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

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Guest

I wonder if your expectation of performance meant that your subconsciously favoured the Xonar? Could you can do the review again with someone helping so you can rate the quality of the playback without knowing which sound card is playing?

I read this interesting article on something similar (It was about rating violins not sound cards though).
 
G

Guest

Haha, that article solves my inner query. buying a xonar dx without the necessary speaker system (or headset/earbuds) is a failed buy.
to appreciate the sound input,one must also have the correct device for the sound output.
thanks matthew for a very nice piece.
 

LNCPapa

Posts: 4,312   +568
TS Special Forces
I thought this was a great review. He made it very clear that he is not a professional in this area and that he personally noticed a difference with the different devices. He also explained that it would be up to you to determine if the difference is enough for you to spend your dollars on.
 
G

Guest

Speaking strictly as a gamer, discrete audio ALL THE WAY.

I have been a PC gamer for 2 decades. About 7 years ago when my Creative Audigy died I decided to go with onboard sound since I didn't want to spend $$$ on a new card. Immediately I could tell a difference between onboard and my Audigy. I was missing sounds that I used to hear in my games. I immediately ordered a sound card the next day.

I have always upgraded my hardware nearly every 1-1.5 years. I usually buy Asus mobos, but have also owned EVGA, and MSI mobos that cost are about the $200-250 mark. Everytime I upgrade my mobo I always test the onboard sound and my discrete sound card ALWAYS sounds better in games. I game with a 5.1 surround speaker set up and (currently I own a Creative Z card and a Asus P8Z77-pro mobo) and with the SB positional audio is much better. Effects sound more clear and more distinct. Like if I hear gunfire and someone yelling, with the onboard sound, it sounds like if they're coming from the same sound effect, like they are both recorded on the same track. But with the SB it sounds like they are distinct sound effects, I don't know if that makes sense or if I explained that right.

Anyway, as a serious PC gamer, I will always pick a discrete sound card over onboard.
 
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G

Guest

Many mobo's have digital out either optical, coaxial, or both. When running this way, there really is no difference between a soundcard on the mobo versus a discreet card. Many enthusiasts are running digital to their receiver, and if they want to use headphones, they use the much superior headphone amplifier in the receiver. The only place a discreet soundcard makes a difference is if you are plugging headphones, speakers, or an analog receiver into it the card itself, and that is because the discreet cards have a better amplifier than the on board soundcard.
 

Matthew

Posts: 5,269   +103
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This is worth clearing up too: I did do blind tests. The funny thing is, early on I had actually planned to have 5-10 of them with grades -- it was part of the motivation for buying extension cords. They were labelled for a majority of testing but I removed the tags toward the end so I was just plugging into a random device (AHK let me toggle them blindly on the software side). I scrapped the whole grading thing because the difference was just that noticeable after becoming familiar with each.
 
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Did you at least turn on Flexbass and run it on the default setting?

Also you need to configure your speakers to small or large.

I"m using the Xonar DX (same as yours) with the Tiamat 7.1 discete from Razer.
 
G

Guest

I too like having a discrete audio card. I play a lot of FPS games and there is a performance hit in certain games when using onboard audio. My frame-rates go down and things become more choppy with onboard audio, but they all are magically fixed when I go back to the soundcard. I have noticed this in the newer Battlefields (BFBC2 on), Call Of Duty (4 and on), Crysis (all of em), and a number of other big titles. I think at the end of the day, when a game pushes your system, its nice to know that the CPU doesn't also have to deal with the audio. It can leave that to the professionals :D For reference, I am running a several year old X-FI Xtremegamer card.
 
G

Guest

Same Xonar DX card here. I don't think I would be able to go back to onboard and listen to Steven Wilson's the 5.1 remixes of King Crimson, ELP, Yes etc. My ears are spoiled now....
DerAusgewanderte
cheers
 

ghasmanjr

Posts: 363   +86
I never really noticed the difference until I read this review. I have a Logitech G930 wireless 7.1 headset that I only use for gaming. It came with its own usb sound card and it also has its own software that controls everything. For music, I've always used my Sennheiser 439s with my onboard audio for my Asus Maximus IV mobo. Your article sparked me to try my own little test. I pay for Pandora One (subscription = MUCH better audio quality), which is what I used for this test. I switched back and forth between my Sennheisers and my G930s and I have to say....daaaaaaammmmnnnn that difference is incredible. The G930s blow my Sennheisers out of the water. I think I may invest in a discrete audio card thanks to this review because I know the Sennheiser headphones should most likely be better for music lol. Thanks! :D
 

LNCPapa

Posts: 4,312   +568
TS Special Forces
If you really want to get into the world of hardcore headphones you'll look at external DACs and amps. I could make a few suggestions if interested hasman.
 

Mike89

Posts: 100   +63
The difference to me between onboard sound and a sound card is night and day. Onboard sound just sound dull and lifeless next to a sound card period. I see all the enthusiast pictures of mega buck PCs with triple SLI but have no sound card. I can't help but shake my head at these dudes. Sound is just as important to me as graphics. I have both a kick *** vid card (no sli for me) and a kick *** sound card. I'm very happy to have the best of both worlds. My ears are as happy as my eyes.
 
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Phr3d

Posts: 404   +87
There are So many pieces to sound, so the endless paragraphs of comparing audio equipment are usually spent trying to show that variables have been eliminated.That also makes them damned difficult reading.
In your case you realized the effects of any DSP, the headphone amplifier, the endless variations of what 'rock' means as an equalizer preset, the list goes on (but exceeds the simple review aim). I will presume that when someone says they are building an enthusiast computer, and the case they have chosen has a built-in PSU you would cringe and knee-jerk react to that - That is what you are experiencing here, in some of the negative reviews.

