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In 2012, how "bad" are default laptop sound cards? - Page 2

post #16 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeaj View Post

There should be a lot more difference between different onboard solutions than between different high-end audio gear (of the type that's trying to deliver the cleanest sound, not those trying to intentionally do things differently).  Trying to group onboard into one category in terms of audio quality would be a gross and incorrect oversimplification.

I was just going to add this. I don't doubt that laptop/motherboard sound might be improving. But trying to generalize and make claims that it's all getting better is a mistake. Too many variations in components and build.
post #17 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post


I was just going to add this. I don't doubt that laptop/motherboard sound might be improving. But trying to generalize and make claims that it's all getting better is a mistake. Too many variations in components and build.


Uh -

 

Go shop for a motherboard, which I am told are today called "system boards". Audio Chipsets are dominated by a handful of companies like Realtek and Via. The chipsets are usually part of the "southbridge" and performance is generally standardized. So, while feature sets can vary quite a bit, it is definitely possible to talk about benchmark performance.

 

People used to have to buy soundcards just to achieve something approximating CD sound quality. Now, practically every computer can natively handle "HD" sources like multi-channel DVD, and my current chipset can handle Blu-Ray.

 

Now, does it spec "better" than multi-thousand dollar dedicated audio equipment, probably not. But there is a lot of multi-thousand dollar crap out there as well, and it is pretty damn hard to figure out who makes good honest gear and who is just marketing crap.

 

The computer audio world HAS gotten better, and will get even better, I assume, in the future. All that's left are better dedicated amplifiers, from my experience. The quality of playback is already very good considering it is just a piece of the system board.

post #18 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by skamp View Post

Onboard DACs, e.g. from Realtek, are pretty decent these days. They deliver fine 16 bit performance. There are two potential problems with them:
  • sometimes you can hear electronic noise coming from other electronics nearby; a USB DAC, or a better shielded soundcard, can fix that.
  • most of the time, the onboard headphone out has a very high output impedance (I measured my laptop's at 74Ω), which can lead to insufficient volume, wild frequency response variations with certain cans, and inexistant damping factor that can affect the quality of bass. The solution is to use a dedicated headphone amp with a very low output impedance (ideally near 0Ω).

Taking my laptop as an example, I would probably be perfectly happy with the onboard DAC and a decent headphone amp.

 

Thank you for this information.  I had been looking for this.

post #19 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by MrMateoHead View Post


Uh -

Go shop for a motherboard, which I am told are today called "system boards".

You mean like on Newegg? lol
Quote:
Originally Posted by MrMateoHead View Post

Audio Chipsets are dominated by a handful of companies like Realtek and Via.

They have "dominated" the industry for years, except for a stint when Nvidia's audio was popular.
Quote:
Originally Posted by MrMateoHead View Post

The chipsets are usually part of the "southbridge" and performance is generally standardized. So, while feature sets can vary quite a bit, it is definitely possible to talk about benchmark performance.

You need to go read mikeaj's post that I replied to before trying to school someone. It's not enough to talk about the chipsets since the rest of the build can influence audio quality. Meanwhile, there have been no giant improvements in audio chipsets in the last couple of years. So even focusing only on your argument, it's unlikely that 2012 is going to be that much better than the year before rolleyes.gif
post #20 of 41
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post


It's not enough to talk about the chipsets since the rest of the build can influence audio quality. Meanwhile, there have been no giant improvements in audio chipsets in the last couple of years. So even focusing only on your argument, it's unlikely that 2012 is going to be that much better than the year before rolleyes.gif


Not to mention the headphone combination. The amps used in these codecs are not really powerful (they have both voltage and current limitations), so its easier to notice the differences with any headphones that fall outside the goldilocks zone.

post #21 of 41

I am unsure about those statements, at least in the gaming department.

The thing is, i had gradual increments in quality for my PC and then after that on my laptop, and while i am unsure if its enchancements or real sound quality, i enjoyed more the more expensive equipment.

