Should I get a new sound card? realtek/SB X-fi

The question: If I have a good HT receiver using a SPDIF/toslink connection from a computer, is there a difference between onboard sound and a high end sound card for the sound quality coming out of the receiver's speakers? I have onboard sound that has a SPDIF/toslink output and a decent but old soundcard which doesn't have that output. Can I use the onboard sound for connecting to the receiver and the old soundcard for my headphones? Do you think given the details, that there would be a noticeable/significant improvement if I bought a new Titanium HD or Xonar Essence STX for movies, music, and games? (I'd prioritize music quality and movie quality over gaming quality)

The system:
Just built a new desktop PC with an MSI P67 G43 MOBO which comes with realtek onboard sound. (which has a SPDIF/toslink output) I have a 5 year old "Sound Blaster® X-Fi™ XtremeMusic (D), w/Dolby® Digital 5.1" (which does NOT have a SPDIF/toslink output) from my old computer that I can add.

The speaker setup for movies mostly and occasional music: Onkyo SR-805 receiver powering a 5.1 Infinity TS1200 surround speaker system

Headphones for music and games: Audio Technica A-900 (doesn't require an amp and sounds nice on my old X-Fi card)

Thanks for your help!
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More about should sound card realtek
  1. [Headphones for music and games: Audio Technica A-900 (doesn't require an amp and sounds nice on my old X-Fi card) ]

    Another option you might consider is just a set of USB headphones. I use a usb connection when I play games for the voice connection and it works fine. It doesn't appear to slow games down for me. It saved me from needing to upgrade my old audio card also.
  2. How much would a good set of USB headphones cost that would be comparable to the A900 + x-fi card? Is the realtek onboard audio fine as a toslink/SPDIF passthrough? Thanks for your help and opinions.
  3. Well, when using digital output, you aren't going to see significant differences between soundcards. There will be some minor differneces, but soundcards abilities mostly go to waste when using teh digital output. The only thing you really gain is teh ability to encode to Dolby/DTS formats on the fly to get 5.1 out of SPDIF.
  4. Thanks Gamer. Would my receiver be able to encode to Dolby/DTS formats on the fly instead of a soundcard? Maybe I don't understand exactly what it means to encode on the fly to get 5.1 SPDIF.

    This is my understanding, please let me know where I'm off: DVD is placed in drive and played with media software. Next the audio data is passed from the media software out the SPDIF to the Onkyo receiver, which can encode (or decode?) that data into the Dolby/DTS 5.1 speaker system attached to the receiver.

    What could a good sound card do with SPDIF that a high end receiver can't? Your help in clarifying things is greatly appreciated.

  5. More like this:

    SPDIF can carry THREE formats:
    2.0 PCM [uncompressed audio]
    5.1 Dolbly Digital
    5.1 DTS

    Any audio that is played that is not in Dolby/DTS format will be passed through as stereo.

    ENCODERS take a 5.1 uncompressed audio stream and convert to either Dolby/DTS format, so you cna pass through a 5.1 signal over SPDIF.

    DECODERS take a 5.1 Dolby/DTS signal and decode it back to PCM, so it can be played by speakers.

    Receivers typically have decoders, but not encoders. [IE: Audio goes TO a receiver, so there is no reason to convert audio to Dolby/DTS formats]. Soundcard typically have encoders, but not decoders.

    In the case of DVD movies, you typically already have a Dolby Digital/DTS track on the DVD, so you don't need an encoder [as the audio is already in Dolby/DTS format]. For any other audio, however, without an encoder, your PC will only put out stereo sound out of SPDIF.

    Between soundcards, there is VERY little difference between the quality of the SPDIF output. Most of soundcards abilities are focused on their analog outputs, so there is no reason to spend a lot of money on a soundcard if you plan to use the SPDIF output. As long as you have a Dolby/DTS encoder, you should be fine.
  6. Thanks Gamer, you set me straight, I appreciate it.

    So that brings up the final point, do you have any recommendations for a soundcard with a high quality encoder? If possible, I'd also like a high quality headphone port but it doesn't need to be amped. As always, your advice is appreciated.

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