front speakers, rear speakers, and center/sub. There is no side speaker connection. So, there's 2 for front, 2 for rear, and then 1 on center and another on sub, or 5.1.
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June 29, 2011 7:27:19 AM

you can still run a 7.1 system using only one cable. the soundcard performs a transformation in fourier space, so any module that is 7.1 compatible can reconstruct that data using a simple chip
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June 29, 2011 7:27:37 AM

thats kind of how 7.1 headphones work
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July 20, 2011 6:18:51 AM

bigbang said:
that is to say, if someone throws a grenade, u can hear the proximity and the direction from ur headset


u dont need an extreme sstem, to hear nade's distance and its direction, because it is already done quite well even on a mediocre system, anyway, if i were to blind fold you,(in "real-life") and dropped a stone on a hardground "somewhere" around you, i doubt you will be able to give me its distance and its direction at an acceptable accuracy.
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July 20, 2011 3:39:28 PM

Quote:
thats kind of how 7.1 headphones work


"7.1" headsets always use USB [they need that much bandwidth], and always use some form of Dolby Headphone to map a 7.1 signal onto a 2.1 headset. In any case, they ignore the soundcard as a result, and are out of scope for this discussion.

In any case, looking at the Audigy SE again, its clearly not capable of true 7.1 output unless the "line in" port can be re-mapped, which I doubt.
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July 21, 2011 1:35:22 AM

actually, your mind processes visual information aswell as sound ones. in maps of counter strike and call of duty, u already hav ea pretty good idea of where in the map ur opponents might be, that crucial and high quality sound gives u the extra clue that makes u a pro. so u get boom headshots all the way.
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