Is Buying a Sound Card Worth The Money? An Enthusiast's Perspective

By Julio Franco · 142 replies
Dec 9, 2013
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  1. A dedicated sound card is well worth it.

    You can hear new sounds that you otherwise wouldn't even know existed.
    rpjkw11, Evernessince and Darth Shiv like this.
  2. A good dedicated sound card should be better, especially for the money however the reviewer was using a pretty old Mobo and many of the z87 mobos are using much better sound. Id like the same review but with one of the gaming orientated mobos from Asus and MSI. I think they would be a lot better than an old mobo probably using an ALC890 or ALC892.
  3. Probably the worst review of a sound card I've ever read. Obviously, reviewer is not old enough to remember when they were required (SoundBlaster 16 / Gravis Ultrasound). The onboard stuff is fairly good now, but the "tests" done are BS.

    You'd need to test code that uses 3D audio, or test the MIDI wavetables. Just comparing uncompressed audio is stupid
  4. Burty117

    Burty117 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 3,150   +916

    I went from the Built-In sound cards of an Asus P67 Sabertooth MoBo to a Brand new Asus Z87 ROG Hero and the sound difference was immense! the new MoBo sounded clearer, louder and was much better at positioning the sound, it was actually a serious jump in quality.

    I've been meaning to get myself a sound card but now the new Steel Series Siberia Elite are almost here and comes with a USB sound card I may not bother :/

    I don't know, anyone at Techspot got these headphones yet? I'd love to know what you think as the Internet isn't able to give me any reasonable results.

    Edit 2 Years Later: I got a proper sound card and some expensive Sennheiser Headphones and couldn't be happier.
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2015
    Reehahs likes this.

    NTAPRO TS Evangelist Posts: 809   +102

    reminds me of the first time I listening to pokemon with earphones plugged into the gameboy. I was "oh sh*t, where did these sounds come from" xD
  6. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,747   +3,712

    I thought the reviewer made it plain as day, the review was not to be a professional review. The review was meant to be viewed from the common consumer point of view.

    I enjoyed reading the review, because it came from a perspective much like my own would be.
    BMAN61, gamoniac, Reehahs and 12 others like this.
  7. I never knew that my life would change so dramatically. I was like you once, I didn't bother with sound-cards thought that its a money waste. Until I bought one. After painfully plugging it in I already knew that something has changed, at first I thought it was a coincidence but my back did not hurt. When the windows sound played I felt like child once again, my world was painted in bright colors, I once again wanted to live. But when I stopped for one second, and I noticed that I forgot to unplug the speakers from my on-board sound-card and replug it in newly bought one. My back! it hurts again - I screamed.
    St1ckM4n and havok585 like this.
  8. Burty117

    Burty117 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 3,150   +916

    In All honesty I'd just ignore the Guest posts, I do, my life has been infinitely better since I started ignoring them.

    Take the Guest post above this as an example, he clearly cannot tell the difference between MoBO Sound and a dedicated Sound Card yet instead of putting it in a constructive way he just takes the P*ss.
    DanUK, Steve and trgz like this.
  9. Emexrulsier

    Emexrulsier TS Evangelist Posts: 574   +72

    Best thing I ever did was move from onboard to discrete. Before moving I too always believed that the audio from onboard sound with fancy realtek 9.2 cards or my last board had the SupremeFX II 8-CH Audio (Asus) striker II and tbh it all sounded good. I then put in a very cheap sound card, a low end pci creative card and no bull **** the sound difference was immediately noticed. Deeper bass, better ampage on the headphones, crisper, cleaner audio it really was that good all for a measly £20. I am still using this same sound card now and I will not look back.
  10. hellokitty[hk]

    hellokitty[hk] Hello, nice to meet you! Posts: 3,448   +145

    Thanks I liked this bit of insight!
    I'd like it even more if you get a chance to compare your experience to an xonar card in the $30-$40 range (ds/dg/dgx) because I feel like spending $80 on somewhat of a gamble happens less often. I'm considering something like that.
  11. I have a new Z87 board from AsRock with "Purity Sound", to quote "Realtek ALC1150 audio codec, 115dB SNR DAC with Differential Amplifier, TI® 5532 Premium Headset Amplifier which supports up to 600 ohm headphones, cap less Direct Drive technology, EMI shielding cover, PCB isolate shielding and support for DTS Connect". While this sounds fine on paper I find that the 5 old Xonar DX still has an advantage, like the article mentions, the onboard solution is simply lacking in lows and highs, there are some nuances of the sound that are lost in both "gaming" grade headphones and MOSFET amplifier with speakers. Audiophile headphones make this difference even more noticeable. But this is to be expected if you look at the Xonar DX board vs. the onboard solution: you immediately notice that there are more filtering caps, beter DACs (even though the front one is listed at 115 dB SNR and the other is listed at 110 dB SNR), better opamps, relays that physically decouple inputs/outputs etc.

