Sound Cards: Worth Buying or Just a Niche Product?

Biostud

Posts: 115   +79
Happy SB AE-7 and Beyerdynamic dt 880 user.

For me the good thing about a soundcard is that it is both good for music and gaming.

An audiophile would most likely choose a DAC.
 

ThrakazogZ

Posts: 82   +112
If you have a machine with a GPU that can do 720p at 60 fps in a game, and a machine with a GPU that can do 4k at 60 fps in a game.....and you hook both machines up to a black and white TV from the 70's, you won't see a difference. 4k resolution becomes snake oil at that point, because no one can tell any difference when viewing both of the GPU's outputs on that TV.

The majority of gaming headsets and standard PC speakers are B&W TV's. I'm not surprised people can't hear a difference when using those things. Even the expensive gaming headsets. They make them look cool and fancy, but are using the same cheap, generic sound hardware all of them use. Now, as long as people are happy with what they have, that's perfectly fine.

When I was running a Logitech 2.1 speaker setup, I picked up a little Modi Multibit external DAC. I thought that I maybe could hear a difference between the DAC and MOBO sound. I think I did. Maybe. Then I replaced my Logitech speakers with a pair of Adam A5x powered speakers. The difference between my little Schitt DAC and the mobo onboard sound became apparent, then. Clarity, separation, soundstage, etc. were all better with the external DAC.

I suppose the moral of the story is that if you play a game locked at 720p 60 fps, then once you have a card that can do that..... other more powerful and more expensive GPUs seem stupid, since they look exactly the same locked at 720p 60fps.
 

GoldenGoat

Posts: 116   +184
I have been wondering about this for a while.

I use the HDMI port since my gaming PC is connected to my TV and the TV has a regular 3.5 jack out that is connected to my speakers, but I am not sure if the sound is processed by the GPU or the sound chip in the mobo.

HDMI is digital. In your case, the actual sound is being created by the DAC in your TV. Then amplified by your speakers. The amplifier in computers speakers as well as the speaker itself also has impact on the sound quality, not just the DAC.
 

takaozo

Posts: 514   +812
HDMI is digital. In your case, the actual sound is being created by the DAC in your TV. Then amplified by your speakers. The amplifier in computers speakers as well as the speaker itself also has impact on the sound quality, not just the DAC.
Exactly,CPU, MB and GPU only pass through the digital signal, the DAC is in the TV.
 

Greggs

Posts: 22   +15
Perhaps if someone else is paying AND you work in audio AND the rest of your audio equipment is great AND your ears are good enough to tell the difference then it MIGHT be worth it. I did find it interesting that the reviewer never said that he'd actually compared the sound from one of these cards and the sound from his motherboard and thought the card sounded better.
The author's conclusion is a sound card will have no advantage for the vast majority of users an stated the few exception to the rule (high quality speakers or headphones, certain types of PC tasks.) I don't see how an individual's perception would be useful or change the conclusion.
 

takaozo

Posts: 514   +812
Me looking at my Audigy 5/RX while you talk about ZxR, neah old friend I wont change you.
The damn thing refuses to die and Daniel's K drivers works just fine on W11 22H2, why change? What I really miss is KXdrivers and my Audigy2 ZX.....
 

wiyosaya

Posts: 8,410   +7,845
Me looking at my Audigy 5/RX while you talk about ZxR, neah old friend I wont change you.
The damn thing refuses to die and Daniel's K drivers works just fine on W11 22H2, why change? What I really miss is KXdrivers and my Audigy2 ZX.....
IMO, the more recent SBs are high-quality cards and their longevity is a given. If it works great, why dump it for something new?

For a while there, it seemed like SB was not updating the drivers for the ZxR, but then a Windows 10 driver showed up, and there's a Windows 11 driver on the Creative site, too. I'm glad Creative came to their senses and decided to update the drivers for more recent operating systems. I can't say for sure, but I doubt that there are significant differences in the drivers for the more recent Windows OSs. That's one way to assure brand loyalty without forcing your users to update to the latest cards.
 

richalone442

Posts: 60   +49
Thought I would way in. I will stick with my HT Omega Claro Halo with it's 4 swappable OP-Amp sockets(2 for headphones, 2 for front output).
It's connected to Pro level equipment, and sounds great.
 

mbk34

Posts: 422   +327
I don't see how an individual's perception would be useful or change the conclusion.
At the end of the day it's the individual's perception of the sound that decides whether one of these cards is worthwhile. It would be nice to hear someone's, anyone's, even the author's, honest opinion as to how much better they think the sound is.

PS I'm not saying it was a bad article, it wasn't.
 

GoldenGoat

Posts: 116   +184
At the end of the day it's the individual's perception of the sound that decides whether one of these cards is worthwhile. It would be nice to hear someone's, anyone's, even the author's, honest opinion as to how much better they think the sound is.

PS I'm not saying it was a bad article, it wasn't.
It depends on the quality of the sound card or adapter. Entry level sound cards are probably not better than on board. If you get something nice then there will be a big difference. Not only in the sound, but also in the microphone quality too. I have tried using on board, a low end sound blaster, and a schiit fulla in discord and my friends can hear the difference in my voice. The Schiit Fulla is way better than the other two.
 
Simple case of onboard audio getting to the point where its 'good enough' for the vast majority of users, leaving the sound card market to the audiophile snobs who (think) they can tell the difference to the point of spending extra money, is a worthwhile pursuit.

..and 'Audiophile snobs' are in the top tier of snobs, when it comes to such things.

If you think GPU's are 'expensive', then you need to step into the world of high end audio, to learn the true meaning of the word.


