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Thread: Are soundcards now obsolete?

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    Are soundcards now obsolete?

    I'm looking at building my self a pretty high spec (~£1000) gaming rig soon. However, my build doesn't incorporate a soundcard - it just uses integrated. I don't want it to be let down on poor sound quality.

    I've been reading around a bit. Some people say dedicated sound cards give clearer and better audio, and frees up some CPU power. However, some say there's no point at low ends (<£50) as the difference is barely discernable.

    I am quite a bit of an audiophile. I had also read that classical music is the way to tell what sound is superior. I listen to an awful lot of classical (being an intrumentalist myself) and I have quite an ear.

    My current speakers are Logitech Z5500's, not top of the range but at £285 I don't really want to skimp on my output. I would be using an optical cable, so that port would be necessary.

    My question - is there any point in getting a low/mid range dedicated sound card as opposed to using integrated audio?

    Oh, and I guess you'd need to know the motherboard too. I'm looking at either the Asus P8P67-Pro or the Asus P8Z68-V Pro.

    Many thanks

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    DDY
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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    There is absolutely no sound difference between a sound card and onboard motherboard audio if they are both connected to speakers digitally, e.g. optical. This is because your speakers, or to be technically correct your speaker's DAC is doing all the work as opposed to the computer which is just sending data.

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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    Quote Originally Posted by DDY View Post
    There is absolutely no sound difference between a sound card and onboard motherboard audio if they are both connected to speakers digitally, e.g. optical. This is because your speakers, or to be technically correct your speaker's DAC is doing all the work as opposed to the computer which is just sending data.
    Ah okay. Thanks. That saves £50

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    HEXUS.social member Agent's Avatar
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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    Quote Originally Posted by DDY View Post
    There is absolutely no sound difference between a sound card and onboard motherboard audio if they are both connected to speakers digitally, e.g. optical. This is because your speakers, or to be technically correct your speaker's DAC is doing all the work as opposed to the computer which is just sending data.
    This is true, to a degree.

    If the audio is 'precomputed', such as a MP3 then the stream sent to the external DAC should be the same.

    If the audio is generated on the fly and uses libraries that your on-board sound can not use (such as EAX4/5) then the audio stream will be different.

    My personal opinion is that you're unlikely to miss them though, and if using digital out, I wouldn't worry. Try it and if then you're not happy, look at grabbing one later
    Quote Originally Posted by Saracen View Post
    And by trying to force me to like small pants, they've alienated me.

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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    EAX hasn't been hardware driven since Windows XP because DirectSound3D support was dropped with Windows Vista; Vista and Win 7 users with SoundBlaster cards can install Creative 'ALchemy' to restore (emulate) EAX support.

    Modern games since the Vista era typically use OpenAL for sound processing, most sound cards have OpenAL hardware acceleration but many games also include software OpenAL drivers. There will be some audible differences between software and hardware implementations of OpenAL but one isn't necessarily 'better' sounding than the other, although reportedly games usually make fuller use of the software OpenAL drivers they are bundled with, easier for game devs to program apparantly.

    With this in mind and considering the improved quality of modern onboard sound one can say soundcards are obsolete for gaming. Gone are the days of Windows XP and Battlefield 2 when an X-Fi would ram an Abrams M1A1 in to my ears while boosting frames rates by off loading DSP work from my weedy 2.6GHz Pentium 4. Today an OpenAL driver would happily work away in one of the many CPU cores I have spare.

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    HEXUS.social member Agent's Avatar
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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    Quote Originally Posted by DDY View Post
    EAX hasn't been hardware driven since Windows XP because DirectSound3D support was dropped with Windows Vista....
    I'm fully aware of everything you've said, but he lists his OS as Windows XP
    If he's running anything EAX (or hardware specific based) the stream will be different to onboard.

    Under OpenAL (or EFX when talking about effects such as these) the difference, if any, should be unnoticeable. Although always keep in mind there is nothing stopping manufacturers altering things at the driver level.
    Quote Originally Posted by Saracen View Post
    And by trying to force me to like small pants, they've alienated me.

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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    I have a X-Fi Xtreme music and I still use this because the 24-bit crystalisation settings and the CMS-3D settings which allow the audio to be played through all the speakers in my 5.1 setup (analog connected). This I feel makes my MP3 files sound a lot better than they do if I was using the onboard audio of my P8Z68V-PRO and gives me better control of the bass and treble.

