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What should I know before buying a soundcard?

Discussion in 'How to: Building a PC, Modding, Overclocking' started by Gigorga, Sep 2, 2009.

  1. Gigorga

    Gigorga Dedicated Member

    Yeah.. back to upgrading my beast :whistling

    Ive read that there are 3 types of sound cards for 3 different things

    Gaming, Music, and movies.

    I'm looking forward to get a gaming one.

    But what should I look for in a sound card? I have never bothered with sound cards at all, and I think its time for me to learn.

    I also read that it takes less "stress" off your cpu or something....

    I have to go to bed now :( -yay school..- :hang:
    1 person likes this.
  2. Digerati

    Digerati Super Moderator Techie7 Moderator

    I think that is marketing hype. Basically there are two types of cards, one for professional audio engineers and musicians, and the other for everyone else. Most motherboards today have sound integrated into the motherboard. Most are perfectly adequate for most gamers, music and movie listeners. This is because the speaker systems (which are all self-powered with the necessary amplification electronics) play the greatest role in reproducing recorded sounds accurately.

    Better motherboards have better on-board audio where entry level boards are great for normal Windows sounds, listening to Internet Radio, and an occasional DVD. If you are integrating this PC into a home theater system with decent speakers, then you might want to consider upgrading to a decent card.
  3. Gigorga

    Gigorga Dedicated Member

    Yeah.. Realtek HD audio here. My mother board isn't the best.. Sound is quite nice.. But Im planning to set up my surround sound, for epic gaming.
  4. Kaistar

    Kaistar Dedicated Member

    Like Dig said, there really are just two types.

    But if you're talking about surround sound... I recently did some reading on it since I considered that so perhaps I can help you out a bit on that front.

    First of all the first thing you want to decide is if you want to go Digital Surround Sound, or Analog Surround Sound.

    Some motherboards offer a digital output port and some sound cards do as well. They're usually a small black hole that can't fit the standard audio jacks. From what I've read these usually have better quality but you'll want to run through an amplifier prior to connecting your speakers to it.

    Or, if you get specific cards that are using the C-Media CMI8870 audio chipsets. Apparently they have some built in real-time processing capabilities that other chipsets do not have, or do not fully support.

    Oh, digital surround support is usually known as SPDIF.

    Or you can go Analog Surround Sound which is what most new motherboards have as well. I think they're... 5 audio jacks at the back? Left+Right, Center, Rear Left, Rear Right and Subwoofer or something along those lines. Those are much cheaper and much simpler, but of course the quality is also different.

    It depends on your budget really. Keep in mind I did some reading but in the end decided against it because the SPDIF sound cards with C-Media CMI8770 audio chipsets are quite expensive. And speakers that have direct SPDIF in/out are also costly.

    If you want to save money and yet have good surround for epic gaming... You might want to consider surround sound headphones. I've heard of some good ones in the past but I can't really remember them now.

    Surround sound headphones also take out the possibility of disturbing neighbours and such if that's a concern.

    Right now I'm just using Cyber Acoustics CA3550RB and even with my woofer set to lowest (it's got a strong woofer) my housemate can hear the "thump" in his room. Thankfully he's an easy going dude.

    C-Media CMI8770 on Newegg
  5. Digerati

    Digerati Super Moderator Techie7 Moderator

    Many motherboards ofter 5.1 or even 7.1 surround sound. They typical use "auto-sensing" ports that sense if you are inserting a microphone as an input or speakers for rear channels, for example.

    Check your motherboard manual.
  6. artmy

    artmy Guest

    Hi Friend,
    First thing to consider here is your intended usage of the sound card. If you want basic sound support and not spectacular 3D surround sound, I'd say go buy a cheap, simple card or even rely on your motherboard's on-board sound. If you want great surround sound and better speaker connectivity options, then you'll want to consider a dedicated sound card.

  7. jyeager24

    jyeager24 Guest

    Nothings wrong with Realtek >.> (uses realtek). SPDIF is actually Fiber Optic Cables. I mean I wouldn't go that fancy just because the speakers are expensive. Now you can use just regular RCA connections. This will allow you to split it multiple times to acheive true surroned sound. Also, they have Wireless RCA speakers that will cut down on the cable organization. One thing I'll suggest as far as speakers go, try a soundbar. They have 3D Surrond Sound which means even though its not surronding the room, the acoustics in the speakers will emulate true surrond sound causing the effect of it being all around you.
  8. penguinpaul

    penguinpaul Dedicated Member

    I suppose in the interest of anyone stumbling upon this thread while searching, I would like to add a few things.
    While there are 2 types as you have all said, there really is not much difference between the 2 types. For audio engineers and musicians, the cards have ASIO drivers available. They also have separate inputs and outputs rather than surround jacks.
    You can use a normal consumer sound card for audio engineering/musical stuff - I am currently using 2 Creative Audigy 2 ZS cards, with a universal ASIO drive (ASIO4ALL) and there is no difference performance-wise to my EMU 0404 with its own ASIO drivers.

    As for analogue or digital, most Creative cards have an SPDIF jack as well (digital out) which you can use a mono jack to RCA cable to get SPDIF over coax. SPDIF is a digital sound protocol which is carried over coaxial (single RCA) or TOSLink Optical.

    As for virtual surround etc, as much as it may be good, it'll never come close to true surround :)
    Also it's worth noting that most average consumer 5.1 computer systems take analogue signals :)

    Finally, I really do recommend the Creative Audigy 2 ZS - They really are excellent, and can be found on the bay of e for under £20.
    They also do a platinum model of it with an external breakout box with inputs and outputs that also happens to have ASIO drivers :)

    Hope this will help someone (I presume the OP has long forgotten this by now!)