Sound Cards: Worth Buying or Just a Niche Product?

StrikerRocket

Posts: 177   +140
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

I had a Sound Blaster AWE 32 that also had SIM memory modules on it. It was a *big* card!
 

StrikerRocket

Posts: 177   +140
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.

You *can* hear a difference, but it does not justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to get very high quality sound. Most inexpensive DACs nowadays, followed by a decent amp do the job for a few hundred bucks.
Silver plated cables and all this stuff is just snake oil, that's true.
 

Tantor

Posts: 390   +660
Very timely article.

I recently bought a Gigabyte x670 motherboard which, although costing almost $300, comes with the venerable Realtek ALC897.

Ironically, my previous Gigabyte AB350 mobo which cost only $120, had the better ALC1220 chip. Go figure.

So is it worth adding a sound card? That's what the extra PCIe slots are for.

I eventually bought a USB external DAC cable for about $12.

I compared the USB Dac to the ALC897 using an old set of Sony studio headphones and then a pair of Yamaha earbuds,
For gaming there's no obvious difference. For music the USB DAC was maybe a squeensie weensie bit clearer.

Conclusion: the ALC897 is ok for my needs.






 

BogdanR

Posts: 12   +1
What for?
Most of us can clearly hear the difference

Maybe I should have said CLEARLY superior but you'd still likely gripe

The combination of improvements I described add up to a huge improvement overall, so the word "vastly" was accurate

Measurements alone would not tell you what the improvements were....
The $10 dongle supports a wider range of headphones and gives improved Volume on harder to drive headphones
Greater clarity and detail as well

If you cannot appreciate the vast improvements then I am sorry for your hearing loss
Now, is there anything else I can help you with today?
Yes, you could back up your claims with measurements. As simple as that.

And there’s a simple reason your claims need backing up. The Apple dongle has difficulties driving high impedance headphones such as the “classic” 300 ohm Sennheiser HD650. But then again you would expect that when the dongle MEASURES 3.5 miliWatts into a 300 ohm load.

The SE also had difficulty driving those headphones, its output was not much better than that.

I fail to see the ”vast” or “clearly“ better dongle performance. Measurements clearly indicate SIMILAR performance, at least in audio output terms. What you claim to clearly hear, is simply not there, at least not in power terms.
 

TheRealSCDC

Posts: 494   +853
I remember when home stereo systems were the norm. now I don't know anyone who really has one, except for their surround sound TV.

I don't miss them, and I don't miss having to buy another component to put in a PC.

Remember when we had to set jumpers to make sure there was no IRQ conflicts? GOD, those days.
 

Bullwinkle M

Posts: 849   +767
Yes, you could back up your claims with measurements. As simple as that.

And there’s a simple reason your claims need backing up. The Apple dongle has difficulties driving high impedance headphones such as the “classic” 300 ohm Sennheiser HD650. But then again you would expect that when the dongle MEASURES 3.5 miliWatts into a 300 ohm load.

The SE also had difficulty driving those headphones, its output was not much better than that.

I fail to see the ”vast” or “clearly“ better dongle performance. Measurements clearly indicate SIMILAR performance, at least in audio output terms. What you claim to clearly hear, is simply not there, at least not in power terms.
You are CLEARLY wrong again

If you want to drive 300 ohm headphones, you should try the Fiio KA3, the Hidizs S9 or the S9 Pro as these were designed for hard to drive headphones up to 300 ohms

The iphone DAC and the Apple dongle were not designed for 300 ohm cans

For headphones that the iphone SE "CAN" drive, the $10 Apple dongle is better in many ways to the phones DAC

YOUR measurements are CLEARLY misleading you

CLEARLY the Apple dongle has better output than the 1st gen iphone SE

 
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Avro Arrow

Posts: 3,355   +4,362
It's funny you know, "Creative" Labs just ripped off the AdLib and just made a stereo version of it. The writing was on the wall for Creative Labs when RealTek developed and released the AC'97 digital audio chip. These days, RealTek is the de facto standard for digital audio (their chips are even used in automotive head units).

When you can put THX and Dolby Audio on a motherboard, the reasons for buying an actual sound card become EXTREMELY niche.
 

