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Do You Really Need a Discrete Sound Card?

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the either-that-or-you-don't dept.

Music 520

crookedvulture writes "Integrated audio has become a common freebie on motherboards, causing many to question whether there's any need to have a sound card. Tech Report took a closer look at the issue by testing the latest integrated Realtek codec against a couple of sound cards: Asus' $30 Xonar DG and its considerably more expensive $280 Xense cousin. Everything from gaming performance to signal quality is explored, and it's the blind listening tests that prove most revealing. The integrated solution is obviously flawed, and in a bit of a surprise, the cheaper Xonar is the one most preferred. Discrete sound cards certainly have their benefits, and you don't need to spend a lot to get something that sounds a lot better than the average motherboard."

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Yes (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310316)

Built in motherboard sound cars always sound horrible.

Most integrated sound cards broadcast your electricity and network signals over your sound card.

Re:Yes (2, Interesting)

HermMunster (972336) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310428)

Actually, the built in sound cards are pretty decent, for virtually everything (games, music, videos, etc). The average person doesn't care.

The built in cards are no more free than the on-board IDE/SATA/USB/network. It's part of the board and it has a component cost. Just because a component can be replaced with a PCI card doesn't mean that the on-board component is free.

Re:Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310498)

You really can't tell the difference because you got used to using onbord sound only. Trust me the difference is there, and is visible to anyone not just professionals. Of course if you're the type who also uses some desktop speakers instead of a real sound system or some good headphones, then you really shouldn't care.

Re:Yes (4, Interesting)

HermMunster (972336) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310680)

I've been in the industry for about 25 years. And I can tell. I have a media center set up with about 15 speakers in all. I definitely can tell. I don't disagree with you that sound quality and features are better with an add-in card. I just don't agree that sound quality is that bad with on-board audio.

Re:Yes (4, Interesting)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310500)

In my experience, the only time it's worth having a discrete sound card is if you have a kick-ass set of headphones (or speaker setup). For the average $100 set of headphones/$400 speaker setup? Totally unecessary. Now, it's worth it if you want "surround" virtualization with headphones, but otherwise, again, totally unecessary.

Of course, if you truly care about sound quality, you'll just use a digital output (either through USB or Optical) and buy a nice external DAC, thereby completely bypassing any potential electrical interference generated from a sound card.

Note: I run an ATH-AD700 off my built-in sound card and I think it sounds great, so no accusations of audiodouchebaggery on my part, please.

Re:Yes (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310604)

for the average $400 speaker setup?

are you out of your mind?

Out of hundreds of people that I interact with during any given week, none of them have $400 speakers hooked up their PEE CEE.

no wonder this country is going to shit.

Re:Yes (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310648)

Never heard of people using one of those "home theater in a box" setups? Or people producing music? Or people dual-purposing a high-end audio setup?

Re:Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310704)

I don't have $400 speakers plugged in to my TV! People producing music are not your "average" setup.

Re:Yes (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310756)

I don't have $400 speakers plugged in to my TV!

I didn't say $400 speakers, I said setup. There is a very, VERY big difference.

People producing music are not your "average" setup.

You sure about that? You'd be surprised how low-budget you can go and still produce a great-quality sound.

Re:Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310594)

It kinda is free. Once it's integrated... it's virtually no cost to the motherboard maker... so low in fact that (in an industry that is famous for pinching every penny) they don't care. They use it purely as product differentiation.

See also: mobile phones and the drive to integrate GPS/Sound/Video/CPU onto one chip. They start out discrete... and the drive to lower costs and size mean it all gets integration - if you don't believe me, look at what you can get in the UK. A mobile phone with a colour LCD screen - with built in FM radio... for £1.

Re:Yes (2, Informative)

arivanov (12034) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310654)

Depends which ones. I have tried making a media center out of nearly anything short of a dead badger. Based on my experience:

Most VIA EPIAs have sound quality on par with discrete audio solutions. It is something you can hook to a proper amp and not be disgusted by what comes out from the other end. Most via based mini-ITXes can proudly play flac encoded audio with proper Hi Fi quality. So are some of the older Crystal Audio chipsets found on really old high end motherboards.

Compared to that most audio on Intel chipset motherboards I have had to deal with is utter tripe (with the notable exemption of Asus). The most common problems are:

1. Interference from the network hardware. As the network works it "ticks" over the audio channel. Makes a PC totally unusable for music. This is more common on older kit, though I still see it here and there even today.
2. IRQ interference problems on new hardware. I thought that shared IRQ problems are something of the distant (circa 1998) past. Recently Fujitsu-Siemens and Intel proved me wrong. The Intel HD on the Scaleo-E needs special IRQ tweaking on Linux in order not to skip: http://foswiki.sigsegv.cx/bin/view/Net/DebianScaleoE [sigsegv.cx]
3. Distortion. Most onboard Intel HD audio has notable distortion in the high freq range. Examples - HP 6xxx series laptops, Lenovo S10e.

