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Thread: Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

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    Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

    Okay so here is my dilemma. I have onboard Realtek HD audio with optical and coaxial digital output for sound, as well as the usual analogue outputs. If I am connecting my speakers/headset to the diital output, do I really need a soundcard. Will this have better quality or something?

    I ask because I have heard some say that if one uses the digital output, the dsound merely passes through the soundcard rather than actually being processed by it. What do you guys think?

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    Re: Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

    Your speakers are analogue and won't work with the digital output. You still need a digital to analogue conversion. The digital output is for feeding to an AV amp with digital input. These usually decode any dolby or other surround sound encoding embedded in the digital stream.
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    ta2
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    Re: Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

    Sound cards shouldn't actually process the sound at all. In fact, audiophiles spend £££ buying sound cards which are bit-perfect (i.e. don't change the sound at all). The whole point of audio is to reproduce the original sound which was recorded with as much accuracy as possible. Chances are your drivers will be doing some post-processing (typically bass and treble boost) which interferes with the sound. Usually only very high end sound cards have option for bit-perfect output (look up "ASIO"). In Windows 7 there is an option in the audio settings to disable any processing or effects. I'm not sure this will make much difference but it's worth giving it a go.

    The difference between analogue and digital (typically) is that digital to analogue (D to A) converters vary in quality by the materials and quality control of manufacturing. Digital on the other hand is either a 1 or 0 and thus rarely outputs incorrectly. Even the cheapest optical SPDIF output is likely to be 100% perfect, whereas the cheapest D-A converter will have a noticeable impact on performance.

    In summary: if you are using the digital outputs, you probably won't get any benefits to buying an expensive sound card.

    I have a very particular cheap sound card (£10) which someone has written bit-perfect drivers for.
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    Re: Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

    Quote Originally Posted by kasuku View Post
    Okay so here is my dilemma. I have onboard Realtek HD audio with optical and coaxial digital output for sound, as well as the usual analogue outputs. If I am connecting my speakers/headset to the diital output, do I really need a soundcard. Will this have better quality or something?

    I ask because I have heard some say that if one uses the digital output, the dsound merely passes through the soundcard rather than actually being processed by it. What do you guys think?
    It might have better quality, but the real reason for a digital output is for an external decoder to be able to handle the signal - usually a surround signal, rather than using a soundcard with three or more outputs to feed to surround headphones/speakers. It's probably also easier to run an interference less digital output over a given range than an analogue one.

    The only real reason to have a discrete soundcard these days :

    1) Enhanced surround or audio processing capabilities in games. Basically Creative's EAX or other competing standards.
    2) Possibly lower CPU usage or higher framerates in games.
    3) Pro audio

    PK

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    ta2
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    Re: Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

    Quote Originally Posted by Syllopsium View Post
    The only real reason to have a discrete soundcard these days :

    1) Enhanced surround or audio processing capabilities in games. Basically Creative's EAX or other competing standards.
    2) Possibly lower CPU usage or higher framerates in games.
    3) Pro audio

    PK
    Audio processing is such an incredibly simple task for a CPU that #1 and #2 are a moot point. As for #3, "Pro audio" is pretty much just support for 192KHz input, which normal people simply don't need (it's not even one of these "want but don't need" things, because you would need a 4 figure sound system to hear the difference). Even then, pretty much no audio is available in 192KHz, only master recordings which you make yourself.
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    Re: Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

    Quote Originally Posted by ta2 View Post
    Audio processing is such an incredibly simple task for a CPU that #1 and #2 are a moot point. As for #3, "Pro audio" is pretty much just support for 192KHz input, which normal people simply don't need (it's not even one of these "want but don't need" things, because you would need a 4 figure sound system to hear the difference). Even then, pretty much no audio is available in 192KHz, only master recordings which you make yourself.
    #1 (enhanced surround/sound etc) isn't necessarily a moot point. EAX and its successors can enhance sounds. Now, whether enough games take advantage of it, or whether the difference is large enough is a decision for each person, but it's definitely a benefit.

    I have to admit that even though I've got an Audigy 4 card going into a Logitech 5500 speaker system (and using the hacked Creative Labs drivers, enabling Dolby Digital encoding on Audigy rather than X-Fi) I don't actually know if any of my games are using EAX (other than some really old ones that support EAX2, and those don't work under Vista or Windows 7, even with the Alchemy software installed)

    PK

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    Re: Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

    Quote Originally Posted by Syllopsium View Post
    #1 (enhanced surround/sound etc) isn't necessarily a moot point. EAX and its successors can enhance sounds. Now, whether enough games take advantage of it, or whether the difference is large enough is a decision for each person, but it's definitely a benefit.

    I have to admit that even though I've got an Audigy 4 card going into a Logitech 5500 speaker system (and using the hacked Creative Labs drivers, enabling Dolby Digital encoding on Audigy rather than X-Fi) I don't actually know if any of my games are using EAX (other than some really old ones that support EAX2, and those don't work under Vista or Windows 7, even with the Alchemy software installed)

    PK
    EAX is just a gimmick, it's not CPU intensive enough to need hardware. And the fact that it does (in practice) need hardware proves that it's just a con. Oh, and the fact that only Creative do it...

    If you want better sound, buy better speakers. Dedicated sound cards are a thing of the past.
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    Re: Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

    Thank you. At least what you guys have said confirms what i gathered.

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    Re: Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

    Quote Originally Posted by ta2 View Post
    EAX is just a gimmick, it's not CPU intensive enough to need hardware. And the fact that it does (in practice) need hardware proves that it's just a con. Oh, and the fact that only Creative do it...
    Asus do EAX emulation on the Xonar range.....I believe there are others as well.


    If you want better sound, buy better speakers. Dedicated sound cards are a thing of the past.
    Woah!!

    You honestly think that there is no sound quality difference between 2 sound cards? Let alone a decent sound card and some cheap on-board sound chip?

    You need BOTH to be of quality, at least if you use analog at any point in the chain.

    Luckily the OP is only talking digital, although your response does not indicate that at all and seems a bit of a catch-all.
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    Re: Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

    Quote Originally Posted by shaithis View Post
    You honestly think that there is no sound quality difference between 2 sound cards? Let alone a decent sound card and some cheap on-board sound chip?

    You need BOTH to be of quality, at least if you use analog at any point in the chain.

    Luckily the OP is only talking digital, although your response does not indicate that at all and seems a bit of a catch-all.
    Unless you've spent £150+ (RRP £250) on a proper amplifier (eBay is a good place) and some £80+ (RRP ~£150) on some proper bookshelf speakers then the best bang for your buck is still gonna be in continuing to spend on speakers rather than a dedicated card.

    Digital is the same whether it's in a freebie integrated card or £200 pro card. Analog can be massively different, but you probably won't notice if you're using some crappy speakers.

    It's not rocket science. Spending for a really nice set of drivers instead of some £30 Logitechs (which are really good for their price btw) is gonna make more difference than having gold plated analog connectors.
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    Re: Do I need a soundcard if I am using the digital output

    Quote Originally Posted by shaithis View Post
    Asus do EAX emulation on the Xonar range.....I believe there are others as well.
    I would very carefully study the Asus Xonar forums if you're thinking of buying one of their cards. There are various driver issues, and the evidence is that if EAX is important to you, the Xonar isn't really an option.

    PK

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