Should You Buy a Sound Card? An Enthusiast's Perspective

I've been on the fence about buying a discrete sound card since building my first PC in 2002. The equation for buying most desktop parts is pretty straightforward: a video card can handle your games or it can't, a hard drive has enough storage for your data or it doesn't, memory is compatible with your platform or it isn't, and a chassis can accommodate your hardware or it can't. Audio gear is trickier.

There's no clear-cut metric to use as a guideline if you're shopping for a sound card. Lengthy audiophile reviews are available, but they generally don't offer a quantifiable takeaway if you have a limited point of reference and don't know much about the subject to begin with. I fall into that category. I've never had anything except onboard sound and my knowledge of acoustics couldn't fill a thimble.

From that position, buying a sound card has always felt more like a gamble than an investment. At the same time, I know audio snobs with thousands in equipment and all-FLAC libraries, and I'd like to believe they aren't delusional -- surely there's something to be experienced beyond my basic setup. But I mean, just how much better can music, movies and games sound? Enough to prevent buyer's remorse?

Read: Should You Buy a Sound Card? An Enthusiast's Perspective

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same Xonar DX card here. I don't think I would be able to go back to onboard and listen to Steven Wilson's 5.1 remixes of King Crimson, ELP, Yes etc. My ears are spoiled now....
as somebody wrote, if you are an enthusiast, then you have a dedicated soundcard.
cheers

For someone who has invested somewhat moderately in audio gear (Senn HD650, Earmax pro amp) I'm using Creative Titanium HD - not the best DAC but decent enough. For music there's a REAL difference. Still - these days on-board is perfectly fine for most users - especially if they're using MP3s.

i started out with Adlib card many years ago and last sound card was the Audigy 2 basic which i still have laying around. My latest z87 mobo has a pci slot so i though about trying it out but alas there does not seem to be a stable driver for windows 8.1.

I hsve never used headphones to listen to music, games, movies. To have a pretty awesome surround system yet half the output is stereo, having a good upmixing solution is the way to go. Considering that most highend surround pc audio systems do offer somekind of upmixing, it never deliveres. The onboard soundcards were never good at it either. Thats were I have always had my hats off for Creative products, specifically CMSS-3D and Crystalizer. These gems made any stereo song or movie sound great, making the sound crisp and enveloping. I even passthrough the sound of the TV through the LineIn and upmix the sound out through the PC surround speakers.
As horrible as creative driver support is, this is the only reason I have not burnt my X-Fi to ashes and will not give up on a Creative dedicated sound card, unless something better comes in this department.

I have used Creative Lab Sound Blaster cards since the first one appeared in 1991, the Sound Blaster 8-bit, and have had few problems with them. I have also used the Sound Blaster 16 and the Creative Sound Blaster Live! 24bit as the latest card in my collection. All have served me well and I am happy with the experiences I had over the years. You can't go wrong with a classic! Long live IRQ7 and DMA1!!

If you don't know why you would want or need a sound card, you probably don't.

From the audio tech perspective, if you want/need accuracy, e.g. you want/need to hear the audio exactly as-is, uncolored by boosted bass etc., then you'll need to spend more money & be careful what you purchase. That's where those that create &/or edit audio, along with audiophiles fit in. Onboard audio ain't gonna cut it. Then again no internal PC hardware might... PCs are bad about electrical noise, including the USB circuits if you thought USB hardware might get around that fact.

Besides noise, PC audio also suffers from a lack of great, available hardware. Vista banned kernel drivers, sending manufacturers who had been using DSPs to great effect in XP back to the drawing board. Rather than developing new hardware though, we got patched drivers that barely worked, as most products were eventually dropped altogether. Creative's newer Z series is far from perfect, but it's at least designed for Vista/7/8/8.1. The Xonar the reviewer used, & other cards based on the same chip, is not so new -- research & you'll find out just how bad the software & driver situation really is with those cards. Long story short, if you're after the best gear nowadays it's likely external, & since it's designed for creating & editing audio, support for stuff like 5.1-7.1 for movies or FX for gaming is nonexistent. And if you try to go backwards, e.g. use higher end gear from the old XP days, there's an excellent chance that it'll be incompatible with your recent motherboard, e.g. Intel chipsets hate old Creative cards with their IRQ requirements.

Life is simpler when accuracy doesn't matter. Start with the speakers/headphones that color the audio to suit you, e.g. adding more bass, or for games a surround effect, or if it's more important to you, pick headphones that look good. Then if needed add an external amp to power your headphones, maybe add software that lets you tweak the sound a bit more, & you'll likely be fine No need to worry about inconvenient stuff like not having an available slot open for a soundcard, or messing with getting drivers working or any of that.

Poorly conducted review. No blind tests and use of EQ across the board. Just how much of his conclusions are from self-confirmation bias, we cannot know. No discussion of electromagnetic noise isolation, a major issue in many PC cases. No attempt to connect the sound card to actual reference monitors, just using pretty good headphones, which is just half of the equation - what sound enthusiast only uses headphones? Overall a very superficial analysis and a waste of time.

I think that's probably the point. It's a subjective article "for the rest of us" who are not audiophiles and just want to know if it's a worthwhile upgrade part. For what it is, I think the article fulfills its role.

Skwerl said,
I think that's probably the point. It's a subjective article "for the rest of us" who are not audiophiles and just want to know if it's a worthwhile upgrade part. For what it is, I think the article fulfills its role.
The article provides you with no useful information to decide whether it's a worthwhile upgrade part. For all we know, his observations are pure placebo effect. It's an opinion piece and not a very comprehensive one at that.