You get whatever you pay for. Viva le monopoly - result is crap video, crap audio, crap disk IO and the consumer is blaming it all on guess what - the too slow CPU so they are aiming to get a bigger one for Xmas which is in favour of guess who...

Re:Yes (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310684)

It is a lot cheaper though. No extra board, just a couple more inexpensive components for the pick and place machine. The solder, admin overhead, etc comes for free since the board gets that with or without the extra chip. That's especially true with the common technique of making one master board and then lesser boards are just a matter of not actually placing all of the chips.

In more tightly integrated chipsets it costs even less. They don't save much at all leaving part of the die blank. Then it's just a matter of the few analog components.

Re:Yes (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310484)

Toslink, will get you DD 5.1 with zero interference from the EMI in the case =) Of course now I've upgraded to using the codec in my 5750 so I can bitstream any format.

Re:Yes (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310728)

I tried that on my desktop at home, kinda funny, but the interference got encoded into the TOSlink signal, as at some point it has to travel electrically. I was kind of surprised about this, as I would have thought it would sound good too, but Realtek truly is utter crap.

Phirst phoast (-1, Troll)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310320)

If you record audio, yes. If you don't, no.

Like vidya cards - if you game or develop media, yes. If not, no.

Fuck, was that so difficult? Also, first poast.

Re:Phirst phoast (1)

hansamurai (907719) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310342)

Agreed, when my friends and I started podcasting with multiple people we found ourselves looking into audio cards at Newegg for the first time in a decade.

Re:Phirst phoast (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310688)

did you circle-jerk each other afterwards?
because that sounds less gay than what you and your friends are actually doing.

Re:Phirst phoast (1)

Stregano (1285764) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310448)

My Gigabyte MB has integrated Dolby Digital 7.1 Surround sound. I don't need to drop another $280 for sound unless I am getting more speakers

Re:Phirst phoast (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310618)

You phail.

Re:Phirst phoast (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310740)

For audio recording, get one with breakout box housing a/d converter externally.

But I also have a few old ensoniq cards without external box that record and play pretty clean signal, and they were pretty cheap back when bought.

Discrete sound card? (5, Funny)

ElMiguel (117685) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310324)

As opposed to what? Continuous sound card?

Re:Discrete sound card? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310424)

To be honest, I prefer my sound to be continuous. I tried playing left for dead with a flickering sound card, and let me tell you, *silence* *silence* *silence* *Roar of Tank right behind you* *silence* Not a good way to play. Don't even get me started on Voice Chat.

Re:Discrete sound card? (3, Funny)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310720)

Yeah, but sometimes I use the computer when others are sleeping. I need it to be discreet.

Re:Discrete *wink* *wink* sound card? (2, Funny)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310436)

As opposed to what? Continuous sound card?

You know, do you need a sound card that doesn't let your roommate or neighbor know that you listen to porn all day?

Re:Discrete *wink* *wink* sound card? (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310526)

That's actually not a bad idea. I wonder how complex your algorithms would have to be to determine if the sounds produced are of gunshots or female moans.

Too many times I've either gone from an FPS to a naughty website or vice versa and either the volume was left down or too high and either I can't hear the game or some horny girl can be heard all throughout the house.

What I need is a dedicated card that can handle all that for me - anytime I try to set up different volume controls per application in Windows, it never sticks.

Re:Discrete *wink* *wink* sound card? (4, Funny)

Stregano (1285764) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310582)

I always end up with the opposite. The gun shots are so loud I pretty much assume that there is a drive-by outside and am surprised my neighbors in my apartment complex do not call the cops for me shooting somebody in my house, and then when I watch some awesome porn, I can't hear the storyline, and nothing is worse than not knowing the storyline.

I know he is supposed to be a repairman fixing the cable, but maybe he has another motive.

Re:Discrete sound card? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310492)

Integrated. Sorry for the derivative post, but maybe this will help differentiate the words.

Re:Discrete sound card? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310574)

The sound of you sucking cock... in stereo.

Re:Discrete sound card? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310752)

Yeah, sure, that's exactly what they mean... duh.

My Soundblaster 16 works great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310326)

It's also got a SCSI port so I can attach my CD-ROM drive!

Re:My Soundblaster 16 works great (1)

armanox (826486) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310358)

Your SB16 came w/ SCSI? I feel ripped off - mine has an IDE Controller on it.

Re:My Soundblaster 16 works great (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310402)

Oh yeah, need something to power this 2X CD-ROM drive. Now if I can just find my CD caddy so I can load it...

Re:My Soundblaster 16 works great (1)

MonTemplar (174120) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310420)

I actually remember both of those, *and* why you would need those particular solutions back in the day. (For those of you youngsters, PC motherboards prior to the mid-90s were not blessed with the on-board ports that are standard today...)


