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Ideas for updating PC sound system?

Last response: in Components
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October 1, 2011 10:20:34 PM

Hi everyone,

Let me start off by saying that I'm completely out of the PC audio loop, and have been so for awhile. I get confused rather quickly when researching the subject, so I am hoping to get a little direction from you audio experts on what the best route to take is.

Essentially, I have an old audio card and older speakers on my PC, and am looking for a way to a) lose the aging audio card (and its associated issues) and b) improve audio for music and games over my current setup, and c) do this for a reasonable price (I don't have a firm budget, but I don't want to spend a lot on this either.

I kind of like my speakers and how they perform, and don't see a huge compelling reason to do away this those yet. I love the bass and sound they put out. I think they do real well for "computer speakers". They're 4.1's though, with rear/front 3.5mm audio inputs on the sub. If I stay with these, then I will be limited to a soundcard with front/rear analog outputs I'm guessing. I mainly use these for music and games, with maybe a slight lean towards having good music quality, but I would like something that could handle both tasks effectively.

I also use a pair of Corsair HS1A's, which I know are by no means the best, but it's what I have and I got them cheap. As such, a card with a headphone amp I think might be useful for these.

What I've got:
Soundcard: Creative Audigy Platinum
Speakers: Altec Lansing ACS641's (4.1 speakers, with front/rear 3.5mm analog inputs on the sub)
OS: Windows 7 Home x64

Questions:
1) Considering what sound card i'm currently using, would a more modern sound card with analog 3.5mm jacks provide a noticeable difference in sound quality if that was all I replaced? Are there any that have headphone amps built in?

2) Would I make better use of money by upgrading to a sound card/speaker setup that uses a different connection type (like RCA's I see on most cards)

That's all I can think of that might be useful for you. I have PCI and PCIex1 slots free, so that is no issue. I'm just looking for reasonable ways up improve/upgrade sound quality, while keeping the spending reasonable.

Thank you all in advance for your advice.
October 2, 2011 1:28:36 AM

Hey ehksohset.



I'm no expert when it comes to audio setup but usually i like to have some bass in my audio.


I'm sure you don't want 20 speakers all over the place with a surround sound system.


I brought mine for £12 !! just 3 speakers and a 75w sub-woofer from a second hand shop, sure its nice to get it new but the old is just as good!


Take a look down your local second hand shop see what you can find! :) 





Chris.
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October 2, 2011 1:59:50 AM

ehksohset said:
Hi everyone,

Let me start off by saying that I'm completely out of the PC audio loop, and have been so for awhile. I get confused rather quickly when researching the subject, so I am hoping to get a little direction from you audio experts on what the best route to take is.

Essentially, I have an old audio card and older speakers on my PC, and am looking for a way to a) lose the aging audio card (and its associated issues) and b) improve audio for music and games over my current setup, and c) do this for a reasonable price (I don't have a firm budget, but I don't want to spend a lot on this either.

I kind of like my speakers and how they perform, and don't see a huge compelling reason to do away this those yet. I love the bass and sound they put out. I think they do real well for "computer speakers". They're 4.1's though, with rear/front 3.5mm audio inputs on the sub. If I stay with these, then I will be limited to a soundcard with front/rear analog outputs I'm guessing. I mainly use these for music and games, with maybe a slight lean towards having good music quality, but I would like something that could handle both tasks effectively.

I also use a pair of Corsair HS1A's, which I know are by no means the best, but it's what I have and I got them cheap. As such, a card with a headphone amp I think might be useful for these.

What I've got:
Soundcard: Creative Audigy Platinum
Speakers: Altec Lansing ACS641's (4.1 speakers, with front/rear 3.5mm analog inputs on the sub)
OS: Windows 7 Home x64

Questions:
1) Considering what sound card i'm currently using, would a more modern sound card with analog 3.5mm jacks provide a noticeable difference in sound quality if that was all I replaced? Are there any that have headphone amps built in?

2) Would I make better use of money by upgrading to a sound card/speaker setup that uses a different connection type (like RCA's I see on most cards)

That's all I can think of that might be useful for you. I have PCI and PCIex1 slots free, so that is no issue. I'm just looking for reasonable ways up improve/upgrade sound quality, while keeping the spending reasonable.

Thank you all in advance for your advice.


No, A sound-card will make absolutely zero difference I think. Your speakers are simply not good enough to justify a soundcard. Get much better speakers first.
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October 2, 2011 5:24:06 PM

blackhawk1928 said:
No, A sound-card will make absolutely zero difference I think. Your speakers are simply not good enough to justify a soundcard. Get much better speakers first.


What are you basing this on? They're actually pretty decent as far as pc speakers go, though I'm sure they fall short when compared to a nice bookshelf speaker/receiver setup.

Having said all that, I'm looking for either a soundcard recommendation where I could continue to reuse the current speakers, or a recommendation for a soundcard/speaker setup that would improve over the current setup. I basically want to do this as inexpensive as possible if I just replace the soundcard, price doesn't matter much. If I replace more than that, what would the cost be for something that just sounds good? I understand the sky is the limit when it comes to audio. What are some popular setups and their corresponding price?

If I replace the soundcard, I've been thinking about the xonar xense (it apparently has a 7.1 analog adapter that should work with my current speakers I think). It should also allow me to upgrade to newer equipment in the future. I was also thinking about a xonar d2x, which should also work.

If I decided to replace speakers, would my money be better spent getting a logitech system, or start piecing together a setup with receiver and bookshelf speakers? What are some decent receivers that are on the less expensive side?

