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Music Upgrades Hardware

Ode To Sound Blaster: Are Discrete Audio Cards Still Worth the Investment? 502

Posted by timothy
from the won't-fit-in-my-phone dept.
MojoKid (1002251) writes "Back in the day (which is a scientific measurement for anyone who used to walk to school during snowstorms, uphill, both ways), integrated audio solutions had trouble earning respect. Many enthusiasts considered a sound card an essential piece to the PC building puzzle. It's been 25 years since the first Sound Blaster card was introduced, a pretty remarkable feat considering the diminished reliance on discrete audio in PCs, in general. These days, the Sound Blaster ZxR is Creative's flagship audio solution for PC power users. It boasts a signal-to-noise (SNR) of 124dB that Creative claims is 89.1 times better than your motherboard's integrated audio solution. It also features a built-in headphone amplifier, beamforming microphone, a multi-core Sound Core3D audio processor, and various proprietary audio technologies. While gaming there is no significant performance impact or benefit when going from onboard audio to the Sound Blaster ZxR. However, the Sound Blaster ZxR produced higher-quality in-game sound effects and it also produces noticeably superior audio in music and movies, provided your speakers can keep up."
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Ode To Sound Blaster: Are Discrete Audio Cards Still Worth the Investment?

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  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RyuuzakiTetsuya (195424) <{taiki} {at} {cox.net}> on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:19PM (#47427155)

    Onboard sound is finally Good Enough*, and has been Good Enough* for a long time now.

    * YMMV, offer void in Tennessee.

    • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:24PM (#47427207) Homepage Journal
      The /. writeup sounds like audiophile wank to me. I would be surprised if this Soundblaster could justify its price in a proper double blind study on real world data (music, games, movies, etc...) vs. the built in audio on your mobo.
      • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by shadowrat (1069614) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:28PM (#47427261)
        The results of my study with a sample of 1 is: I can't tell the difference. I stopped buying discrete cards a long time ago.
        • Re:No. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by sumdumass (711423) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @05:03PM (#47427585) Journal

          I stopped buying high end discrete sound cards a long time ago. I still buy and use discrete cards when I build a system and sometimes when trouble shooting them though.

          It might be more out of habit since I started buying and building computers when sound was almost always an add on. On Board sound probably wasn't even invented then. One thing that always annoyed me was on board devices going south and not enough expansion slots to add a card in. This used to be common with on board sound and network devices. It's also so much easier pulling a card to trouble shoot hardware issues than turning one off in the bias and hoping it actually disabled the chip. I've seen some plug and play happenings turn the devices back on once the OS booted.

          I cannot tell a big difference in sound quality or CPU overhead any more either. But I guess habits are hard to break.

        • Re:No. (Score:5, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 10, 2014 @06:39PM (#47428179)

          Of course you can't tell the difference. You need the Monster cables to go with them!

      • Re:No. (Score:5, Funny)

        by Jahoda (2715225) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:31PM (#47427301) Homepage
        Which is ironic, because no audiophile would ever use gear from Creative Labs, ever, EVER.
        • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Mike Buddha (10734) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @05:08PM (#47427615)

          Soundblaster cards don't have the imaginary qualities audiophiles look for?

          • Re:No. (Score:5, Funny)

            by tomhath (637240) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @05:26PM (#47427743)
            Only if you use the gold plated cables.
          • Re:No. (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Technician (215283) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @06:05PM (#47427977)

            Many of the earlier SB cards were known for a fixed clock, regardless of what the software was set for. This limited clock rate was the issue of many complaints of those looking for full 20-20K without artifacts. Once this reputation was cast, the line was considered as consumer grade and not better. Same applied to bit depth. The driver would accept many settings beyond the 16 bit DAC. Other cards had higher clocks and bits, and testing for the card performance showed the true limits.

            Link below shows some of the real testing on this card beyond just golden ears. Look at the frequency output of noise and note what is NOT reproduced. Then scroll down a look at the extended frequency response of the cards in the test. SB hit a wall way before the competition.

            http://www.clarisonus.com/Rese... [clarisonus.com]

            • by wagnerrp (1305589)
              It looked like the SB card performed well within the 20-20K range, and unless you're looking to do further processing on the analog output from the card, anything more than that is unnecessary.
        • Creative Labs has that reputation, and they were dicks in general but funnily I had some real "audiophile" sound with Sound Blaster Live! and Audigy 1 cards.

