It's 2015: Why does Onboard audio STILL suck?

flexy

Diamond Member
Sep 28, 2001
8,464
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I got myself a Asus Z87-Pro board which comes with all sorts of stuff I don't even need including wireless, bluetooth and whatnot. The Z87-Pro certainly is not a "cheap" board by any means.

It has a built-in RealTek ALC 1150 sound solution and according to reviews the board has "one of the better onboard sound implementations out there".

While for playback I think the onboard is "ok" I was disappointed because of the extremely poor microphone input. (As opposed to dedicated Creative etc. cards, those onboard solutions lack a mic amp or they have them but they are extremely noisy. For me this is important since I use speech recognition with a dynamic microphone which requires decent input levels and low noise when a mic is plugged in for accuracy).

What really angered me is the fact that an ancient PCI Audigy 2 would be entirely sufficient and it worked beautifully with my older board. Except that on this new board there is no PCI slots anymore so I cannot use the Audigy 2 any longer). Because of the poor mic input and overall "meh-ness" of the built-in Realtek I now got myself a PCIE Soundblaster Z which I hope will have better sound and especially a better mic input.

I am ***ed since I don't understand why in 2014/2015 when people buy "better motherboards" they still have half-assed sound solutions with poor components, DACs and ADCs etc.

I think it's ridiculous we STILL require dedicated sound cards these days. ALL what dedicated sound-cards are is usually single-chip processors anyway with some added circuitry. What's the problem? Why does onboard sound still suck?
 
Jul 24, 2014
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The sad fact of the matter is that 99% of people who have a computer don't care, or don't know any better so they settle on "good enough" when designing motherboard onboard audio. To most people, audio from a computer motherboard is just another one of those functions that a computer does, and they don't give it much more thought than that.

Onboard audio can be so much more than it currently is, but it requires a not insignificant investment in a better DAC and preamp section which is going to raise the price of the motherboard, and here in lies the problem: Convincing people to spend more on a product for a less tangible upgrade. It's easy to measure aspects like number of USB and SATA ports, or frame rates in games, but it's hard to judge upgrades in audio quality as it's so massively subjective between individuals.
 
Jul 24, 2014
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I just output audio over HDMI to my Onkyo receiver. Works fine for me.
That's great, and I'm glad it works well for you, but how many people these days have the space (or a receiver at all) to use with a desktop PC for better audio? Besides, adding a receiver into the mix is going to at least double the cost of the motherboard.
 

XavierMace

Diamond Member
Apr 20, 2013
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That's great, and I'm glad it works well for you, but how many people these days have the space (or a receiver at all) to use with a desktop PC for better audio?
Probably about the same percentage of people that are unhappy with their onboard audio. Most of the people I know have onboard audio and have no complaints. I'm obviously no audiophile, but I ran Klipsch Promedia 5.1 Ultra's over onboard audio for years without issues. The few people I know with actual sound cards bought them because they've always bought them. I doubt they could tell the difference with the crappy 2.0 speaker system.

Can they make onboard audio better? Sure, but is it worth the investment on their part? I doubt it and the manufacturers obviously don't think so. Most people are happy with what they have and if you really want better audio, you can get it with current offerings anyways.

There's also the physical constraints as well. Have you looked at a motherboard recently? There's not exactly a lot of open space. Look at the size of a "Good" dedicated sound card. Where are you going to fit that on the motherboard? Most of the motherboards that offer better audio usually do it through an included addon card rather than onboard for that very reason. Which brings us back to, if it has to be a dedicated card anyways, there's already products that do that.

Regarding the cost of the receiver.... How much do you have to spend on speakers before onboard audio is completely inadequate? Probably more than a good basic receiver costs. The Denon I was running before my Onkyo was like $250 on sale. Both of my last two speaker setups cost far more than that.

