Are sound cards really *worth* it?

By spyker_C8 ยท 19 replies
Dec 18, 2005
  1. I've heard some people say that there is no difference in audio quality between onboard and dedicated sound cards. Yet I hear from others that theres a big difference.

    So what is it? Is it worth it to buy a seperate soundcard in terms of only using it to listen to audio from a computer? I'll be hooking it up to a set of Z2300s.
  2. Federelli

    Federelli TS Rookie Posts: 361

    Not only is the soundcard a main part of a PC, but also the speakers.

    So yes, it's absolutely worth it, there's a difference of almost 10 fps while using onboard sound, against a card.
    Besides soundcards today do thousands of things, take a look at Creative's Audigy Line and X-Fi. THX certification, 136dB SNR, 24Bit Audio.

    Totally, totally, worth it.
  3. truflip

    truflip TS Rookie Posts: 390

    "in terms of only using it to listen to audio from a computer"

    then no.. the onboard sound is more than good enuf to play good sounding music (accompanied with good sounding speakers like urs)

    if ur an avid gamer.. it KINDA helps... if u have a mid or low end range video card. then the sound card might give u a bit more FPS.. but if u have a high end video card, i doubt it'd do much in terms of helping u get more perforamnce in games :)
  4. DonNagual

    DonNagual TechSpot Ambassador Posts: 2,406

    If you are using onboard sound, some of your system resources are used up to produce the sound. So the advantage of an additional sound card is not only the sound quality increase, but also freeing up your system resources as it no longer has to work on the sound.

    For my needs, I use the onboard and am quite happy with it. I have 8channel onboard sound (A8N-SLI deluxe, Athlon64 3700, 1Gb ram). I have a decent set of speakers:

    the sound for my games, and listening to music is just fine for me. And my FPS also are great. No complaints. I suppose it all depends on your system, how much of a FPS addict you are, how picky you are about sound quality etc. But I think for the average user, onboard is great.
  5. Ruben

    Ruben TS Rookie Posts: 100

  6. Arcanum

    Arcanum TS Rookie Posts: 181

    To be quick and short : YES

    Having listened from the old integrated soundcards to the new intergrated ones (e.g. Karajan, SoundStorm, improved AC 97), there's definately an advancement, but even in such state, they are still far below or behind the standalone soundcards...

    Even when I compared my old SB Live! to my new SB Audigy2 ZS I saw a huge difference in sound fidelity and crispness (and mind you, the SB Live! kicks *** out of the most integrated solutions, if not all!).

    However, to be able to hear the difference (not just 'see' it by doing a RightMark analysys) you must at least have mid-range speakers, not the crap you can buy for 5$...
    I have my Hi-Fi speakers hooked up to my A2 ZS, and let me tell you, it's at least 10 times better than any integrated solution you can find for listening to music, not to mention that integrated sound cards are not able to do hardware-acceleration for the most part (soundstorm is an exception), so they'll be consuming your CPU power, resulting in less performance...

    However, it all comes down to you, your budget, and your hearing :)
  7. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 11,173   +989

    Depends on you. If you use the PC for mp3 and games, then the card will certainly improve the quality. My desktop win/98se has a SoundBlaster card with Bose speakers and it's great.

    On the other hand, if you're processing MS Word docs, spreadsheets, or writing
    web pages, why bother?

    Personally, I'm not into gaming, video, or mp3 so ....
  8. mastronaut

    mastronaut TS Enthusiast Posts: 168

    Don't underestimate quality speakers. It doesn't matter how good the sound card is if you have those little plastic speakers you buy at WallyWorld...
  9. Arcanum

    Arcanum TS Rookie Posts: 181

    Have to agree with mastronaut, good speakers equal half the experience... Dont get some plastic ****ty boxes with 2W power for 5$ and expect an X-Fi to sound great, it wont, it will sound terrible, you'll see no difference between an AC 97 and an X-Fi!

    But if you have at least some mid-range speakers, you'll spot the difference, standalone cards win hands-down.

    Anyway, the thing where you most hear the difference is music, and the second biggest difference is in games (preferably if you have a multi-speaker setup - 4.1 or more) - if you dont game avidly (e.g. you must be able to pinpoint every opponent in CS with an meter distance precision by the sound of his steps) or really dont care how your music sounds, then there's no real reason to get a good soundcard... thats why intergrated soundcards were made in the first place - for those non-demanding customers that need sound but dont want to shell out some cash for it...
  10. truflip

    truflip TS Rookie Posts: 390

    I like my AC 97 onboard with Creative Inspire T5400's theyre quite awesome for the price =] i play avidly i guess and like my music to sound good and movies to sound good too... so all in all im happy.. my demand for good sound meter id say is about 8/10

    Also keep in mind if ur gonna be playing downlaoded mp3s.. they never sound as good as the CDs u buy. (unless its a CD Rip or something like that) soo dont expect ur mp3 library to sound amazing cuz u have x-fi and a 400$ speaker set up
  11. SOcRatEs

    SOcRatEs TechSpot Paladin Posts: 966

    Kinda like my left thumb...I'd rather have it and not need it,
    than the other way around. :haha:
    Addin sound cards take a big load off the CPU and resources.

