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Old 01-19-08, 12:12 PM   #1
phantomcow2
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Decent sound card?

In anticipation of living in a dorm room next fall, I decided to buy headphones. I was frustrated with the quality (lack of) from my speakers, and decided that headphones would be an economical way to get good quality sound AND be considerate of future neighbors/roommates. Well these things offer a whole new listening experience. I am finding whole new layers in my music. It's like those "Claritin clear" commercials .
Now my friend, a true computer geek, tells me that I can get better sound and PC performance by switching to a dedicated sound card. He says that since I use onboard sound, it puts more of a drain on my CPU. If I was to switch to a dedicated sound card, I would free up CPU power. So I have a few questions:

1. Is it true that a dedicated sound card will free up my CPU any?
2. Currently I have onboard audio, it's Realtek ALC883. Will a sound card offer noticeable improvement?
3. Any recommendations for a sound card that offers a good compromise between performance and price?

I care about video/audio quality on my PC because this is the only thing I have to play CD's/DVD's. I don't have any other TV, and I don't like to use my parent's dedicated system.
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Old 01-19-08, 12:39 PM   #2
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I've always found a dedicated soundcard sounds waaaaay better than onboard sound (of course this varys from person to person and how attuned their hearing is). The average person won't be able to tell (or won't care) the difference between the two but most audiophiles and musicians will.

Creative Labs is the standard for sound cards. Their older Audigy cards can be had for about $30 while the current X-Fi cards are around $60-80.
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Old 01-19-08, 01:21 PM   #3
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My headphones are audio technica ATH-ANC7. So, I want something that will make them perform to their potential. No sense in spending a lot of money on a super sound card if the headphones cant make use of them. On the same token, there's no sense in me buying a POS sound card that wont give me my money's worth from these headphones.
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Old 01-19-08, 01:23 PM   #4
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x-fi...if you've got decent speakers
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Old 01-19-08, 02:21 PM   #5
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Creative's Audigy line, I have one myself, pretty awesome stuff. You got to have decent speakers or headphones to fully appreciate them.
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Old 01-19-08, 05:15 PM   #6
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I've always found a dedicated soundcard sounds waaaaay better than onboard sound (of course this varys from person to person and how attuned their hearing is). The average person won't be able to tell (or won't care) the difference between the two but most audiophiles and musicians will.
I would say that is very true. I can't tell. Never have been able to.

Likely the people using the high end stuff also hates mp3. They tend to migrate for Flac. My buddy could hear EVERY error and it drove me nuts, one day I googled the crap out of it, found flac, showed him what to do and he has never been happier...

I still can't tell
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Old 01-19-08, 05:55 PM   #7
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It's easy to tell if your onboard sound is ripping up your CPU.

Open up the CPU usage display and watch it for a bit then open up a mp3 on winamp. Watch it skyrocket for onboard solutions. Trying to get hi-fi audio out of computer equipment is a losing proposition. FLAC and a good cdplayer and maybe a good amp is all you need.
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Old 01-19-08, 07:10 PM   #8
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Wow, looking at the CPU usage display, I am shocked as to how much playing music draws. I encode all of my CD's in FLAC format. Even if I can't hear the difference, I like knowing the quality is there...even if I don't realize it. Also, it's a free format, and I support that. Just as if I had to choose a compression format, It would be Vorbis.
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Old 01-19-08, 08:41 PM   #9
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Wow, looking at the CPU usage display, I am shocked as to how much playing music draws. I encode all of my CD's in FLAC format. Even if I can't hear the difference, I like knowing the quality is there...even if I don't realize it. Also, it's a free format, and I support that. Just as if I had to choose a compression format, It would be Vorbis.
Looking at it on my computer, I'm bit surprised by how little of the CPU's capability it takes to play music...the usage goes up by a couple of percentage points.
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Old 01-19-08, 08:43 PM   #10
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Looking at it on my computer, I'm bit surprised by how little of the CPU's capability it takes to play music...the usage goes up by a couple of percentage points.
Are you using onboard or a seperate card?
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Old 01-19-08, 09:04 PM   #11
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I'm a big fan of Creative sound cards. I'm running Audigy cards for both my home and work systems. At home it goes through a MOS Pioneer amp which powers the Cambridge sound works Ensemble in the living room and Polk in wall speakers in the kitchen.

The whole house Rocks!
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Old 01-19-08, 09:23 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by phantomcow2 View Post
1. Is it true that a dedicated sound card will free up my CPU any?
2. Currently I have onboard audio, it's Realtek ALC883. Will a sound card offer noticeable improvement?
3. Any recommendations for a sound card that offers a good compromise between performance and price?
First of all, good move on the headphones. Definitely the most bang for your buck for sound and they're not merely useful for late night listening in the dorm room, but in computer labs, the library, etc.

1.) Perhaps on some low end motherboards, but not on any decently featured one. The sound processor is normally it's own chipset.

2.) Possibly, but not guaranteed. The nicer motherboards these days come with pretty good onboard sound as a standard feature. Of course, there's better cards out there with less noise and better clarity, but I can't hear any problems on my onboard card with fairly decent headphones and speakers.