That pretty much applies to all aspects of computing, audio isn't anything different. We have video cards for when onboard doesn't meet our needs, we have RAID cards for when onboard doesn't need our needs. Why would sound be any different? Onboard audio meets the needs of the overwhelming majority. For enthusiasts who want more, there's products that give you that.
 

gradoman

Senior member
Mar 19, 2007
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441
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I don't really do any recording or live streaming to ever use the microphone, but the audio has been good enough for me. Seems like all anyone really cares about is the graphics or processing power...

That said, I have been seeing those 'boards with isolated audio processing and all so there must be some demand that board makers notice -- not sure how that all works out though, but for most, what's built in is good enough.
 

zod96

Platinum Member
May 28, 2007
2,817
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My On-Board audio Realtek 1150 sounds just as good while listening to music or playing games as my XFI Titanium HD. Which is why I sold my XFI. I notice no difference at all while playing BF4 or any other game for that matter. And when listening to videos or music it was the same as well. One less thing to plug into my motherboard :)
 

samboy

Senior member
Aug 17, 2002
212
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I pulled out my XFI because the drivers were buggy and caused occasional BSOD's. These all went away when the drivers were uninstalled and sound card pulled. A very disappointing experience and waste of money on Windows XP/64.

I fully understand why Microsoft removed hardware sound acceleration from Windows (starting with Vista) since no one was writing reliable drivers.

So that was my reason for changing and sticking with On-Board sound......... reliability comes before sound quality!

That said, I would be more than happy for the On-Board sound to be improved (better DAC's etc)......... but the Realtek 1150 has been working fine from my perspective.
 

fralexandr

Platinum Member
Apr 26, 2007
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I think onboard typically can't have as good isolation as a usb dac or sound card due to its proximity to other electronic components. Some users modify their sound cards, amps, and receivers by adding additional shielding and replacing some cheap capacitors and such, so even dedicated sound devices cheap out in important places...

There are also software mods to make the older realteks sound like x-fis, since a lot of that is due to software equalization and not better hardware.

Are you using the front panel Mic in?
The front panel connectors on my case are more noisy.
 
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Jul 24, 2014
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I think onboard typically can't have as good isolation as a usb dac or sound card due to its proximity to other electronic components. Some users modify their sound cards, amps, and receivers by adding additional shielding and replacing some cheap capacitors and such, so even dedicated sound devices cheap out in important places...

There are also software mods to make the older realteks sound like x-fis, since a lot of that is due to software equalization and not better hardware.

Are you using the front panel Mic in?
The front panel connectors on my case are more noisy.
Agreed on front panel Mic in. Those wires have a long distance to travel (relative to the inside of a case) to be carrying an unshielded signal past a whole lot of interference. My Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Champion Series (that's a freakin' mouthful) has the front panel add-in card. When I connect my headphones to that and play a game I hear a lot of interference, as the wire has to go past my GPU.
 

bunnyfubbles

Lifer
Sep 3, 2001
12,248
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I pulled out my XFI because the drivers were buggy and caused occasional BSOD's. These all went away when the drivers were uninstalled and sound card pulled. A very disappointing experience and waste of money on Windows XP/64.

I fully understand why Microsoft removed hardware sound acceleration from Windows (starting with Vista) since no one was writing reliable drivers.

So that was my reason for changing and sticking with On-Board sound......... reliability comes before sound quality!

That said, I would be more than happy for the On-Board sound to be improved (better DAC's etc)......... but the Realtek 1150 has been working fine from my perspective.
your reasoning is flawed; by removing hardware acceleration for sound, onboard is no more reliable than current external cards because of that fact...unless you're saying you still use XP...
 

Mushkins

Golden Member
Feb 11, 2013
1,631
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Add one more to the "good enough" crowd. I don't use any of my PCs in any way where sound quality beyond what onboard offers matters, on a new build my money is better spent on a better set of speakers than it would be on a discrete sound card.