The DSP has been beaten to death, and I understand your thoughts in not changing that variable, but if either 'preset' was considerably different in EQ amounts, you would obviously choose the device that was most pleasing to you - Nothing to do with ability or accuracy.
The headphone amp is critical, and is nearly guaranteed sub-par when integrated to the MoBo for many very good reasons. A digital output would have served you well, and many 'knee-jerk' responses stem from that choice.
Put another way, your review concludes that a sound card definitely sounds better, but how does a (cheaper) headphone amp with digital in from the integrated RealTek sound?
fwiw, and I also appreciated the viewpoint and discussion. My audigy is still alive, but like a couple others, I'll take a look at the p8z77's digital output and compare.
 
G

Guest

Back in the day (early 2000), when I owned a desktop PC, I observed that it didn't matter whether you had an onboard solution or a standalone solution, only that the solution had a 24-bit DAC, instead of the typical 16-bit.

The higher Signal-to-Noise ratio of the 24-bit DAC did wonders. It is like the reviewer describes: there is more ambiance; I wouldn't just hear the noise, but also the space around the noise. This made the noise feel like it was more real.

I didn't have expensive audio gear to hear the difference either. I just had my $30 Sony headphones.
 

Darth Shiv

Posts: 2,080   +663
Now if you have a digital reciever with 5.1 speaker setup, then you'd want to get a sound card. Problem is most sound cards are made for headphones users, who would only notice a small sound quality increase. So things like Dolby Digital Live or DTS are usually reserved for $100 cards.
Also depends on how you hook up your PC to your receiver and what you are using it for. If you don't use Dolby Digital Live or DTS and connect via digital signal cable e.g. HDMI or optical with LPCM, the soundcard is completely irrelevant.

E.g. if you are watching movies or listening to music.

If I understand correctly, if you were able to output digital uncompressed anyway, you wouldn't want to use DDL or DTS as they are lossy compression.

So DDL and DTS would be useful for analog output or optical output on 5.1 (optical can't do uncompressed on > 2.1) and that's where you'd see discrete sound more useful for a receiver setup.
 
G

Guest

Perhaps you would be better off buying an old tube radio on a garage sale and learn how to get the signal out of your computer box pre amp and interface that with the old tube radio. That is the one that has the older light tubes in it. I heard that those have a sound preserving unparalleled with anything digital nowadays. You could have equipment in the 100s of thousands of dollars and sound will always be distorted somehow when it comes to digital electronics. Nothing to today beats the sound quality and purity the simple tube radios used to reproduce. Just good luck with finding one that is fully functional. The tubes used to burn out frequent. But it is worth it to maintain such device. They were very high quality.
 

ghasmanjr

Posts: 363   +86
If you really want to get into the world of hardcore headphones you'll look at external DACs and amps. I could make a few suggestions if interested hasman.
I was unaware that you could even hook an amp up to a computer. I do a lot of work from home so I'd definitely be interested as I listen to music for about half of the day.
 

hellokitty[hk]

Posts: 3,415   +145
This is worth clearing up too: I did do blind tests. The funny thing is, early on I had actually planned to have 5-10 of them with grades -- it was part of the motivation for buying extension cords. They were labelled for a majority of testing but I removed the tags toward the end so I was just plugging into a random device (AHK let me toggle them blindly on the software side). I scrapped the whole grading thing because the difference was just that noticeable after becoming familiar with each.
Do the extension cords affect quality?
 

Luay

Posts: 110   +55
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 am not entirely sure if this is a rhetorical question or not, but as you have already said, your Onkyo receiver/amp is acting as an amp which is a very important function for any quality speakers. Just having a sound card in a pc doesn't over the same pump that a receiver is capable of. I took run my pc audio to my home theater system with an onkyo. The audio quality that it is capable can be maintained at much higher volumes than my smaller topping amp for my desktop setup. Receivers always add great versatility! It just costs a bit to bring that function out with more peripherals. Sorry again if the question was rhetorical!
It wasn't rhetorical! I'm not talking about the amplifier but about the sound processing. Can I do with one (sound card and Amp/Receiver) without the other? If I run optical from onboard to amp/receiver, will it be less quality than sound card to amp/receiver? I just vice/veresed the question to show how clueless I am.
 

cliffordcooley

Posts: 12,523   +5,884
Do the extension cords affect quality?
Not as much as a salesman would lead you to believe.

Thats like wondering if a glass will hold water. Of course the glass will hold water, that is if it is not damaged. And then this is where a salesman tries to convince you, one glass will hold water better or longer than the other. Once you realize the difference is so miniscule, you forget about ever questioning the difference.Basically the same as asking which extension cord is better for powering equipment than the other. The biggest problems are not in the cord, but the connectors. As long as they are new and shinny, there is usually never any issues.
 
G

Guest

I wonder how old the author is. Not for inexperience, but because hearing deteriorates with age. For instance, older people cannot hear tones as high as youngsters can.

Now, in my late 40s, I'm an aging fart - I bought an original Soundblaster and upgraded it with the add-on chip - so this is actually an important question for me. Will someone my age actually hear any difference?
 
G

Guest

If you plug your speakers into the sound card then your sound is enhanced so to speak but what about USB headset such as the Genuis Cavimanus 7.1, will the sound card have an effect on that? Great article by the way add on sound cards have always been a question on my mind for a upgrade