I'm not an audiophile, but even I noticed a difference when I got a seven year old Audigy card working again and tried it after using onboard audio on a new ASUS mainboard. A discrete card won't blow you away, but if you're into music and have at least a decent set of speakers (I have Audioengine A2s), I feel it's a worthwhile investment.

Problem is that while an older Creative card might have very good specs & performance, they're starting to die from old age, there are loads of people who can't get them working with Intel-based m/boards, & drivers in win7/8/8.1 can be L to get & keep working. I had one of the better Creative cards with the breakout etc., & when it died found there simply was no replacing it -- nothing on the market offered everything it had... turns out that's not an uncommon story, with lots of folks in the same boat.

Oh yes, it was a big pain! It was quite the challenge, but I eventually figured it out. Probably not worth it, but I posted the steps on-line for others.

I think it does not matter when it comes to gaming... OpenAL presence and no DirectSound in Windows has curtailed needing a sound card, especially Creative.

But as far as music and theater applications a sound card is the way to go. The onboard sound on my motherboard is really good. But whenever I pop in my 7 year old X-Fi, the sonics go through the roof. It's better in every way for music, even though the specs of both are very competitive.

I'd still have that card in my rig except that all the input ports are dead.

I used to be quite the audiophile, and when my brother offered to buy me an Asus Xonar Essence STX card a few years ago, I readily accepted. Since my music collection (yes, it's FLAC)is on my PC, this has worked out well for me. I have the digital output from the card going into my amplifier, which drives my Polk speakers. Additionally, I use JRiver Media Center to play my audio (using WASAPI Event), and the sound is really stunning. So, for me, having a sound card is a good thing. But I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to most people.

I bought sound cards before they were included on the motherboard but after that I never bothered. I'm actually not too picky with sound quality anyways

Well, it's interesting here
My two cents, on this old internet dell I use the onboard sound, the sound is "adequate", but it's very limited in mixing/line in multitrack recording functions, it just cant.

so on my "other" custom build,(year old asus based W7 system I use an m-audio delta series card, which has four external inputs, great for setting up multitrack recording with minimal stress.

Regarding the soundblasters for realtime audio creation, well the only one I ever read was any good was the "audigy platinum 2zs" I tried a standard audigy 4, but nope, nope nope.. I tried two versions of x-fi on the old amd xp1800 machine and nearly slit my wrists... ...

The *only* reason I bought a sound card (external) is because I needed multiple inputs and outputs that aren't available on any onboard audio that I've seen. I have two phono pre-outs, two XLR inputs, two regular inputs, and two monitor outputs (one for headphones, one for monitors).

Comparing the sound quality between onboard audio and the sound card - there's no discernible difference whatsoever.

Brian M. said,
The *only* reason I bought a sound card (external) is because I needed multiple inputs and outputs that aren't available on any onboard audio that I've seen. I have two phono pre-outs, two XLR inputs, two regular inputs, and two monitor outputs (one for headphones, one for monitors).

Comparing the sound quality between onboard audio and the sound card - there's no discernible difference whatsoever.

I bought an external USB DAC to solve a nasty ground loop issue as well as to get native 1/4" outputs. I cannot evaluate the sound quality difference because the noise issue simply drowns out any subtle details, but I'm getting terrific sound.

I don't use soundcards since being burned by Creative (X-Fi on NT6.X anyone? - I actually tried to get it working again last weekend, needless to say that that's a futile effort…)

As much as people try to resist dedicated audio, you will listen to sounds you never did before and you will notice the quality difference.

Problem is you can have great audio gear & use POS headphones or speakers & never know, never hear any difference -- it may even sound worse moving to reference accurate speakers or cans if whatever they were using previously provided an artificial boost.

The quality of audio is effected at each link in the chain, from the original source [e.g. file] to the speakers or headphones -- if one's lacking the quality of the others might well be irrelevant.

For me a dedicated sound card offers essential outputs (i like to play with dj software, and having a discrete output for the queued up track and headphones is essential).

also, as you start to do more with audio (effects, multitrack mixing, midi functions) you easily see the benefits.

i think for std home theater use, sending the audio via hdmi from is digital source to be decided by a proper amp is the best way to go.

audio snobs with thousands in equipment and all-FLAC libraries

Real audio snobs wouldn't be caught dead with digital music. However there is a segment of the younger generation that tries to find a balance in the digital world.

Lossless audio is even a bit of a misconception, as there is always audio loss due to the granularity of the sample rate and bits used. (Even analog storage mediums hit this granularity ceiling depending on how many particles are used to record the sound.)


As for a dedicated sound card compared to onboard audio...

This is complicated subject because not all sound cards or onboard audio is created equally. This also changes based on what OS you are using, further complicating the topic.

If you are using Linux, OS X, or Windows 7, there is little performance benefit to having a dedicated Sound Card. This is why you see they focus on the features they can offer like SNR, etc.

With Windows 8, sound cards or onboard chipsets/processors can take advantage of audio offload processing features, like the Xbox One does.
(I haven't seen many that implement this yet, but I would assume Creative and others that were wanting this technology to take advantage of it soon.)

As for quality, there are some onboard chipsets that are going to be higher quality than dedicated sound cards and vice versa. Depending on your audio source, it might not even matter. If you are playing a movie that is using Dolby, a lot of chipsets support a direct pass through to your external digital surround system.

The basic answer is a Sound Card can usually provide lower noise, which is why SNR is what they advertise. They can also provide additional processing features through specific software; however, this is not something most consumers would ever use.

