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Will a Sound Card REALLY Improve Quality?


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#1 Sir Topham Hatt

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 11:44

I have a 5/6 year old PC currently being used as my HTPC.

Looks great on the (4 year old) TV I have at the moment, which will be upgrade shortly if I can find the funds.

 

Part of the upgrade will be some Logitech Z906 speakers, which I have just purchased at £50 less than yesterdays price.  My aging Creative iTrigue 5600 speakers have served me well over the last 6 years but are showing wear and tear.  This got me thinking about optical output and if my PC even has an on-board out socket!  However will optical out from the PC make any difference when each satellite will be connected with the standard cables?

 

Sound cards aren't expensive (I was thinking buy a £40 or less) but will one really improve the sound I get from the machine?  At the moment it's good but nothing to blow my socks off.  So I am thinking with a dedicated sound card, optical out (from the PC) and the new speakers will increase the quality but I am thinking the gains won't be worth the money.

 

Any ideas or advice?




#2 The Dark Knight

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 11:52

In my opinion, not really. A dedicated card will be better than a built-in solution for sure, unless you have a high-end motherboard. I could be wrong, but the quality of the sound chip won't matter in this case as you are sending it digitally to a speaker set that has a dedicated audio processor.



#3 +riahc3

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 12:50

Hello,

Sound cards aren't expensive (I was thinking buy a £40 or less)

At that price, no sound cound will be worth it.

You need to go WAY higher for it to make a difference...

#4 cork1958

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 13:25

To answer your question as simply as possible, NO!

 

Tried that trick twice and was a complete waste of money.



#5 +Phouchg

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 13:26

Cease all that self-proclaimed audiophile placebo at once. Output quality of optical S/PDIF will not differ between soundcards no matter how much money you shell out. It either works or it doesn't (same with DVI, HDMI etc.). Copper wire digital, yes, ground loop is guaranteed, even if often inaudible. Optical, no, it's impervious to all interference. No, before you object, jitter is complete bogus.

 

In shared mode (recommended for daily work) mixing of streams is done by Windows itself and in exclusive mode (recommended for entertainment) your audio player directly feeds the speakers' DAC, transmitting ones and zeros exactly as they appear in the PCM (or Dolby DTS, if supported) data.

 

The problem might remain with codec (unless it's DTS), resampling (shared mode) and quality of speakers' DAC and amp (always), but optical output is 100% pure.



#6 stevember

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 14:19

Cease all that self-proclaimed audiophile placebo at once. Output quality of optical S/PDIF will not differ between soundcards no matter how much money you shell out. It either works or it doesn't (same with DVI, HDMI etc.).


As far as I understand and I have been wrong more than once.

You are right when it comes to transferring audio from one device to another optical the same as digital, it will not lose any quality and does not do anything with the signal as it is sent digitally.

However, what is done with the sound before it is sent to the output that is also important.

If you have a bad on board or cheap soundcard that muffles the sound, fails badly on the signal-to-noise ratio then the bad sound is just going to be sent when converted to digital to be sent.

That is my understanding anyway.

But in this instance in reply to the original post it would not make much audible difference, unless you convince yourself.

#7 Riva

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 14:28

I have an ASUS ROG Xonar Phoebus and yes the quality is significantly better than the onboard realtek 7.1 with all the enhancements.

The other benefit of the ASUS sound cards is that they truly offload audio processing to the audio card which means less CPU utilisation.

Creative have lost the plot with their drivers since the audio stack in windows was re-written back in vista and audio drivers no longer execute in kernel memory space causing performance issue and playback issues (like a scratched CD). They also fail to release compatible audio drivers on time for new versions of Windows.



#8 Riva

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 14:30

Cease all that self-proclaimed audiophile placebo at once. Output quality of optical S/PDIF will not differ between soundcards no matter how much money you shell out. It either works or it doesn't (same with DVI, HDMI etc.). Copper wire digital, yes, ground loop is guaranteed, even if often inaudible. Optical, no, it's impervious to all interference. No, before you object, jitter is complete bogus.

 

In shared mode (recommended for daily work) mixing of streams is done by Windows itself and in exclusive mode (recommended for entertainment) your audio player directly feeds the speakers' DAC, transmitting ones and zeros exactly as they appear in the PCM (or Dolby DTS, if supported) data.

 

The problem might remain with codec (unless it's DTS), resampling (shared mode) and quality of speakers' DAC and amp (always), but optical output is 100% pure.

 

You are talking about audio processing with software incapable of offloading encoding to the audio card like via OpenAL. its the same with graphics, you either get crap graphics rendered on the CPU with low FPS or you have a dedicated card that gives you the performance. My card does dolby DTS on its chip.



