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$50 Sound Cards Impress Versus Integrated Audio 245

Posted by timothy
from the sounds-like dept.
crookedvulture writes "Most PCs have audio integrated right on the motherboard. There's much to be gained from upgrading to a discrete sound card, though. This look at a couple of sub-$50 sound cards from Asus explores what can be found at the budget end of the spectrum. In blind listening tests, both cards produced better sound than an integrated solution. They also offered superior signal quality, but neither had an impact on gaming performance. The days of hardware-accelerated game audio seem to be behind us, with developers handling positional audio processing in software."
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$50 Sound Cards Impress Versus Integrated Audio

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  • $50? Try a $250. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by X0563511 (793323) on Friday August 10, 2012 @11:43PM (#40954577) Homepage Journal

    I have this for studio purposes [m-audio.com], but this thing sounds beautiful.

    If I chose to, 96khz 24-bit. 2-in, 2-out, SPDIF support if I chose to use it. (technically 4 in 4 out, but that's mono.)

  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Friday August 10, 2012 @11:54PM (#40954629)

    a DIY I wrote on how to open up a cm102 (cmedia usb audio dongle) and find the 3 solder pads you need to connect in your own toslink (TOTX) opto transmitter for your home stereo:

    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4086/5052505190_07d7ec5903_b.jpg [flickr.com]

    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4148/5052506250_c71b26586a_b.jpg [flickr.com]

    it was just that simple. there was already an onboard cheap-o toslink sender but I prefer the standard square block style.

    the TOTX part is a dollar or so at digikey or mouser (suppliers). the usb dongle is $15 or less, often much less. make sure its cmedia and cm102. it will work very well then.

    usb powers it and you know its working when you get the red light out of the toslink end ;)

    I'm not sure it passes dts or dolby digital but its fine for 44.1 cd audio (and mp3) as well as 48k dvd downmix to stereo 2.0

  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Friday August 10, 2012 @11:59PM (#40954649)

    atx supplies are switchers. switchers are HORRIBLE.

    you have to do a lot of filtering to make switching supplies sound good in audio. most good audio companies go out of their way to use analog (linear) regulator style supplies.

    once you get noise in at very high freq's, its very hard to kill that later. really.

    one reason usb to spdfi 'wins' is that the digital power supply matters very little and there is no analog signal to care about until your stereo/amp.

  • by Smauler (915644) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @12:15AM (#40954733)

    Where do graphics cards that pump audio out fit in here? I only noticed my card (gtx460) was putting out sound when I changed my monitor to my TV, didn't connect the sound, and it made me jump out of my skin.

    I've since just used the dvi-hdmi cable for everything - not bothered with the motherboard sound.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @12:57AM (#40954865)

    These are not audio people and did not have an audio-expert look at their write-up. Why. They got the very well known very-low-cost / not-very-good audio OpAmp NE5532 P wrong as NE55329. No audio-expert would make that mistake. It is not a number, it is an identity that experts immediately recognize.

    I have to say that this puts a big question-mark on the whole test for me.

  • by ChrisMP1 (1130781) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @12:59AM (#40954871)

    Well, yes, that is true, it can be bad to drive a big amplifier with high frequency noise. Very bad, in fact - the excess load can do anything from distorting the output to causing extra heat dissipation and killing the transistors. (My guitar amplifier was meant to drive a speaker directly, and it had a low-pass filter between the gain and output stages. The tube was just for the clipping distortion sound; the output stage was a BJT class AB push-pull with a much cleaner power supply.) I was talking more in the context of this article, though - most people who own an amplifier with flat response to 100kHz are not going to be bothering with $50 sound cards, or for that matter even considering integrated audio.

    Though, a couple questions (despite some vacuum tube stuff, audio is only a minor interest for me) - 1) What exactly do you mean by "don't like LP filtering"? I can't imagine how a low-pass filter could cause a problem in this case, especially if you just attenuate about 20-30kHz and up. 2) WHY do people even bother with an amplifier that has flat response to 100kHz?? That seems a bit excessive, unless you're playing music for your pet bat... Is there an advantage I'm not aware of?

  • by MrL0G1C (867445) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @07:04AM (#40955923) Journal

    Their analysis of the RightMark audio benchmarks are also complete fail, they do not seem to either understand the Decibel scale / they can't read a graph / they don't understand the limits of human hearing or how Psychoacoustics fit in with the graph.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychoacoustics [wikipedia.org]

    For instance:

    check out the Xonar DGX in the frequency response plot. Again, it starts dropping at lower frequencies than the competition

    A less than 1/2 a Hz difference in a 10,000Hz frequency is not going to be audible, stupid people.

    And:

    Also worth noting: the higher noise and distortion exhibited by the integrated audio in several of the graphs.

    The only way you'd actually hear any of the noise is if your amp+speakers where out-putting at ~150Db but not playing any sound (noise only), unlikely I think.

    As for the distortion level, it's far too small to be humanly perceptible.

  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @10:21AM (#40956897)

    distance generally won't matter MUCH on toslink cables.

    yes, jitter matters but only at very high end. your avr system, even if its a $2k monster, is still never going to be 'good enough' to care about picosecond level jitter in the spdif stream.

    toslink does blur the digital audio and it changes timing slightly, randomly. that's jitter.

    shorter cables do less damage.

    at least on plastic toslink, there's no concept of reflections. back-energy does not happen on toslink. but it DOES happen on coax/spdif. shorter does matter here. think of it this way: you send a signal to the far end of the coax (again, not opto, but coax) and it sends most of its energy there but reflects back some. that takes some time to travel along the cable back to the start. it then bounces back again, along with new energy from the last pulse of the transmitter. this goes back and forth and blurs the 'location' or timing of the 1's and 0's.

    now, if your DAC system fully and completely locally (!) reclocks, you are fine. if not and if it DEPENDS on the timing of each and every 1 and 0, it would 'dump out' the 16bit audio word at the wrong time since one of those 'clock edges' was off by a bit, due to the reflection blur. it happens but its test-equip level, not 'wow, that sounds horrible' level. very subtle but once you have $10k-class spkrs (etc) you CAN hear blurring of the timing.

    long answer: but in real world, you don't care about cable length in digital audio. best to stay 6' or 10' or less. if you go farther, you MAY want to consider a bridge (like data link bridge; fully receives spdif stream then recreates it via a receiver/transmitter combo; not a repeater but a full recieve, digest, regurg, retransmit pair of rx/tx chips).

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