    Try a highend game on a system that has on-board everything,
    then try same on a system with addin everything. Let that help
    make your choice.

  12. jaroddog

    jaroddog TS Rookie Posts: 87

    Ouch! That hurts me! :( I've got AC 97 integrated sound and $20 Creative 2.1 speaker set with sub-woofer from Wal-Mart... I kind of liked them before I read these post. I game, use them to play music for my drums, and was not dissapointed. So I'm stuck using a Geforce2 MX400 for my video card. I pulled a sound card from a computer a customer gave me. Do you think it would help my gaming out a little bit, considering my antiquated video card? It's a Sound BLASTER Live! (Model: CT4870) But really, music is okay. It's definately not the quality of audio found in my car, but there's not many sound systems that are. I would just like to see a few extra fps's in my Starwars Battlefront game. What do you think?
  13. Arcanum

    Arcanum TS Rookie Posts: 181

    @ truflip
    Actually owning an X-Fi and a 400$ speakers will make you mp3s sound incredible - the X-Fi has a special routine built in called '24-bit Crystallizer', it does what his name tells you - makes the sound crystal clear, even on low bitrate mp3s, does that by predicting the missing data through complex algorithms, although the reproduced sound won't match the original, it will come VERY close (you cant hear the difference between).
    However, bear in mind, that it wont make a 32bkps mp3 sound like a 320kbps mp3 - no kind of algorithms can make up for that loss of data.
    Been at my local computer store and tried out a few mp3s from my comp on the X-Fi, and believe me, if I can hear the difference from my A2 ZS (and my speakers are far from bad), then I think it does work!

    Not only will the SB Live! provide you a performance boost, as it can do hardware-accel. sound (unlike AC 97), it'll even sound better!
  14. truflip

    truflip TS Rookie Posts: 390

    why dont u just buy CDs for $10 then? instead of spending 500+ on speaker systems? lol
  15. Arcanum

    Arcanum TS Rookie Posts: 181

    I said nothing about recommending to buy a 500$ speaker set... if you're just playing games thats wasting your money...
    I was just correcting you about the X-Fi.

    But, I wouldnt buy the X-Fi, at least not with it's price now, way too expensive for a thing that for now performs identically to A2 ZS in games, and the better sound quality isnt really noticable unless you're listening most of your time to mp3s(mp3s sound exactly like on an A2 ZS until you turn on the 24-bit Crystalizer in the drivers btw) or have REALLY good speakers.

    The card that has the best price/value ratio for me is A2 ZS, really a great card, and the new beta drivers not only improve game performance, but also up the sound quality a notch or two above the previous ones :)

    If you're thinking about switching from an integrated solution, give a chance to any version of Audigy 2, I was satisfied with my old SB Live, but this thing is noticably better (yes, even during audio-cd playback).
  16. truflip

    truflip TS Rookie Posts: 390

    oh ok.. well all in all.. i still think for him (spyker) his onboard should be fine. unless hes a hardcore super gamer that wants to squeeze out every 0.0001fps he can get out of his system, then an soundcard is definitely worth it =] im done here..

    and sorry if i misunderstood ur point mr. arcanum :angel:
  17. Arcanum

    Arcanum TS Rookie Posts: 181

    The difference wouldnt be 0.00001fps, it would actually be from 2-3 to 4-5fps higher depending on the cpu and the game played, as the sound will be properly hardware accelerated...
    But if you're buying soundcards just to get a little more fps in a game either you don't know what to do with your money, or you need to get yourself checked.

    Spyker C8 stated he would be listening to music - for that I recommend getting an Audigy 2 ZS (or any Audigy 2 version), install KX drivers (not the Creative ones) and hear the difference between onboard sound and a real solution.
    And yes, even audio-cds will sound noticably better.
    If you dont have the cash for an A2 (although they're cheap now) go with the good old SB Live! (or Audigy 1) with KX drivers, it will still beat the integrated card, and it's very cheap :)
  18. truflip

    truflip TS Rookie Posts: 390

    DUH!! :grinthumb
  19. dady393

    dady393 TS Rookie Posts: 17

    creative knows what they are doing!

    Trust me, get at least a audigy 2 value soundcard then compare it to a typical onboard sound. Theres a huge difference!
    The built in sound on the motherboard sucks all the energy from the system + it distorts the sound, like: hacking, skipping, lagging and not delivering crisp sound.

    I bought the soundcard that has best value and quality combined: Soundblaster audigy 2 value. Only paid 340 kr which is about 56 dollars.
    And this card was completely new with drivers and everything.

    One thing I noticed with the built in sound on the motherboard was that every time I played a music file, then opened several programs it effected the sound for about 10 sec. With the above card that I now posess I can finally play music while doing a scandisk or virus or similar.

    bought it from (in denmark/europe)
  20. truflip

    truflip TS Rookie Posts: 390

    that reminds me of my old IBM Aptiva that i bought in 1999 that sucked... glad ur new audio card is helping u very well :)
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