There are a few games that take advantage of Sound Cards features like EAX; however, this doesn't help performance, and even the effects offered are often not of value with newer 5.1/8.1 surround setups.

Audio quality notes regarding OSes...

OSes each have their own audio processing technologies, and this is important with regard to performance and output quality.

OS X
Professional musicians/producers will NEVER (or should never) use the OS/Core audio processing in a Mac. OS X's audio stack has a high distortion level when dealing with resampled sound. So any variance in sample or bit rate to the output rate being processed by the OS itself is not usable for professional production. (This why professionals that do use Macs have external processing hardware or custom software that handles the audio processing instead of letting the OS handle it.)

This also includes the sound that comes out the speakers, Macs cannot produce low distortion output unless you are using a digital source that directly matches the sample rates of a digital output device where no resampling takes place.

If you are playing the same exact audio on the same speakers on both a Windows 7/8 PC and a Mac, even most non-audiophile users can hear the quality advantage of Windows' audio stack/engine.

Vista
Windows Vista introduced the sound stack/engine that is still in use today. However, like OS X, the sound stack/engine in Vista had a high distortion level.

Windows 7
Microsoft refined the sound stack/engine in Windows 7, bringing the sampling distortion levels to production/professional quality. Windows 7 also has lower latency when processing audio, which is important for realtime events like video games and voice communications. This is why VOIP/Skype/Voice calls have less of a delay on Windows than Linux or OS X.

Windows 8
Windows 8 is an evolution of the audio stack/engine in Windows 7, but introduces new refinements and new features like new offload processing features.

WP8
The audio refinements in Windows 8 also pertains to WP8, which is why at the OS level it has less distortion and lower latency for call quality than Android and iOS.
(This is one benefit of using the same OS technologies across devices and PCs and Servers, as the maturity/refinements benefit all products.)

Mobius Enigma said,

Lossless audio is even a bit of a misconception, as there is always audio loss due to the granularity of the sample rate and bits used. (Even analog storage mediums hit this granularity ceiling depending on how many particles are used to record the sound.)

Oh dear. You need to watch this: https://xiph.org/video/

Too Long; Didn't Watch - lossless audio is indeed lossless, no such thing as degree of granularity.


If you are playing the same exact audio on the same speakers on both a Windows 7/8 PC and a Mac, even most non-audiophile users can hear the quality advantage of Windows' audio stack/engine.

What matters to the average user is that the default high quality implementation comes out of the box. On XP, a serious audiophile would need to install Kernel Streaming and make use of high quality resamplers in their music players.

Sorry Mobius Enigma your clue less a real audio snobs only deal with vinyl records, high end turntable and old school tub amps.

Purely FWIW, IMHO & all that, there is a difference between audiophiles, audio pros, audio snobs, & music fans. Digital audio, just like digital photos & digital video is fact. Some prefer the altered analog experience, or maybe nuanced would be a better word. However you want to phrase it, analog looks & sounds a bit different than digital, even when/if digital is much more accurate. Tons of money & effort are spent making digital content mimic analog, just to make those folks happily empty their wallets, regardless it starting as digital & ending up less accurate.

The granularity issue to me is an interesting one... If you dig deep enough it seems the way our brains process sensory input one could argue that it works in the digital rather than analog realm. That said, where we get into trouble I think is in manipulating the digital data, e.g. changing sample rate, &/or transferring between digital & analog signals/storage, &/or mimicking analog digitally. IOW when we mix both worlds rather than keep whatever digital or analog.

I've no experience with Apple hardware, but it sounds like maybe the audio issues you talk about are similar to what happens with some PC audio electronics... Audio's dealt with internally at whatever set sample rate, & any I/O that doesn't match is converted on input &/or output.

trieste said,

Oh dear. You need to watch this: https://xiph.org/video/

Too Long; Didn't Watch - lossless audio is indeed lossless, no such thing as degree of granularity.

What matters to the average user is that the default high quality implementation comes out of the box. On XP, a serious audiophile would need to install Kernel Streaming and make use of high quality resamplers in their music players.

So are you going to seriously argue that 8bit 11,000Hz lossless is equal to 32bit 96,000Hz lossless?

There are also differences in how some lossless compression is done that can be a 'load' to the system, which introduces audio drops that are not always noticeable.

FLAC is an example of a codec that can create this load by using demanding compression on older systems. (i.e Like dropping frames in video.)

mikiem said,
Purely FWIW, IMHO & all that, there is a difference between audiophiles, audio pros, audio snobs, & music fans. Digital audio, just like digital photos & digital video is fact. Some prefer the altered analog experience, or maybe nuanced would be a better word. However you want to phrase it, analog looks & sounds a bit different than digital, even when/if digital is much more accurate. Tons of money & effort are spent making digital content mimic analog, just to make those folks happily empty their wallets, regardless it starting as digital & ending up less accurate.

The granularity issue to me is an interesting one... If you dig deep enough it seems the way our brains process sensory input one could argue that it works in the digital rather than analog realm. That said, where we get into trouble I think is in manipulating the digital data, e.g. changing sample rate, &/or transferring between digital & analog signals/storage, &/or mimicking analog digitally. IOW when we mix both worlds rather than keep whatever digital or analog.

I've no experience with Apple hardware, but it sounds like maybe the audio issues you talk about are similar to what happens with some PC audio electronics... Audio's dealt with internally at whatever set sample rate, & any I/O that doesn't match is converted on input &/or output.

