Question Best audio card for music?

Traxan

Senior member
Jun 5, 2005
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7
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Hi all. I recently upgraded my PC and can no longer use my venerable Sound Blaster Audigy 2 due to a lack of PCI slots. The on-board audio is terrible to my ears. What's a good card for music? Sound Blaster Z?

TIA.
 

mikeymikec

Lifer
May 19, 2011
15,240
5,384
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I remember switching from an Audigy to onboard audio approximately twenty years ago. IIRC the Audigy's default settings pushed slightly more bass than the onboard audio, but since the setting was configurable in both sets of drivers it made little difference.

There are sound cards available for those doing professional audio work, but AFAIK they are tuned for different requirements such as minimizing latency. I think the battle for sound quality levels from sound cards (if there ever was one) was done and dusted decades ago.
 

daveybrat

Elite Member
Super Moderator
Jan 31, 2000
5,534
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Hi all. I recently upgraded my PC and can no longer use my venerable Sound Blaster Audigy 2 due to a lack of PCI slots. The on-board audio is terrible to my ears. What's a good card for music? Sound Blaster Z?

TIA.
I bought this one and installed it recently for a customer. It sounded fantastic compared to his onboard audio.


Just make sure to download the latest drivers as the ones on the CD are garbage.
 

CP5670

Diamond Member
Jun 24, 2004
5,053
303
126
The x-fi titanium HD is still a good choice. It's not made anymore but tend to be around $100 on ebay and still get driver updates for Windows. It might still be the best card they ever made for music and is way better than onboard audio, especially with headphones/amps.
 
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Thump553

Lifer
Jun 2, 2000
12,150
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Are you using headphones? If so, you should stay away from soundcards and get a DAC and an amp.
This. Even if pumping the music out to speakers a DAC is the way to go. Unfortunately DAC prices range from spare change to used car levels-be prepared to start to do some research. A DAC is also more flexible in that you can incorporate it into a Hi-Fi system. Basically what you are buying with a sound card is a slightly better DAC than the onboard audio plus a lot of stuff you probably don't need.

A DAC also won't tie up any slots in your computer.
 

nerp

Diamond Member
Dec 31, 2005
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I also recommend a DAC. Schiit makes a range of DACs from the affordable to the obscene. There are many other brands
 

Muadib

Lifer
May 30, 2000
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I also recommend Schiit, as that's what I've been using for the last few years. Just be warned once you go down this rabbit hole, it's hard to get out.
 

biostud

Lifer
Feb 27, 2003
16,063
1,361
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If purely for music, then get a DAC. If also for gaming look into the Soundblaster AE-5 plus, AE-7 or AE-9 depending on your budget/needs.

I have a Soundblaster AE-7, and is very happy with it.
 

biostud

Lifer
Feb 27, 2003
16,063
1,361
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Are you using headphones? If so, you should stay away from soundcards and get a DAC and an amp.
That might be true for some sound cards, but I doubt you would find any problems using headphones with those targeted audiophiles. I definitely don't have any problems running my Beyerdynamics DT880 250 ohms on my SB AE-7.
Sure you can get a dedicated DAC that is even better for music, but the AE-7 is in no way a bad source for headphones, and since I also game, I prefer a source where I can have different profiles for games and "clean" profile when listening to music.
 

Muadib

Lifer
May 30, 2000
17,176
536
126
That might be true for some sound cards, but I doubt you would find any problems using headphones with those targeted audiophiles. I definitely don't have any problems running my Beyerdynamics DT880 250 ohms on my SB AE-7.
Sure you can get a dedicated DAC that is even better for music, but the AE-7 is in no way a bad source for headphones, and since I also game, I prefer a source where I can have different profiles for games and "clean" profile when listening to music.
I have an AE-7 in my pc, and used to use it for my headphones. I currently use it for my pc speakers, and it works well. If I didn't have a friend who wanted hear my headphones with his amp/dac stack, I'd probably still be using the AE-7 with my headphones.
However once I heard them with my friend's stack, I knew I had to get a stack for myself.

