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Ode To Sound Blaster: Are Discrete Audio Cards Still Worth the Investment?

timothy posted about 4 months ago | from the won't-fit-in-my-phone dept.

Music 502

MojoKid (1002251) writes "Back in the day (which is a scientific measurement for anyone who used to walk to school during snowstorms, uphill, both ways), integrated audio solutions had trouble earning respect. Many enthusiasts considered a sound card an essential piece to the PC building puzzle. It's been 25 years since the first Sound Blaster card was introduced, a pretty remarkable feat considering the diminished reliance on discrete audio in PCs, in general. These days, the Sound Blaster ZxR is Creative's flagship audio solution for PC power users. It boasts a signal-to-noise (SNR) of 124dB that Creative claims is 89.1 times better than your motherboard's integrated audio solution. It also features a built-in headphone amplifier, beamforming microphone, a multi-core Sound Core3D audio processor, and various proprietary audio technologies. While gaming there is no significant performance impact or benefit when going from onboard audio to the Sound Blaster ZxR. However, the Sound Blaster ZxR produced higher-quality in-game sound effects and it also produces noticeably superior audio in music and movies, provided your speakers can keep up."

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No. (4, Insightful)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | about 4 months ago | (#47427155)

Onboard sound is finally Good Enough*, and has been Good Enough* for a long time now.

* YMMV, offer void in Tennessee.

Re:No. (4, Insightful)

jandrese (485) | about 4 months ago | (#47427207)

The /. writeup sounds like audiophile wank to me. I would be surprised if this Soundblaster could justify its price in a proper double blind study on real world data (music, games, movies, etc...) vs. the built in audio on your mobo.

Re:No. (4, Insightful)

shadowrat (1069614) | about 4 months ago | (#47427261)

The results of my study with a sample of 1 is: I can't tell the difference. I stopped buying discrete cards a long time ago.

Re:No. (3, Interesting)

sumdumass (711423) | about 4 months ago | (#47427585)

I stopped buying high end discrete sound cards a long time ago. I still buy and use discrete cards when I build a system and sometimes when trouble shooting them though.

It might be more out of habit since I started buying and building computers when sound was almost always an add on. On Board sound probably wasn't even invented then. One thing that always annoyed me was on board devices going south and not enough expansion slots to add a card in. This used to be common with on board sound and network devices. It's also so much easier pulling a card to trouble shoot hardware issues than turning one off in the bias and hoping it actually disabled the chip. I've seen some plug and play happenings turn the devices back on once the OS booted.

I cannot tell a big difference in sound quality or CPU overhead any more either. But I guess habits are hard to break.

Re:No. (4, Funny)

Jahoda (2715225) | about 4 months ago | (#47427301)

Which is ironic, because no audiophile would ever use gear from Creative Labs, ever, EVER.

Re:No. (0)

afidel (530433) | about 4 months ago | (#47427487)

Lol, what's funny about that is if they like rock or electronic music it's highly likely the source of the music is CL, many instruments including the Korg Triton use CL chips (in the case of the Triton it was the same chip as in one of the high end SB Live cards).

Re:No. (4, Insightful)

Mike Buddha (10734) | about 4 months ago | (#47427615)

Soundblaster cards don't have the imaginary qualities audiophiles look for?

Re:No. (5, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 4 months ago | (#47427377)

People who really care about audio quality don't buy Creative hardware anyway. That's for gamers. If you want sound quality there are many cards with cheap but excellent chipsets. Via Envy24 codes and Wolfson DACs are the preferred combination, and cards with them cost under a tenner.

Much better to spend the money on better speakers or a headphone amp. If you really want high end sound get an external DAC.

Re:No. (5, Funny)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 4 months ago | (#47427401)

Well, you do have to use Monster Cables, and Klipsch speakers in a soundproof isobaric chamber

Re:No. (3, Interesting)

mjwalshe (1680392) | about 4 months ago | (#47427455)

on-board tends to have problems with noise - a problem that an external shielded sound card massively reduces also pro or semi pro cards have better zero latency drivers.

Re:No. (3, Insightful)

Guspaz (556486) | about 4 months ago | (#47427527)

And those noise problems don't matter if you're using digital audio connections, say over HDMI or TOSLINK or S/PDIF. In fact, if you're doing digital audio over HDMI, you're not even using your onboard sound, you're using your videocard's sound output.

Even then, the signal-to-noise ratios of onboard has been good enough for years now. Sure, you might notice a slight difference with a good pair of headphones, but in practice, not so much.

Re:No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427573)

Blanket statement, and absolutely untrue. Still, nice try though. Are you one of those 'audiophile' dipshits?

