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Sound Card Advice - PC --> High-End Speakers

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 

I recently built a PC setup for all my home entertainment.  I use a 50" plasma TV for a monitor, have a blu-ray drive on the PC, but I mostly play games and listen to music (FLAC and mostly high-bitrate mp3), rather than watch movies, and I no longer even bother cable.

 

Currently, my audio is handled by my on-board Realtek ALC889 audio codec, which I send via optical output to a nice (though pre-HDMI) Denon 7.1 channel receiver.  Because I'm living in a small attic apartment (with slanted walls), I don't actually use my surround speakers, Rather, I just use a very good set of B&W stereo speakers and a subwoofer.  The total cost (new) of the receiver, speakers, and subwoofer was about $3600.  So, very good, but not absolute top-of-the-line stuff.  (I know I sound like a retard for having audio equipment like that while living in an attic apartment, but I'm a victim of divorce-based foreclosure.)

 

The Realtek audio is pretty good; way better than onboard audio on previous PCs.  Here are a few specs from the Realtek website:

Hardware Features

  • High performance DACs with 108dB signal-to-noise ratio (A-weighting)
  • High performance ADCs with 104dB signal-to-noise ratio (A-weighting).
  • Meets Microsoft WLP3.10 and future WLP audio requirements
  • Ten DAC channels support 16/20/24-bit PCM format for 7.1 sound playback, plus 2 channels of concurrent independent stereo sound output (multiple streaming) through the front panel output
  • Three stereo ADCs support 16/20/24-bit PCM format, multiple stereo recording
  • All DACs supports 44.1k/48k/88.2k/96k/176.4k/192kHz sample rate
  • All ADCs supports 44.1k/48k/88.2k/96k/176.4k/192kHz sample rate
  • Primary 16/20/24-bit SPDIF-OUT supports 32k/44.1k/48k/88.2k/96k/192kHz sample rate
  • Secondary 16/20/24-bit SPDIF-OUT supports 32k/44.1k/48k/88.2k/96k/192kHz sample rate
  • 16/20/24-bit SPDIF-IN supports 32k/44.1k/48k/96k/192kHz sample rate

 

What I need to know is, what's the real benefit of a sound card?  From a spec soundpoint, a $100 Creative xFi Extreme Gamer (109 dB S/N, but max 96kHz sample rate, though that's unlikely to matter) appear at least partly inferior to my onboard audio.  I mean, historically, a discrete sound card was immeasurably superior, but I'm not sure that's still the case.  I guess I don't doubt that at some level, a discrete card is superior, but how much do I have to spend to improve significantly upon what appears to be enormously capable on-board audio provided by the onboard Realtek ALC889?  Specific recommendations are welcome, though I should point out that much above $70, I'd also want to be getting good surround performance, as I won't be living in the attic aprtment forever.

 

post #2 of 4

While onboard sound has radically improved it is still not up to the best that is available from top discrete soundcards. With minor modding even the discrete soundcard can be quite radically improved apon. Not somthing that can easily be done with onboard sound.

post #3 of 4

Since your using digital optical output from your motherboard to the Denon receiver, I'm guessing your not even using on-board audio (Realtek).

Windows (PC) is just reading the music files (digital) off your hard drive and spending to the Denon

I'm not sure how much your Realtek is involved in game audio processing as newer PC games are coming more with their own audio processing engine (using the CPUs).

So spending money for an add-on sound card might just be wasting money.

post #4 of 4
Quote:

Originally Posted by Elladan View Post
 

Hardware Features

  • High performance DACs with 108dB signal-to-noise ratio (A-weighting)
  • High performance ADCs with 104dB signal-to-noise ratio (A-weighting).


Unfortunately, the actual implementations on motherboards are likely to be much worse.

 

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