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Thread: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

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    How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    I need some help please with discerning what to do to increase the quality of audio from my PC. I currently have a MSI Z77 GD55 motherboard and I user the on-board sound (RealtekĀ® ALC892).

    My usage is mainly games but I also use it to listen to music occasionally. I was look to upgrade my PC somehow and although I know i could spend it on a newer SSD (I cant face transferring/reinstalling windows) and a newer graphic card (so far my games run fine on 1080p) I though increasing the audio would be worthwhile as it is pretty poor currently.

    I play my game with headphones (cheapish SoundMAGIC E10 headphone) or play music through my computer speakers (Logitech Z523). What should I spend my money on, i though about a Asus Zonar card which might also remove some cpu load supposedly (can't imagine it is much) but might i not be better going digital so as to ignore the analouge? How do I do that, what do i need to make a noticeable improvement to my setup, what i don't understand is where to put my money (new headphones, soundcard, i see talk about DAC box like FiiO but i don't really understand what i will notice). Help?

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    Not a good person scaryjim's Avatar
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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    tbh, to get a noticable improvement you're probably going to have to get a discrete soundcard *and* replace your speakers and headphones. Audio is quite odd in that quality tends to jump up in steps, rather than having steadily progressing diminishing returns. So as you increase the spend you get farily negligible improvements in quality until you hit the next "step", where the sound quality jumps noticably - then you go back to having minimal improvements until you hit the next step.

    So the big question is: are you willing to invest a decent amount of money, or are you looking for a quick fix? Because the quick fix is easy: stick with what you've got

  3. #3
    SUMMONER
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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    please define "pretty poor"

    Do you get random blips and plop noises, an electric whizzing noise when you move the mouse cursor/the hard drive reads data or does it just sound a little "dull"?

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    Grumpy and VERY old :( g8ina's Avatar
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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    A decent sound card can make a difference, but not all the time. The BIGGEST single difference you could make is to go extrernal amp and speakers - see countless other threads on the same subject....

    NAD, Pioneer, Rotel, Sony amps, JPW, KEF, Wharfedale speakers etc .... LOADS of choices.
    Cheers, David



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    Moosing about! CAT-THE-FIFTH's Avatar
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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    External DAC.

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    Grumpy and VERY old :( g8ina's Avatar
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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    or that too
    Cheers, David



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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    Quote Originally Posted by CAT-THE-FIFTH View Post
    External DAC.
    By pretty poor I just mean dull, no cuts or blips or anything. The whol amp setup i thought about but the issue is space on my desk. Thank you, i will check the threads on external DAC

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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    If it is just "dull" then I would suggest nicer headphones/speakers. Find a friend/family member that has some nice Bose headphones (not portable/outdoor ones) and try them for a day.

    If you want a separate DAC with some "proper" speakers go into your local Richer Sounds and ask them for a demo, just make sure you leave your wallet at home.

    Personally I have just a set of Logitech X-530 5.1 speakers via the motherboard's on-board audio outs and it plays Rock, Pop and Jazz quite well, also the subwoofer is a bit crap (when compared to a proper one that costs 2 or 3 times as much as my entire set) and it obviously can't go as loud as a nice (and costly) setup from Richer Sounds can.
    Last edited by SUMMONER; 12-11-2012 at 11:33 PM.

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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    A decent sound card with a decent pair of headphones will do wonders for your hearing.

    It's up too you to decide if you want the headphones first or the sound card, I would recommend the headphones then get a sound card at a later date.

    By the way the SoundMagic E10's ain't bad headphones, they are the best early level IEH for that price range.

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    Grumpy and VERY old :( g8ina's Avatar
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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    If you do decide to go the cans route, the Sennheiser HD200 series are MUCH cheaper and sound great, I currently have several pairs.
    Cheers, David



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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    I own Sennheiser headphones and they are superb.

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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    The soundcard won't help offload from CPU by any significant amount, so scratch that from your list of reasons.

    But you can increase sound quality certainly. Headphones are probably the best bang for buck in terms of getting an increase (speakers cost a lot more for good ones). Once you've got the heaphones sorted, the next components to consider for sound quality are the amplifier for the cans, and the digital to analogue conversion. You can do either or both of those stages either in on a sound card or you can pipe the sound digitally to an external device(s) to do it instead.

    So you've already got quite a few options in terms of how you can improve the sound. The cheapest solution would probably be to get a pair of nice headphones and then a Xonar card with a built-in headphone amp. As you spend more on Xonar cards you get better amplifiers and DAC chips, if you're really into it you can pick a card which allows you to change the components and find a sound that suits your preferences (there is no absolute 'best' way of producing sound - for most people a clinical reproduction of original source actually sounds worse than an amplification/DAC that changes the sound a bit - whether that's adding texture or enhancing highs/lows etc.).

    I find Xonar cards very good for music, but for games I prefer the creative X-Fi cards, the titanium model in particular is apparently quite good. Avoid the newer recon3d cards though as they are meant to be awful for music.

    For an external solution, I'd go with something like the Arcam rPAC:
    http://www.arcam.co.uk/products,rSer...-DACs,rPAC.htm

    Just hook it up via USB and it takes its power from that, presents itself as another sound output on your computer for selection, and outputs high quality amplified headphone output (or RCA if you want to feed into a hi-fi system).

    review: http://www.trustedreviews.com/arcam-...e-Audio_review

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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    If you game then a descent soundcard is want you want really as an external DAC will only take you so far.

    I recently upgraded from a Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro to a Titanium HD thanks to the PCW clearance and the Titanium HD is on another level and would of been happy paying full price for it. Other companies make good cards using the X-Fi CA20K2 chipset such as Auzentech and Onkyo, the Onkyo WAVIO SE-300PCIE is probably the ultimate X-Fi card.

    As above avoid the Recon3D line, however Creative are currently refreshing their Sound Core3D lineup and their new top product the ZxR looks interesting on a component level, a Russian preview of a pre-production ZxR: http://personalaudio.ru/review/sound...i_zxr_iznutri/

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    Grumpy and VERY old :( g8ina's Avatar
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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    Quote Originally Posted by rs4847 View Post
    If you game then a descent soundcard is want you want really as an external DAC will only take you so far.
    Eh ??

    A really good DAC is as far as you CAN go IMHO ! have a look at the ZERO DAC / headphone amp in ebay for about a ton. I had one and they really are superb. Mind you, they dont half show up the source material !! Don't bother with MP3s here FLAC as a minimum.

    edit ooops, just realised what I'd done pologies !
    Last edited by g8ina; 13-11-2012 at 05:42 PM.
    Cheers, David



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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    Quote Originally Posted by g8ina View Post
    Eh ??

    A really good DAC is as far as you CAN go IMHO ! have a look at the ZERO DAC / headphone amp in ebay for about a ton. I had one and they really are superb. Mind you, they dont half show up the source material !! Don't bother with MP3s here FLAC as a minimum.

    and I'm *still* selling my Sennheiser HD580s for a ton if you fancy them
    I've yet to hear an external DAC do gaming positional audio yet.

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    Moosing about! CAT-THE-FIFTH's Avatar
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    Re: How to get good audio, does a soundcard matter?

    I would look at the Beresford DACs as they are meant to be quite decent too.

    The ODAC is only around Ā£100 though:

    http://nwavguy.blogspot.co.uk/

    http://epiphany-acoustics.co.uk/our-...ature-usb-dac/

    A few user reviews of the ODAC when used on a desktop:

    http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f6...-system-12307/

    http://forums.hardwarezone.com.sg/he...e-3797538.html

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