3.) Hmm...I haven't been shopping lately. If you decide you want one, check newegg and read their reviews.

Personally, given the quality I get from my onboard sound, I'd rather spend the money on more CD's (or textbooks....yikes).

By the way, I have winamp 5 open right now playing .mp3 files at 192 kbps and it's running about 1% of the CPU on a Core 2 Duo.
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Old 01-19-08, 09:30 PM   #13
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I would say that is very true. I can't tell. Never have been able to.

Likely the people using the high end stuff also hates mp3. They tend to migrate for Flac. My buddy could hear EVERY error and it drove me nuts, one day I googled the crap out of it, found flac, showed him what to do and he has never been happier...

I still can't tell
I haven't tried Flac, but from what I've read, the sound resolution isn't really improved over MP3, it's just that it's a free standard (I was surprised to learn MP3 is not), and compression artifacts sound more like static than a wall between you and the music. Also, with MP3 files I found widely different quality results using different ripping software. DBpoweramp had terrible (in my opinion...I don't know if others would notice) noise, but Audiograbber is great. It's kind of weird because in both cases I'm using the LAME encoder plugin, but the output is different.

At some point, hopefully when the music-player market shows a preference for one format, I'll go through and re-rip everything to OGG or Flac.
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Old 01-20-08, 10:54 AM   #14
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Are you using onboard or a seperate card?
A separate card. I forget the specific model, but according to what my computer tells me, it's a "Creative Sound Blaster Live!" of some sort, bought in 2002.
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Old 01-20-08, 11:08 AM   #15
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Running Win XP? If so, any of the Creative Audigy or X-Fi series will give you a fantastic listening experience. Under Vista, Creative has yet to release a truly full featured driver set. Especially for the Audigy series, X-Fi has better support, but not everything is there yet. I've had the Audigy 2 for along time now and always been happy with it. Now that I'm in my apartment I don't have nearly the speaker setup I did at home and don't listen to as much music on the PC.
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Old 01-20-08, 03:09 PM   #16
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I'm running WinXP Pro x64. I wont have vista for a long time, hopefully a very long time. I only build my own computer, never buy. These headphones are going to be the primary listening means for several years to come.
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Old 01-20-08, 03:43 PM   #17
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I'm running WinXP Pro x64. I wont have vista for a long time, hopefully a very long time. I only build my own computer, never buy. These headphones are going to be the primary listening means for several years to come.
64bit XP? Humm, might want to research creative's driver status for that OS before dropping any coin.
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Old 01-20-08, 06:54 PM   #18
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I'm pretty sure that most upper end Creative products support XP and Vista 64 bit. XP Pro 64 bit is remarkably stable (its based on Windows Server 2003), and from what I know, its one of the best (best as in low latency) PC OSes to use for audio/video (assuming you disable unneeded services).
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Old 01-20-08, 07:58 PM   #19
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I've heard good things about cards from Turtle Beach http://turtlebeach.com/products/soundcards.aspx
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Old 01-20-08, 09:34 PM   #20
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THanks everybody. I am pretty sure that a high end product from a company like Creative will have support for xp 64 bit. I've not had any issues getting hardware to work with my 64 bit setup. Well, it does help that I've been using onboard everything . I wont be buying any soundcard for me soon, at least within the next month, because classes start next week. I've got to buy textbooks. However I'll be building a computer for my grandmother, and being a musician, she's already indicated that this will be a music machine, so quality sound is most important to her.
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Old 01-21-08, 08:44 AM   #21
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Yeah, and I thought Creative would be on board to have an Audigy 2 driver for Vista 32bit. I get sound, basic controls, but many of the advanced features of the board are non-functional as of the last driver update I got. DVD-audio, Dolby Digital, etc, etc.
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Old 01-28-08, 10:50 PM   #22
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Well having gotten some great deals on textbooks (international edition ), I decided to spring for a soundcard. I was so close to buying an X-Fi, but then I decided to not support a giant company. I ended up buying the Blue Gears "B-Enspirer". This card is loaded with features:
http://www.bgears.com/b-enspire.html

It's probably way the hell overkill, and I'm not even sure that my headphones will be able to keep up (or if my ears will be to). But it's good, I have room for expansion with this card, especially with all of those home theater features.
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Old 01-28-08, 11:35 PM   #23
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Looks like a good card. I was on a hunt a while back for a decent card with an optical In and optical Out for my wife. I think her needs no longer require one, but it's a good card to keep in mind if it ever comes up again.
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Old 01-29-08, 07:17 AM   #24
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Well it uses the same chip as the X-meridian, which is supposedly the holy grail of sound cards. I am a believer in supporting the small company whenever possible. So as little sense as it may make, the fact htat it was not Creative Labs was the deciding factor
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Old 01-29-08, 08:09 AM   #25
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The Creative card is pretty good. I have one. If you want a really high end card for recording, go for one made by M-Audio. Very high sample rates.
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