Re:No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427241)

Agreed - I haven't bothered with a separate sound card since around 1998. The only time one something external is really needed in today's day and age, is if you're doing recording, and then you'll get an MAudio box, or something along those lines anyway.

Re:No. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427551)

Agreed - I haven't bothered with a separate sound card since around 1998.

I think my previous last sound card was in ~2002, and various Linuxes continually broke the driver every other upgrade. Ahem.

Anyway, onboard got 'okay' after that, reaching the hallowed heights of, "really pretty okay" with Realtek's stuff.

Then I splurged on $180 headphones.

Yeah. Realtek is shit and onboard sound is for chumps.

Re:No. (3, Interesting)

PIBM (588930) | about 4 months ago | (#47427243)

Onboard sound is fine, but a lot of motherboard don't have support for creating dolby digital live output. In fact, I am currently in the market for a lowly priced card that would do just this. For once I could simply move my card to the next computer, no matter which motherboard it is.

Is there a correctly priced (30$ perhaps ?) sound card that only do optical and coaxial output, with dolby digital live support ? We have very good surround received, I see no reason not to use those DAC and power amplifier with our nice speakers to get the sound out.

No I don't want to use HDMI; the video feed cause problem, and my monitors are too high res for hdmi anyway (not 2.0, but they don't support it either).

Re:No. (1)

RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) | about 4 months ago | (#47427297)

Ton of USB and firewire devices that'll do it for relatively cheap.

Re:No. (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#47427453)

Ton of USB and firewire devices that'll do it for relatively cheap.

... which are, by definition, discrete audio devices.

Re:No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427557)

Doubtful.

Onboard sound (eg the ANALOG connection) is horrible, regardless of the chipset used because the problem lies in the connection. As an example there is a "front" and a "rear" connector, If I use the rear connector there is no noise, but if I use the front connector, there is this loud noticable hiss. Even when I replace the motherboard (twice now) it doesn't go away. What does this tell me? This tells me that the Analog connection is the problem, and it's picking up noise from within the chasis.

Now how do we fix it? We move the DAC closer to the user's ear. So ultimately this means either buying something like this: http://www.trittonaudio.com/prod/720plus-red.asp or this http://www.sharkoon.com/?q=en/content/x-tatic-digital (the audio frequency response on both are poorer than my 30$ earbuds) or some dramatic technology allowing sound to be bypass the ear.

USB and Wireless headsets tend to be terrible alternatives as they only work with Windows.

Re: No. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427245)

yes, and for those occasions where it isn't, we have USB and Firewire boxes..I keep a lexicon omega for these occasions.

Re:No. (1)

mlts (1038732) | about 4 months ago | (#47427371)

For gaming, things have been "good enough" going on almost a decade.

For true studio work, I've not checked recently, but I think M Audio has a PCI interface card for a few C-Notes. I think things have shifted to AI (audio interface) cards anyway, as opposed to discrete sound cards like SoundBlaster successors.

However, I wouldn't say SBs are pointless... for retro gaming, some games have better sounding music coming from the "primitive" FM synthesis at that time.

Re:No. (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about 4 months ago | (#47427613)

Soundblaster cards haven't done FM synthesis for decades. If you want to experience that today, you're going to want to do that with an emulator. Luckily, there are lots of Yamaha OPL-3 (the chip that the SB16 used for FM synthesis) emulators available. DOSBox has several, I believe.

Re:No. (1)

inode_buddha (576844) | about 4 months ago | (#47427511)

Dr. Sbaitso doesn't live onboard, though. You need a standalone sb card to tell him anything you want, anything at all...

Re:No. (0)

Mashiki (184564) | about 4 months ago | (#47427607)

Onboard sound is finally Good Enough*, and has been Good Enough* for a long time now.

Let me start with a hardy fuck you soundblaster though, and finish by saying that "onboard" still isn't good enough. The majority of chipsets out there use realtek based sound solutions. In turn the drivers used are straight out of the gate realtek, with no polish. If you're lucky, the company who has them on their board might slap a fancy UI on them. They're well known enough to cause all sorts of issues from latency drops, to causing DMA/IRQ conflicts with other hardware. While it's fun to say "they're good enough" that's akin to saying, I can drive 80km on my new run-flat tires, it's good enough to get me where I need to go.

If you want a good sound, break down and blow the $50-80 on another card that has decent driver support. Your gaming/movie watching/audio listening/etc will thank you for it. Personally anything from Asus(xonar series), or HT Omega(if you really want to blow the money) will do you good, especially since they actually fix their drivers. And don't simply software disable functions like Soundblaster did on their LIVE! series cards.