Many newer models of how the human brain works is based on quantum states, which is 'kind of' digital, but reflects how analog is perceived. Having additional states that fluctuate depending on context is why our brains exceed even a digital equivalent.


The OS X issue is with how the audio stack and core audio works inside OS X when it has to convert different bit rates, sample rates, or combine sounds. This problem happens before it hits the actual audio hardware.

Edited by Mobius Enigma, Dec 10 2013, 1:11am :

SHS said,
Sorry Mobius Enigma your clue less a real audio snobs only deal with vinyl records, high end turntable and old school tub amps.

This is what I said... (How did you find that I said something else?)

Mobius Enigma said,

So are you going to seriously argue that 8bit 11,000Hz lossless is equal to 32bit 96,000Hz lossless?

Of crouse not. 11 kHz is nowhere near the Nyquist rate of what humans can hear, however 96 kHz is more than enough and anything over 48 kHz is usually just marketing fluff.

Lord Method Man said,

Of crouse not. 11 kHz is nowhere near the Nyquist rate of what humans can hear, however 96 kHz is more than enough and anything over 48 kHz is usually just marketing fluff.

This was in response to someone insisting that ALL lossless was equal.

This pertains to soundcard when using "Analog Out".

if you have a crappy sound system or desktop computer speakers (this also goes for the top of the line creative speaker system) then you don't need a dedicated sound card. The built in sound is perfect. Now if you have a good high-end audio system then you will hear the difference like night and day. I have an Asus Xonar Essence STX card and I compared it with my MB audio and my NVidia HDMI audio. What I heard was like night and day. The biggest difference is a much wider soundstage. MB audio has a much more compressed soundstage.

HDMI output is pure digital. Your receiver must not be processing it to your liking if the Xonar card sounds better.

Actually the HDMI goes to the TV then analog to the integrated amp. So it is the TV that has a bad D/A converter. And yes it's all about the DAC.

Edited by jesseinsf, Dec 9 2013, 5:47pm :

BTW, Analog just sounds better. And since I don't have an outboard digital processor (DAC) I am forced to use my Xonar's RCA out to my integrated amp. And the Xonar is really good. Plus I don't get any annoying sounds and interference that usually plagues MB sound. You would need a good house ground that your computer plugs in to and everything would need to be shielded to cut down on allot of interference a computer makes when you use the analog outs on the computer.

mu last sound card was a awe 64 never bothered once the onboards started to get better and then it was an extra 200$ i could spend on something else =]

I got a sound card in my system for two reasons: I remember a game or two of mine having issues running with onboard sound, and the onboard sound was quite noisy with my monitoring headphones. No-brainer for me. Didn't have to break the bank either; went with a £20 Asus Xonar DG.

I have an old Audigy 2 ZS that sounds WAY better than my onboard Realtek 888. I'm not even using super fancy speakers (Logitech x540) and I can tell the difference!! Sound quality is just way better. And yes, I have an Audigy 2 ZS running without problems in Windows 8.1 Pro x64.
It's really not about performance anymore - CPUs are completely powerful enough, it's all about the processing and interference with other components.

I always noticed that when you plug in Sennheizer headphones into onboard audio, you get a lot of interference. Plug it into a dedicated card and it's clean.

I have laptop with Realtek ALC892. Drivers of this card have bug which leads to no sound in sub-woofer. Even when sub-woofer works, it sounds like crap. Also, Realtek is using Creative THX software for virtual surround. I've sent description of the issue and solution to Reatek and got no reply. I was not surprised, because Realtek software looks like something from 1990. I guess professional developers left them long time ago and management don't care unless bugs starts to hurt them financially. This is the reason why I prefer Creative Labs sound blasters.

Hello,

Praeses said,
And yes, I have an Audigy 2 ZS running without problems in Windows 8.1 Pro x64.

"without problems"? ...right

I haven't had one for years now. I don't plug my headphones or speakers straight into the computer though, too weak for my taste. I run digital out to my Sony receiver and then plug my speakers and headphones into it. Anyway with today's CPU power I really don't see any need for dedicated sound cards anymore.

I haven't read the full article yet but in my experience if you want better sound quality, buy better speakers or monitors.

I've went through a few sound cards as i do a bit of production and audio processing, currently using the Native Instruments Audio, the sound quality has a noticeable improvement, i'm no expert so the only way i can describe it is sounds-sound less squashed together. There are other benefits such as latency but for the general user watching some movies i doubt there is much improvement over on-board sound.

I remember the days without and everyone had creative sound blaster 5.1 i still have a bunch of them stored away. They'll no doubt be worse than onboard sound.

Well, it's fairly unsurprising that the Xonar card did better.

The quality of its analogue amps is much higher. The take away for any audio user is this: If you are using an analogue output, the dedicated cards CAN be of benefit, but the Realtek chips are more than acceptable.

If you are using Digital out (Dolby or ToSLink or Co-Axial Digital Out), there are next to no differences. The difference you see now days has nothing to do with digital processing and everything to do with Amplification and analogue processing..

It's why the first thing you should upgrade in your car is the headunit.

/shrugs

Take from it what you will.

To bad Asus drops Xonar support faster than creative can change underwear. Supposed to save the PC gamers from creative non existent future driver support, become way worse than creative was while creative got better... the losers ? those who bought into the Asus hype.

articuno1au said,
Well, it's fairly unsurprising that the Xonar card did better.

