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Do sound cards matter?

Lord JezoLord Jezo Registered User regular
edited October 2007 in Games and Technology
On my motherboard (a Gigabyte DS3) I have on board sound and that's all I use. I had a Sound Blaster Live Value! in my old machine but I never bothered to bring it over. Do new sound cards really make a difference or is on board sound all I need?

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    BasticleBasticle Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I think it depends on your speaker setup. For example I only use a headset on my pc so I just use the onboard. but if you have a good speaker setup with like surround sound and shit a good sound card is a must. at least thats my opinion.

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    KhavallKhavall British ColumbiaRegistered User regular
    edited October 2007
    Also it depends on what you plan on doing with it. I have no problem dumping $100 on a new sound card when I need one, and another few hundred on great speakers, but then again my computer doubles as a studio mixing machine, so.

    If you just want something to make the sounds you'll be fine, but if clipping or lower quality really bothers you then you'll need something a little more robust than on-board with $20 speakers.

    Khavall on
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    The_ScarabThe_Scarab Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    A sound card is only as good as the speakers it is outputting too.

    Good rule of thumb is you dont need a sound card if you dont have 5.1 or above. Onboard is pretty darn good these days, and if you are only going to be using headphones or desktop speakers you wont notice any difference.

    The_Scarab on
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    MarlorMarlor Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    Discrete sound cards can give you a lower noise floor, and in the case of X-Fi some fancy effects that aren't offered by on-board sound.

    If your PC is CPU-constrained, they can also increase your gaming performance. Creative cards also allow EAX to be used for more immersive sound in games that support it.

    However, I wouldn't say they are an essential purchase. Most people won't hear much of a difference, or get any real performance improvement from one. Also, "Value" sound cards aren't any better than on-board sound, so you need to spend at least $100 to see an improvement.

    I personally use them, mainly because I have some half-decent headphones, and appreciate anything that results in less background noise.

    Marlor on
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    acidlacedpenguinacidlacedpenguin Institutionalized Safe in jail.Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    for the most part I have to agree that onboard is good enough, but for some pre-built like dell or IBM machines I've found that you can hear things like the mouse moving or cpu/videocard activity.

    Right now I'm working on an IBM NetVista and that noise is too distracting for me to even listen to music through my headphones.

    With that said, if you don't have that extra noise, or it doesn't bother you at all then I see no need to upgrade to an offboard card.

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    mausmalonemausmalone Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    The_Scarab wrote: »
    A sound card is only as good as the speakers it is outputting too.

    Good rule of thumb is you dont need a sound card if you dont have 5.1 or above. Onboard is pretty darn good these days, and if you are only going to be using headphones or desktop speakers you wont notice any difference.

    Actually ... my Shuttle's on-board included optical out ... so even when I'm working with my 5.1 setup I don't need an extra sound card. Because the signal is never converted to analog until it hits the 5.1 receiver, there's no chance for shitty onboard sound to add line noise.

    If you have a 5.1 setup and you can get a motherboard with optical out, it's worth the extra dough.

    Though I have to admit that I really don't notice any line noise on the analog out either. I'm sure it's not the best I could get, but for on-board it's pretty good.

    mausmalone on
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    MonaroMonaro Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    Not likely but I'll ask anyway: Do you have Vista? Because Vista does not support hardware accelerated sound (ie: dedicated sound cards, so even fancy ones won't give you anything extra).

    Seems Microsoft were so sick of Creative & co's bad drivers causing BSOD's that everyone blamed MS for, that when they re-wrote the audio stack in Vista, they locked out hardware-level sound.

    Ah well, Creative made their bed, now they have to lie in it! (I love my X-Fi, but I still find it amusing, being a long-suffering high-end Creative sucker)

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    sonictksonictk Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    This Audigy is the last Creative sound card I'm ever buying. Next time I'm either going with onboard or getting an m-audio to hook up my MIDI controller to.

    BTW, Vista does support hardware sound acceleration through OpenAL iirc. Not sure if EAX or whatever fancy shit works with it though, but a sound card isn't as useless as most people think it is.