Slashvertisement event horizon (4, Funny)

fishwallop (792972) | about 4 months ago | (#47427167)

And past this post, no further information from Slashdot ever reached my location.

Re:Slashvertisement event horizon (1)

quantaman (517394) | about 4 months ago | (#47427253)

Not necessarily, there's a real question whether ./ got paid or suckered.

Re:Slashvertisement event horizon (4, Informative)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | about 4 months ago | (#47427329)

My thoughts exactly. A discussion of the merits of add-on vs built-in sound hardware is worthwhile on its own terms; but basing the discussion on a specific add-on card, with the flimsy excuse of one company's 25th anniversary, strikes me as blatant shilling.

Re:Slashvertisement event horizon (1)

InfiniteBlaze (2564509) | about 4 months ago | (#47427341)

Contributor is an employee of referenced article's owner, I assume, since all of his posts come from the same site.

Hard finding any worth it these days (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427183)

Most of the cards, even the famous "Sound Blasters," that I've looked at all suffer from serious quality control issues. I bought my last Sound Blaster in '07, it died two hissing and popping years later with a horrible squeal.

Re:Hard finding any worth it these days (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about 4 months ago | (#47427239)

I wonder if it fell victim to the Capacitor Plague. It might have just needed some new electrolytic caps.

Re:Hard finding any worth it these days (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#47427265)

Really? I've got an old SB X-FI from, like, 2001 I think, and even though it spends most of its time in a dusty shop I've never had a problem with it.

Re:Hard finding any worth it these days (3, Informative)

sumdumass (711423) | about 4 months ago | (#47427651)

2001 would have been before the capacitor plague hit hard.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C... [wikipedia.org]

If you look down to the industrial espionage part, I heard the story a little different. Instead of a worker stealing the recipe and copying it wrong, I heard there was a hacking incident and sabotages files were purposely placed in the areas the hackers were looking at. The faulty electrolyte recipe was supposedly on of them and they used it to pinpoint which manufacturer was trying to steal information. But that could have just been rumor.

Hasn't been true for a while (5, Insightful)

Hamsterdan (815291) | about 4 months ago | (#47427201)

Yes, a discrete card might have *better* specs (especially analog components, which was a problem on older integrated soundcards), but I haven't felt the need to use a discrete card since my nForce 2 board (Soundstorm).

Besides, it saves me from using Creative's bloatware.

Surely, It Depends (4, Informative)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#47427209)

For the average user, onboard is just fine.

For a power user (gamer/developer), onboard is probably good enough.

If you're an audio pro and/or you're building a semi/professional audio rig, onboard isn't going to cut it 99% of the time.

FWIW, plug in sound cards are actually more common than a lot of people think, because a lot of people seem to think that if it doesn't go into a PCI slot, it's not a sound card.

The Rocksmith cable, with its built-in discrete audio unit, is a prime example, one that I use almost daily.

Re:Surely, It Depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427409)

I agree, if by PRO you mean a person who makes their living mixing, recording or producing sound and even then only if the sound card is used during A-D conversion/acquisition (i.e. recording). And EVEN THEN, everything else about acquisition (mic placement, mic quality, room acoustics, mic-preamps) are much more important than mere A-D quality. And EVEN THEN, I use a dedicated external audio recording device.

Otherwise, the only thing the sound card is used for is previewing audio. All of the mixing/processing etc happens in the CPU (or maybe accelerated in the GPU).

   

Re:Surely, It Depends (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427571)

For the average user, onboard is just fine.

For a power user (gamer/developer), onboard is probably good enough.

If you're an audio pro and/or you're building a semi/professional audio rig, onboard isn't going to cut it 99% of the time.

FWIW, plug in sound cards are actually more common than a lot of people think, because a lot of people seem to think that if it doesn't go into a PCI slot, it's not a sound card.

The Rocksmith cable, with its built-in discrete audio unit, is a prime example, one that I use almost daily.

Yeah, a nice interface is essential for running VSTs with low latency. ASIO is pretty awesome.

Boycott Creative (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427211)

Whatever you do, don't buy Creative. They intentionally crippled drivers around 2008.

Re:Boycott Creative (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427299)

Citation: http://www.wired.com/2008/03/c... [wired.com]

I don't game but (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 4 months ago | (#47427217)

I love the fact that discrete sound cards exist. It makes it a lot easier to not order one, so that my PC doesn't assail my ears every time some obnoxious video starts auto-playing after I open up a window.

Re:I don't game but (2)

jandrese (485) | about 4 months ago | (#47427247)

Why not just turn off your speakers? Every mobo comes with built-in audio these days anyway, doesn't mean you have to plug anything in to it.