The quality of its analogue amps is much higher. The take away for any audio user is this: If you are using an analogue output, the dedicated cards CAN be of benefit,

If you are using Digital out (Dolby or ToSLink or Co-Axial Digital Out), there are next to no differences.

True.
Use digital output, and the difference would pretty much be ZERO, since your external sound system will do all of the work.

If you're using analog out and have a QUALITY sound card, with QUALITY DAC and OPAMPs, you should notice a difference.

Notice that the emphasis is on quality. Cheap sound cards won't do better than on-board sound.

Saying all that, nowadays on-board sound produce good enough quality, so a sound card isn't really recommended for the majority of buyers, except for audiophiles.

P.S. Also you'd need to use quality speakers and headphones, or else that new, expensive sound card you bought will be all for nothing.

HawkMan said,
To bad Asus drops Xonar support faster than creative can change underwear. Supposed to save the PC gamers from creative non existent future driver support, become way worse than creative was while creative got better... the losers ? those who bought into the Asus hype.

I'm using the custom UNi Xonar drivers and they have pretty much saved the card from a complete failure.

eddman said,

True.
Use digital output, and the difference would pretty much be ZERO, since your external sound system will do all of the work.

This isn't strictly true, though. I bought an Asus Xonar a few years ago for the specific reason that I wanted to use digital and not analogue. The catch is that the onboard digital outputs wouldn't allow me to use any kind of surround sound - stereo only. Unless there was a Dolby/DTS bitstream already available (such as on a DVD) - so games were completely limited. The Xonar was one of the few cards at the time that could actually output Dolby or DTS to my amp.

I don't know if that's changed in recent years, though, this was like 2008?

Kushan said,

This isn't strictly true, though. I bought an Asus Xonar a few years ago for the specific reason that I wanted to use digital and not analogue. The catch is that the onboard digital outputs wouldn't allow me to use any kind of surround sound - stereo only. Unless there was a Dolby/DTS bitstream already available (such as on a DVD) - so games were completely limited. The Xonar was one of the few cards at the time that could actually output Dolby or DTS to my amp.

I don't know if that's changed in recent years, though, this was like 2008?


My X58A-UD3R (1366 based i7) does 5.1 mixes to Dolby streams. Just need a moderately high end integrated card. Now days that functionality is pretty common, in everything except the most budget of boards.

Goldfire86 said,

I'm using the custom UNi Xonar drivers and they have pretty much saved the card from a complete failure.

Yeah, but that's no thanks to Asus...

I usually notice better quality and options with creative cards. I used to own an audigy platinum (old,. very old by now) and i was pretty happy with it. Comparing with the onboard card, it shined. These days... I have no idea.

I had the X-Fi Plat & was pretty happy with it -- when it died I found that Creative no longer made anything equivalent... reviews on quite a few of their later cards tend to agree they are a step down from really basic on-board audio! I need ASIO & wound up buying one of the new Creative Z cards the day after they released their ASIO drivers, & have been reasonably happy with it since. It doesn't match the old Soundblaster, but I haven't had any driver issues like are commonly reported with the Xonars, & I've still got the multi-channel AC3 & DTS that I couldn't find on external audio I/O boxes in the $100-$200 range.

I agree with the above commenters. I believe the last game to actually benefit from dedicated Sound Hardware was Doom 3. Sound is simple, let the CPU handle it.

Some sound is too demanding to be calculated on the CPU along with the game code and that's why TrueAudio was born; which I can't wait to try and see if it's worth it.

You'd need an awful lot of concurrent sound buffers to benefit from onboard hardware, any modern CPU can easily handle a realistic workload.

AMD claiming to have solved fundamental problems with a new API is nothing new either, they've claimed the same thing about DirectX and OpenGL as well (Surprisingly enough Nvidia hardware doesn't suffer from these problems)

ut if you have a htpc and don't want pops and sound drops when switching streams, you need a sound card that can live encode to DD interactive or DTS Live.

so no, they're not yet necessary.

So why we didn't have anything like this in games up until now (Modern CPUs" (quad-cores) been available for quite a while and even more powerful CPUs exist now (six to ten cores))?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6uUtf-lMQQ

And yeah I'm aware that it was possible to produce such amazing virtual surround six years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUDTlvagjJA
But there's noting like that that's calculated in real time. And if it wasn't produced in real-time, then it just wouldn't work in games; where the source of the sound is always changed because the player moves.

CPressland said,
I agree with the above commenters. I believe the last game to actually benefit from dedicated Sound Hardware was Doom 3. Sound is simple, let the CPU handle it.

Technically, pick any Xbox One title.

Windows 8 introduced new hardware offload features and it is in use in the Xbox One hardware. Creative Labs and others have been asking for this technology for years, but I haven't seen them introduce a card that takes advantage of this new feature in Windows 8 yet.


CPressland said,
I agree with the above commenters. I believe the last game to actually benefit from dedicated Sound Hardware was Doom 3. Sound is simple, let the CPU handle it.

A dedicated sound card is not simply for extra speed, the main purpose is extra sound quality. And by quality I mean the DAC part of it, for which the filters/caps are the main barrier to filter out the noise being made by the rest of your system (electrical noise). Your motherboard integrated audio simply doesn't have that as there's not enough physical room to create a proper setup. Once you have that proper isolated environment for the DAC processor, then you will greatly notice the difference between 2 DACs, be it from add in boards or external USB DACs.

This is something that you have to try it to believe it, and the issue is that to try it you need to invest at least $400 in hardware (a DAC, desktop headphone amplifier and $200+ headphones), so most people just skip this trio and convince themselves that they don't need it.

