Sound Card - Yes or no?

Discussion in 'Computer Hardware, Devices and Accessories' started by Jiehfeng, Oct 2, 2014.

  1. Jiehfeng
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    Jiehfeng A not so serious guy tbh... ;D

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    I use the Sennheiser HD 201 headphones which are pretty good, but it has low volume. To get the best quality from my headphones, I used to plug in the headphones directly to the PC's audio port. But the volume was always too low for me. Now I plug it into speakers which are plugged into the PC so I can adjust the volume, buut the sound quality is terrible cause the speakers suck.

    So I was wondering, if I buy a sound card. Will there be an increase in volume and quality? Or is there another solution? I'm pretty much suffering here by not listening to music properly. ;-;

    EDIT:
    Tried using Loudness Equalization. It really increases the system volume even higher. But weirdly decreases music played on either VLC Media Player or WMP, and the sound increases when Loudness Equalization is turned off.
     


  2. marcus134

    marcus134 GBAtemp Advanced Fan

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    1. Does a sound card improve the sound quality?
    Usually yes, it really depends as you can get real cheap sound card and some high-end mobo can come with decent DAC for multimedia consumption.
    You could connect your comp. in a home amplifier and see if it's really the sound that's coming out is decent to your taste or not.

    2. Does a sound card giver a stronger signal?
    it may or it may not, it really depends on the engineering, although the difference shouldn't be big.
    However some cards comes with a headphone amplifier.

    alternatively you can always purchase a headphone amplifier which is much cheaper than a good sound card
     
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  3. ieatpixels

    ieatpixels GBAtemp Fan

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    on-board sound is usually good enough, even for expensive PCs.
    I use the same headphones and when the sound is too low I use "Letasoft Sound Booster".

    I'd recommend updating your sound drivers if you haven't.
     
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  4. Jiehfeng
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    Jiehfeng A not so serious guy tbh... ;D

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    Oh I see. What is a headphone amplifier exactly? And what would you recommend?


    Tried that, when I increase the volume in the program, there's no volume at all.
     
  5. marcus134

    marcus134 GBAtemp Advanced Fan

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    a headphone amp is an amplifier made for headphone, a small box that amplifies signal for headphone and I'm having difficulty explaining it differently as I thought the name was self explanatory.

    I can't really recommend anything as I'm not an everyday headphone amp consumer, but here's some example:
    http://www.amazon.com/Syba-SD-DAC63...eo-accessories&ie=UTF8&qid=1412410891&sr=1-22
    http://www.amazon.com/Pyle-Pro-PHA4...deo-accessories&ie=UTF8&qid=1412410149&sr=1-3
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ADR2DTG?psc=1
     
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  6. Ulieq

    Ulieq GBAtemp Fan

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    Waste of money unless you need surround sound or something. If you have bose computer speakers, you may as well.
     
  7. trumpet-205

    trumpet-205 Embrace the darkness within

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    When it comes to sound quality Speaker and Headphone yields greater improvement over sound card. This does not mean that sound card is useless or anything. If you starting to use quality headphone (and I mean quality one, not those you commonly found on ebay, Best Buy, or Walmart) it would be good idea to plan a sound card upgrade too.

    For budget I suggest you look over what Fiio has to offer. They sell some decent headphone amp/DAC. Fiio E17 would be a great starting piece, if you have the money to go for it.
     
  8. Jiehfeng
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    Jiehfeng A not so serious guy tbh... ;D

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    Seems pretty expensive. :o
    Will getting new speakers with a built in amplifier work? Cause the speakers I have are like $5 and it's an unknown chinese brand, that kind of stuff yeah.
     
  9. trumpet-205

    trumpet-205 Embrace the darkness within

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    For speakers (not headphone) the common inexpensive go-to amplifier for audiophile is Lepai LP-2020A+. You then pair that to a pair of passive bookshelf speakers.

    You can also go for some Creative desktop speakers.
     
  10. Jiehfeng
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    Jiehfeng A not so serious guy tbh... ;D

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    I mean like using speakers to amplify the sound so I can plug my headphones into them. Creative is good then?
     
  11. Costello

    Costello Headmaster

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    I have to ask... how can you not be satisfied with maximum output volume of your PC/speakers ?
    - do you watch movies that have really REALLY low sound (aka. bad rips/not normalized)
    - or do you work as DJ in a night club with tons of surrounding noise
    - or do you maybe have hearing problems

    If I turn on the volume at maximum on my speakers/headphones (no matter the brand) it comes out as super-duper-loud and breaks everyone and their dog's ears in the whole district

    I know I'm not being very helpful but you may look into tackling the problem rather than trying to find solutions to bypass it :/
     
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  12. Jiehfeng
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    Jiehfeng A not so serious guy tbh... ;D

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    Well I have used a fake beats before this sennheiser headphones and the volume was pretty loud. But when I switch to the sennheiser headphones, the volume seems more lower but higher quality.
    The volume isn't REALLY low, but it's just not to my taste when I listen to music (EDM, House etc.) and I'm pretty sure I don't have hearing problems. :P
    Reading different articles on the web regarding these situations, some people say maybe it's because the headphones aren't receiving enough power. This could really be the case since there's a big difference in volume when I connect it to my 3DS (really low) and my PC (okayish).