I hope this clarifies what I'm trying to do a bit..
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October 2, 2011 10:48:36 PM

Quote:
If I replace the soundcard, I've been thinking about the xonar xense (it apparently has a 7.1 analog adapter that should work with my current speakers I think). It should also allow me to upgrade to newer equipment in the future. I was also thinking about a xonar d2x, which should also work.


The Xense might be a bit overkill, and the D2X is hard to justify over cheaper options like the HT Omega Striker, HT Omega Claro+, Auzentech Meridian 2G, or even the cheaper ASUS Xonar D1/DX. If you can get a D2X for ~$120-$130 or so fine, but otherwise its overpriced.
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October 3, 2011 7:33:22 AM

No, A sound-card will make absolutely zero difference I think. Your speakers are simply not good enough to justify a soundcard. Get much better speakers first.



agreed.
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October 3, 2011 8:00:46 PM

ehksohset said:
What are you basing this on? They're actually pretty decent as far as pc speakers go, though I'm sure they fall short when compared to a nice bookshelf speaker/receiver setup.

Having said all that, I'm looking for either a soundcard recommendation where I could continue to reuse the current speakers, or a recommendation for a soundcard/speaker setup that would improve over the current setup. I basically want to do this as inexpensive as possible if I just replace the soundcard, price doesn't matter much. If I replace more than that, what would the cost be for something that just sounds good? I understand the sky is the limit when it comes to audio. What are some popular setups and their corresponding price?

If I replace the soundcard, I've been thinking about the xonar xense (it apparently has a 7.1 analog adapter that should work with my current speakers I think). It should also allow me to upgrade to newer equipment in the future. I was also thinking about a xonar d2x, which should also work.

If I decided to replace speakers, would my money be better spent getting a logitech system, or start piecing together a setup with receiver and bookshelf speakers? What are some decent receivers that are on the less expensive side?

I hope this clarifies what I'm trying to do a bit..


I'm basing this on lots of experience. Sound-cards, especially for regular stereo music listening, which don not require any surround effects is easily achievable by even cheap motherboards built in sound cards. Dedicated sound-cards are for expensive speakers where you need low-noise, utilities, and better pre-amp support. If you have an external receiver then you don't even need a dedicated sound-card, you just use your motherboards digital output via coaxial or fiber optic connections and your receiver takes care of all the processes, because your receiver has a pre-amp and an amp inside of it, so a sound-card would be rendered useless for such purposes.
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October 4, 2011 6:57:59 PM

I just upgraded to 7.1 surround. It was a bit overkill. Anyway to get a cheap great sounding setup I'd get the following:

1) A digital optical output with DTS connect. My creative labs x-fi titanium has this, but I bet you can find it on cheaper cards. This will do 5.1 surround, and it's digital so you don't have to worry about signal to noise.

2) Look for a good cheap "home theater in a box" with optical in. Only go 5.1, don't bother with 7.1. I'd suggest looking for sales on an Onkyo set.
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October 4, 2011 7:34:07 PM

^^ All formats carried by optical are HORRIBLE. Low bitrates, lossy, etc. Now that we have HDMI, I want to see SPDIF go away. Analog is the way to go.
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October 4, 2011 8:38:29 PM

HDMI, Toslink, and Coaxial connections are all digital...maybe they have nuances for surround formats that some are better. However are you saying that somehow affects music quality?
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October 4, 2011 9:29:34 PM

gamerk316 said:
^^ All formats carried by optical are HORRIBLE. Low bitrates, lossy, etc. Now that we have HDMI, I want to see SPDIF go away. Analog is the way to go.


Hmm this could be true. I ended up running an 8 channel analog connection between my sound card and receiver. The problem with that is that only a handfull of receivers still have analog multichannel inputs anymore (I ended up with a Harmon Kardon avr 1600).

I hooked up the optical connection, just for kicks, and it seemed to work fine, but it did push a lot of the mid range onto the subwoofer. Now I'm running through analog (it costs a helovalot more though).

I've actually become a bit of a creative labs fan (I think I'm the only one). I hated them a few years ago, but after the started supporting openAL their drivers got a lot better, and I really like the audio tweaks they provide in their control panel. The crystalizer in particular adds a lot to the sound.

As far as I know optical provides 5.1 sound at 48khz/24bit on a 1.5 Mbit/s stream. That doesn't sound too bad, that's 250 kbit/s per channel.
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October 6, 2011 3:24:24 PM

I can really recommend a dedicated sound card, it will give you much better quality and performance. I was in a similar situation to you but I turned to the web for help and found this guide http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/forum/51420-19-best-sound...

I ended up with a USB model which is ace... worth a shot!

Cheers

Ben
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October 6, 2011 5:20:07 PM

blackhawk1928 said:
HDMI, Toslink, and Coaxial connections are all digital...maybe they have nuances for surround formats that some are better. However are you saying that somehow affects music quality?


Yes. SPDIF over Optical/Coaxial has SIGNIFICANT bandwidth issues, and a limitation on what audio formats can be carried. No stereo signals over 16-bit 96KHz, and no multichannel formats aside from Dolby/DTS streams, both of which are limited to 16-bit, 48KHz [or 44.1KHz] playback. And thats before considering Dolby/DTS are lossy formats.

HDMI is better, as you don't have to be concerned about SPDIF's transmission limitations. Thhats why I'm hoping SPDIF goes away within the next decade.
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