          Creative drivers were shit and I was even once stranded - I needed to download a CD image from unofficial source to get sound under Windows, whereas finding and using the DOS driver took me minutes (!). But a russian guy made a great driver that always worked and is perfect if you only care about getting an output (so no EAX gaming shit) and even the la

      • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@NOspAm.world3.net> on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:38PM (#47427377) Homepage

        People who really care about audio quality don't buy Creative hardware anyway. That's for gamers. If you want sound quality there are many cards with cheap but excellent chipsets. Via Envy24 codes and Wolfson DACs are the preferred combination, and cards with them cost under a tenner.

        Much better to spend the money on better speakers or a headphone amp. If you really want high end sound get an external DAC.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by IronChef (164482)

          I am not sure even gamers need sound cards any more... at least not those who don't use headphones. I have a 7.1 movie surround system hooked to a PC, and the Windows itself magically mixes sound bits into the HDMI stream coming from my Nvidia GPU. In games, I get as many discrete sound channels as the game software supports, plus I can push most any kind of bitstream (including DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD) from media files.

          With a complete digital path, what does a sound card have to offer me? I guess AMD is ma

      • Re:No. (Score:5, Funny)

        by fustakrakich (1673220) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:42PM (#47427401) Journal

        Well, you do have to use Monster Cables, and Klipsch speakers in a soundproof isobaric chamber

        • Re:No. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Desler (1608317) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @06:20PM (#47428075)

          Why do you lump Klipsch in with Monster Cables? The founder of Klipsch is renown for debunking many crap claims made by many speaker makers similar to the nonsense claims that Monster makes. Perhaps you mean "No highs. No lows. It's Bose"? K-horns, for example, have always been solid speakers.

      • Re:No. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mjwalshe (1680392) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:47PM (#47427455)
        on-board tends to have problems with noise - a problem that an external shielded sound card massively reduces also pro or semi pro cards have better zero latency drivers.
        • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Guspaz (556486) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:55PM (#47427527)

          And those noise problems don't matter if you're using digital audio connections, say over HDMI or TOSLINK or S/PDIF. In fact, if you're doing digital audio over HDMI, you're not even using your onboard sound, you're using your videocard's sound output.

          Even then, the signal-to-noise ratios of onboard has been good enough for years now. Sure, you might notice a slight difference with a good pair of headphones, but in practice, not so much.

      • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by techno-vampire (666512) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @06:10PM (#47428001) Homepage
        I believe the word you want is "audiophule." You know, the type that claims that they can hear differences that an oscilloscope doesn't show?
    • Re:No. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by PIBM (588930) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:26PM (#47427243) Homepage

      Onboard sound is fine, but a lot of motherboard don't have support for creating dolby digital live output. In fact, I am currently in the market for a lowly priced card that would do just this. For once I could simply move my card to the next computer, no matter which motherboard it is.

      Is there a correctly priced (30$ perhaps ?) sound card that only do optical and coaxial output, with dolby digital live support ? We have very good surround received, I see no reason not to use those DAC and power amplifier with our nice speakers to get the sound out.

      No I don't want to use HDMI; the video feed cause problem, and my monitors are too high res for hdmi anyway (not 2.0, but they don't support it either).

    • by mlts (1038732)

      For gaming, things have been "good enough" going on almost a decade.

      For true studio work, I've not checked recently, but I think M Audio has a PCI interface card for a few C-Notes. I think things have shifted to AI (audio interface) cards anyway, as opposed to discrete sound cards like SoundBlaster successors.

      However, I wouldn't say SBs are pointless... for retro gaming, some games have better sounding music coming from the "primitive" FM synthesis at that time.

    • No (Score:4, Interesting)

      by goldcd (587052) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @05:27PM (#47427755) Homepage
      I was once horrifically stung (what I realize was a very long time ago) with an Abit "audiomax" soundcard that came with my motherboard. Quite horrific interference amongst the many problems. In a fit of pique I bought an Asus Xonar that solved all my problems immediately.

      Since then, I've been through a few motherboards, but plugged that Xonar in, and it's definitely 'better'

      Now if I didn't have that Xonar, then I'd be as happy as the proverbial Larry with my on-board sound I can get today. On-board sound is quite definitely 'good enough' now, but seems a shame for people not to realize (if they care) they can make it a great deal better for a pretty low price.

      And, I've carried this card with me for quite a while as my GPUs have come and gone. The price I've paid for my slightly better sound is now practically nothing per year.

      I think people still care about sound, but it's just another check-box on your slightly more pimped mobo - in much the same way as a I got a deluxe board with an Intel network adaptor in addition to the Realtek.