Creative can suck it. (4, Insightful)

buback (144189) | about 4 months ago | (#47427231)

I'm still bitter about Aureal.

Re:Creative can suck it. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427503)

Creative can suckit it hard.
Look back on their patent troll days with respect to 'Carmack Reverse' and EAX.

Fuck those guys.

If you need one then yes.. (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about 4 months ago | (#47427249)

For most of us, no. Onboard sound is great and getting better all the time. If you're an audiophile or using your system to do professional mixing or music then it is worth it.

Re:If you need one then yes.. (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#47427485)

For most of us, no. Onboard sound is great and getting better all the time. If you're an audiophile or using your system to do professional mixing or music then it is worth it.

Even then, you're not going to be using a PCI Soundblaster card, but rather a purpose-built audio interface device. And you sure as hell won't be buying it from Creative. At least, not if you care about your sound.

Reconcile these two sentences please. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427251)

> While gaming there is no significant performance impact or benefit when going from onboard audio to the Sound Blaster ZxR. However, the Sound Blaster ZxR produced higher-quality in-game sound effects.

Re:Reconcile these two sentences please. (1)

Qzukk (229616) | about 4 months ago | (#47427317)

performance impact or benefit

When gaming, performance = Frames Per Second. It was neither positively nor negatively changed by using a discrete sound card.

Re:Reconcile these two sentences please. (1)

daemonhunter (968210) | about 4 months ago | (#47427325)

When gaming, moving the audio processing from motherboard to a discrete audio card doesn't relieve enough stress on the CPU to give additional in-game framerate, smoothness, etc., but it does increase the quality of the audio itself.

Re:Reconcile these two sentences please. (2)

Gary (9413) | about 4 months ago | (#47427355)

He probably used oxygen free cables for the second part and just forgot about it.

Re:Reconcile these two sentences please. (1)

Defenestrar (1773808) | about 4 months ago | (#47427537)

Yeah - oxygen free digital cables at that.

They have a great fab process (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427255)

To get 89.1 times better signal-to-noise performance, they use official Monster(R) brand, gold-plated, platinum-tipped 14-nm processes in their PC chip designs.

Back in the day? (4, Informative)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 4 months ago | (#47427259)

Back in the day, integrated audio solutions had trouble earning respect.

No.

Back in the day, integrated audio was the frickin' PC speaker that could only produce one square wave at a time with no volume control whatsoever, apart from software 'hacks'.

And Creative Labs were far from the first ones, learn a bit of history [crossfire-designs.de] and get off my lawn.

Re:Back in the day? (1)

DigitAl56K (805623) | about 4 months ago | (#47427623)

Let's also not forget that back in the days of MS-DOS there wasn't a consistent audio API and if the game developer didn't support your card, integrated or otherwise, you were SOL. The only (buggy) standard was SoundBlaster Emulation, unless you had the $ for a Gravis Ultrasound.

To the original question, yes, discrete cards are still worth it if you have decent headphones and want a decent dac/amp to power them. If you're half deaf from years of loud music or your headphones/earbuds/speakers cost less than $100 you probably don't care.

Re:Back in the day? (1)

Mike Buddha (10734) | about 4 months ago | (#47427643)

I had a sound driver that could play digitized audio over my case buzzer. Worked OK on my laptop.

The difference isn't the card. (3, Funny)

uncqual (836337) | about 4 months ago | (#47427283)

People who know and value quality audio are willing to buy discrete audio cards even though it costs them more money.

However, they don't realize that the improvement they see is because they are also willing to pay more money for quality cables. It's the solid gold Monster Cables that they buy because the salesperson at Fry's recommends them that is really the source of the improved audio quality.

Re:The difference isn't the card. (1)

gnu-sucks (561404) | about 4 months ago | (#47427441)

I'll bite.

The cables do not make a difference. Considering the level of thermal noise and the difference between, say, 30 AWG wire and 16 AWG "monster cable" (we're talking about low-level shielded cable, right), the monster cable "difference" is below thermal noise.

If you are "hearing" the difference with better cables, you are most likely hearing the money and not the electrons. Not to say that there aren't such a thing as sub-par cables, but monster cable vs OEM pc cable, for consumer-line-level, please...

Prove me wrong, I dare you.

Re:The difference isn't the card. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427531)

Woosh...

Re:The difference isn't the card. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427553)

Cabels to make a difference. It's mostly in the shielding.
Going from complete crap cables (monster included here) to any decent cable makes an audible difference. Anything past that is throwing money away.