Pupik said,
So why we didn't have anything like this in games up until now (Modern CPUs" (quad-cores) been available for quite a while and even more powerful CPUs exist now (six to ten cores))?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6uUtf-lMQQ

And yeah I'm aware that it was possible to produce such amazing virtual surround six years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUDTlvagjJA
But there's noting like that that's calculated in real time. And if it wasn't produced in real-time, then it just wouldn't work in games; where the source of the sound is always changed because the player moves.

To be honest and the reason why all things gaming is held back 1 word... consoles. Why would a studio waste time creating amazing sound for the PC especially since most ports werent that good. The console hardware wouldnt be able to handle it i think but now theres 8 core consoles with better sound chips they can push the boundaries.

TrueAudio might be good it might not, i can see it helping out onboard sound more than a decent dedicated sound card. Thief uses umm something like convolusive reverb or someat like that in which if you believe the developer is massively resource intensive and wasnt able to be done before, prolly cus of the 360/ps3, also maybe because its calculated in real time and TrueAudio is supposed to do all the decoding on chip so the cpu/sound card has less work to do and is quicker cus its done processing before its sent out to the system. Whether it works in practice, time will tell but youll prolly need a good 5.1/7.1 speaker system or headphones to be take proper advantage of the depths of sounds there trying achieve anyway.

on topic my mate bought a cheap asus xonar card for his 5.1 headphones and true his MB is like 6-7 years old and he said the sound was 100 times better, maybe the newer onboard chips are good but if you got a good speaker system id say get a decent soundcard like £80+ maybe, the asus ones look good the creative ones are prolly good but they suck for driver updates and there servers are extremely slow

Mobius Enigma said,

Technically, pick any Xbox One title.

Windows 8 introduced new hardware offload features and it is in use in the Xbox One hardware. Creative Labs and others have been asking for this technology for years, but I haven't seen them introduce a card that takes advantage of this new feature in Windows 8 yet.


BS hardware acceleration of DirectSound/DirectX Audio die with Vista long ago not even Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 nor Xbox Bone has any hardware acceleration.

SHS said,

BS hardware acceleration of DirectSound/DirectX Audio die with Vista long ago not even Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 nor Xbox Bone has any hardware acceleration.

you shouldn't comment if you don't know what you're talking about, just a friendly reminder.

SHS said,

I do know what I'm talk after all maybe you need to lean something. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DirectSound

Sometimes it pays to read the actual technical information.
(Wikipedia is horribly inaccurate as technical complexity increases.)

Here:
http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-u...ware/dn302038(v=vs.85).aspx

Windows 8 supports hardware-offloaded audio processing

In case you only like Neowin for your news, it was discussed here as well:
http://www.neowin.net/news/mic...eal-more-about-consoles-cpu

I stopped bothering quite some time ago. I think my last dedicated soundcard was the Audigy 2 ZS, but problems with drivers (something Creative was never great with, especially with new OSes coming up) made me step back from it and stay with on-board audio solutions and I haven't noticed much of a difference anyway.

Thief000 said,
I stopped bothering quite some time ago. I think my last dedicated soundcard was the Audigy 2 ZS, but problems with drivers (something Creative was never great with, especially with new OSes coming up) made me step back from it and stay with on-board audio solutions and I haven't noticed much of a difference anyway.

That was your problem - buying a Creative sound card. I have an Asus Xonar Essence STX card, and believe me, the sound from it going into my amp is incredible.

I had no problem Audigy 2 ZS with it but keep in mind must problem where causes by the motherboard and yes you right but you forget that was Microsoft that pull the plug on hardware acceleration with Windows Vista and 7, 8 and 8.1 where they stopped supporting hardware acceleration of DirectSound/DirectX Audio.

devHead said,

That was your problem - buying a Creative sound card. I have an Asus Xonar Essence STX card, and believe me, the sound from it going into my amp is incredible.

I have the same card and also a decent motherboard, but the two aren't comparable with it comes to high-end audio.

I have £400 headphones that benefit from the amp, also Audioengine a5+ speakers because I love my music.

The on-board sound is okay for a low-volume casual background music especially when there is not much noise. But when different sounds coming at the same time like when things start really happening in movies and when several instruments across the range are simultaneous it is noticed.

So like the original author says for the people that didn't read it, it does make a difference if you care about the audio and have something decent to listen to the sound on.

Hello,

Thief000 said,
I stopped bothering quite some time ago. I think my last dedicated soundcard was the Audigy 2 ZS, but problems with drivers (something Creative was never great with, especially with new OSes coming up) made me step back from it and stay with on-board audio solutions and I haven't noticed much of a difference anyway.

The hacked drivers work pretty good.

Hello,

devHead said,

That was your problem - buying a Creative sound card. I have an Asus Xonar Essence STX card, and believe me, the sound from it going into my amp is incredible.

Creative was the dominant force back then.

No, no need with current motherboards and Windows, it does audio processing in software anyway (Unless you have a Creative card, they hook the sound system and force it to run in hardware, which offers exactly 0 benefits)

If you're using analog (which most people would), it is *sometimes* beneficial to get a discrete card. I have noticed that my mobo and some of my friends' actually transmit interference from the CPU. I could literally tell if my CPU is busy when I have my headphones on.

Most people would probably not notice anything with their speakers blaring loud metal, or being shot at in [insert latest first-person-shooter here]. But even with mediocre headphones, there's a not-so-small chance you could actually hear your PC think.

To be honest I find the DACs in laptops/consumer PC's to be quite bad. I used an external DAC on my laptop and was pleasantly surprised by the improvement in sound quality.