      It doesn't really matter that much, I don't expect most people to care, but to say that on-board is good enough for all simply isn't true.

      My current on-board is wired to my desk speakers for the day to day stuff I want to listen to, and the Xonar is connected to my silly-number-of-speakers gaming headset.
    • Some onboard sound is noisy through the analog outputs, although I guess it's only really noticeable in headphones. For normal PC speaker e-mail notifications and whatnot, it doesn't matter.

      But luckily, most motherboards have S/PDIF outputs via coax and/or TOSLINK that allow you to connect to an external DAC (like the ~$40 FiiO D3) or a reciever with digital inputs. Some all-in-one PCs and laptops (all Macbooks IIRC) have a combined headphone output and mini-TOSLINK jack, but even if they don't, you can do

  • by fishwallop (792972) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:21PM (#47427167)
    And past this post, no further information from Slashdot ever reached my location.
  • by Hamsterdan (815291) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:24PM (#47427201)

    Yes, a discrete card might have *better* specs (especially analog components, which was a problem on older integrated soundcards), but I haven't felt the need to use a discrete card since my nForce 2 board (Soundstorm).

    Besides, it saves me from using Creative's bloatware.

  • Surely, It Depends (Score:5, Informative)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:24PM (#47427209) Homepage Journal

    For the average user, onboard is just fine.

    For a power user (gamer/developer), onboard is probably good enough.

    If you're an audio pro and/or you're building a semi/professional audio rig, onboard isn't going to cut it 99% of the time.

    FWIW, plug in sound cards are actually more common than a lot of people think, because a lot of people seem to think that if it doesn't go into a PCI slot, it's not a sound card.

    The Rocksmith cable, with its built-in discrete audio unit, is a prime example, one that I use almost daily.

  • I love the fact that discrete sound cards exist. It makes it a lot easier to not order one, so that my PC doesn't assail my ears every time some obnoxious video starts auto-playing after I open up a window.
    • by jandrese (485)
      Why not just turn off your speakers? Every mobo comes with built-in audio these days anyway, doesn't mean you have to plug anything in to it.
  • by buback (144189) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:26PM (#47427231)

    I'm still bitter about Aureal.

  • For most of us, no. Onboard sound is great and getting better all the time. If you're an audiophile or using your system to do professional mixing or music then it is worth it.

    • For most of us, no. Onboard sound is great and getting better all the time. If you're an audiophile or using your system to do professional mixing or music then it is worth it.

      Even then, you're not going to be using a PCI Soundblaster card, but rather a purpose-built audio interface device. And you sure as hell won't be buying it from Creative. At least, not if you care about your sound.

    • by Nemyst (1383049)
      If you're an audiophile, you're probably using USB audio or S/PDIF, which don't need a discrete sound card, paired with an external DAC worth many times the price of a Creative soundcard and without the extraneous bells and whistles. If you're a gamer, you're on a headset, often again USB. If you're an average user, your speakers are too crappy to notice the difference.

      As far as I can tell, the only use case that truly benefits from a discrete card is 5.1+ surround systems which support the latest Dolby/D
  • Back in the day? (Score:5, Informative)

    by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:27PM (#47427259)

    Back in the day, integrated audio solutions had trouble earning respect.

    No.

    Back in the day, integrated audio was the frickin' PC speaker that could only produce one square wave at a time with no volume control whatsoever, apart from software 'hacks'.

    And Creative Labs were far from the first ones, learn a bit of history [crossfire-designs.de] and get off my lawn.

  • by uncqual (836337) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:29PM (#47427283)

    People who know and value quality audio are willing to buy discrete audio cards even though it costs them more money.

    However, they don't realize that the improvement they see is because they are also willing to pay more money for quality cables. It's the solid gold Monster Cables that they buy because the salesperson at Fry's recommends them that is really the source of the improved audio quality.

    • by gnu-sucks (561404)

      I'll bite.

      The cables do not make a difference. Considering the level of thermal noise and the difference between, say, 30 AWG wire and 16 AWG "monster cable" (we're talking about low-level shielded cable, right), the monster cable "difference" is below thermal noise.

      If you are "hearing" the difference with better cables, you are most likely hearing the money and not the electrons. Not to say that there aren't such a thing as sub-par cables, but monster cable vs OEM pc cable, for consumer-line-level, please.

    • Woah, watch your step around this post, ladies and gents; my Sarcasm Detector is going off the charts!