Re:My Soundblaster 16 works great (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310742)

You got the better deal, they cleaned the controller for you.

Does anyone still have soundcard? (3, Interesting)

Nukenbar (215420) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310330)

I don't think that I have put a sound card in a game rig in the past 5-8 years. Does anyone still use them besides people who have some some special need for them?

Re:Does anyone still have soundcard? (3, Interesting)

armanox (826486) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310406)

When I bought my last desktop (2008) I noticed a huge drop in audio quality and volumes going from my SB Live! in my Pentium 4 box to the Realtek HD onboard in the new system. A year ago I added an SB Audigy to my C2D box I noticed a huge jump in the sound output - I didn't have to crank my speakers up to understand speech, recording quality went up, and I started to notice the difference in 128Kb/s vs 192Kb/s (especially on percussion).

Re:Does anyone still have soundcard? (5, Informative)

HermMunster (972336) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310516)

Sound cards used to be sold because their ability to decode sound was done on the card rather than having the CPU doing it, which would slow down the gaming performance (somewhat). I'm sure that sound cards also have other features not found in on-board chipsets, but most of those are for things like high end gaming.

About 7 years ago I remember getting an on-board NVIDIA chipset that had hardware decoding of mp3 files. The CPU utilization of the system without the hardware decoding the CPU jumped to about 45% continuous while playing back the mp3 file. On the rig with the NVIDIA chipset with hardware decoding the CPU utilization was nearly imperceptible. It became to expensive for NVIDIA to offer those for long so they replaced them with generic sound chipsets.

Re:Does anyone still have soundcard? (4, Informative)

jandrese (485) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310698)

7 years ago a new system would have been built with a 1.8-2.3Ghz Athlon XP or a 2.5-3.5Ghz Pentium 4. If you managed to make an MP3 decode eat up 45% of the CPU with any of those chips, you were doing something horribly wrong.

Re:Does anyone still have soundcard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310616)

I do. My open sennheiser headphone's just aren't loud enough otherwise.
I can also tell integrated and dedicated sound cards apart. On certain netbooks, it's quite awful but most of the time it's good enough for me.

Re:Does anyone still have soundcard? (1)

gravis777 (123605) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310766)

I might be the special need, but yes, I do. The reason is because I have my PC hooked into my entertainment center. The last time I bought a motherboard, I could not find one with the socket and memory type I wanted that also had a digital-output for the sound on the motherboard. I finally just picked up a used Turtle Beach off Amazon, and now I got surround from my computer again.

Yes, yes I do. (1, Interesting)

Hatta (162192) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310332)

I was plagued with choppy audio under W7 until I disabled my Realtek sound chip and got a Turtle Beach PCI card. Actually, IIRC, CoD4 refused to run at all with Realtek. Never had a problem with it under Linux though. Of course, YMMV.

That Depends (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310334)

Do you like having support for the latest version of EAX? If so, you need a Creative card.

Do you like the bundled crapware that other cards throw at you? If so, buy one of those.

Do you need specific ports to hook up a MIDI device, or perhaps use S/PDIF optical out at the same time as whatever port they stick it behind on your motherboard? Try and hunt down the port expander bracket accessory shown on the back of your motherboard's box. Fail to find it, then buy a Turtlebeach card.

Otherwise, stick with plugging in your monitor's built-in speakers into the green port, no, the GREEN port, on the back of your computer.

Re:That Depends (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310580)

Hey! When not using my headphones, I use the speakers built into my monitor, you insensitive clod!

Re:That Depends (1)

VGPowerlord (621254) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310656)

Hey! When not using my headphones, I use the speakers built into my monitor, you insensitive clod!

Output to my monitor's speakers doesn't even pass through my soundcard... unless it does so prior to sending it to my video card, which then sends it out to my monitor via HDMI.

Then again, I don't use my monitor's speakers unless I want to independently control the volume on it; normally I use my surround system connected to the computer's sound outputs.

Re:That Depends (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310686)

Most of the time, I use my ATH-AD700s, but when I want to show people a youtube video or if I'm gaming and watching a movie, I'll just use the speakers built into the monitor. My main monitor is an Asus VH236H (secondary is a Dell 2005FPW). I gotta say, considering they are just speakers built into the back of a monitor, the VH236H has some decent built-ins. They are tinny and devoid of bass, just like any built-in speaker on a budget monitor...but I'm constantly surprised by the amount of detail that manages to come through.

Space concerns and volume are the only reasons I do it. Curse you, 3rd floor apartment!

i can hear clearly now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310344)

the mother(board) is gone

That depends. (3, Funny)

Dan East (318230) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310348)

Only if what you listen to requires discretion.