#9 Arceles

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 14:33

If you are using SPDIF or TOSLINK the quality depends on your receiver, same with HDMI. If you are getting out the audio from the output jack of your computer then IT REALLY depends on your soundcard, motherboard sound is never good, you can try the Creative Z OEM version, which is not that expensive and DOES improve the sound, however the real deal is at external DACs, but they are known to be quite expensive (and they do even a better job than soundcards)



#10 +Phouchg

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 15:30

You are talking about audio processing with software incapable of offloading encoding to the audio card like via OpenAL. its the same with graphics, you either get crap graphics rendered on the CPU with low FPS or you have a dedicated card that gives you the performance. My card does dolby DTS on its chip.

 

I'm definitely not. Performance has nothing to do with quality. There's no argument that dedicated solutions offer vastly better *analog* reproduction quality. Usually they do.

Hardware processing, on the other hand, is a fairly valid point. While Windows' own resampler is rather good, any hardware SRC and mixing (and effects - but why would anyone want to use them?) will be even better. But afaik this is available only since Windows 8, is it not?

 

Then there's also ASIO, a step above WASAPI exclusive mode, because it's actually bit-perfect whereas with WASAPI one must take several precautions for it to be so.

 

Now, the problem is with connecting PC to Logitech Z906 amp using optical and then amp to speakers using *unbalanced wiring*, because Z906 doesn't have balanced outputs. *That* is suboptimal... but passable. Still better than if PC were to be connected using any electrical wire.



#11 LaP

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 15:31

With Logitech speakers no. With expensive speakers or expensive headphones connected directly in the sound card yes but not at this price.



#12 LaP

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 15:48

 Output quality of optical S/PDIF will not differ between soundcards no matter how much money you shell out. It either works or it doesn't (same with DVI, HDMI etc.).

 

Last time i checked (a while go) most integrated sound card did not support DDL and DTS connect though.



#13 HawkMan

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 15:51

Cease all that self-proclaimed audiophile placebo at once. Output quality of optical S/PDIF will not differ between soundcards no matter how much money you shell out. It either works or it doesn't (same with DVI, HDMI etc.). Copper wire digital, yes, ground loop is guaranteed, even if often inaudible. Optical, no, it's impervious to all interference. No, before you object, jitter is complete bogus.

 

In shared mode (recommended for daily work) mixing of streams is done by Windows itself and in exclusive mode (recommended for entertainment) your audio player directly feeds the speakers' DAC, transmitting ones and zeros exactly as they appear in the PCM (or Dolby DTS, if supported) data.

 

The problem might remain with codec (unless it's DTS), resampling (shared mode) and quality of speakers' DAC and amp (always), but optical output is 100% pure.

 

the problem with that is that you get sound drops, when audio switches, you get beeps and bops and other annoyances, whereas a quality sound card that encodes to DTS Live or the DD equivalent, will take all the windows sounds encode them and send them out. no switching between streams and formats on the amp/receiver and thus no drops, no beeps no bops. 

 

As for quality, from a movie no, from interactive sources, a sound card will give better sound, if it's worth it... eh...



#14 Riva

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 15:51

I'm definitely not. Performance has nothing to do with quality. There's no argument that dedicated solutions offer vastly better *analog* reproduction quality. Usually they do.

Hardware processing, on the other hand, is a fairly valid point. While Windows' own resampler is rather good, any hardware SRC and mixing (and effects - but why would anyone want to use them?) will be even better. But afaik this is available only since Windows 8, is it not?

 

Then there's also ASIO, a step above WASAPI exclusive mode, because it's actually bit-perfect whereas with WASAPI one must take several precautions for it to be so.

 

Now, the problem is with connecting PC to Logitech Z906 amp using optical and then amp to speakers using *unbalanced wiring*, because Z906 doesn't have balanced outputs. *That* is suboptimal... but passable. Still better than if PC were to be connected using any electrical wire.

My bad I didn't notice the SPDIF part but, the audio processor of some cards will enhance the quality of the sound even before it becomes analogue. The fact that it will be digital signal doesn't mean that it cannot be resampled or processed on the fly.The end quality will depend on the Z906's DAC.So anyway you see it if you have a crap DAC you get crap audio and that's the point where we agree at. I admit I don't use an SPDIF and I rely on the DAC of the Xonar which is superb.



#15 LaP

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Posted 02 December 2013 - 15:58

My bad I didn't notice the SPDIF part but, the audio processor of some cards will enhance the quality of the sound even before it becomes analogue.

 

Not really if it's just a passthru i think.

 

I might be wrong i did not use SPDIF output for a while (using HDMI and PowerDVD) but if i remember corectly to get 5.1 via SPDIF from a PC you needed DDL or DTS Connect in most of the cases. If i remember correctly that's why i bought my X-FI prelude a while ago as i could not get the SPDIF output of my onboard sound card to output anything but stereo sound. My memory could be wrong though.





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