If you buy a sound card, buy it for its DAC, modern processors are easily able to keep up with the sound. It's how you take that signal and make it an analogue that really matters.

Try listening with some semi decent headphones to a track on your phone, then go into an audio store and try out one of their DACs. Guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised. Problem is they're *very* expensive. The quality/price trade off is what stops me keeping a portalbe headphone DAC with me. In a sound card the price barrier is a lot lower. I'd say it's worth it IF you have good speakers!

Auzeras said,
To be honest I find the DACs in laptops/consumer PC's to be quite bad. I used an external DAC on my laptop and was pleasantly surprised by the improvement in sound quality.

If you buy a sound card, buy it for its DAC, modern processors are easily able to keep up with the sound. It's how you take that signal and make it an analogue that really matters.

Try listening with some semi decent headphones to a track on your phone, then go into an audio store and try out one of their DACs. Guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised. Problem is they're *very* expensive. The quality/price trade off is what stops me keeping a portalbe headphone DAC with me. In a sound card the price barrier is a lot lower. I'd say it's worth it IF you have good speakers!

Finally, a real response

Agreed, a good DAC is the key. I find the Arcam rPAC to be a very good balance between quality and price. It's about £130 in the UK

Auzeras said,
To be honest I find the DACs in laptops/consumer PC's to be quite bad. I used an external DAC on my laptop and was pleasantly surprised by the improvement in sound quality.

If you buy a sound card, buy it for its DAC, modern processors are easily able to keep up with the sound. It's how you take that signal and make it an analogue that really matters.

Try listening with some semi decent headphones to a track on your phone, then go into an audio store and try out one of their DACs. Guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised. Problem is they're *very* expensive. The quality/price trade off is what stops me keeping a portalbe headphone DAC with me. In a sound card the price barrier is a lot lower. I'd say it's worth it IF you have good speakers!

This x1000 .. at the digital stage there may not be much (if anything) in it, but the conversion to analogue can make a massive difference. That's what you should be getting with a discrete card - a better DAC. However, you could (theoretically) also put an external DAC on the digital output of motherboard based sound and still end up with a very good result.

Auzeras said,
To be honest I find the DACs in laptops/consumer PC's to be quite bad. I used an external DAC on my laptop and was pleasantly surprised by the improvement in sound quality.

If you buy a sound card, buy it for its DAC, modern processors are easily able to keep up with the sound. It's how you take that signal and make it an analogue that really matters.

Try listening with some semi decent headphones to a track on your phone, then go into an audio store and try out one of their DACs. Guarantee you'll be pleasantly surprised. Problem is they're *very* expensive. The quality/price trade off is what stops me keeping a portalbe headphone DAC with me. In a sound card the price barrier is a lot lower. I'd say it's worth it IF you have good speakers!

This x1000 .. at the digital stage there may not be much (if anything) in it, but the conversion to analogue can make a massive difference. That's what you should be getting with a discrete card - a better DAC. However, you could (theoretically) also put an external DAC on the digital output of motherboard based sound and still end up with a very good result.

It really depond on who made the motherboard if it is OEM like Dell, HP, Gateway and etc thoses are usely dirt cheap sound codec unlike your home build system unless you spent major money a high end system like Alienware, Digital Storm, Origin which is use lee a ridiculously overlocked system, water-cooled system that sports the best of the best hardware all super high premium cost.

The_Decryptor said,
No, no need with current motherboards and Windows, it does audio processing in software anyway (Unless you have a Creative card, they hook the sound system and force it to run in hardware, which offers exactly 0 benefits)

dude you have no idea. Do you know about software audio processing latency? just google ASIO audio card and read and improve your knowledge before leaving your first comment.

trojan_market said,

dude you have no idea. Do you know about software audio processing latency? just google ASIO audio card and read and improve your knowledge before leaving your first comment.

None of which is of any use to someone that isn't making their own music.

Mayhaps practice what you preach in the future?

Athernar said,

None of which is of any use to someone that isn't making their own music.

Mayhaps practice what you preach in the future?


even if you don't produce your music and not a professional, if you use a highend analogue output device it matters for you what the soundcard output sound is. most of onboard sound chip (while they got a little bit better) horribly distort the output signal and are not capable of output at 24 bits and 48KHZ range (which is at least half the range of mainstream sound cards). apart from these number, the quality is different, its night and day. If your ears are not capable of perceiving those differences in frequencies or your using a cheap headphones or speakers, yes there is no difference for normal users.

trojan_market said,

even if you don't produce your music and not a professional, if you use a highend analogue output device it matters for you what the soundcard output sound is. most of onboard sound chip (while they got a little bit better) horribly distort the output signal and are not capable of output at 24 bits and 48KHZ range (which is at least half the range of mainstream sound cards). apart from these number, the quality is different, its night and day. If your ears are not capable of perceiving those differences in frequencies or your using a cheap headphones or speakers, yes there is no difference for normal users.

Not sure where you're buying your motherboards, but even my 2011 vintage Asus motherboard has a Realtek codec capable of 24-bit 192kHz output.

Not that it really matters when most audio sources are not up to spec anyway.

Athernar said,

Not sure where you're buying your motherboards, but even my 2011 vintage Asus motherboard has a Realtek codec capable of 24-bit 192kHz output.