Well... (4, Informative)

CSFFlame (761318) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310352)

I would like it point out that a good card lets you recieve certain inputs that a normal card would not, such as both coax and optical SPDIF. I also would say that much of the audio quality comes from the DACs and Sampling rate conversion.

Re:Well... (3, Insightful)

afidel (530433) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310536)

My motherboard has optical SPDIF in and I'd never use a DAC in the PC environment, it's just too noisy. If you need high quality DAC you need to do it in a breakout box so you're either looking at a midlevel USB/Firewire card or a high level PCI(e) card. As to sample rate conversion does SB still incorrectly do automatically upscale on incoming SPDIF?

Re:Well... (5, Interesting)

pz (113803) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310630)

My motherboard has optical SPDIF in and I'd never use a DAC in the PC environment, it's just too noisy.

I used to think the same thing too. Amazingly enough, you can engineer your way around the noise and create a very good sound card, at least from my informal experience with a handful of different cards. That said, most motherboard solutions (including laptop versions, unfortunately) are nearly worthless because of the price optimization pressure.

Some years ago, I had an undergraduate student design an audio I/O card for a research computer we were developing. She did a remarkably good job. Despite being buried in the middle of an environment with a fair bit of electrical noise, the card produced quite good sound that was essentially as quiet as it would be as if it were in a separate enclosure. She had proper power supply and ground isolation, local re-regulation, and ran all signal traces on internal layers with ground/power planes on the external faces of the PCB. Worked great.

Re:Well... (1)

afidel (530433) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310744)

I guess it's possible, I just never got acceptable results with any of the prosumer cards I tried until I started using external break out boxes which was either a very high end feature for internal cards or available on midrange external cards so the choice to use the external all in one boxes was a no brainer for me =)

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310668)

Agreed. I have an old Audigy 2 ZS Platinum. It came with a front panel full of inputs. I use all of them for various device...everything from my guitar amp to my dreamcast is plugged into my PC. No onboard audio has multiple SPDIF inputs and outputs (optical and co-axial) as well as 1/4" inputs, MIDI, and then some.

Re:Well... (1)

MichaelKristopeit199 (1942486) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310748)

the integrated sound on my motherboard from 2006 has both coax and optical SPDIF inputs and outputs... i don't use them... instead i have a digi 002 connected via high speed firewire to reduce and normalize latency.

having audio signals processed by a machine that is also handling other tasks round-robin is ignorantly misguided. add-on the electrical noise in the computer case and it gets even worse. you need a breakout box or your recordings will be orders of magnitude of lower quality. i'm not sure if people don't understand this, or don't care.

No (5, Insightful)

BitZtream (692029) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310362)

I don't.

But I don't do anything that revolves around audio.

Of course 99.5% of the people who claim to be audiophiles and claim they can 'tell the difference' don't need one either. Its just a different type of epenis.

Re:No (2, Interesting)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310628)

I've gone through various cards and I can definitely tell a difference between grades. The gold shielded $1000 cables are bullshit; but an obscenely thin aluminum cable will destroy sound and video quality (there are truly shit products out there), and the solution to that is a $12 RCA cable (audio/video/stereo) instead of the chinese crap that came with your game system.

A low-end SB Live! or SB Audigy card, however, works wonderfully. The Emu10k1 chipset in the audigy clearly provides a higher grade than a Yamaha card (the YMF724 chipset is horrible, I've had 3 and the lowest grade one would play 128kbit/s MP3s sounding like 16kbit/s by some ungodly magic), and in a less dramatic fashion provides a clear improvement over an on-board AC97 Via or Realtek. It's to the point that they both sound fine; but if you listen to both you'll pick it up easy, and if you're used to one or the other then switching will generate a shocking "wow that's good" or "wow that's bad" reaction.

One thing that surprised me was when I switched to using my Motorola Cliq (shitty phone) for an MP3 player. I figured it would have the same (or worse) sound quality as my 64 gig iPod, but when I plugged the headphones (that I was using for the iPod) into it I was immediately surprised by the massive improvement in sound quality. There was a less dramatic difference between the iPod video and USB-stick (i.e. 512M) Shuffle; the Shuffle was vaguely better, but not much.

It's there. It's not game-setting, but it's there.

Re:No (2, Funny)

DarthBart (640519) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310722)

I put my PC into a wooden case so the bits would properly resonate before being sent to the speakers.

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310760)

Sometimes it seems like non-audiophiles spend more effort justifying their non-purchases than audiophiles spend justifying their purchases.

Poor Quality Sound - Solved (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310368)

Problem: poor sound quality out of your motherboard supplied audio...
Solution: return your defective motherboard.