    Just curious, when you use your headphones, they're plugged in to your PC directly and you adjust your volume through the OS am I right? If so, I don't think the volume could be too big to break everyone's ears and their dog's ears. :P
     
  13. Originality

    Originality Chibi-neko

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    If I remember, those specific Sennheiser headphones have fairly shallow drivers with a flat profile that leaks lots of sound, which is why the audio may be quieter than earplugs or headphones with bigger drivers or closed designs to prevent sound leaking. Still, if a PC is set to maximum volume, I see no reason why they wouldn't be loud enough for the average user.

    Aside from that, I don't have anything useful to contribute. I went from Sennheiser 201s to Incase Sonix to BOSE QC15s. I also went from Corsair speakers to Logitech speakers, which don't have the problems a £5 speaker set would.
     
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  14. Jiehfeng
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    Jiehfeng A not so serious guy tbh... ;D

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    Oh I see. I guess getting another pair of headphones seems like the solution for me, preferably one with a lot of bass. Comparing these headphones to others, the volume is low, yeah.
    Which headphones would you recommend which is under $50?
     
  15. Tom Bombadildo

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    I forgot
    Unfortunately, cheap and good quality for headphones isn't so much a thing.

    I used to have Audio Technica ATH-M30's before I upgraded to M50's, and those had excellent sound quality.

    http://www.amazon.com/Audio-Technica-ATH-M30-Professional-Closed-back-Headphones/dp/B00007E7C8 < $62 on Amazon (US) but you should be able to find a pair for $50 or so elsewhere.

    A buddy of mine who is a huuuuge audiophile, bigger than I am, swears by these: http://www.amazon.com/Takstar-Monitor-Headphone-Gaming-Computer/dp/B009PIQUB6 Says they're the best headphones you can buy for $50. You could try those out.
     
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  16. codezer0

    codezer0 Gaming keeps me sane

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    Not just that, but sound cards that can use hardware acceleration also enable you to listen to more of what's going on in your music and games. This was definitely more of a big deal with older OS's and computer environments, like DOS, when a good MIDI decoder on a sound card was worth its weight in gold. But even now with faster systems, there is still a place for genuinely good audio capability that is oft ignored because so many seem to be tone deaf or just don't care. This might get a bit TL;DR, but it is important to this discussion.

    I can personally attest to how awful on-board sound is in an overwhelming majority of 'solutions' out there, in large part because they don't really accelerate anything. Even before the likes of Vista and forward, it was a problem. You see, just like Direct3D and OpenGL can ignore certain rendering paths and effects if the hardware can't physically support it, the same thing happens on DirectSound, EAX, and more currently, OpenAL. If the sound hardware isn't reporting itself capable of handling a sufficient amount of audio technologies to the OS, it will ignore such function calls from games and software that request them, or downgrade to the next available one. This might not be such a big deal anymore for those using say a set of speakers bundled with an OEM off the shelf system, or a $5 set of headphones, but it starts becoming much more noticeable if you start needing support for certain elements, such as supporting stuff like Dolby Digital for movie playback, or if you actually do have a good set of headphones or surround setup.

    Tom's hardware once did this article with respect to music and video playback on what had to be a pretty high end set of Sennheiser headphones across a variety of listeners with everything from a modern $2 on-board audio chip to a $2500 external DAC connected to the computer, testing a variety of sources. In that respect, while they did find that the sound quality was objectively the same across all solutions, what they did find was that the reason you spend more is to be able to support a wider variety of formats. Am I saying you need to spend $2500 for an external decoder to handle sound duties? Hell no. Even in their case, the only reason they had to justify doing such a thing is because the external decoder in question was the only thing to support some specialized and ultra-rare remasters on stuff like SACD's that were supported natively by that thing, but is so rare that none of the other solutions bothered. Now, if you do happen to have a bunch of these ultra-rare and ultra-high quality mastered music discs in your collection, and wanted a way to treat them the way they were intended to be listened to, yes... go for it. But that goes beyond the scope of what I'm getting at.