Here's an anecdote (not data!) for you.
I'm an super-budget audiophile
I swapped the cables from crappy radioshack cabels to Kimber PBJs (which cost waaaay to much for what they are). I thought it sounded better.
My Wife came home a little later, walked in to the living room and immediatly asked what I did because it sounded better. Generally she couldn't care less about the stereo gear except how to turn it on, so it must have been audible to others

Re:The difference isn't the card. (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#47427497)

Woah, watch your step around this post, ladies and gents; my Sarcasm Detector is going off the charts!

You're much better off investing in speakers (5, Informative)

ZorinLynx (31751) | about 4 months ago | (#47427293)

Any money spent on a sound card is better off spent on speakers and a good DAC, which often come together.

High end sound systems and speaker systems these days have digital inputs, thus an onboard DAC. If you're using a digital output on your motherboard to connect to a digital input on the speaker, the onboard sound card has ZERO effect on the quality of the audio. The bits are traveling directly, unmolested from the application generating them to the amplifiers in the speakers.

Now, if you have audiophile-type equipment that uses analog inputs, then YES, the analog sound you feed into those inputs needs to come from a high quality DAC. High end sound cards tend to have good DACs, but you can get the same effect by using an outboard DAC, which has a digital input and analog outputs, and is also AWAY from your PC, so your analog audio is less likely to be affected by interference from the motherboard or power supply.

You can get DACs with USB inputs, but USB adds latency so is best avoided for gaming. For music, go to town with a USB DAC; it won't matter there.

The gist of it is, the most important component is the DAC. The DAC completely determines the quality. Everything else is just hype. :)

Re:You're much better off investing in speakers (1)

toejam13 (958243) | about 4 months ago | (#47427479)

As somebody who has been using an external DAC since the late 1990s, I'm getting a kick out of this response.

I'm actually surprised that inexpensive modern motherboards still include a DAC. You'd think it would all be coaxial SPDIF and HDMI output at this point. The freebie headsets I get when enrolling in online classes are all USB these days. Less and less seems to rely on analog outputs.

Re:You're much better off investing in speakers (1)

nwf (25607) | about 4 months ago | (#47427631)

Any money spent on a sound card is better off spent on speakers and a good DAC, which often come together.

True, and you'll never get good speakers from Creative. They offer some of the worst sounding speakers I've ever heard. Including those bare speakers from Radio Shack.

In fact, when one speaker blew out on my old PC speaker set (a Harmon Kardon set, I believe), I couldn't actually find anything reasonably priced that didn't sound like crap. So I picked up another one on eBay from a guy who blew out his sub. When they die, I'm going to get an amp and use bookshelf speakers with a real sub.

Reconcile these two sentences please (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427295)

> While gaming there is no significant performance impact or benefit when going from onboard audio to the Sound Blaster ZxR. However, the Sound Blaster ZxR produced higher-quality in-game sound effects...

Re:Reconcile these two sentences please (2)

by (1706743) (1706744) | about 4 months ago | (#47427389)

I think "performance" might be referring to framerate (i.e., a measure of how CPU-intensive it is to drive the onboard vs. dedicated card), whereas audio quality is considered separately. Not the best writing, I'll agree...

My sound card is an A/V amplifier (2, Informative)

AncalagonTotof (1025748) | about 4 months ago | (#47427303)

After many problems with sound cards, sound cards drivers and video drivers, I removed sound hardware from my PC.
I use the HDMI output of my video card, connected to an Audio Video amplifier and that's all. 5.1 when needed, in games or VLC.

Re:My sound card is an A/V amplifier (1)

by (1706743) (1706744) | about 4 months ago | (#47427471)

Agreed. It's just too bad that, AFAIK, there isn't great CEC support on desktop/laptop computers -- though this could be an outdated observation. Of course, the $35 Raspberry Pi supports HDMI CEC very well.

For linux, yes. (1)

buckfeta2014 (3700011) | about 4 months ago | (#47427309)

Onboard can be a pain in linux. I still keep a couple SBLive32's around just in case I need one.

Wouldn't use a soundblaster... (4, Insightful)

Zarquon (1778) | about 4 months ago | (#47427311)

...but discrete soundcards, especially external ones, are still alive and well if you record. The noise floor of internal sound cards hasn't gotten that much better (a PC is very noisy RF environment), and if you need mic preamps, quarter inch jacks, optical in, etc, they generally don't fit on a PCI card or laptop.

But for general gaming or home theater use? Nope. Send the audio out over the HDMI out, or SPDIF for DVI/VGA rigs, and let the amp sort it out.

-R C

Re:Wouldn't use a soundblaster... (3, Insightful)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 4 months ago | (#47427629)

But for general gaming or home theater use? Nope. Send the audio out over the HDMI out, or SPDIF for DVI/VGA rigs, and let the amp sort it out.