Ghost Recon (3, Interesting)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310370)

Years ago, I got Ghost Recon for Christmas. I had all the minimum specs of the game - and most of the recommended - but one thing never mentioned was a sound card. Now, for normal singleplayer gameplay there was almost never an issue. However, when playing online, where there could be anywhere from 16 to 32 sounds going at once, my game would slow to a screeching hault for the length of the gunfight - essentially making me useless online. I couldn't even play the support class because a full auto-machine gun tended to slow things down a bit, so I never went anything but the sniper and would always run to the flanks to try and avoid my game from hearing any sounds besides my own shots. Had to disable music and some ambient effects just to get that going.

Since then, now that I'm older and I can afford things on my own - I've never gotten a computer for gaming without a soundcard. I never want to be in that situation again, and I figure dedicated hardware was the way to go (like a good Graphics card helps with the display of things obviously, so I naturally assume a sound-card provides the same assistance with audio).

Now - whether that's still the case, could I go and grab the latest game, meet minimum specs, and have audio cause lag? I don't know. If so, I think soundcards are still necessary. Especially for the EAX effects and such.

Educate yourselves (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310372)



I like Mr. Jones.

I am going to Mr. Jones's house to meet his wife.

It's hard keeping up with the Joneses.

The Joneses' house is quite pretty.

Do you get it yet?

Re:Educate yourselves (1, Informative)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310480)

Actually, it is not necessary to use an additional "s" to form a possesive with words that end with an "s" sound. Several sources say that it is prefered, however I find that it is more readable without the additional "s".

Re:Educate yourselves (3, Insightful)

residieu (577863) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310612)

I prefer language to be understandable in both its written and spoken forms. Asus' may show the possessive form when written down, but spoken you lose that information. Asus's is clearly possessive in both written and spoken form. I also think Asus's looks better.

Re:Educate yourselves (3, Informative)

Cinder6 (894572) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310522)

Actually, the Chicago Manual of Style allows " Asus' " as an alternative to "Asus's". Just make sure to be consistent.


Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310380)

Integrating the sound card on to the MoBo isn't always a great idea. These cheaper motherboards, like Biostars etc. with onboard sound, they did not engineer the sound to isolate from the rest of the board. You can hear the bootup noises, like the CPU counting the ram and the hard drive ticking, over the speakers. I had mine hooked up to a 1000W system, and damn, you could hear the whole POST like some sort of symphony. It was more amazing than the windows startup sound.

It really is obvious. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310392)

Most people who say that there's no difference between a Realtek chip and a dedicated sound processor have either not actually tried a side-by-side comparison, or they have crap OEM speakers that degrade both sound cards to the output of the speaker, and/or they are using highly compressed audio as the sound source, and not realizing that the output quality is being limited by the format.

This is fueled by the fact that most people honestly don't care that much about sound quality, and if that means saving $30 or $300, good for them. But "I don't care" is a very different claim than "there's no difference".

Apathy is an attitude, not a metric.

Re:It really is obvious. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310560)

It may be obvious, but is it important? I can accept that I could probably get better quality audio out of my computer (or out of my portable audio player), but what I have is perfectly enjoyable. I don't NEED to spend more to get higher quality equipment. Since the article asks "Oh, and do I really need a sound card?", apathy IS an important factor.

Re:It really is obvious. (1)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310732)

When random adolescents were asked, "Is apathy and ignorance the biggest problem among American teenagers?" the typical response was, "I don't know, and I don't care."

Much like the onboard sound on my system (and I do have a decent set of Klipsch speakers from 8 years ago or so) I really don't give a crap what sound device I'm using. The last time I bought a dedicated sound device, I bought one of those cool Creative external devices for something like $80. It lasted a little over a year before it mysteriously stopped working.

Re:It really is obvious. (1)

keatonguy (1001680) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310626)

Yes, yes, we get it, your audiophile sensibilities are so much more refined than our plebian ears. But if the average listener can plug into a 30 dollar card and a 300 dollar monstrosity and not hear any difference, isn't the person not sensatized to tiny imperfections in sound output getting the better deal here?

Sometimes Yes You Do (2, Informative)

sanjacguy (908392) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310398)

I have a MB with a built in RealTek sound 'card'. I also run Windows XP 64, cause I'm crazy. The RealTek system for XP 64 is notoriously unstable. When I played Champions Online, the game would disable the sound because it could and would crash the program. Borderlands took it the other route - you can run the program, but you will always crash when you hit level 10, due to the special level 'ding' sound for level 10. Solution? Get a sound card, or a new OS.

Realtek? (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310426)

Realtek's sound chips / drivers don't play nice with a few games I enjoy, namely NWN1 & other Aurora Engine games.

Revealing indeed (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310432)

Asus' $30 Xonar DG and its considerably more expensive $280 Xense cousin. Everything from gaming performance to signal quality is explored, and it's the blind listening tests that prove most revealing.

They reveal the authors insistence on going into excruciating detail on everything. Maybe his attention to detail makes him a better audio engineer/evaluator, but honestly we would have been fine with "The subjects preferred X card for Y music by a substantial margin"...