    What I suggest to Mr. Matthew DeCarlo is to try out the Xonar without enhancements, by pressing the HiFi button in the audio center, I find it way crisper compared to any of the DSP stuff. The DSP works fine on cheap audio solutions like onboard audio or not-so-good phones with earbuds but I find it that they hurt quality on good audio solutions with good headphones/speakers.

    As a sidenote, what I find amazing is the number of people that "like music", have tons of audio, listen to it a lot but really have no idea about how it should sound. As always, ignorance is bliss: as long as you do not try something superior you do not know what you miss and what you should expect.
    Stupido and Matthew like this.
  12. trgz

    trgz TS Addict Posts: 222   +50

    I would agree that the sound is definitely better having tried the side-by-side approach, however I do wonder if a dedicated card might actually slow a machine down due to the PCI transfer speed rather than something that is on-board (though that might also have transfer limitations). My other concern is cooling - my second 560Ti can only go in one place and the same goes for my soundcard (Audigy 2 ZS) which does rather hamper the airflow. Anyway, any recommendations for a better value card etc?
  13. Darth Shiv

    Darth Shiv TS Evangelist Posts: 1,813   +473

    Personally been hitched on discrete sound cards since I heard an AWE32. Back in the day, they were pretty amazing. FLAC plus discrete sound card I think you'll notice more particularly on low frequencies compared to MP3s. It's hard to notice the difference but when listening to both long enough, I get that funny feeling hearing the mp3's that something was compressed. Bass notes that little bit duller. Hearing mp3 compression artifacts.

    If you listen to a lot of random/streamed music and not the same playlist over and over, I'd imagine it wouldn't be so prominent but after listening to FLAC tracks for months on end, I can pick a compressed version of the song and hear flaws in it (and when you know the songs that well, it does grate on you).
    Phr3d and Matthew like this.
  14. Satki

    Satki TS Member Posts: 24

    Not worth it unless you have amazing speakers, which will cost a lot, in which case the sound card cost would be pretty much immaterial anyway, so you might as well.
  15. Sorry but its such a bad review
    the fact that you testes music while being on "rock" settings is a major fail those things just automatically ruin everything you hear

    you need to disable everything and let the actual sound that comes out of the card to be what you review

    someone should redo this and compare a simple mobo sound solution vs higher end mobo audio like puritysound for example vs dedicated sound like asus stx

    and do it with 3 separate machines one next to the other all connected to the same speakers
  16. Burty117

    Burty117 TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 3,150   +916

    It's Like Guests just simply do not read the article, seriously, what is with that? It was a comparison for the noob essentially, it's a setting he has always used (I bet he's not the only one) and just set it like he would anything else, accept the fact this is not a "professional" review like you expected (although it clearly states that within 30 seconds of reading the article) and is for the people who haven't' thought about / don't care for discrete sound cards. NOT Audiophiles who want every tiny detail about the sound and what settings he used etc...

    Get it?
  17. nismo91

    nismo91 TS Evangelist Posts: 930   +33

    I'm sorry but I have to agree with some of the reviewers here. turning on realtek EQ is the worst thing you can do to color your sound. not to mention the reviewer used sub $100 speakers to judge them.

    I used to have two basic X-Fis in the past and now im still rocking my ALC888S with 5.1 analog out from a laptop... I'd say it's not so much different from X-Fi Surround 5.1 USB in terms of sound quality when you're playing FLAC songs through foobar2000. I was listening through a $400 2.1 speakers back then... however, things started to make sense when I used some $50 in-ear earphone with the realtek vs the X-Fi..

    then I built a desktop with another realtek 889 chip.. it has bigger number but it sounded worse, especially on headphone... so much background noise, no features like Dolby Digital etc.. and then, one day I plugged my earphone to a friend's laptop... it was a hp pavillion notebook with an i7 chip so it is not definitely a low end laptop. couldn't believe my ears, it sounded so bad it is worse than your average low end smartphone. IDT audio chip seems to be the culprit. now I know why is there so many hate on the integrated audio...