 

Personally i went from:

On board Asus SupremeFi (the older version with no X-fi chip) and some low end 5.1 speakers (woxter i think). Then i added a titanium X-fi, and on the spot me and my friend looked at each other like we were in a diffrent place (my friend did not know i changed the sound card).

 

Then i added logitech Z-5500, but better speakers are easy to notice.

On the side of Fiio E17 vs Laptop is something that got my interest since i was always using the Fiio E17 from the USB (so using it as a dac as well). Im going to check it from the 3.5 mm jack to see if the sound is similar or if the Fiio dac is actually better.

post #22 of 41

They're not as bad for distortion or signal-to-noise ratio as they were before, but if you want sound that isn't modified by the terrible audio drivers then you're out of luck. The only way I can get bit-perfect sound is using an ASIO wrapper and it actually made a noticable different (pathetic ALC898 realtek on-board). Also if you want features such as Dolby Headphone, decoders, ect. you don't have much of an option to use on-board. It's really just a better idea to get a cheap dedicated such as Sound Blaster X-Fi Extreme Audio or Asus Xonar DGX. Then again, this is my desktop computer which has the highest-end Realtek chip they make, so I wouldn't accept a cheap, average laptop on-board sound.


Edited by ToddTheMetalGod - 1/10/13 at 1:31am
post #23 of 41

Asus N56 ($1200, decent laptop, bought 2012; Realtek) headphone out vs my Little Dot MKIII amp + Little Dot Dac_1 = little difference. Bass is tightened with more punch but it is nothing night and day. Nothing that would warrant me to say that laptop onboard audio sucks. Laptop sound is better than my iPhone too.

 

However compared to my old laptop, a ****ty $500 Gateway (i3 processor) and an even older $500 Toshiba (old as hell, predating the i3/i5/i7 processors) it is SO much better. The headphone out was so bad that I always listened to music on my iPhone instead. 

 

 

 

In general, sound quality for me:

Amp+Dac>>Asus N56 (realtek)>iPhone>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Older or lower end laptop's audio.

 

 

 

Though, all this stuff is going to my Westone 4R IEMs, so it's not using my amp+dac to it's full potential. Sort of like putting high octane gas into a Honda Civic and expecting it to run faster, aye? I will update when my real (HE400) headphones finally arrive.

post #24 of 41
I have a few years old laptop with Realtek ALC883 and a PC with ALC889.

Their biggest weakness is uneven frequency response when driving headphones. Both have slightly elevated highs and seem to lack some very deep subbass, but we are talking <30Hz here so it doesn't matter very much in real music.

All in all, they don't really sound bad IMO. I have an STX in my PC, but the ALC883 doesn't bother me enough to carry some external box with the laptop.


I don't hear any noise, but honestly all my headphones have rather low sensitivity so maybe I'm not qualified to evaluate this.
post #25 of 41

Mostly I see those with older laptops and PCs experiencing bigger differences. 

post #26 of 41
I have an O2/ODAC, which if you believe the designer and innerfidelity, is pretty much reference grade kit, designed by objective measurements rather than by subjective audio/by-ear testing. So, in theory, a top notch DAC and a top-notch amp. For testing purposes I use the famous etymotics balanced armatures (HF2) which is very nearly reference grade as well (for that I would need their ER4P or whatever they call it, which are manually left and right volume matched), which are ultra-fast, super-flat and very sensitive, so super detailed.

I have the darndest time telling the O2/ODAC apart from my onboard/laptop sound card. The only difference I can tell is the tiniest, and I mean tiniest, bit of background noise on the soundcard. To really A/B I would need to have some kind of instant switch between the two, playing simultaneously and level matched (slight differences in volume can affect subjective judgement of audio quality). So ironically this is a subjective opinion. However, based on my experience, if I didn't have other needs then I wouldn't have bothered with the ODAC.