I do, but no need for big spending. (1)

Happy Nuclear Death (911893) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310440)

I'm still using an Audigy 2 ZS I purchased in 2004. My 2007-ish motherboard sound device is turned off in BIOS. Why? Two reasons:

1) Motherboard sound is full of noise and glitches (pops and clicks).

2) Even more importantly: The onboard sound hardware *actively interferes* with sound under Linux. I have to turn it off, or I have mysterious and disruptive sound problems. Such as fmod using 100% of CPU cycles.

I can only speculate on the real cause of #2, but if experience is any guide, it's due to half-baked hardware that only "works" with a Windows-only driver.

This is why I put "works" in quotes: Even when integrated sound hardware works under Windows, it doesn't necessarily work all that well. I bought the Sound Blaster because the integrated audio on the PC I built in 2003 was also flaky.

The Audigy 2 ZS works absolutely fine under Ubuntu, so that's what I use. Yes... ... I have zero problems with this card and PulseAudio. But the onboard sound device is a piece of junk. Motherboard manufacturers throw in the cheapest junk they think they can get away with. They certainly don't give a damn whether it works in Linux.

Re:I do, but no need for big spending. (1)

keatonguy (1001680) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310750)

I have been using multiple distributions of linux for years on all variety of onboard sound cards and not one of them has ever caused the things you posted. Just to offer a counterexample.

Largely depends on your speakers (1)

thewils (463314) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310454)

If you buy a set of not-too-expensive surround speakers (I have the Edifier 501s - a bargain at $150 a few years ago) then you should go for a discrete soundcard imho. If you're just going to pipe the sound through a couple of $5 speakers, then don't bother.

Re:Largely depends on your speakers (1)

MichaelKristopeit165 (1939480) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310584)

it just as largely depends on the signal source... a similar "blind listening test" claimed "people" preferred mp3 encoded sources over raw samples.

if your audio I/O interface isn't outside of the electrical storm going on inside your computer's case, you're doing it wrong.

Vinyl (3, Insightful)

drumcat (1659893) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310466)

People like vinyl better than digital audio sometimes. This isn't new. Leave discrete cards to us professionals and audiophiles. You iPod earbud wearing types, feel free to use integrated stuff. It's much better than it used to be. It's not external, but anymore it doesn't need to be. It's "good enough". Why is this a debate?

Re:Vinyl (2, Insightful)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310540)

Vinyl is strictly worse than any semi-modern solution when technical merits are concerned. The only reason you can have vinyls that sound better is because of the bastard recording industry and their loudness war [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Vinyl (4, Insightful)

radish (98371) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310624)

Or because people prefer the sound of vinyl, coloration and all. You can measure the performance of a medium and determine which is the most neutral (or the "best" from a technical pov), but that doesn't always equate to the one which people think sounds "best" to their ears. I get into this a lot with audio fans who say that their $xxxx gear sounds "better" than something much cheaper, despite the test results saying the cheaper one is as good or better from a transparency pov - our ears don't always like transparent (tube amps are great evidence of that!).

Where are the 'real' reviews of peripherals (2, Interesting)

ZERO1ZERO (948669) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310476)

I remember in times gone by, a proper review of a video card would involve scoping the output and looking at the quality of the signal. Likewise with the soundcards, it's so hard to find any real info on them other than 'surround' and 'supports windows'.

I have a m audio delta 2940 PCI card I bought on ebay and hooking it up to my Tripath 2020 amp with fostex full rangers literally (figuratively) blew me away. The quality of the output compared to the rear output on the SBLive (kx drivers) was night and day. Amazing. I got it to do some digitisation of old audio recordings.

Does anybody have any quantitive measurements of the Apri 2010 Mac book pro As i'm interested in doing some recording with that wondered how good a quality I'm likely to get.

Re:Where are the 'real' reviews of peripherals (1)

MichaelKristopeit199 (1942486) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310636)

you should get a low latency breakout box with multi-track software to do recording... or were you just planning on hitting record on the mic-in and assembling all the tracks manually?

Re:Where are the 'real' reviews of peripherals (1)

ZERO1ZERO (948669) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310664)

Well it's really just for conversion of vinyl and tapes etc, perhaps some guitar/mic recording. Quality is probably good enough to be honest, but I was interested in seeing some measurements to back it up.

A USB breakout box is desired as it means I can use a higher quality offboard DAC for playback, as the analog sound out the mac is OK, it's nothing amazing imo.

Re:Where are the 'real' reviews of peripherals (1)

damien_kane (519267) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310690)

Actually, TFA did have scoped measurements (granted it was through a loopback into another input, so was subject to the quality of the ADCs on the inputs), so you could at least see how the various cards performed against each other.
Frequency response (the onboads dropped off completely at/around 20kHz), noise levels, hamonics, and stereo crosstalk were all plotted for the three cards in the test.

