Ideas for updating PC sound system?

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.
13 answers Last reply
More about ideas updating sound system
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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..
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. ^^ 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.
  9. 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?
  10. 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.
  11. 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-device

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

    Cheers

    Ben
  12. Oops I forgot to post the link to the guide I used!

    http://www.musicmatter.co.uk/buying-guides/audio-interfaces
  13. 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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