    Although I guess I'm pretty much ok with my 2.1 speakers and Sennheisers, so I'm not really one for whatever threatens to blow out your eardrums these days.

    sonictk on
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    wunderbarwunderbar What Have I Done? Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I am still a proponent of a sound card. Onboard sound is fine for 80% of the people out there(the grandmas who just want internet, familes who just use the computer for internet/e-mail, Downloading music, and spreading spyware), but for serious gamers, or people who listen to a lot of music on their computers, a sound card is a must.

    I will not build a high end gaming machine without a dedicated sound card. it simply is not the same.

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    RoundBoyRoundBoy Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    You are able to still use EAX and sound blaster cards under vista. Its just that Creative labs locked EAX out from everyone else, and completely dropped the ball on the new driver interface for the vista launch.

    And then only made drivers for their latest flagship soundcard.

    There might be more (any?) drivers for Vista for older cards... I never went to check. I dumped SB cards LONG ago for onboard sound, and my gaming has not suffered at all.

    Your mileage may vary depending on if you are a professional sound engineer or have > 5.1 speakers .. in which case buying a soundcard is the least of yuor worries.

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    Dark ShroudDark Shroud Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    The Sound Blaster X-fi is an impressive card. I'm sticking with it and it seems to be the only card that's fully functional in Vista. Other cards will work well but Creative is having problems with Vista.

    Dark Shroud on
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    MonaroMonaro Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    Where are you guys finding your info on EAX and hardware acceleration working under Vista? I mean the cards *work* but no more than what on-board gives you.

    Every news article I find says the opposite, even discussions on Creative's forums.

    DirectX 10.1 will address hardware level sound, but not with OpenAL/EAX, but with XAudio 2 (The 360 sound standard).

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    NorayNoray Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I bought a Creative Audigy because my Realtek on-board sound just isn't cutting it, I hear too many background noises, music in particular sounds like shit. For gaming I doubt it will make a big difference though.

    Noray on
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    RoundBoyRoundBoy Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    Creative, at the time shortly after the Vista launch, had a driver that would *work* under vista (and therefore provide EAX)

    They said it would be a couple months, and even then only for the top of the line card.

    The fact they have yet to deliver anything is solidifying my decision to drop SoundBlaster products from my home long ago.

    RoundBoy on
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    mausmalonemausmalone Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    wunderbar wrote: »
    I am still a proponent of a sound card. Onboard sound is fine for 80% of the people out there(the grandmas who just want internet, familes who just use the computer for internet/e-mail, Downloading music, and spreading spyware), but for serious gamers, or people who listen to a lot of music on their computers, a sound card is a must.

    I will not build a high end gaming machine without a dedicated sound card. it simply is not the same.

    Well, a sound card is a must if you bought a shitty motherboard with shitty onboard sound. If you actually bothered to buy a quality motherboard (and quality spinning drives that don't put out shitloads of EM) then you'd have great on-board sound ... or at least comparable to a sound card.

    If you're still doing DAC inside your computer case, then you're just pissing your money away on a sound card that's providing minimal benefit. The goal if you want great sound is to get the sound out of your computer in Optical or SPDIF and then have a real amplifier do the work of converting that to analog.

    mausmalone on
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    MarlorMarlor Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    mausmalone wrote: »
    If you're still doing DAC inside your computer case, then you're just pissing your money away on a sound card that's providing minimal benefit. The goal if you want great sound is to get the sound out of your computer in Optical or SPDIF and then have a real amplifier do the work of converting that to analog.

    My X-Fi XtremeGamer card does a decent job of outputting clean sound, which I then amplify with a Dynalo. It's quite clean, and comparable to the sound quality of a low-end USB DAC.

    And I have the extra benefit of getting EAX audio, which really does make a difference (especially for the Total War games, which I play a lot).

    Marlor on
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    MonaroMonaro Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    RoundBoy wrote: »
    The fact they have yet to deliver anything is solidifying my decision to drop SoundBlaster products from my home long ago.

    I've always stuck to Creative because of the EAX features their cards offer. As a company I hate them.

    Now that the playing field has been totally leveled with Vista, I might follow your lead once I migrate to Vista fully.

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    GrimReaperGrimReaper Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    The way that on board sound works is that all the actual sound processing is actually done on your machines processor. All that chip on your motherboard is doing is essentially converting the processed sound into an analog signal or digital signal via the s/pdif output.