I think that goes for a lot of people, caring about the intricacies of sound quality is something I worry about in the living room with my TV and surround receiver because I'm looking to create a cinematic experience, console gaming, or using it to pump music throughout my home when I have guests over. Better quality sound on my PC might be *nice* for gaming, but browsing the web, reading email, or working on spreadsheets there's no effect. I'm getting more bang for my buck investing that $$$ into better stuff for my home theatre setup.
 

vailr

Diamond Member
Oct 9, 1999
5,364
54
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A USB microphone would provide a better solution than trying to use the inherently noisy onboard analog microphone input port. It's simply not possible to avoid RF line noise inside the computer case, other than by bypassing analog audio input connections.
 
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Ranulf

Golden Member
Jul 18, 2001
1,798
330
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I've been using usb mic for voice chat for almost 10 years as my old nforce2 board mic was just not usable, its onboard sound was pretty good though. Creative not writing decent drivers did more to push me away from dedicated sound cards though.
 

you2

Diamond Member
Apr 2, 2002
4,987
312
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The 1150 is definitely a big step up over whatever my previous mb had; or maybe it is the isolation of the component on the newer boards (asrock). Don't nkow but it is good enough for myself with high quality headphones. To be honest those who really care about something of a higher quality are very likely to have a high end stero system which will include a high end amplifier which they can then use with their pc :) (responding to the op). I'm not the best judge of these things but as I said I did notice a distinct improvement when i upgraded tot he 1150 - i think the old chip was something like the 8x7.
 

Digitrax

Junior Member
Dec 4, 2014
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To begin with, I'm going to qualify this by saying that I've been an audio engineer for over 30 years, as well as having owned and operated a recording studio for most of it, so I feel as if I have some qualification to speak here.

While there are companies (AsRock, GigaByte) that are trying to improve the quality of their on-board sound, the fact remains that the computer is just a horrible environment for audio in general.

First off, you've got a switching power supply — never a good idea for high quality audio; even at 200-500KHz there are beat frequency artifacts (sometimes as little as 40dB down) in the audible spectrum.

Secondly, you're relegated to digital audio to begin with, and MoBo's have little to no regard for quality of clock (as so many different clocks need to be generated), so D/A conversion suffers accordingly. Plus, even if you have a high quality bit clock signal for the D-to-A's, there is so much high-frequency signal going on around it, you're bound to get tremendous amounts of jitter.

Thirdly, there is the misguided belief in "the numbers game": if one chipset has a higher S/N or lower THD than another, it is assumed to be better. Of course, who knows how much negative feedback — (the bane of op amp circuitry in general) — was applied to get those figures. (Besides, using discrete single-ended Class A circuitry would generate too much heat and consume too much power anyway).

Lastly, on-board audio is an afterthought, a convenience; most people are listening through less-than-stellar speakers set up on their desktop which real high quality audio would be wasted on. Anyone that concerned about sound quality is probably using RME or Avid with an external word clock generator, and sending digitally to an outboard converter.
 
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MongGrel

Lifer
Dec 3, 2013
38,751
3,067
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I guess people argue about it all the time, I have a decent 7.1 onboard mobo, optical even, but I prefer not to use it.



I still even got a PCI adapter just so I could still use this old Sound Card in it I guess.



Maybe I'm just lazy, still using an OC'd X5680 around 4.6 in the MOBO :)

As far as sound goes, I still like having a card I guess, and have it on a TOS-LINK optical to my amps.



 
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MongGrel

Lifer
Dec 3, 2013
38,751
3,067
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:colbert: Yeah I know, it's just charts right.

I's still at any rate use a separate card over on board myself personally, was the long and short of it.
 
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BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
15,349
1,201
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:colbert: Yeah I know, it's just charts right.

I's still at any rate use a separate card over on board myself personally, was the long and short of it.
I have a similar configuration to XavierMace's with an ONKYO AVR->[to]->HDTV fed by HDMI from my PC (sig). I also have a 5.1 Logitech speaker system (about 12 years old!) connected with the three 3.5mm stereo jacks to my onboard audio. This was -- for a couple years -- the source of a confusion in setting up my Windows Media Center: too easy to select the wrong 5.1 sound system as "default" among playback devices, and all that stuff has to be tweaked properly so it then configures well to WMC. For those couple years, I left the Logitechs and onboard sound turned off.

