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

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meloz

Senior member
Jul 8, 2008
320
0
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The simple fact is that a PC case is a very noisy enviornment. Electrical noise, I mean. It is not possible for a motherboard maker to assure you will get noiseless, pristine audio output, because they have no control over the kind of case, fans and PSU you will use. You might get rather good quality with certain case+motherboard+PSU+fan combination, or you might get very noisy sound output with some other combination.

The only way to assure good sound quality when using PC as a digital source is to use an external audio interface ("sound card"). This way you completely eliminate the sundry PC components as a potential noise source and thus get very good audio.

For what it costs, onboard sound is not bad. Most people do not have the kind of headphones and source material to affect their multimedia experience. The more demanding consumer is free to buy external interfaces.
 

jamesgalb

Member
Sep 26, 2014
67
0
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Digitrax, mind if I fire off a few questions to you about computer audio? I'm working on a home studio and want to make something simple and easily moveable (so as much 'all-in-one' as I can get) while making as few sacrifices in quality as possible...

Seems hard to find many PC Audio reviews :(
 

Rubycon

Madame President
Aug 10, 2005
17,768
485
126
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.
Spot on and highlighted part in particular.

Folks connecting a SPDIF cable (TOSlink or coax) thinking they are alleviating the problem are fooling themselves. If it were this easy it would be done by content creation professionals. ;)
 

biostud

Lifer
Feb 27, 2003
16,569
2,067
126
The ALC1150 Purity sound 2 on my motherboard is way better than on my old P55 motherboard, and it supports 600ohm headsets. I still use an external DAC for sound processing, but the onboard sound has improved over the years.
 

CP5670

Diamond Member
Jun 24, 2004
5,123
351
126
I keep an old X-Fi xtrememusic and have never used onboard audio except for brief testing. The X-Fi is great not just for the SNR but the global processing effects it has, mainly its EAX reverb and equalizer. The type of music I listen to (electronic game music, sometimes low quality) sounds way better with these effects. I also use a Fiio E10 DAC/AMP at work that is external and may have a better SNR, but lacks these features and sounds worse overall.

The sound card also has the advantage of staying consistent between upgrades. It's 10 years old now and I think I used it in 4 or 5 motherboards over time. In a recent build, I specifically got one with PCI so I could keep the card.
 
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brandonmatic

Member
Jul 13, 2013
199
21
81
Not my favorite source of tech news but I thought this was illuminating:

Using world-class headphones, a $2 Realtek integrated audio codec could not be reliably distinguished from the $2000 Benchmark DAC2 HGC in a four-device round-up. Again, all four devices sounded great. The same might not apply to full-sized speakers; we can't say, since we didn't test them. But as far as some of the best headphones in the world go, we stand by these test results.

While calibration does show that Realtek's ALC889 is less linear, and thus less hi-fi than the other devices we're looking at, the 1.4 dB difference at 100 Hz apparently isn't enough to reliably differentiate the experience it delivers from others in real-world scenarios.
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/high-end-pc-audio,3733-19.html
 

Magic Carpet

Diamond Member
Oct 2, 2011
3,477
230
106
OP,

As a consumer, don't really give a damn about sound. Care more about a good tune rather than impeccable sound quality. Have had plenty of sound cards starting from the original sound blaster 16, awe 32, awe 64 gold, live, audigy, audigy 2, emu, a few external ones, lots of realtek audio from ac97 to 1150. I think, after about SB Live*, I stopped getting "wow" effects. I have a set of high-quality headphones, but rarely use them, as nowadays I relate to sound more as a "distraction", rather than a "drug". People who are addicted to it, seem to spend lots of money on sound, or making it. But that's okay, to each their own.

*PC Speaker > SB 16 > SB AWE32/GUS > SB Live.
 
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sakete

Member
Apr 22, 2015
107
1
76
If you want good quality sound from a PC/laptop, your best bet is to get an external USB DAC/AMP and have that feed into your speakers/headphones. No internal RF interference anymore and makes a world of difference. And you don't have to get a $300+ DAC/AMP, anything around $100 will suffice as that's good enough and will most of all just get rid of all the RF interference which is the biggest factor in the crappy sound quality from PCs.

And if you only use headphones, get a simple Fiio DAC/AMP such as the E07K. Been using that for a while and think it's great with my headphone setup.
 

PhIlLy ChEeSe

Senior member
Apr 1, 2013
962
0
0
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".
why didn't you buy a different board with a dedicated add in sound card? You really think Realtek is some how gonna magically sound awesome...........
 