Much like my Hifiman HE6se headphones, your DT880 pro headphones would simply love more power. Do you go down the rabbit hole, or be happy with what you got?
 

biostud

Lifer
Feb 27, 2003
16,063
1,361
126
I have an AE-7 in my pc, and used to use it for my headphones. I currently use it for my pc speakers, and it works well. If I didn't have a friend who wanted hear my headphones with his amp/dac stack, I'd probably still be using the AE-7 with my headphones.
However once I heard them with my friend's stack, I knew I had to get a stack for myself.

Much like my Hifiman HE6se headphones, your DT880 pro headphones would simply love more power. Do you go down the rabbit hole, or be happy with what you got?
If I’m to invest more in audio equipment it will be new amp/speakers/streaming device. And that’s quite another budget. :p
 

CP5670

Diamond Member
Jun 24, 2004
5,053
303
126
Even for music, I like the x-fi's environmental effects and processing. They subtly "smooth out" music in a way that sounds really good to me, better than any other DAC I've tried, and goes well with my amp and headphones. The AE cards probably have something similar. The CMSS3D processing is also good in some games, although I prefer to game with speakers for the most part.
 

Thump553

Lifer
Jun 2, 2000
12,150
1,569
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I have an AE-7 in my pc, and used to use it for my headphones. I currently use it for my pc speakers, and it works well. If I didn't have a friend who wanted hear my headphones with his amp/dac stack, I'd probably still be using the AE-7 with my headphones.
However once I heard them with my friend's stack, I knew I had to get a stack for myself.

Much like my Hifiman HE6se headphones, your DT880 pro headphones would simply love more power. Do you go down the rabbit hole, or be happy with what you got?
Truer words never spoken. An audiophile is one who could get 98% of what they want for (say) $1,000 but will enthusiastically spend another $5,000-$10,000 in search of the other 2%. The trick is when to decide enough is enough.
 

Tsinni Dave

Member
Mar 1, 2022
105
208
76
Hi all. I recently upgraded my PC and can no longer use my venerable Sound Blaster Audigy 2 due to a lack of PCI slots. The on-board audio is terrible to my ears. What's a good card for music? Sound Blaster Z?

TIA.
I'm kind of late to this thread but I have been running Windows XP in my home and mobile recording for years with E-mu 1820m and 1616m interfaces and also decided to upgrade but though I've used windows 10 for years as a daily media consumption system I discovered how terrible it is with older sound hardware, even if they are pcie. I also tried an Audigy 2ZS I had thinking it may be an E-MU incompatability but apparently windows 10 just doesn't play nice with those anymore either. It was bad enough with windows 7 cutting back by limiting some functionality but I think maybe it is just a case of more DRM limiting by default the direct analogue capture of audio perhaps.
My solution was to build a few more win XP boxes, bought a few more old Thinkpad laptops and pretty much every E-MU system I could get my hands on and continue with my old software which I have really only used 1/10 of their potential. Apologies for being the guy that hoovered up all that old hardware. For actual music making or recording / listening to analogue sources that older stuff still has the sound and specs of many of the music studios that recorded the music you hear that isn't natively 5.1, and Windows XP was the last hurrah for fully utilizing audio hardware, everything now has an emulation layer if I remember correctly. I could also just be biased because of my inherent cheapness and looking at investing in all new hardware and software seemed a bit much considering my usage is just multi-tracking myself or loaning out laptop studios during the pandemic. Just make sure to kill any network controllers because...windows XP.
For security, games, movies and consuming content {all the things windows 10 is good for} I think the onboard sound on most quality motherboards now is generally fine and is what I use for those purposes, and the prices for outboard gear with even basic functionality above that seem particularly high now and I'm curious to see what Windows 11 brings to the table for hardware compatability. Anything with just a mic and headphone/line out and usb 3 interface will probably still be fine, but I don't expect much more will be allowed except by cpu emulation due to DRM. Just a guess though ATM.

TLDR - Windows 10 and audio is body armour and an mp3, Windows XP and a good interface is playing guitar naked by the pool. Both have their place. But generally I'll be by the pool.
 

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