This right here is a key point. Many people now don't rely on their PC to actually do any audio, just send the data somewhere else. Many hifi rigs are hooked up into digital inputs, many TVs and computer displays will support HDMI audio and do the conversion in the device. In some cases like mine people even opt for external streaming devices like a Roku to get music though that doesn't work for generic sound.

Not getting enough volume for headphones... (1)

creimer (824291) | about 4 months ago | (#47427321)

I use the motherboard audio to plug my headphones into. However, the volume for headphones is never high enough even with the volume control maxed out in Windows. Would a separate audio card fix this problem?

Re:Not getting enough volume for headphones... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427493)

You probably have your output set to line-out rather than headphones.

Re:Not getting enough volume for headphones... (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 4 months ago | (#47427561)

AC is right, if you're using headphones with the volume maxed out you should be destroying your eardrums unless the output is set to line-out.

Are you sure you're connecting your headphones to the speakers out output? If there's any software for your audio chipset, is it set for headphones for that particular output?

Re:Not getting enough volume for headphones... (1)

creimer (824291) | about 4 months ago | (#47427563)

Under speaker properties, I clicked on the enhancement tab and checked the "loudness equalization" box to fix the problem. Thanks!

Re:Not getting enough volume for headphones... (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#47427513)

I use the motherboard audio to plug my headphones into. However, the volume for headphones is never high enough even with the volume control maxed out in Windows. Would a separate audio card fix this problem?

Maybe.

Higher quality headphones, specifically ones that have their own amp, would probably work better, though.

Re:Not getting enough volume for headphones... (1)

matthiasvegh (1800634) | about 4 months ago | (#47427517)

Yes. Get one with an inbuilt headphone amplifier. The Asus Xonar DG and its PCI-E sibling are dirt cheap, and yet provide a great headphone amp. Give them a try!

HDMI has killed the need (1)

wild_bill_lobotomy (3696357) | about 4 months ago | (#47427345)

Why bother with a card when you can offload that to a piece of audio gear over HDMI? My PC is connected to a quality receiver with a high end DAC, so putting in a board from Creative is just silly.

Re:HDMI has killed the need (0)

LostMonk (1839248) | about 4 months ago | (#47427449)

Why bother? you cannot dismiss the hardware in the middle that GENERATES the audio... if your integrated hardware is poor -- your quality receiver amplifies poor quality audio.

Re:HDMI has killed the need (1)

afidel (530433) | about 4 months ago | (#47427543)

+1 Funny, I hope.

Re:HDMI has killed the need (2)

adisakp (705706) | about 4 months ago | (#47427559)

Why bother? you cannot dismiss the hardware in the middle that GENERATES the audio... if your integrated hardware is poor -- your quality receiver amplifies poor quality audio.

HDMI can output DIGITAL Audio. MS has very good digital audio software mixing and playback algorithms. And many games use a library like FMOD which does software mixing and a DAC output anyhow.

You really only need to worry about a sound card if your PC is outputting ANALOG audio to HIGH QUALITY Amp & Speakers.

Re:HDMI has killed the need (1)

Guspaz (556486) | about 4 months ago | (#47427637)

If you're using HDMI or some other digital output, the "hardware in the middle" isn't generating any audio, it's just passing along the digital information that was generate in software, or better yet, if you're bitstreaming, stored in the original recording.

Heck, when you're using audio over HDMI, your soundcard isn't even involved in the process, it's your videocard that's handling the audio data.

D/A is good enoug, but.. (1)

Technician (215283) | about 4 months ago | (#47427353)

Onboard D/A for WAV, MP3, Movies, etc are generally good enough if the noise level is low enough. The biggest difference is in the on board synth. Playing games uses MIDI and the sound card produces the sounds. There are 2 versions. Hardware and software.

Hardware had an on board synth. It can be as simple as an 8 bit video game or as complex as full wavetable sampled sounds. An onboard hardware synth will sound the same on Linux or Windows. If the wavetable synth is XG compatible or similar, the sound is great. If a cheap synth is used it will sound like a casio entry level keyboard or 8 bit videogame.

Some cards use soft synth's with soundfonts. These can be very good sounding with inexpensive hardware as the synth runs in the OS and just sends the bitstream to the card for repoduction. This uses some system resources and requires installing the proper driver to include the synth and soundfont. This can mean great game sound in WIndows, but no sound or missing sound in Linux for games, unless you load a soft synth on Linux, install a soundfont, and enable it through Jack. While the combo does sound great, it is a resource drain.

Now, which is better? Mixed bag here. Some on board sound come in either variety. Same with add on boards.