Once you step out of the world of gaming and try to do music production or sound capture to a decent quality you quickly realize on board audio is pretty sub par to even a $250-$350 DAC. Much less you gamble on ground plane noise injection with every build. A problem inherent in low voltage systems like PCs and Car Audio.
 

Knot Schure

Posts: 410   +197
Aging myself somewhat here, but for my first PC I added a SoundBlaster card because I needed a serial port (game port) that would work with my Sidewinder force feedback joystick. My on-board VIA chipset would not recognize the stick.
Nice solution.
 

Zinixo

Posts: 69   +45
Hdmi from the gpu ftw let my prepro do the decoding.
Creative lost my business with windows xp upgrade. I had bought a brand new 300$ 5.1 card with the drive bay addon 2 weeks prior to switching from windows m.e to xp. the card never worked in win xp and caused all kinds of crashing issues in xp and even a few years later it still did not have upgraded drivers .I still have the card sitting in a box of old parts to remind me to never again purchase a creative labs product.
 

Pooctox

Posts: 7   +4
I don't know much about soundcard or AMP/DAC or anything about audiophile in general. But I know that audiophile so fking expensive.
After few hours research for my gaming setup, I bought S.M.S.L A100 pair with the Audioengine P4. Will add a sub for more bass in the future.
 
Perhaps if someone else is paying AND you work in audio AND the rest of your audio equipment is great AND your ears are good enough to tell the difference then it MIGHT be worth it. I did find it interesting that the reviewer never said that he'd actually compared the sound from one of these cards and the sound from his motherboard and thought the card sounded better.
It is very much worth it even for the regular end user. Listen to your favorite song using the on board sound.. and whatever speakers or headphones you have... Then listen again, this time thru a Creative Labs AE-7...and the same speakers or headphones as before..the difference is undeniable.
 

ZedRM

Posts: 1,406   +987
Lots of interesting opinions in this article. I personally still buy sound cards. Even the most recent onboard sound chips are still lacking in many ways that are important to me that sound cards still deliver.

It is very much worth it even for the regular end user. Listen to your favorite song using the on board sound.. and whatever speakers or headphones you have... Then listen again, this time thru a Creative Labs AE-7...and the same speakers or headphones as before..the difference is undeniable.
This!
 
The reasons why sound cards are getting obsolete is because
1. There isn't any ground breaking technology which is being introduced by sound card manufacturers which is not already being emulated through software. Creative use to have a bit dominance in this area where they use to leverage their EAX surround technologies in many games in early 2000s which let gamers utilise immersive audio capabilities of a game if their PC had a compatible creative sound card in their system
2. Most gaming headphones and speaker systems now utilize their own DSP or integrate it with software DSPs provided by Dolby, DTS. Too much saturation now in this particular consumer audio segment.
3. Apart from gaming, music is one area where we can perceive measurable improvement to sound quality if the source of the audio recording utilizes higher bitrate encoding AND end user can experience it on a quality speaker system or headphones, again too many variables and YMMV greatly.
4. Lack of high quality content - what I mean by this is, the average user either uses Spotify for their music, or streams movies directly off web streaming services, all of these doesn't really require high bitrate decoding on sound card level.

Here is the problem with high end audio, there are just too many things to account for before the end user can get a great experience. Sound card is just a part of equation. The headphones, speakers, audio amplifiers, DACs and the audio source, they all matter and most importantly the sound which the end user perceives is not going to be the same which other users experience as we all perceive certain audio frequencies differently than others

Having said that, I myself use a sennheiser GSX 1000 paired with Sony Fidelio X2HR, IMO the gsx does have one of the best virtual surround audio I have heard in this audio setup costing less than 200 dollars
 

nismo91

Posts: 1,280   +324
Well technically soundcard is a DAC device (Digital to Analog) for your analog speakers and headphones. the main problem is in recent years we're seeing less analog and more digital audio devices.

most soundcard will have 3.5mm jack or 6.3mm jack or RCA output. if your headphones or speakers don't plug into these analog ports, they do not take advantage of the soundcard at all. imagine having a soundcard installed but your headphones are connected by usb.

in the market for a new headphone? chances are you'll see more wireless headphone (bluetooth) that has its own DAC chip, means you dont need soundcard at all.

you want a headphone amplifier? guess what, many headphone amp came with digital input (usb) now. if you use the usb route, there's no need for a soundcard, because technically the amplifier came with its own soundcard now.

wanna buy a soundbar or 5.1 speakers? you bet most of them gonna come with HDMI or at least toslink connection, again, zero need for soundcard, because the soundbar has its own soundcard built into it.

in the market for a bluetooth speaker? well all bluetooth speakers will come with a DAC so there's absolutely zero need for a soundcard.

simply put: people stopped buying soundcard because it was not needed anymore.
 

3ogdy

Posts: 79   +67
I agree that on board audio is becoming good enough. Now, that being said, I'll stick to my Essence STX II, and my optical cables.
 

McMurdeR

Posts: 643   +895
For a casual gamer these are probably superfluous, but can be useful for niche setups where you require things like RCA or Dolby over toslink.

Handy to have if you upgrade motherboards regularly - one less feature to think about..

Audiophiles would probably choose a DAC and AMP if required. I think that is the biggest reason why these things have fallen out of favour.
 

TheRealSCDC

Posts: 494   +853
This card was the only interesting one I had, until I went with onboard sound.
  • Gravis Ultrasound (1992). It was a very different card that sounded great. Having SIM memory was unique as well.
  • Gravis_UltraSound_PnP_Pro_V1.0.jpg