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Should I get a sound card?

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#1
So I've never owned a dedicated sound card and I'm not sure what I'm missing out on.

Currently I run a digital audio out via HDMI to my receiver (Sony STR820 7.1 @110W per channel) via my 560Ti. I never run analog audio, either through the front headphone port or rear outputs.

So what am I missing? Is the digital audio sound from my gpu better/worse than analog onboard? Especially since it's going to a home theater receiver, would it make a bit of difference if I were running a dedicated sound card to send the digital audio signal(toslink)?

Also, if you think a dedicated card is worth it; please provide a suggestion.

Thanks! :toast:
 
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#2
In your case, a sound card will not improve your sound quality.

However, a sound card with the Dolby Digital Live feature will send 5.1 sound to your receiver rather than 2.0 sound in games. Right now, your receiver is likely receiving stereo sound from your PC for games and turns that into pseudo 5.1 sound via the Dolby Pro Logic feature in the receiver. Having the Dolby Digital Live feature on a sound card would mean that all the work is being done in the sound card and that the surround effect would likely be better.
 
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#3
Bump, anyone else got some input?
 

FreedomEclipse

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#4
In your case, a sound card will not improve your sound quality.

However, a sound card with the Dolby Digital Live feature will send 5.1 sound to your receiver rather than 2.0 sound in games. Right now, your receiver is likely receiving stereo sound from your PC for games and turns that into pseudo 5.1 sound via the Dolby Pro Logic feature in the receiver. Having the Dolby Digital Live feature on a sound card would mean that all the work is being done in the sound card and that the surround effect would likely be better.
^ seconded.
 
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#5
Stick with a receiver. Any halfway decent recently made HT receiver has lots of decoding options including DTS HD Master and Dolby TrueHD for Blu-rays, and typically a variety of Dolby Pro Logic II and even stereo upmix (sim surround like Dolby Neo) options for gaming. You can end up with digital or analog sound whether you have a sound card or receiver though. It varies from brand, model and type of receiver, card or speakers you get.

Furthermore you don't have to worry about poor driver support, which is common with sound cards. All sound cards are at the mercy of whomever manufacturers the main chip for them, or DSP. In many cases people will try and use drivers from another brand card when the card manufacturer doesn't keep up on drivers well.

A receiver will also have huge slit foil caps, vs small slit foil or all solid state caps on a sound card. Solid state caps are being used a lot more on sound cards now because they run cooler and last longer, but it's largely due to sound cards having a rather small PCB, in which case extra heat can get transferred to them from the DSP chip. Conversely, receivers have the space for huge heatsinks and separate PCBs for amp and DSP , so they can run big slit foil caps no problem.

Slit foil caps give you more warmth in the midrange and bass. They have a more anaolog, less digital sound vs solid state caps. I chose a Yamaha receiver because they use a DSP that is designed to sound more natural and less digital. Because of this they are pretty good for playing music if you prefer an analog sound.

Honestly, when you consider MS has dropped HAL (Hardware Audio Layering) support ever since Vista, sound cards don't make much sense anymore. Because of it surround sound in games when using a sound card is hit and miss, and is always software vs hardware driven anymore. Even Creative cards need their Alchemy software to support surround sound.

There's also the fact that the HT receiver market is WAY bigger than the sound card market, so you can commonly get $300 receivers for $150, about what a decent sound card goes for. Even the HT speaker market is much bigger than the PC speaker market, so you can get better deals there too. Just don't assume you have to get the little HTiB speakers to get a good price.

I just picked up some Jamo HT speakers with floor standing fronts and a Jamo 8" sub for only $250 at Fry's. My movies and games have never sounded so good. If you ever make it down to the Dallas area, Fry's have these for $200 (I got mine on sale for $150). They also have this for $150, but will match Vann's price. Even at $400 total, this sub & speaker set is well worth it. Jamo is made in Denmark and now owned by Klipsch, whom put a 5 yr warranty on them. They use butyl rubber surrounds on the drivers and real hardwood veneer on the MDF cabinets.

I was considering Denon or Pioneer on receivers. Denon tends to be very clean sounding with discrete amplification for each channel. Lower in actual watts power channel, but you don't have to turn them up as much. Pioneer is about the same as Yamaha as far as amp clarity and efficiency, but has a more neutral DSP. Denon's DSP tends to sound more digital. Both actually sound more digital than Yamaha, because the fact is, you really need a DSP that tries to impart a natural analog sound to get away from the digital sound of most source material in movies and games anymore, which is what Yamaha's DSP is designed to do.

So, basically if you think you want a fuller, more analog sound, you may want to listen to some other receivers and speakers, esp if you have the tiny HTiB speakers. The mids in those sets commonly don't play low enough to match what the sub can do, so you don't get full range sound. That in itself can make everything sound more digital, along with hard vs soft dome tweeters, the latter of which Jamo uses.
 
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#6
It shouldn't matter. You're already using a digital output to your receiver, which means the receiver is doing all the decoding. It shouldn't make one bit of difference even if you buy a $300 sound card. If you want better audio quality, you need to take a look at getting a better receiver or better speakers.
 

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#7
Stay with the HDMI solution, only reason to get a sound card would be if you needed a mic and the on board being rubbish which some times happens....

Depending on your receiver you might be able to get it to select the currect settings when playing so no messing with different options to get the 5.1 working.

EDIT: I find Analog more heavy\bass than digital..
 
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#8
I'd pass if you already have a receiver. You miss out on some sound processing options with games but usage is limited there, and while affordable receivers focus more on features than upgrading performance (vs older models) you'd still need one anyways to run your speakers so you'd just be adding another layer of coloration if you added a soundcard to your setup.
 
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#9
Thanks guys, I appreciate the help!
 

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#10
Stay with the HDMI solution, only reason to get a sound card would be if you needed a mic and the on board being rubbish which some times happens....

Depending on your receiver you might be able to get it to select the currect settings when playing so no messing with different options to get the 5.1 working.

EDIT: I find Analog more heavy\bass than digital..
Sound cards like my $27 Xonar DG have a built in headphone amp which is necessary if you have a high quality pair of headphones like Sennheiser or Audio Technica. My own ATH-AD700's headphones cost $100, and once I hooked it up the built in amp on my sound card; the sound was truly amazing. No other speakers or "gaming" headset has come close to the sound quality.