    I finally bit the bullet a few months back and bought myself a x-fi, for no other reason than the fact that there was a really annoying sound issue under Oblivion with the realtek sound drivers. (the nforce sound drivers cause a bsod under seemingly random indeterminate conditions)

    The really annoyingly thing for me is, I recently bought a Macbook Pro and the EXACT same sound issue occurs under Oblivion when I play it under windows via bootcamp. (MB Pro uses a Realtek sound chipset)

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    CZroeCZroe Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    mausmalone wrote: »
    The_Scarab wrote: »
    A sound card is only as good as the speakers it is outputting too.

    Good rule of thumb is you dont need a sound card if you dont have 5.1 or above. Onboard is pretty darn good these days, and if you are only going to be using headphones or desktop speakers you wont notice any difference.

    Actually ... my Shuttle's on-board included optical out ... so even when I'm working with my 5.1 setup I don't need an extra sound card. Because the signal is never converted to analog until it hits the 5.1 receiver, there's no chance for shitty onboard sound to add line noise.

    If you have a 5.1 setup and you can get a motherboard with optical out, it's worth the extra dough.

    Though I have to admit that I really don't notice any line noise on the analog out either. I'm sure it's not the best I could get, but for on-board it's pretty good.

    Are you sure that it supports DTS Connect or DD Live? Shuttle was one of the only manufaturers that wanted to keep SoundStorm (nVidia's DD Live) in nVidia boards, but they didn't get it. Since then, it's like they ignored the need for most (XPCs are popular HTPCs). Without DD Live or DTS Connect, all you get from the digital output is stereo for live sources (games, audio) and you can only get surround from pre-encoded sources like DVD... and even then, only when you buy the "premium" player that will pass the encoded digital audio through (the "Gold" version of nVDVD for example). Most DVD surround sound on the PC is achieved with DVD playback software that decodes the DD or DTS and outputs it over analog to discrete speakers rather than using the SPDIF (that would still be stereo). With DD Live or DTS Connect, even this type of PC DVD surround sound could be encoded and piped out over the digital audio along with games and everything else.

    DD Live or DTS Connect is important to me when considering sound cards. Creative has an external DTS encoder that still require analog outputs for wach speaker going in to it. THAT'S NOT A SOLUTION. Home theater components don't do that. Why should your PC be wired with discrete analog for each speaker while your other HT equipment has a digital connection for each device or even a combined digital audio + video connector (HDMI)? It's bullshit. The loss of SoundStorm set the PC sound industry back YEARS. The cheapest high-end board I could find with DD Live or DTS Connect was the Asus P5N32-SLI Plus for under $180. It's cheaper than the 680i non-Plus version and beause it's really a 650i Intel chipset plus an AMD chipset to match the feature-set of a 680i while saving enough cost to switch to all solid capacitors (no wimpy electrolytic caps like the non-Plus). All in all, it's very comparable to the Striker and Striker Extreme without all the cost-increasing stuff like on-board displays and crap.

    Integrated sound was important enough to me to make my decision as far as motherboards for my Quad-Core CPU. I wasn't about to spend $600 on the Striker Extreme, but I wasn't going to stick it with a non-DTS Connect or DD Live sound option and I damn sure wasn't going to buy an upgrade that still didn't include it.

    CZroe on
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    DehumanizedDehumanized Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    My current mobo has onboard 7.1 output. Onboard sound has come a long way. That said, my speakers are a rather old Boston Acoustics stereo set w/ sub. I'd need a far more luxurious set to even take advantage of all the capabilities of my mobo sound.

    Dehumanized on
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    mausmalonemausmalone Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    CZroe wrote: »
    (snip)

    Are you sure that it supports DTS Connect or DD Live? Shuttly was one of the only manufaturers that wanted SoundStorm (DD Live) in nVidia boards, but they didn't get it. ... (snip)

    To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. I don't game on my PC in the living room often. Almost never, actually. I usually only use the surround-sound output for pre-recorded stuff on my PC.

    I thought that DX took care of the DD encoding, not the sound card. It never dawned on me that that would be something that had to be supported by the hardware. Nevertheless I doubt that my computer does because it's an older shuttle with an older motherboard (before they even started with nVidia chipsets at all).