Depends on purpose... (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310482)

My HTPC uses my ATI card as the soundcard - HDMI audio. Which is nice because it does support the necessary protected path audio so I can play my blu-rays and send the Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio over HDMI.

My laptop has a USB dongle that encodes 5.1 audio into a DTS or DD stream so I can play games with surround. Again, not likely something to have onboard anymore (the old nVidia chipsets used to have a DD encoder).

And there's also the music (though usually they go for Firewire or USB interfaces?) angle where they need low-latency and a bunch of interfaces (MIDI, multichannel audio, etc).

Discrete sound cards are still useful in niche areas - HTPCs with HDMI out, getting 5.1 without a ton of analog cables (using a digital path), and low-latency/high-quality music uses. But for the general population, they're pretty much dead except for the hardcore gamer that wants to get an extra .1 FPS because their soundcard offloads the 3D sound mixing. Maybe the only other area may be to the purist who wants better DACs than the cheap crap they put on onboard audio, though they would probably just use a digital output in some way.

Re:Depends on purpose... (1)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310592)

Which is nice because it does support the necessary protected path audio

The protected audio path is suddenly "necessary" and "nice"?!?

What the hell... man, please get an audio player software that disregards DRM (Blu-Ray DRM has been defeated) and you'll be able to send this to any sound card no matter if it degrades to the protected audio path or not.

You do. (1)

unity100 (970058) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310490)

it depends on what you buy. i bought a creative x-treme music card years ago. its sound quality (coupled with an altec lansing fx6021 speaker set) is "beyond". i have stopped using our family's beloved 5 rack pioneer set with its expensive speakers.

both x-treme music card and altec lansing fx6021 were rather cheap. no, you really dont need to spend $400 on a hipster-labeled 'Beyond gameRx SuperCardBrand', but, you should spend some if you want to get some.

unfortunately both xtreme music and fx6021 are not on the market anymore. i can understand that sb moved onto new cards (despite having a very bad batch after x-treme music), but i cannot understand why altec stopped making stellar in-concert array speakers like fx6021 and moved to 'hipster appledy' shit.

Rather depends... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310524)

That question really seems to depend on your budget and your motherboard...

If you are in the really cheap seats, you should probably spend whatever audio money you have on speakers or headphones that don't utterly suck. OK speakers/headphone drivers are still much trickier than OK silicon amps and DACs. On the other hand, a lot of today's fancy motherboards are happy to output S/PDIF in your choice of optical or electrical, which lets the DACs and amplification in your receiver, which can be of virtually arbitrary niceness, do the job. I'm sure there is some way that realtek can manage to fuck up dumping a pure digital bitstream across a purely digital bus; but it'll take some doing.

Only in the middle, where you have speakers/headphones nice enough to hear subtle imperfections(or just cranked so loud that you are getting repeatedly trampled into the noise floor) and the budget left over for a nice discrete card does it really make any sense. That and, of course, application specific stuff like audio recording, since motherboards don't exactly come with a bevy of XLR jacks...

The days when all that software positional audio dragged your overclocked celeron 333 down and wrecked your FPS framerates just aren't really with us anymore...

does anyone still buy overpriced creative crap? (2, Insightful)

alen (225700) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310544)

used to spend $250 or so on a sound card in the old days but in the last few years the onboard chips have become good enough. the worst part about the old Audigy cards was you had to install all the crappy software that most people didn't use

Hello? What about the dick-waving contest? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310550)

How am I supposed to gloat about how awesome my sound setup is if I don't have a discrete sound card? Instead of wasting time with blind listening tests, they should go to a bar, walk up to a woman and say:

Hey, baby, wanna come home and listen to my 7.1-channel, 24-bit, 192kHz Xense sound card while I rock you all night long?


Excuse me, miss, would you like to come home and listen to my integrated sound card while I cry about my ex-girlfriend and prematurely ejaculate?

This is what I call real-life testing scenarios.

Oh man, the memories... (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310552)

Dude, I remember back in the day when I got a Creative AWE 64 Gold card. That's right, the ISA one with the gold-plated RCA outputs, expandable RAM, and general kickassery.

I still have the shiny plastic bit that came on the front of the box! It's sitting just to the left of the framed Fuckwad Theory print [livingwithanerd.com] .

A different question - do I need a "gaming" card? (1)

sseaman (931799) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310564)

I've tried researching this for some time on-line, and haven't found a clear answer.

I want:

1. Surround sound in game.
2. Surround sound over headphones.
3. Environmental effects.
4. Decent sound.

This should be what most gamers want, right? I can't be the only person out there wearing headphones, and when I got environmental effects to work on my old-gen M-Audio in Half-Life 2, they sounded awesome (unfortunately, the Sensaura drivers for that feature were bad and it didn't work most of the time).