And it's not a 2012 laptop but a 2007. The chipset is SigmaTel STAC 9200. I've measured the output impedance and it is 0.5!!!! What does that mean? It means they haven't cut corners and the output is superiour to older ipods and most macs. I've also tried ringing with a mobile phone bang on top of the headphone-out and receiving a text: absolutely no interference (I was plugged in to my -35db isolation etymotics also with -35db ear defenders on top). That low output impedance is especially surprising. So many gadgets have it high, and that will result in flabby, boomy and rolled off bass, plus loss of highs in many instances. So not only subjective audio quality but, considering the lack of interference, superb engineering/implementation.

The laptop is a Dell D430. Small and nicely built. It's a business laptop. I've also used an older full sized business Dell and its audio was horrific and with no need to test so elaborately as above: it was instant trauma and long-term therapy. Later today I'm going to try out various of the computers and laptops where I am now and report back.

There's every possibility that I've just been lucky; Dell, for some bizarre reason, put a top spec audio chipset with excellent implementation in to this laptop. But without the ODAC/O2 how would I know. My suspicion, however, is that in better, modern motherboards, audio chipsets are a mature technology and effectively hifi. No external DAC needed (amping is another matter entirely).

I am acutely aware how difficult, without proper A/Bing, it is to judge audio except via expensive test equipment, and even then it is subjective (as above). On top of that is my own opinion that a slight degrading of audio quality can make all the difference to aural pleasure, especially with better headphones. Imagine a bit of ringing in the dac, a high output impedance in the amp/headphone-out, + phase issues. Subtle individually but cumulatively significant. And I want the best. This makes the whole issue slightly fraught (for me).

At the same time are the very mixed reviews of external DACs. Not only are they mixed but the darn things are expensive. Very expensive. I;m not at all convinced of external DACS in the main, So what to do?

Well, both subjectively, by popular appraisal both here and on amazon, and objectively (if the O2 designer's tests are to be trusted), the Sansa clip+ is very nearly hifi except for a bit of background noise (more than my dell). So, lacking reviews and objective measurements, I would suggest getting a cheap clip+ and a/b-ing candidate soundcards with that (and some etymotics). If you can't tell the difference then you (probably) don't need an external DAC to have something acceptably near hifi. Plonk in the cheap (also near-hifi) FII0 E5 and you can also correct for output impedance issues without having to get a multimeter and rig up a jack and 33Ohm resistor (plus have a half-decent amp in to the bargain).
post #27 of 41
I should add that both soundcard and ODAC were set to 24bit/44Khz sampling. Also audio files used were high resolution.
post #28 of 41
Thread Starter 

I don't even use fancy features like WASAPI or ASIO4ALL  I have in the past per recommendations of users here; but didn't notice a difference when listening to non "bit-perfect" implementations.  

 

I guess when it comes to computer audio, either I'm really easy to please, or I just don't know what I'm missing out on.

 

Edit:  to people who claim that their soundcards are faulty, I wish we could take a poll of what the soundcard is, which driver, what kind of files they're playing, what's their headphones etc.  Because.... lol,  I can understand "cutting corners" but some claims here have been outlandish


Edited by RMac - 1/10/13 at 5:54am
post #29 of 41

I didn't notice a difference with WASAPI, but I did with ASIO4ALL. I think it's because of the audio drivers for the ALC898 Realtek card I have, which are the latest for Windows 7 x64. I'm not sure if it's placebo but the clarity and detail seems a little improved. Either way it doesn't hurt to use it, the ASIO wrapper has to be superior to my current sound driver.

post #30 of 41

I don't like either. Makes me paranoid that I have the buffer on a non-optimal setting every time I hear a little pop. And given that  I listen to a lot of electronica that uses really old samples these pops aren't too uncommon.

 

At first I needed Wasapi to get rid of some aliasing problems with bass, but setting Windows sample rate to 44.1kHz fixed that problem.

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