    EDIT: According to this page: (some Shuttle "gaming" rig) at least some of their current models DDLive and DTS Connect (scroll down to HD audio). Still, I'm sure mine doesn't 'cause it's so old.

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    LednehLedneh shinesquawk Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    God fucking damnit I wish this thread had been around yesterday. I spent all fucking day trying to get 5.1 working in Vista with my Audigy, only to find I needed to get ALchemy to make it work.

    Grarrgh, Vista why do you have to make me love and hate you so much :(

    Ledneh on
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    CZroeCZroe Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    mausmalone wrote: »
    CZroe wrote: »
    (snip)

    Are you sure that it supports DTS Connect or DD Live? Shuttle was one of the only manufacturers that wanted SoundStorm (DD Live) in nVidia boards, but they didn't get it. ... (snip)

    To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. I don't game on my PC in the living room often. Almost never, actually. I usually only use the surround-sound output for pre-recorded stuff on my PC.

    I thought that DX took care of the DD encoding, not the sound card. It never dawned on me that that would be something that had to be supported by the hardware. Nevertheless I doubt that my computer does because it's an older shuttle with an older motherboard (before they even started with nVidia chipsets at all).

    EDIT: According to this page: (some Shuttle "gaming" rig) at least some of their current models DDLive and DTS Connect (scroll down to HD audio). Still, I'm sure mine doesn't 'cause it's so old.

    If you have top-tier DVD playback software, you are probably getting true pre-encoded DD/DTS through your SPDIF output. Intervideo, nVidia, etc all reserve it for their "Gold" or "Platinum" products, though I believe some OEM MCE versions do this.

    The nForce and nForce 2 chips with the MCP-T southbridge are old. ;) Just like Asus and Gigabyte, I'm sure that Shuttle does do it on their high-end models, but it's a lot of research to find out and it'll still never be the hardware-accelerated SoundStorm. They are a motherboard maker, so they can get the discrete parts they need for their systems. Of course, they'd rather it be included in the motherboard chipset ala the MCP-T, but nVidia ignored their pleas to save it and listened to all the other manufacturers that called it an "unneeded and unused added expense." The first real competition to Creative in a decade was killed by the other motherboard makers.

    Also, it's not just for home theater use. Some of the best PC speakers on the market do DD and DTS decoding... Logiteh Z680 and Z5500. They've been on the market for a loooong time and their advanced features were near useless during the period with no SoundStorm or successor on the market.

    CZroe on
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    mausmalonemausmalone Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    CZroe wrote: »
    (snip)

    If you have top-tier DVD playback software, you are probably getting true pre-encoded DD/DTS through your SPDIF output. Intervideo, nVidia, etc all reserve it for their "Gold" or "Platinum" products, though I believe some OEM MCE versions do this.

    Actually I know I'm getting the pre-recorded DD5.1 and DTS signals because my amplifier tells me what kind of signal I'm getting. Otherwise I'd be very pissed at my computer and wonder why they bother with having optical input/output if you don't support 5.1.
    CZroe wrote: »
    The nForce and nForce 2 chips with the MCP-T southbridge are old. ;) Just like Asus and Gigabyte, I'm sure that Shuttle does do it on their high-end models, but it's a lot of research to find out and it'll still never be the hardware-accelerated SoundStorm. They are a motherboard maker, so they can get the discrete parts they need for their systems. Of course, they'd rather it be included in the motherboard chipset ala the MCP-T, but nVidia ignored their pleas to save it and listened to all the other manufacturers that called it an "unneeded and unused added expense." The first real competition to Creative in a decade was killed by the other motherboard makers.

    Also, it's not just for home theater use. Some of the best PC speakers on the market do DD and DTS decoding... Logiteh Z680 and Z5500. They've been on the market for a loooong time and their advanced features were near useless during the period with no SoundStorm or successor on the market.

    nForce and nForce 2 may be old, but my computer is considerably older. I've still got a Realtek ALC650 in there ... but at least it supports surround sound in some way.

    mausmalone on
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    Lucky CynicLucky Cynic Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    Me? I got a 7.1 (though I use 5.1 as I have put away 2 of the speaker) surround sound and with one of those creative gamer sound cards. Yeah... it sucks that not all games make use of it and I only get audio from my left and right speaker. I mean, really...