    - Not all integrated audio like Realtek are created equal
    - While aftermarket soundcards are better, it may not be worth it if you're running cheap speakers or audio, especially if the card itself already costs $60
    - NEVER turn on equalization or any sound effect on any soundcard
    - I recommend foobar2000 which can use VST sound effect. High quality VST will take some CPU usage but it will be way way better than any of the soundcard gimmicks
    - Don't even think about "virtual surround" plugins or effects like Dolby Virtual Surround, Creative Crystallizer, SRS Sandbox when you're listening to 2-channel music. I know all of them sucks, but the developers obviously don't deserve all the hate, because what they design is a plugin for 6-channel audio. it just wont sell if it's marketed only for movie / game purpose.
    Matthew likes this.
  18. Matthew

    Matthew TechSpot Staff Posts: 5,333   +101

    nismo91 I do use foobar :). I'll try your suggestion today, thanks.
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  19. hood6558

    hood6558 TS Addict Posts: 271   +67

    I agree with others who feel the review is irrelevant due to the methods and settings he used (rock DSP?). I personally use on board Realtek ALC892 (optical SPDIF) and it sounds great playing through my Boston Micro90X/Micro80X speakers and CR400 powered sub woofer, amped by a 100 watt/ch Sony surround receiver. My music files are mostly FLAC @ 24bit/96MHz. Would it sound better through a dedicated sound card? Probably so, especially if I used good headphones (which I rarely bother with). Would the quality difference be worth spending $80-$200 and losing a PCIe X1 slot? I doubt it - you'd need a much better amp and speakers to hear the difference, and possibly a dedicated listening room to minimize ambient noise. No, I'm not convinced it's worth it, and most people have a worse speaker/amp setup than mine, so they'd never hear the difference.
  20. insect

    insect TS Evangelist Posts: 349   +132

    I've never not used discrete audio. I wonder if I should try my on-boards again...

    *shrug* I'm happy with discrete and for me $80-$200 is small potatoes when I build a gaming PC. I do use decent headphones and speaker systems though and for the games I play I like to be able to hear all the small sounds (someone sneaking, grenades bouncing alone the floor, loud explosions... it just immerses me so much more).
  21. Experimentongod

    Experimentongod TS Maniac Posts: 269   +111

    Let me put it bluntly: If you don't have a dedicated soundcard, you're NOT an enthusiast, period.
    mosu likes this.
  22. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 9,747   +3,712

    Thats the same as saying cars without radios, could never be antiques. Sheeesh!
  23. Luay

    Luay TS Enthusiast Posts: 79   +13

    Yes sound cards, the only reason I'm not jumping on the mini-ITX (one PCI-E) bandwagon, because there's no where to plug it in after I install my graphics card.

    But how do the new motherboards sound? ACL 1150 and others? What about those new external sound processing solutions from Asus? What about USB headsets that process the sound internally?

    I have a sound card that is plugged into an Onkyo Amp/receiver. Is my Onkyo doing any work? or is it acting as a mere pass-through to my speakers, rendering it expensively useless?

    I need this explained on a levels basis, the lowest being on-board audio, and the highest being a dedicated sound card connected to an AMP feeding speakers, and I want everything in between.

    TechSpot did promise to explain this since October in their desktop buying guide but I'm still waiting.
  24. Scorpionking20

    Scorpionking20 TS Booster Posts: 59   +28

    Thanks for this fun little read. I actually have the soundcard you tested in my wife's machine (was mine before I got my Creative ZxR) and the same Audio Technica Headphones. I have to say, to add a little to your' article, that what you are saying about immersion is spot on. Skyrim "feels" colder with the wind on these headphones and sound card.

    Though, I have to say you may want to try another sound card as well...For instance, my ZxR is to the soundcard you tested what that card is to built in audio on your' MB. And then some, I'd argue. Once you take off the equalizer (Something you should always do!) it sounds like you are's really impressive tech.

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