I've heard new games can provide environmental noise effects without dedicated EAX - is that true?

Is surround over regular headphones effective? I don't see it advertised as a feature any more. Have companies just given up on it?

Re:A different question - do I need a "gaming" car (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310652)

there is no such thing as surround sound over headphones. you have two ears.


Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#34310576)

You need quality patch cables and speaker wire as a minimum. If you did not spend at least 10 dollars a FOOT for speaker and 50 for patch cables you are deaf, probably dumb, and shirley, you are blind !!

Take it from me, a
Audiophile (not related to Paedophile)


gilesjuk (604902) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310734)

Or save your money and get something decent like a Firewire external audio interface. I have a nice 12 in/out one that does 24-bit 192Khz. Obviously I'm not using that for general purpose stuff. You then have your PC and sound device well apart and isolated.

If you're really serious about using analogue outputs (really, why bother?) and want the best quality then you would be using balanced in/out.

Creative X-FI is far better than my onboard audio. (1)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310632)

Despite Creative's very rocky buggy drivers early on and design issues with early X-FI's The Fatality Tittanium card has been incredible compared to my built in audio on my intel board.

I could NEVER get line in to work on the realtek stuff. It was always flakey, the drivers first said it wasnt possible due to a design bug, then a year later they updated and line in was there... but it barely functioned right. I use line in because I have 2 workstations next to each other.

So I went and bought an XFI... thinking it would cure all my problems. It did, but it too had driver issues, there was a serious latency issue with audio where it would corrupt audio until you restarted a program... namely ITUNES caused it all the damn time.

I rarely run into the issue now though. But the card has been a very good experience, audio quality is great, very little machine noise bleeds in, where as my onboard audio was so noisy.

I use XBMC and pipe out the DTS to a receiver, the XFI does it all very well.

I'm glad I bought it, although it has its issues and Creative really needs to get their shit together because I may look elsewhere next time for a more supported card that gets more frequent driver updates. But all in all, the chip on the XFI is extremely good, and the card surpasses the onboard in function, audio quality and even driver support...

It's the noise (2, Insightful)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310634)

The main reason to get a discrete card is the noise. Onboard audio always puts out white noise to the speakers, which you really can hear in a quiet environment. My Xonar D2X puts out no noise at all; you can put your ear right to the speaker and hear nothing. This way I can leave the speakers on instead of having to turn them on each time I want to watch a movie and turn them back off again to avoid the damn noise grating on my ears. The card's sound quality is excellent and Linux fully supports it.

Re:It's the noise (1)

Nemosoft Unv. (16776) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310768)

Even more relevant: the *recording* noise. On-board microphone inputs usually pick up more noise from the CPU & other chips than the signal you actually want; line inputs are not much better. Even for speech applications like skype, msn etc. it's very annoying if you hear the constant rattle from your PC or the other side. If you want to do even moderately serious sound recording, a discrete card is a must.

Depends on the application (1)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310646)

I do lots of stuff with DSP, playing with various sorts of digital modulation and demodulation. While the crappiest sound interface can capture everything there is to capture from a communications-quality audio signal, it's handy to have some extra signal-to-noise ratio or sampling rate for particular applications. I've played with PSK31 [wikipedia.org] , HF weather fax [wikipedia.org] and weather satellites [wikipedia.org] .


Just use a USB DAC, soundcard doesn't matter (1)

Sirusjr (1006183) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310718)

On a budget, you can go with the NuForce uDAC2 that supports 24 bit audio and can output to headphones, RCA, or digital coaxial. I use it for all my audio on the PC and it works great on those laptops where you have little choice on the soundcard. Laptops are the best example of the terrible sound of interference if you plug your headphones direct into the sound card so need the DAC the most. It is also small and portable so easy to switch between devices.

Sound engineers do (1)

Kittenman (971447) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310726)

Not as opposed to unsound engineers... but my Sax teacher (I'm learning tenor sax) has a 'dream rig' that he's configured, which involves an Audigy card or some such. He's pretty set on it, and knows what he's talking about (did a Sound Audio Engineering course).

So yes, sometimes.

Good for it (1)

Riddler Sensei (979333) | more than 4 years ago | (#34310730)

Several of the graphs show the frequency response of the different sound chips. I reckon it's SUPPOSE to demonstrate a short coming of the integrated Realtek chip because it falls off much sooner than the much more expensive expansion card, but it drops off at 20kHz - approximately the ceiling of human hearing. It's great that your $200+ card can output at 50kHz, but I personally wouldn't pay even $1 extra for the feature.

As an aside, I'd be much more interested in a card that comes as part of a recording suite with some high end MIDI capabilities. If I could get some sort of card + Finale/Pro Tools/Vienna Symphonic Library (not necessarily all together...that'd be ridiculously expensive) that'd be heavenly.

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