  • by ZorinLynx (31751) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:30PM (#47427293) Homepage

    Any money spent on a sound card is better off spent on speakers and a good DAC, which often come together.

    High end sound systems and speaker systems these days have digital inputs, thus an onboard DAC. If you're using a digital output on your motherboard to connect to a digital input on the speaker, the onboard sound card has ZERO effect on the quality of the audio. The bits are traveling directly, unmolested from the application generating them to the amplifiers in the speakers.

    Now, if you have audiophile-type equipment that uses analog inputs, then YES, the analog sound you feed into those inputs needs to come from a high quality DAC. High end sound cards tend to have good DACs, but you can get the same effect by using an outboard DAC, which has a digital input and analog outputs, and is also AWAY from your PC, so your analog audio is less likely to be affected by interference from the motherboard or power supply.

    You can get DACs with USB inputs, but USB adds latency so is best avoided for gaming. For music, go to town with a USB DAC; it won't matter there.

    The gist of it is, the most important component is the DAC. The DAC completely determines the quality. Everything else is just hype. :)

    • by toejam13 (958243)

      As somebody who has been using an external DAC since the late 1990s, I'm getting a kick out of this response.

      I'm actually surprised that inexpensive modern motherboards still include a DAC. You'd think it would all be coaxial SPDIF and HDMI output at this point. The freebie headsets I get when enrolling in online classes are all USB these days. Less and less seems to rely on analog outputs.

  • After many problems with sound cards, sound cards drivers and video drivers, I removed sound hardware from my PC.
    I use the HDMI output of my video card, connected to an Audio Video amplifier and that's all. 5.1 when needed, in games or VLC.

    • Agreed. It's just too bad that, AFAIK, there isn't great CEC support on desktop/laptop computers -- though this could be an outdated observation. Of course, the $35 Raspberry Pi supports HDMI CEC very well.
  • by Zarquon (1778) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:32PM (#47427311)

    ...but discrete soundcards, especially external ones, are still alive and well if you record. The noise floor of internal sound cards hasn't gotten that much better (a PC is very noisy RF environment), and if you need mic preamps, quarter inch jacks, optical in, etc, they generally don't fit on a PCI card or laptop.

    But for general gaming or home theater use? Nope. Send the audio out over the HDMI out, or SPDIF for DVI/VGA rigs, and let the amp sort it out.

    -R C

    • by thegarbz (1787294) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @05:10PM (#47427629)

      But for general gaming or home theater use? Nope. Send the audio out over the HDMI out, or SPDIF for DVI/VGA rigs, and let the amp sort it out.

      This right here is a key point. Many people now don't rely on their PC to actually do any audio, just send the data somewhere else. Many hifi rigs are hooked up into digital inputs, many TVs and computer displays will support HDMI audio and do the conversion in the device. In some cases like mine people even opt for external streaming devices like a Roku to get music though that doesn't work for generic sound.

    • It is easy to make good DACs these days. Basically any DAC, barring a messed up implementation, is likely to sound sonically transparent to any other in a normal system. When you look at the other limiting factors (amp, noise in the room, speaker response, room reflections, etc) you find that their noise and distortion are just way below audibility. Ya, maybe if you have a really nice setup with a quiet treated room, good amps, and have it set for reference (105dB peak) levels you start to need something be

  • I use the motherboard audio to plug my headphones into. However, the volume for headphones is never high enough even with the volume control maxed out in Windows. Would a separate audio card fix this problem?
    • I use the motherboard audio to plug my headphones into. However, the volume for headphones is never high enough even with the volume control maxed out in Windows. Would a separate audio card fix this problem?

      Maybe.

      Higher quality headphones, specifically ones that have their own amp, would probably work better, though.

    • Yes. Get one with an inbuilt headphone amplifier. The Asus Xonar DG and its PCI-E sibling are dirt cheap, and yet provide a great headphone amp. Give them a try!
  • Onboard D/A for WAV, MP3, Movies, etc are generally good enough if the noise level is low enough. The biggest difference is in the on board synth. Playing games uses MIDI and the sound card produces the sounds. There are 2 versions. Hardware and software.

    Hardware had an on board synth. It can be as simple as an 8 bit video game or as complex as full wavetable sampled sounds. An onboard hardware synth will sound the same on Linux or Windows. If the wavetable synth is XG compatible or similar, the soun

  • If you really want low noise (perhaps you dislike noise or are planning to amplify the sound to very loud levels), you do not want a sound card inside a PC case powered by a PCI bus. Forget it.

