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Sound quality question: digital, analog, onboard, discrete cards

Discussion in 'General Hardware' started by hat, Apr 29, 2011.

  1. hat

    hat Maximum Overclocker

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    This post got me thinking a bit about the role sound cards play in producing better audio quality. He says a discrete card will give better analog audio quality. Is this to say that if you had onboard sound with S/PDIF, a discrete sound card wouldn't give any better audio quality than the onboard sound when using S/PDIF? Another point: if the former is true, then does that mean that digital sound is the perfect format: it can't get any better, meaning that onboard S/PDIF would sound better than even the best discrete sound cards through an analog connection?
     
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  2. jasper1605

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    That's how I've always understood it. I can definitely attest to the sound quality being better when I ran it through my 5850's hdmi cord than just through my MB. But I can't compare directly against a soundcard's analog (or digital to see if one digital is better than another). I would say that digital is digital and it shouldn't make a difference how it gets sent because it's quite simply digital.
     
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  3. hat

    hat Maximum Overclocker

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    So then sound cards these days really are all about features rather than improved quality, in regards to digital connections anyway?
     
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  4. jasper1605

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    Yeah. As long as the motherboard can match the codecs/output frequencies of the sound card I think they would sound the same if both run digitally.
     
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  5. Mussels

    Mussels Moderprator Staff Member

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    c'mon, we have stickies about this... where i cover your exact question.
     
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  6. majestic12

    majestic12

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    To the OP, that's almost exactly the way I understand it to be. There is the aspect of jitter and available sound fields supported by the soundcard/motherboard (as Jasper1605 mentioned in his post above mine), including but not limited to things such as DDL, DTS Connect, EAX, etc. While I have a sound card connected to an external DAC, the sound card still works to provide a slightly cleaner signal with a bunch of sound options that my motherboard's integrated sound couldn't support. For most users though, a motherboard's sound should be more than adequate for their needs, especially if they're letting external DACs and receivers do the work for them.

    Edit: Mussels' thread is really good! Don't see a section for digital outputs via soundcard vs. digital outputs via motherboard though.
     
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  7. Frederik S Staff

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    On some motherboards the implementation of S/PDIF is so bad that the sound quality is impaired. But generally digital is digital so no quality difference.
     
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  8. Mussels

    Mussels Moderprator Staff Member

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    I might actually edit that into the stickied thread, just for reference.
     
  9. qubit

    qubit Overclocked quantum bit

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    Yup, a quality discrete sound card will improve audio in the following ways:

    1 Better digital to analog conversion, resulting in less distortion, less jitter, cleaner sound etc. In the case of my Creative sound card (see specs) the difference is immediately noticeable and has quite a 'wow' factor. Note this is with all the special effects turned off

    2 More features, such as higher bit rates, more channels/formats, fancy effects, high price - what! :eek:

    Sound transmission in the digital domain will not be affected, a bit is a bit, no matter what hardware processes it. Therefore, there will be zero difference in the S/PDIF connection.

    And finally, do look at that sticky that Mussels pointed to. There's lots of great info there.
     
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  10. Wile E

    Wile E Power User

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    There are limitations to S/PDIF. It can only do uncompressed LPCM over 2 channels. If you have a high res surround track, like Master Audio or TrueHD (or the multitude of high res surround flacs out there), it has to be compressed down to standard Dolby Digital or DTS at a loss of quality. A good sound card will sound better in analog for surround than an S/PDIF connection, provided you have speakers and amps able to exploit the difference.

    For stereo source, it depends purely on the decoder used. Sometimes the decoders in a sound card are better than the ones in your receiver or speakers, thereby making a sound card the better choice anyway.

    As far as digital formats, HDMI audio is the most capable, but again, a crappy decoder can make it sound like ass.

    Overall tho, a good sound card is almost always better than you run of the mill on-board.
     
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