Sound Cards are good enough? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427359)

Sound Cards are good enough? Good enough for what? The average consumer? Sure, for anyone really interesting in producing the best sound quality possible, not quite. I know I am an exception because I am an audio engineer, but most intel/amd sound chips don't support high range, 5.1 or 7.1 surround. Good enough to enjoy a game sure. But why build a Lamborghini only to put an 8 track player in it and drive around with the muffler hanging out the back dragging on the ground.

Internal or external sound cards (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427365)

The audio on motherboards is very good. Some have lower noise level than PCI sound cards. I had one Dell motherboard that was very good for transfers from audio tape and reel-to-reel; better than my sound blaster cards. The more recent USB external sound systems are very much better; at least the ones I have heard. I use a Terratec DMX6FireUSB instead of a pre-amplifier feed into active speakers and a 5 channel power amplifier.

Good old days (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427379)

In the middle ages (when EAX was a big deal) it was marketed as being "environmental audio" so it would sound like you were really there!

What it really was, for the most part, was a dedicated 32, 64 or 128 channel hardware 3D positional sound mixer... back when you had a 100MHz processor, this would let you get these effects without sacrificing CPU power and taking it away from the rest of the games.

But now, with our 3GHz multi-core CPUs, sound mixing is such a tiny part, that you *really* don't need this dedicated hardware anymore, and these onboard chips (which are mostly just a fancy DAC anyway) are fine, with some caveats.

One issue I have is for some reason my GPU bleeds noise onto the sound device, so I get this annoying high pitched whine whenever there's no sound in a game.. however, once the music or sound effects start, I don't notice it anymore.

Perfect captcha: unneeded

Gigabyte G1.Sniper Audio (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 months ago | (#47427387)

In an effort to differentiate its product from its rivals, Gigabyte's G1.Sniper series has been including upgraded audio. Interchangeable OP-AMP, audio rated capacitors, and a soundblaster chip. The difference between the sound quality compared to integrated 7.1 surround sound on higher-end boards is huge. You can notice the improvement in quality in only a couple of seconds. I haven't been willing to pay for discrete graphics for a while but considering Gigabyte is including these upgrades in fairly mid-range boards, its worth a look.

Inside the PC case? Forget it (1)

gnu-sucks (561404) | about 4 months ago | (#47427393)

If you really want low noise (perhaps you dislike noise or are planning to amplify the sound to very loud levels), you do not want a sound card inside a PC case powered by a PCI bus. Forget it.

Look for something that runs over USB with its own power supply. Or get an external DAC that takes SPDIF or TOSLINK from a motherboard -- motherboard digital outputs are just fine of course.

If you are really (or ever did) considering plopping down hundreds for a PCI sound card.... sorry, you bought in to the marketing.

Shut up and take my money! (4, Funny)

Chelloveck (14643) | about 4 months ago | (#47427407)

I can't wait to buy a shiny new Sound Blaster ZxR so I can get that noticeably superior audio. It'll be great for my collection of 128 Kbps MP3s!

USB not pci. (1)

genner (694963) | about 4 months ago | (#47427413)

Usb adapters replaced pci cards for us die hard users. Why wouldn't I want a audio solution for both my laptop and desktop.

No. (2)

xlsior (524145) | about 4 months ago | (#47427419)

"back in the day" the main selling point of a "good" soundcard, was compatibility. Under Dr, each and every game had to reinvent the wheel and communicate directly with the soundcard. Unless you had one of major 'good' cards (Soundblaster, Gravis ultrasound, and one or two others) old games wouldn't have sound at all. When Windows became the norm, the hardware communication was abstracted hough the windows driver - as long as Windows support the card, a game could use it. Combined with dirt-cheap integrated cards in most motherboards, there's very little need for discrete audio for non-professional use anymore. We've reached "good enough" 15+ years ago.

For the price, there's better options... (2)

ndykman (659315) | about 4 months ago | (#47427423)

There are plenty of external boxes that allow for more options for recording and output at that price range. There's are good 2x2 boxes out there for less even.

If you are working in audio, you are using different kit. If you are an audiophile, you are probably just using the digital output into an amp anyway.

No GUS, No Demo. (1)

ze_jua (910531) | about 4 months ago | (#47427439)

Gravis UltraSound.

No GUS, No Demo. (1)

Kalendraf (830012) | about 4 months ago | (#47427583)

The GUS architecture had a lot of potential. Too bad it couldn't garner more developer support.