    OTOH, I still think it was worth it. It just depends what you want to use and how to best use it.

    Lucky Cynic on
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    RandomEngyRandomEngy Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I had a Turtle Beach card for 3D sound for gaming a while back. It's nice in the demos but whenever I turned it on for a game it just sounded terrible. I've stuck with on-board sound since then, but I could see using it if you have a surround-speaker setup.

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    StormwatcherStormwatcher Blegh BlughRegistered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I spent a few days with onboard sound after being used to the X-Fi.

    The x-Fi is a bazzillion times better, with the same 5.1 creative speaker set.

    I'll never got back to onboard sound again.

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    Dark ShroudDark Shroud Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I spent a few days with onboard sound after being used to the X-Fi.

    The x-Fi is a bazzillion times better, with the same 5.1 creative speaker set.

    I'll never got back to onboard sound again.

    Same here, I bought an X-FI the first day they came out because my onboard realtek was horrible. And since I have a Media Center computer with a remote I only needed to get the Xtream Music. That's been the best $100 (Best Buy special) I've spent on this PC.

    Dark Shroud on
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    victor_c26victor_c26 Chicago, ILRegistered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I haven't heard this yet but everyone, please, look at Auzentech, and yes, even the PC gamers.

    The Auzentech Prelude is an audiophile card with the X-FI chip. So Audio quality++ + Gaming = Audio bliss.

    As soon as it gets re-released in November, I'm grabbing one quick.

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    VaLiantineVaLiantine Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    Alright, here is my scenario. Yes, this is a hijacking. I'm buying a pair of Sennhieser HD595 and an X-FI card in the future(but this Auzentech Prelude intrigues me). I want to get more out of the audio, any suggestions of what I should buy with my other two purchases?

    VaLiantine on
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    MarlorMarlor Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    VaLiantine wrote: »
    Alright, here is my scenario. Yes, this is a hijacking. I'm buying a pair of Sennhieser HD595 and an X-FI card in the future(but this Auzentech Prelude intrigues me). I want to get more out of the audio, any suggestions of what I should buy with my other two purchases?

    If you want something to help you get more out of your headphones, then I'd suggest a headphone amp. Maybe something like the HeadRoom Total Airhead (or if you have a bigger budget, one of Meier Audio's amps).

    Even a cheap CMoy amp off eBay would probably improve the sound.

    Marlor on
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    StormwatcherStormwatcher Blegh BlughRegistered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I spent a few days with onboard sound after being used to the X-Fi.

    The x-Fi is a bazzillion times better, with the same 5.1 creative speaker set.

    I'll never got back to onboard sound again.

    Same here, I bought an X-FI the first day they came out because my onboard realtek was horrible. And since I have a Media Center computer with a remote I only needed to get the Xtream Music. That's been the best $100 (Best Buy special) I've spent on this PC.

    The front drive bay panel thingy is also really, really cool. optical and SPDI/F ins and outs readily available, a stereo RCA in (great for plugging the Nintendo DS, for instance), p10 phone jack with volume, extra p10 line in 2/ aux in 2...
    the sound consoles are awesome, and the whole 3-mode thing works really well.
    And seriously, playing Oblivion with the crappy onboard sound was just not an option. It was so bad, I quit the game in disgust.

    The only reason people like onboard sound is because they didn't experience an X-Fi. Even the whole usual crappy CL drivers/software problems are worth it.

    Stormwatcher on
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    Dark ShroudDark Shroud Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    I didn't have an open bay for the box, the next computer I build will have one though. I blew out a pair of my cousin's speakers when I took my tower to his place. That week he bought an X-FI Xtream Gamer. I've never heard of anyone actually complain about the card its self. I just have to get a set of speakers that will take advantage of the power.

    Dark Shroud on
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    PatboyXPatboyX Registered User regular
    edited October 2007
    The only reason I have a sound card is to plug instruments into.
    They were talking about this on TWiT a couple weeks back. I think, other than the X-Fi, no one could come up with a card to buy. And, having heard the X-Fi, I don't know if it would matter all that much for most people.
    On one hand, I don't think you need it based on your lifestyle...on the other hand, your new whiz-bang computer is seriously lacking impressive sound.

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