    I still use the SPDIF on my mobo for the x-tatic 5.1 headphones I use for a bit of late night gaming though

    So, to the question, in my particular usage pattern I'd say no, soundcards are not obslete, they in most cases compliment the setup to a degree

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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    Quote Originally Posted by Agent View Post
    I'm fully aware of everything you've said, but he lists his OS as Windows XP
    If he's running anything EAX (or hardware specific based) the stream will be different to onboard.

    Under OpenAL (or EFX when talking about effects such as these) the difference, if any, should be unnoticeable. Although always keep in mind there is nothing stopping manufacturers altering things at the driver level.
    Aha! Yes I do. But it's my current, awful laptop that is listed there. My new build will be Windows 7

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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    I'd say no and spend the money on better speakers! Those speakers are decent but definitely not audiophile!

    May be some grounds if you listen to headphones through the computer but for digital output you wont notice!

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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    It also depends on the motherboard, higher end motherboards like the Asus P8Z68-V PRO use additional capacitors for extra filtering to the audio jacks (granted this has less noticeable effect via a digital output) audio signals are one of those things that are greatly effected by noise of the power line.
    Cheaper motherboards tend to lack the additional capacitor filter layer so you get more noise on the analog line.

    I think Agent said it best
    My personal opinion is that you're unlikely to miss them though, and if using digital out, I wouldn't worry. Try it and if then you're not happy, look at grabbing one later
    try it and see, then if your're not happy get a card.

    Also you're generally correct about low end sound cards as they then to be using the same sound processor as motherboards do, Realtek have pretty much sown up the low end sound chip market.

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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    For digital out, the biggest factor these days are working drivers...
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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    I've owned most of the main motherboard audio solutions, plus a number of soundcards.

    For on the fly content (e.g. games) with digital 5.1 speakers you need a 5.1 encoder such as Dolby Digital Live or DTS connect. Some motherboards have these but not all by any means.

    Sound device makes a very big difference if using stereo headphones. Dolby headphone on Xonar is far superior to the Dolby hometheatre headphone mode put out by some motherboards (I was convinced both were the same thing until I actually heard the dismal output from my motherboard).

    There are some games where having an X-Fi can still make a difference but they're getting less frequent. EAX has been replaced by EFX in OpenAL and FMOD, both of which are still in use. X-Fis handle this in hardware although most sound devices emulate the effects using the CPU. It's only DirectSound3D that died with XP. X-Fis have the best legacy workaround (AlChemy) for full sound compatibility with old games. Other workarounds result in varying degrees of success. For some games, having an X-Fi can provide much more natural sound effects. On a few games Xonar and motherboard based solutions are pretty much broken.

    Both Creative and Asus suck at providing up-to date drivers. Creative drivers have given me more problems for general use. Asus drivers have been better generally but there have been a number of serious game compatibility issues that I don't believe will ever be resolved on Xonars.

    I'm a big soundcard enthusiast but if I were just using digital 5.1 speakers I'd stick with motherboard audio, as long as you have something that can encode 5.1 on the fly.

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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    A dedicated sound card will always be better then onboard, just as a dedicated video card will beat onboard.

  14. #14
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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    Quote Originally Posted by Uriel View Post
    Both Creative and Asus suck at providing up-to date drivers. Creative drivers have given me more problems for general use. Asus drivers have been better generally but there have been a number of serious game compatibility issues that I don't believe will ever be resolved on Xonars.
    Like what, out of interest? Aside from Asus' crappy GX (eax emulation) I've not found any issues, and the drivers seem to be relatively up to date.

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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    Somone reccomend me the Asus Xonar DG. This obviously isn't optical, but would I get a benefit using this output? What is it?

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    Banhammer in peace PeterB kalniel's Avatar
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    Re: Are soundcards now obsolete?

    Quote Originally Posted by EvanJackPenn View Post
    Somone reccomend me the Asus Xonar DG. This obviously isn't optical, but would I get a benefit using this output? What is it?
    Well, it's got an optical output hasn't it? So if you preferred the features of the card to the features of the onboard chip then you get the best of both worlds. But I don't think you'd notice any difference between the optical out from the sound card and optical out from the motherboard when playing music. Hardware sound generation in games is another matter, but the differences between cards is relatively minor - they use different amounts of CPU, can sometimes process extra effects etc. but you're very unlikely to be CPU limited in any game to the extend sound creation will have any effect. The other area is using a card for audio mixing and re-sampling, but unless you have a use for that you don't need to worry.

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