My reason for using a sound card. (1)

dohnut (189348) | about 4 months ago | (#47427499)

I had the optical output on my motherboard run into my home theater receiver in the living room (where the computer was too). After 3 years of the PC always being on and the optical LED being lit, the LED brightness had diminished (yes, this happens) to a point where it could not signal reliably over the cheap 30 foot optical cable I was using (I did a lot of troubleshooting). To remedy the problem I bought the cheapest sound card I could find with an optical output. That solved the problem.

I have since moved the PC into a different room (and upgraded the motherboard, CPU, etc) and went back to using analog headphones. I kept the sound card in the PC and used that with my headphones. Then one day that sound card quit working. So, now I use the analog out on my motherboard.

Full circle.

It depends... (1)

David_Hart (1184661) | about 4 months ago | (#47427507)

My Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro 7.1 surround 24-bit 192KHz with an external breakout box (1/4" MIC, optical, etc.) has now been in 3 systems and is still going strong. I'm running Windows 8.1 using the DanielK drivers. It's PCI, so as long as I can buy a modern motherboard with a single PCI slot, I'm golden. In my opinion, is is one of the last great Creative Labs discrete sound cards.

I tried switching to the on-board sound in my latest build but I prefer the sound from the Audigy. My current motherboard is an Asus P8Z77-v deluxe and has a Realtek ALC898 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC.

However, much like computer systems in general, people have different requirements. If you just want something that will play sound, music, videos, games, etc. then the on-board sound should be adequate. If you get into podcasting, video creation, etc. then you might want something that can provide good quality I/O ports (i.e. MIC, Line-in/out, etc.). If you want excellent separation of sound for movies or gaming, then you are better off with a discrete sound card.

Is Creative the best? Probably not. But I haven't researched discrete sound cards since I bought the Audigy 2 about 9-10 years ago....

OK, Thought of a Use Case (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 4 months ago | (#47427529)

My old, circa 2008 Gateway machine wouldn't let me record the audio stream (aka, "What You Hear") with the onboard audio, had to install a discrete card to get that capability.

That's about the only useful thing I've done with a PCI sound card in the past decade.

Perhaps (1)

Bender Unit 22 (216955) | about 4 months ago | (#47427533)

I know that the headphone output on my new Lenovo laptop at work is horrible. No dynamic range and I am not that picky.

Betteridge's Law of Headlines (1)

preaction (1526109) | about 4 months ago | (#47427549)

"No."

Go professional... (1)

pikine (771084) | about 4 months ago | (#47427569)

MOTU, RME Hammerfall, Pro Tools, Mackie. Or a cheap hobbyist like me uses Presonus, M-Audio, or Behringer. These sound interfaces feature TRS or XLR balanced 3-conductor connectors and cabling that are more resilient to RF noise. Sound Blaster cards offer only RCA 2-conductor which is a joke on the audiophiles.

... and acoustic treatment (1)

pikine (771084) | about 4 months ago | (#47427595)

And you probably get more noticeable gain in audio quality by acoustically treating your listening room. What good is a set of expensive speakers when the environment makes the sound crappy?

Isn't this obvious (1)

Mr_Silver (213637) | about 4 months ago | (#47427593)

It also features a built-in headphone amplifier, beamforming microphone, a multi-core Sound Core3D audio processor, and various proprietary audio technologies.

If you need that kind of stuff then, sure, it's probably a good investment.

I don't and, as a result, haven't bought soundcard since 1996. The ones that came with my various motherboards have been just fine.

Yes (1)

Tailhook (98486) | about 4 months ago | (#47427599)

If you're mixing a lot of stuff on-board devices still fall apart, particularly if you're using a mic. Get an video player running, an MMO, TS/Skype/Mumble/whatever and a couple other things cranking and the on board device will click and pop when you speak, just as they've been doing for years and years.

wrt Soundblaster, I finally had enough of their absurd driver situation in Windows (which rival HP printer drivers for bloat and glitchyness,) their indifferent Linux support and their failure to create a straightforward PCI-E gaming card (at the time I was shopping.) I went with an ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 that uses a cmedia chip for my last build (18-ish months ago) and it's been great. Windows drivers are straightforward and it works in Linux with little drama. I honestly haven't given it a second thought (prior to this post) since I installed it.

I'll stop buying discrete audio when they start soldering audio chips that have full parity with discrete cards onto motherboards. Until then they may as well not bother providing half-ass on board codecs as far as I'm concerned.

Depends (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about 4 months ago | (#47427655)

If you use your onboard sound to connect to your home theatre via a digital connection (coax, optical, hdmi), it's pretty much perfect. So there goes the benefit for watching movies and audio.
TFS already says there isn't much difference with games.

All that leaves is recording.
In that case, a high quality USB microphone is probably going to be better.

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