    For a gaming aspect, the reason you spend more on a sound card is as I explained before. With DirectSound, EAX, and more recently, OpenAL, they treated audio hardware limitations in the same way that Direct3D and OpenGL treated hardware limitations on your graphics hardware. If a piece of software being run was calling for some features that your hardware itself couldn't actually support, or didn't have the ability to do, then it will either downgrade to what is supported or just flat out ignore them. In the respects of a game, you get a sound card because in practice, none of the majority of on-board audio solutions really care to actually support much of anything, and especially don't have the corresponding software to really represent whatever true capabilities it might have. This is especially a problem with Windows Vista and newer, and here's why:

    Before Vista came along, DirectX's sound component (DirectSound), was very much aligned with EAX, which was mostly headed up by the likes of Creative Labs. Well, during the time of its dominance, Creative had this super weird patent restriction that basically kept everyone other than Creative from being able to support anything newer than EAX version 2, which at this point is as old as... Windows 98, if not older; all the while getting up to about EAX version 5 before making an "HD" version for supporting the advanced effects for various games that might call upon them. Given also their relative infamy in terms of driver software and you could see that there were many who reviled Creative's (legality?) dominance with the same hatred that some had toward Microsoft having such a dominance in the desktop market. Well, Microsoft did try to break this closed-source dominance with Windows Vista by decoupling the audio portion of its OS and with DirectX 10 dropping EAX as the dominant technology in favor of OpenAL. Score one for Microsoft being a good guy, right? Well, yes and no. You see, this also broke the ability for most sound cards out there to be able to do proper hardware acceleration for really any audio samples, so it almost rendered the majority of sound cards at the time relatively redundant in terms of being able to improve sound quality at all. Once again, however, it was Creative that was forthcoming with a solution, finding a way around the default behavior so that their drivers enabled hardware audio acceleration for their currently supported sound cards (X-Fi, at the time). They also noticed quickly that while OpenAL was all well and good, the majority of games at the time were still expecting an OS environment that still supported DirectSound/EAX and the like; in Vista, such an environment means that the game wouldn't understand that the system could support anything at all, and would drop to the lowest, base level of audio hardware support, often degrading the sound capabilities of a great many games. So along with getting a database out there for how to patch affected games to be supported through the new audio API, Creative also went and created this program called ALchemy, that is able to provide patching and interpreting of those old version calls into something that the newer Windows audio APIs can understand, and back. In a way that then supports both the current gen API but also enable their sound cards to be able to accelerate them in hardware. The older games are happy because they can now support all these cool features. Gamers are happy because they can then play the games without sounding awful again. Everyone (seems to) wins in that situation.

    Problem is that while this is a good solution, it limited itself to only their X-Fi cards at the time. And since then, their Recon3D based sound chips actually seemed like a step back because even though the chip itself in theory should be far more powerful, a lot of this support is broken in it. I'm not sure if the new Sound Blaster Z line really did remedy this, but it also doesn't excuse how the new chip supports less channels (5.1 as opposed to 7.1 on the X-Fi) and a lower SnR. Thankfully the new Audigy Fx/Rx cards seem to effectively be re-badged X-Fi cards getting current gen software support.

    Now, I am aware that since this all unfolded a few other companies did try to create their own interpretations of this kind of stuff, such as the Xonar line from Asus. I even did see some kind of software package that claims to do the same kind of thing as Creative's ALchemy. However, I have no first hand experience with it, so I can't comment on how effective it is, or if it too faces the same limitations as most third party cards did pre-OpenAL. It would be nice if indeed these competing sound and software packages were able to do just as well as the X-Fi/ALchemy set have come to do in my experience; I just don't know. Seeing that one doesn't upgrade sound cards nearly as frequently as one would with a video card.

    What I do know is that on-board audio chips all too often eschew support for anything other than what it says on the tin. Usually the most basic support for what it can connect in and out, and leaves the actual processing of sound to the CPU. As such they come across as the WinModems of our generation, and suck just as much if not more so because so many are misled by what it claims. To put it in perspective, the last onboard audio chip that I myself have heard from first hand and could actually say was a viable competitor to the sound cards of its time, was the SoundStorm that NVIDIA did... on the nForce2 for SocketA AMD chips. Nothing before, and nothing since, has impressed enough to compete. The problem is, most people are either tone deaf or can't really set aside the time to try out and truly hear the difference that a good sound card can make for, well... everything.
     
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  17. Jiehfeng
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    Jiehfeng A not so serious guy tbh... ;D

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    Thanks for the suggestions, I'll buy the audio technica next time.

    What a nice read. :D
    Well since there are specific features which only a soundcard can use for gaming, I might as well just give a under $100 card a try. Thanks.
     
  18. codezer0

    codezer0 Gaming keeps me sane

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    If I remember right, a SoundBlaster Rx fits the bill around $55 USD.
     
  19. Jiehfeng
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    Jiehfeng A not so serious guy tbh... ;D

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    What about the Asus DGX?
     
  20. codezer0

    codezer0 Gaming keeps me sane

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    The Xonar DGX seems to claim much of the same functionality I expect from the X-Fi, along with some dedicated Op-Amps and the like. While this is all well and good, what troubles me are the reports of their drivers. None have mentioned about the effect of the GX 2.5 software and how it compares to Creative's ALchemy, either.

    On paper it looks to be a valid competitor, but there also have been reviews about the annoying driver problems with Asus' sound cards in general, which troubles me. Then again, there were also the same thing with Creative sound cards and the only time I've had driver problems with a SoundBlaster was the one and only time I ever resigned myself to using a VIA chipset.