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$50 Sound Cards Impress Versus Integrated Audio 245

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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  • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Friday August 10, 2012 @11:36PM (#40954539)

    there, done in one.

    cheap cmedia usb sound dongles (not all dongles are cmedia, in fact most are not so you have to shop carefully) and also the burr brown PCM series all do a decent job of converting 44 and 48k audio (including dvd audio downmixed to 2.0) to spdif.

    everyone's avr, today, has opto in. the sound card dongles send out usb audio over opto to spdif-in of your home stereo. if its 5.1 or newer, it will accept opto just fine. (aka toslink).

    nothing else to care about, pretty much. let your stereo (or DAC) do the heavy lifting. usb audio is the way to go (for future, use UAC2, usb audio class 2 which works fine with linux and some hacks on windows at 24bit and 192k, personally verified to be bit-perfect).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 10, 2012 @11:38PM (#40954547)
    I dumped my Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 for Realtek ALC888 and never looked back. I never heard such clarity until I went with this onboard chipset.

    Also, I tried to compare a $99 Razer Barracuda AC-1 with the ALC888, all I could make out is that the back channels get more bass than the front. I'm guessing there's a placebo effect in play here with the little DSP cards...
  • by ChrisMP1 ( 1130781 ) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @12:20AM (#40954747)

    The switching frequency is well above the limit for audio frequencies, and a good quality PSU will do plenty of filtering. USB to S/PDIF is good for a few reasons: 1) The signal is kept digital, and either differential, balanced or optical for as long as possible. This makes it hard to pick up noise. Digital-to-analog conversion should be done as late as possible because digital signals are very noise-tolerant. 2) Optical connections eliminate grounding issues (less of a problem if you obey #1, anyway). 3) S/PDIF equipment tends to be built to higher quality because it's considered somewhat "high-end" (or, at least, more than a cheap motherboard audio chip). 4) D-A conversion is done far away from the noisy CPU and data buses. It has nothing to do with the SMPS.

    You should hear the sound from the vacuum tube guitar amplifier I built. The high tension (300V) is generated by a crappy 50kHz switching boost converter I designed and built myself. The noise on the supply is absolutely awful - 1Vp-p even with only a light load. You can't hear it, though, because it's 50kHz. And that's really low frequency for a SMPS.

  • by Smauler ( 915644 ) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @12:22AM (#40954763)

    Many video cards now put audio out too - I've got an old DVI to HDMI cable from the back of mine, and it's spitting out audio happily.

  • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @12:24AM (#40954775)

    these days, i'm not sure ANY onboard sound forces a resample.

    soundcards 'offer' freqs to the sound system. back in the dinosaur days, they would offer only 48k and the o/s would have to resample.

    but xp and win7 all deal with 44/48 split just fine. linux always has.

    onboard audio (if its native spdif via jacks or headers) is usually bit perfect. its there to give 5.1 and even 7.1 digital out. the days of speaking 'only 48' ended 5yrs ago or more (I forget). a long time, at any rate (lol, any rate!)

  • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @12:32AM (#40954801)

    with some amps, though, they are very wideband and you don't WANT high freq garbage up there. some good phones amps go flat to 100khz and higher. they want to more than more than cover the audio range and they don't 'like' protection or LP filtering.

    so, that means you have to care. if you are a source box in front of their amp, you HAVE to care. just giving you some free advice.

    keep the high freq stuff out of the audio chain and the guy in the next stage will thank you.

  • by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @01:04AM (#40954887)

    they act as a sound device with only a digital out. some cards include a cable to wire to your sound board's spdif out instead. There are no analog components for the system noise to interfere with (barring egregious digital noise that creates too much jitter).

  • by lowlymarine ( 1172723 ) on Saturday August 11, 2012 @02:15AM (#40955113)
    The problem is that if you spend $700 on a video card today, you will get the same Vsync-capped performance you would have gotten out of a $350 card, and six years from now, as you suggest it should last, you would have a brick that can't handle anything remotely modern while the hypothetical other guy would only have a three-year-old $300 card that beats your $700 six-year-old card into the ground.

    Six years ago, the Core 2 Duo X6800 and GeForce 7950GX2 were the top-of-the-line parts, costing a grand and $700, respectively. Within two years, both were getting clobbered by parts that cost half as much. Today that $1700 combination wouldn't even be competitive with a $75 A6-3650.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11, 2012 @02:46AM (#40955221)

    Yes, you are missing advances from the 1990s. It turns out that humans react to sounds up to 100kHz, even though they can't "hear" them. Double blind A/B testing confirmed that people with healthy ears could tell the difference between a circuit limited at something like 25kHz and one with overtones up to 100kHz.

Heuristics are bug ridden by definition. If they didn't have bugs, then they'd be algorithms.