Then I discovered something called "audio renderer updater" -- a French plug-in for WMC that allows you to gracefully switch between two 5.1 outputs and speakers. In my case, this was the HDMI audio to my Onkyo, or the onboard sound to my Logitech system.

This suggests to me a possibility for a purely desktop speaker configuration of 5.1 (if that's what floats your boat) with a device like this one:

http://www.allaboutadapters.com/hddodtsdihdo.html

So instead of using onboard audio or a sound card taking up a slot, you might use this device to provide HDMI video to your monitor, running it through the decoder device which outputs the sound to your analog 5.1 speaker system. If I read the blurb correctly, it even has a small amplification function. After that, the limit to your audiophile appreciation is going to be the decoder device and the quality of your speakers.

If I'm wrong about any aspect of this niche device, somebody could inform me.
 

MongGrel

Lifer
Dec 3, 2013
38,751
3,067
121
I have a similar configuration to XavierMace's with an ONKYO AVR->[to]->HDTV fed by HDMI from my PC (sig). I also have a 5.1 Logitech speaker system (about 12 years old!) connected with the three 3.5mm stereo jacks to my onboard audio. This was -- for a couple years -- the source of a confusion in setting up my Windows Media Center: too easy to select the wrong 5.1 sound system as "default" among playback devices, and all that stuff has to be tweaked properly so it then configures well to WMC. For those couple years, I left the Logitechs and onboard sound turned off.

Then I discovered something called "audio renderer updater" -- a French plug-in for WMC that allows you to gracefully switch between two 5.1 outputs and speakers. In my case, this was the HDMI audio to my Onkyo, or the onboard sound to my Logitech system.

This suggests to me a possibility for a purely desktop speaker configuration of 5.1 (if that's what floats your boat) with a device like this one:

http://www.allaboutadapters.com/hddodtsdihdo.html

So instead of using onboard audio or a sound card taking up a slot, you might use this device to provide HDMI video to your monitor, running it through the decoder device which outputs the sound to your analog 5.1 speaker system. If I read the blurb correctly, it even has a small amplification function. After that, the limit to your audiophile appreciation is going to be the decoder device and the quality of your speakers.

If I'm wrong about any aspect of this niche device, somebody could inform me.
To be honest I try to disable anything that even attempts to use WMC for decades now, I used to use VLC for things when I stopped using WMC, and just use Daum PotPlayer for anything audio/video related in the last 3 years or so probably at least.

Maybe that's overly simplistic, but it works well for me.

http://daumpotplayer.com/

 
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Feb 15, 2014
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Do the isolated audio solutions on high end mobo's (with isolated pcb, capacitors, emi shields) come close to a discrete card?

The thing is normal onboard audio is good enough for >99% of people, who don't even have good headphones and speakers to listen to music.
It's like dGPU's: most people who use their PC's for normal stuff do not even bother. Gamers and those who require it (professionals) will buy one according to how much they need one. It's like asking Intel and AMD to integrate >GTX-960 class performance into their chips. How many people are going to really use it? Why spend so much on R&D and fabricating a big die, adding to the expense when a few are going to make use of it?

Capacitors, expensive DAC's, additional power circuitry do not come cheap in terms of price, simplicity and board area. Most people aren't even coming close to maxing out their onboard solutions. Sure, stuff like good EM shielding is useful, but there isin't much use of spending so much more f(the user pays in the end), because most people end up connecting very bad speakers.

What's horrible about front audio ports on bad cabinets is that the USB and Audio share a common ground (electronic engineers - seriously?). If you plug in the front audio port to an output, and a USB device is transferring data, you can hear all sorts of interference. Hardly any cabinets have this issue, but still.
 

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