Not that it really matters when most audio sources are not up to spec anyway.


two things:
1. yes it says its "capable of 24-bit 192kHz output" but It will not surprise me if it oversample 16-bit and some frequency range which for sure is not 192KHZ (mostly the one that is used by compressed MPEG-3 or 4 to output)
2. quality may not be different if you listening to a youtube music video or an mp3 file less than 192-CBR. but if you watch blue-ray or even DVD you will hear the difference using a good headphone or speaker.

at the end very good headphones has some frequency correction outputed by these low-end mainboard sound chips but even the best headphones has errors reproducing original sound and corrections. if you really care for music and sound experience specially you should by a high end (or even mid range) sound card with good analogue output sound not software based mainboard cheap sound chips.

trojan_market said,

two things:
1. yes it says its "capable of 24-bit 192kHz output" but It will not surprise me if it oversample 16-bit and some frequency range which for sure is not 192KHZ (mostly the one that is used by compressed MPEG-3 or 4 to output)
2. quality may not be different if you listening to a youtube music video or an mp3 file less than 192-CBR. but if you watch blue-ray or even DVD you will hear the difference using a good headphone or speaker.

at the end very good headphones has some frequency correction outputed by these low-end mainboard sound chips but even the best headphones has errors reproducing original sound and corrections. if you really care for music and sound experience specially you should by a high end (or even mid range) sound card with good analogue output sound not software based mainboard cheap sound chips.

And you have zero evidence to support your accusation that it doesn't support those depths and rates.

Really, it sounds like you're going by pure placebo as most "audiophiles" do.

OEM Mobos are build to a price, the DACs are junk. Period. Fine for your average computer speakers and headphones etc but not much else.

Other mobos can be better but to be honest not *great*, but unless you have some decent headphones or speakers you are NOT going to notice an improvement. If you want kick ass gorgeous sound with crisp highs and solid bass, get some decent speakers and THEN a decent DAC.

As people have said time and time again in the comments, it's not really about the sound sampling on the software, hell these days your fridge could probably produce decent sound quality, processing power is irrelevant. It's all about taking that digital stream and making it an analogue sound as well as amplifying that sound.

If you're running anything around 320kbps MP3 decent speakers will be fine to get good experience, you'll get a nice boost with a good DAC but nothing spectacular. Your system will really shine with FLAC + Speakers.

Hello,

The_Decryptor said,
No, no need with current motherboards and Windows, it does audio processing in software anyway (Unless you have a Creative card, they hook the sound system and force it to run in hardware, which offers exactly 0 benefits)

Did you even read the article?

Athernar said,

And you have zero evidence to support your accusation that it doesn't support those depths and rates.

Really, it sounds like you're going by pure placebo as most "audiophiles" do.

my evidence is:

1. mainboard producers don't really care about sound quality so they go with generic cheap audio chip option thats available to keep the cost low. instead they focus on other more important parts such as cpu and ram controller and other chipsets.
2. if you just look at the size and number of transistors and capacitors available in a generic sound chip on mainboard and compare it to not even high end but something midstream you will understand how many capacitors and transistors have been used for a decent audio analogue.
Again if you have a little knowledge about sound amplifiers and audio system you
wouldn't even compare it.
Its like comparing a 1985 volkswagen to 2013 C class mercedes benz. yes they both does the same job but the question is are those the same?

trojan_market said,

my evidence is:

1. mainboard producers don't really care about sound quality so they go with generic cheap audio chip option thats available to keep the cost low. instead they focus on other more important parts such as cpu and ram controller and other chipsets.
2. if you just look at the size and number of transistors and capacitors available in a generic sound chip on mainboard and compare it to not even high end but something midstream you will understand how many capacitors and transistors have been used for a decent audio analogue.
Again if you have a little knowledge about sound amplifiers and audio system you
wouldn't even compare it.
Its like comparing a 1985 volkswagen to 2013 C class mercedes benz. yes they both does the same job but the question is are those the same?

I don't think you understand the meaning of the term "evidence".

The above isn't evidence, it's opinion.

Athernar said,

I don't think you understand the meaning of the term "evidence".

The above isn't evidence, it's opinion.


and I don't think you get it. I don't even think you have seen a mainboard audio chip. so I won't waste my time.

trojan_market said,

and I don't think you get it. I don't even think you have seen a mainboard audio chip. so I won't waste my time.

You seemed quite happy to waste time spewing your opinion everywhere before you were asked for proof of your allegations.

I bet you buy Monster cables.

Athernar said,

You seemed quite happy to waste time spewing your opinion everywhere before you were asked for proof of your allegations.

I bet you buy Monster cables.


what is your problem dude? who are you to judge? I spend half of my life working with amplifier systems and I know what I am talking about. you are the one who is clueless. I can bring you the chart of signal to noise ratio comparison of all the sound cards and compare them with onbload realtek chips? guess what? people are buying sound cards that's why they are still making them, and all those people who buy it (which most of them are not sound engineer or musicians) they don't know what they are paying for? no you're the one who don't know dude

trojan_market said,

what is your problem dude? who are you to judge? I spend half of my life working with amplifier systems and I know what I am talking about. you are the one who is clueless. I can bring you the chart of signal to noise ratio comparison of all the sound cards and compare them with onbload realtek chips? guess what? people are buying sound cards that's why they are still making them, and all those people who buy it (which most of them are not sound engineer or musicians) they don't know what they are paying for? no you're the one who don't know dude

I thought you weren't going to waste your time anymore?

Obviously "wasting time" only counts as "backing up what I say instead of expecting people to take what I say as fact with zero proof" in your book.

But please, go ahead throwing your money at weakly justified placebo products.