BogdanR

Posts: 12   +1
You are CLEARLY wrong again

If you want to drive 300 ohm headphones, you should try the Fiio KA3, the Hidizs S9 or the S9 Pro as these were designed for hard to drive headphones up to 300 ohms

The iphone DAC and the Apple dongle were not designed for 300 ohm cans

For headphones that the iphone SE "CAN" drive, the $10 Apple dongle is better in many ways to the phones DAC

YOUR measurements are CLEARLY misleading you

CLEARLY the Apple dongle has better output than the 1st gen iphone SE

You’re obviously deflecting. Again. Big words and not much else. Again.

By the way, I’m using an Accuphase pre for serious listening and a NAD on my desk for lighter duty.

Anyway, I have no interest in a pi**ing match with you so, unless you bring some objective arguments to the table, something like meaningful measurements, I’m done here.
Cheers!
 

Bullwinkle M

Posts: 849   +767
You’re obviously deflecting. Again. Big words and not much else. Again.

By the way, I’m using an Accuphase pre for serious listening and a NAD on my desk for lighter duty.

Anyway, I have no interest in a pi**ing match with you so, unless you bring some objective arguments to the table, something like meaningful measurements, I’m done here.
Cheers!
Obviously an Accuphase pre did not make up for your massive hearing loss

The difference in sound quality between the 1st gen iphone SE and the $10 dongle is obvious to anyone with with good hearing capability

There are not much spec measurements for the SE, so you should make your own, then find somone with good ears to make a subjective comparison since you were incapable of doing that yourself

Dongle review with specs and measurement links

iPhone SE review

"Audio lacks in dynamics and subtlety"
"We’ve always praised the audio on iPhones, but the SE has to be one of the first that has left us a little disappointed. It’s still a crisp, precise and well-timed performance, but the 6S overshadows it in just about every other way.

Listen to an orchestral piece, like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and dynamically the iPhone 6 leaves the SE for dust. Not only is the 6S able to portray soft and loud better, but its sense of scale and instrument separation is superior too.

There’s also more subtle detail to be had on the iPhone 6S – voices have more insight and there’s more texture and tonal differentiation in the likes of guitar strums and piano notes, which the SE glosses over somewhat."
 
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merikafyeah

Posts: 359   +345
Once upon a time it was worth it, but now sound cards are mostly just snake oil.

If you really want to upgrade your sound it would be better to go external. JDS Labs makes a really high quality DAC and AMP at very reasonable prices. They're perfectly adequate for 99% of people out there who just want to drive a pair of headphones without compromising on quality.
 

arrowflash

Posts: 525   +601
The last discrete sound card I've owned was the Sound Blaster AWE64.

Back in those days, the audio quality difference between onboard audio, a SB Pro and a SB AWE64 was clear as day, even if like me you're not even close to being an audiophile.

Until the mid 2000s, high end discrete sound cards also had the advantage of actually improving gaming performance by offloading the CPU a bit.

Then by the mid 2000s, onboard audio on high end motherboards started becoming "good enough" for me. I did try an Audigy I borrowed but didn't notice that much of a difference from the high end Asus motherboard I used at the time (around 2005), at least with the speakers and headphones I used. Not worth it. Of course on low end motherboards audio was still noticeably trash.

By the 2010s I started using HDMI for audio and then none of this mattered anymore. Again, good enough.
 

Greg Powell

Posts: 12   +4
Gaming in general is a waste of time....
Playing games is nothing more than passing time. I use my PC to process huge amounts of image files for astro photography
I wish more of this site went to useful info instead of just playing games.
 

dangh

Posts: 851   +1,445
Gaming in general is a waste of time....
Playing games is nothing more than passing time. I use my PC to process huge amounts of image files for astro photography
I wish more of this site went to useful info instead of just playing games.
Yeah... Don't ng astrophotography for hours is a noble task, not at all passing time... Lol:)
 

BogdanR

Posts: 12   +1
Obviously an Accuphase pre did not make up for your massive hearing loss

The difference in sound quality between the 1st gen iphone SE and the $10 dongle is obvious to anyone with with good hearing capability

There are not much spec measurements for the SE, so you should make your own, then find somone with good ears to make a subjective comparison since you were incapable of doing that yourself

Dongle review with specs and measurement links

iPhone SE review

"Audio lacks in dynamics and subtlety"
"We’ve always praised the audio on iPhones, but the SE has to be one of the first that has left us a little disappointed. It’s still a crisp, precise and well-timed performance, but the 6S overshadows it in just about every other way.