    Look for something that runs over USB with its own power supply. Or get an external DAC that takes SPDIF or TOSLINK from a motherboard -- motherboard digital outputs are just fine of course.

    If you are really (or ever did) considering plopping down hundreds for a PCI sound card.... sorry, you bought in to the marketing

  • by Chelloveck (14643) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:42PM (#47427407) Homepage
    I can't wait to buy a shiny new Sound Blaster ZxR so I can get that noticeably superior audio. It'll be great for my collection of 128 Kbps MP3s!
    • I can't wait to buy a shiny new Sound Blaster ZxR so I can get that noticeably superior audio.

      It's important to note that in order to truly experience the noticeably superior audio from a Soundblaster ZxR you need to pair it with an appropriate Purity Audio Ultra GT preamp (retail $53,000), WAVAC SH-833 monoblocs ($350,000 each, you'll need two sets) driving Moon Audio Titan 2's ($510,000 each), with the equipment on an NTT Audiolab RC4 stand ($18,000) and Walker Audio speaker cables ($13,500 a pair, you'll need two pairs because you're bi-amping) alongside a PurePower 2000 power conditioner ($2,800

  • Usb adapters replaced pci cards for us die hard users. Why wouldn't I want a audio solution for both my laptop and desktop.
  • by xlsior (524145) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:43PM (#47427419) Homepage
    "back in the day" the main selling point of a "good" soundcard, was compatibility. Under Dr, each and every game had to reinvent the wheel and communicate directly with the soundcard. Unless you had one of major 'good' cards (Soundblaster, Gravis ultrasound, and one or two others) old games wouldn't have sound at all. When Windows became the norm, the hardware communication was abstracted hough the windows driver - as long as Windows support the card, a game could use it. Combined with dirt-cheap integrated cards in most motherboards, there's very little need for discrete audio for non-professional use anymore. We've reached "good enough" 15+ years ago.
  • by ndykman (659315) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @04:44PM (#47427423)

    There are plenty of external boxes that allow for more options for recording and output at that price range. There's are good 2x2 boxes out there for less even.

    If you are working in audio, you are using different kit. If you are an audiophile, you are probably just using the digital output into an amp anyway.

  • I had the optical output on my motherboard run into my home theater receiver in the living room (where the computer was too). After 3 years of the PC always being on and the optical LED being lit, the LED brightness had diminished (yes, this happens) to a point where it could not signal reliably over the cheap 30 foot optical cable I was using (I did a lot of troubleshooting). To remedy the problem I bought the cheapest sound card I could find with an optical output. That solved the problem.

    I have since

  • My Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro 7.1 surround 24-bit 192KHz with an external breakout box (1/4" MIC, optical, etc.) has now been in 3 systems and is still going strong. I'm running Windows 8.1 using the DanielK drivers. It's PCI, so as long as I can buy a modern motherboard with a single PCI slot, I'm golden. In my opinion, is is one of the last great Creative Labs discrete sound cards.

    I tried switching to the on-board sound in my latest build but I prefer the sound from the Audigy. My current m

  • My old, circa 2008 Gateway machine wouldn't let me record the audio stream (aka, "What You Hear") with the onboard audio, had to install a discrete card to get that capability.

    That's about the only useful thing I've done with a PCI sound card in the past decade.

  • I know that the headphone output on my new Lenovo laptop at work is horrible. No dynamic range and I am not that picky.

  • by gman003 (1693318) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @05:59PM (#47427931)

    Which integrated audio is it comparing to?

    Let's use Realtek as an example, because they're a very common one. They have a variety of chips, ranging from the ALC231 to the ALC1150,

    The ALC231 is rubbish. Four output channels (two stereo outputs), four input channels, and a 97dB SNR on output. But even that is probably enough for most users.

    A good "middle-end" chip is the ALC861. That brings you up to 7.1 audio out, and a pile of sound-processing features (EAX, A3D, all that - including Creative's own standards). You still only have a 90dB SNR, but on a clean line that's tolerable. And it's cheap enough to be seen on sub-$150 motherboards.

    Their top-end ALC1150 is basically the same, adding a few more output channels for some reason, a second ADC, and a 115dB SNR. That puts you above the low-end SoundBlasters, and within spitting distance of the high-end ones. On an integrated chipset. For anyone not doing professional audio work, that's probably enough. And you can find it on motherboards that cost less than this discrete card alone - sometimes even with advanced features like swappable op-amps.