Listen to an orchestral piece, like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and dynamically the iPhone 6 leaves the SE for dust. Not only is the 6S able to portray soft and loud better, but its sense of scale and instrument separation is superior too.

There’s also more subtle detail to be had on the iPhone 6S – voices have more insight and there’s more texture and tonal differentiation in the likes of guitar strums and piano notes, which the SE glosses over somewhat."
Oy Vey. Why didn’t you left up the original comment you had after my last reply? Because that comment was perfectly showing the kind of sneering, belittling attitude you had in our failed conversation.

Indeed, there are no true SE measurements out there except perhaps for the max output, which is indeed rather disappointing at around .5V. Indeed in this aspect alone the dongle is twice as good at 1V output, but that only means the dongle will be louder and will consequently drive less sensitive, higher impedance headphones better and not much else.

Objectively or subjectively, in an output levels matched and blind test, possibly no one on this planet would be able to tell them apart, no matter how good their hearing is. And I said possibly not probably. As opposed to your “all-knowing” attitude I admit I could be wrong. Critical listening at JND levels is a skill I only aspired to but never claimed to master.

So, there’s the crux of our argument here. My SE was never as capable of taking control of my HiFiMan 400i (at some point in time a Stereophile Class A component) drivers as my daughters 6s was. But using my Thinksound ON2 (another Sterephile Class A component) instead, told a completely different story: there was virtually no difference between the phones, apart from the 6s being able to drive the levels up to painful levels quicker.

So BOTH the available measurements and my personal experience with BOTH the SE and the dongle support exactly what I was saying all along: the SE was pretty far from being total garbage. Are there better solutions out there? Sure they are.

And speaking of casually dropping HiFi rag names around, my experience with What HiFi was disappointing, I’ve bought a Class Product of the Year Award winner based on their recommendation, which I found merely adequate and not really worth the praise lavished on it. Again, my subjective experience here. Stereophile, while also pretty controversial, at least does and publishes measurements.

And speaking of measurements, here’s the link I used as reference for the dongle:
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...pple-vs-google-usb-c-headphone-adapters.5541/

Peace. I’m truly out of our conversation now. Your floor.
 

Bullwinkle M

Posts: 849   +767
Oy Vey. Why didn’t you left up the original comment you had after my last reply? Because that comment was perfectly showing the kind of sneering, belittling attitude you had in our failed conversation.

Indeed, there are no true SE measurements out there except perhaps for the max output, which is indeed rather disappointing at around .5V. Indeed in this aspect alone the dongle is twice as good at 1V output, but that only means the dongle will be louder and will consequently drive less sensitive, higher impedance headphones better and not much else.

Objectively or subjectively, in an output levels matched and blind test, possibly no one on this planet would be able to tell them apart, no matter how good their hearing is. And I said possibly not probably. As opposed to your “all-knowing” attitude I admit I could be wrong. Critical listening at JND levels is a skill I only aspired to but never claimed to master.

So, there’s the crux of our argument here. My SE was never as capable of taking control of my HiFiMan 400i (at some point in time a Stereophile Class A component) drivers as my daughters 6s was. But using my Thinksound ON2 (another Sterephile Class A component) instead, told a completely different story: there was virtually no difference between the phones, apart from the 6s being able to drive the levels up to painful levels quicker.

So BOTH the available measurements and my personal experience with BOTH the SE and the dongle support exactly what I was saying all along: the SE was pretty far from being total garbage. Are there better solutions out there? Sure they are.

And speaking of casually dropping HiFi rag names around, my experience with What HiFi was disappointing, I’ve bought a Class Product of the Year Award winner based on their recommendation, which I found merely adequate and not really worth the praise lavished on it. Again, my subjective experience here. Stereophile, while also pretty controversial, at least does and publishes measurements.

And speaking of measurements, here’s the link I used as reference for the dongle:
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...pple-vs-google-usb-c-headphone-adapters.5541/

Peace. I’m truly out of our conversation now. Your floor.

Dude, Really?

Buy the dongle and compare the outputs directly

Much Cleaner / Clearer output on the dongle if you use a proper load for each

Try 32 Ohm headphones on both

The worst thing that could happen is you waste $10 on a dongle

With your ears, it sounds like you wasted more than that on an Accuphase pre

I'm SERIOUS!
Use the dongle on the SE and you will either thank me or Rage Quit