    It gets worse, because the main advantage of a discrete card is the SNR. Problem is, S/PDIF over TOSLINK is becoming a more common feature. And that means your computer's DAC doesn't matter - it's done on the sound system itself. Line noise isn't an issue, because it's fiber-optic. Every single Realtek chip I looked at supported this - probably not every implementation does, but it's something that doesn't cost the manufacturer any more than the cost of the connectors. That's another blow against them.

    This isn't like video cards, where integrated can handle light users but any remotely intensive task requires at least a low-end discrete card. Probably not even one in a thousand users will need a discrete sound card - the ones who need more than the low-end integrated chips, like gamers, will be buying mobos that already have a higher-end audio chip.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @05:59PM (#47427933) Homepage Journal

    No, not if you are a consumer of sound.

    If you are a creator of sound, or music, then discrete audio hardware is a must. But you all knew that already. You cannot create music on the audio hardware that comes onboard a PC or Mac.

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @06:13PM (#47428023) Journal

    a) most peoples' computers are making so much noise (fans, etc) that the only way you're going to have a chance to hear the difference will be with $1000 totally-closed cup headphones - do a lot of people have them on their computer?
    b) otherwise, even if their PC is silent, their speakers are usually craptastic 3" logitechs, *maybe* with a cheapo sub buried in the shag carpet (ie a somewhat sub-optimal listening environment)
    c) finally, last time I checked *most* people are listening to relatively crappy lossy mp3s ripped from youtube videos. It really, truly, doesn't matter how lovely a board you're sending crap sound data through: GIGO.

    So I guess these boards are still relevant to the microniche of audiophile enthusiasts that have a nearly-silent PC and hardware, floor-scale speakers connected to their system (or 4-digit $ headphones), and who listen to audiophile-caliber audio....meaning nearly nobody.

    That might explain why Creative Labs stock ($36.63 in March 2000) is $1.78 today.

  • by davydagger (2566757) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @06:20PM (#47428073)
    If in addition to playing sound it had general purpose sound cards for audio proccessing and transcoding (lets say HW ogg, flac, opus, mp3, aac, etc..) exposed to the OS, it would be worth it.

    Or mabey if it had a built in amplifier, with vaccuum tubes, or a XLR or 1/4 inch inputs/outputs you could jack it dirrectly into a guitar or amplifer.
  • by machine321 (458769) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @06:39PM (#47428177)

    With the amount of porn I consume, a discreet audio card is critical.

  • by duke_cheetah2003 (862933) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @08:05PM (#47428599) Homepage

    As someone who's been on the audiophile ride from the early days of strange use of the PC speaker, and the first FM synthesis boards, I can say honestly say, a few things happened that made discrete audio hardware obsolete:

    1. a basic DSP became widely available, to do audio processing
    2. storage became vast enough, combined with audio compression, it made more sense to just pre-record all your audio effects and music and play them back through a basic DSP. I seen this shift in games through the years, from old school methods of creating sound effects and music with code, to just playing audio files included with your game.
    3. the general purpose CPU became powerful enough to do any complex signal processing and simply use the basic DSP to output the results of the processing.

    Basically, in my opinion, specialize hardware is useless in the face of vast storage and general purpose CPU processing. So a basic DSP is all ya gunna need and that's what basically every PC comes with, standard now.

  • by RedMage (136286) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @09:13PM (#47428887) Homepage

    Integrated audio isn't good enough, isn't great, and isn't for me. I have a pro-level sound studio, and there's no way your going to tell me that the noisy environment that is the system motherboard is going to give me results I can be proud of. Not even for gaming, thanks.

    Discreet card? Ok, maybe, but generally you need to jump up to RME or some such before you can really call it good. I have a an RME RayDAT - This means that that all my AD and DA happens somewhere else, and not in the computer. It all goes digital over ADAT to my mixer (a Yamaha DM2000) where the conversion happens. Or it goes digital over ethernet (audinate Dante) to an X32, again where the conversion happens.

    There are a ton of good external boxes to handle sound - some quite reasonable. Stay away from the onboard and cheap USB sound dongles. If you have the speakers to handle it, then why put up with bad sound?

  • by O('_')O_Bush (1162487) on Thursday July 10, 2014 @10:12PM (#47429091)
    Quality wise, I think there are minor gains. The biggest gains come from being able to drive nice/high quality headphones at the correct power levels so they sound as they should. Some motherboards can't supply enough power and the headphones sound... gross... because of it.

    Also, you can gain a few FPS in some games by offloading the audio magic onto a card rather than do it on the CPU.

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