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SithSolo1

Diamond Member
Mar 19, 2001
7,740
11
81
ALC 1150 > Digital output to receiver > speakers

Sounds fine to my untrained ear
 

RampantAndroid

Diamond Member
Jun 27, 2004
6,591
3
81
Go build your own DAC or something. If you can hear noise on onboard audio, then simply removing the analog section from the case will probably be an improvement. Not many consumers need super high end audio....and this push for 24bit audio is going to be stymied by a total lack of content.

http://www.amb.org/audio/gamma2/ - Wolfson (now Cirrus Logic - the same guys who do the DACs iPhones/iPods which are actually pretty good) WM8741s are more than sufficient when paired with a decent amplifier. Ti Kan has also done the gamma1.5 which is 24/192 over USB (that comes with its own problems, if you are in Windows) that is also a decent headphone amp (sadly with the older Wolfson 8740.)
 

digitaldurandal

Golden Member
Dec 3, 2009
1,828
0
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I suggest getting a USB microphone if that is your biggest issue. I have used a Blue Yeti mic and it is much better than when I plug directly into my onboard mic in port.

While onboard audio is not great I would not go so far as to say it sucks, yes if you want very high quality you are going to need to do some investing. Usually the optical ports have less noise than the other ports. A receiver or small amp could do wonders as well.

There are tests done comparing the onboard audio to sound cards and unless you are getting a high end card a lot of them are actually WORSE than the onboard audio!
 

Cerb

Elite Member
Aug 26, 2000
17,484
33
86
Regardless of what Tom's has to say on the matter I've yet to own a motherboard with on-board sound that could match an X-Fi especially in stealthy games where hearing things creeping up behind you matters.
That's because you were playing games and trying to hear detail, not playing back an audio file that takes 0% GPU and <5% CPU, with minimal load changes.
 

njdevilsfan87

Platinum Member
Apr 19, 2007
2,295
230
106
For listening to music, I'd say dedicated sound cards have a slight edge due to having more options and providing a cleaner and more powerful sound, but the difference isn't major. It's more a difference of sound preference.

But for gaming, the position audio of sound cards blows on-board out of the water, still. And the recon mode on the SB Z cards is borderline cheating as you can hear things like foot steps and from what direction they are coming way sooner than you should be able too. I assume something like that does take some processing power.
 

RampantAndroid

Diamond Member
Jun 27, 2004
6,591
3
81
For listening to music, I'd say dedicated sound cards have a slight edge due to having more options and providing a cleaner and more powerful sound, but the difference isn't major. It's more a difference of sound preference.

But for gaming, the position audio of sound cards blows on-board out of the water, still. And the recon mode on the SB Z cards is borderline cheating as you can hear things like foot steps and from what direction they are coming way sooner than you should be able too. I assume something like that does take some processing power.
Positional audio no longer really needs add in cards. The days of the awful Creative stranglehold are pretty much dead.
 

rchunter

Senior member
Feb 26, 2015
933
72
91
Positional audio no longer really needs add in cards. The days of the awful Creative stranglehold are pretty much dead.
Yeah, I haven't used a sound card in ages. I use hdmi audio from my video card into a Sony 7.1 receiver. The receiver takes care of everything. Can't see ever going back to a sound card, at least for me.
 
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Subyman

Moderator <br> VC&G Forum
Mar 18, 2005
7,876
32
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Creating analog signals of high quality on a motherboard seems like a losing battle. Digital in and digital out should be used if you want the best quality. Then you can pair that signal to whatever level of equipment you prefer. I use optical out on my Mac Pro, but for my gaming rig I use analog out. I doesn't really matter in games IMO. When I use the PC on my media setup its all HDMI for surround sound. USB mic is a very good suggestion and easy on the wallet.

Quality audio processing sometimes costs more than the entire motherboard.
 

Captante

Lifer
Oct 20, 2003
26,054
7,372
136
That's because you were playing games and trying to hear detail, not playing back an audio file that takes 0% GPU and <5% CPU, with minimal load changes.

Valid point, gaming sound quality is my top priority & listening to music on my PC isn't something I do very often.

I do however watch a lot of streaming HD video and the occasional BD movie on my PC with mid-range Sennheiser headphones. On the (admittedly limited) selection of motherboards onboard audio I've compared to an X-Fi the discrete card is much cleaner.
 

yhelothar

Lifer
Dec 11, 2002
18,408
39
91
Tomshardware did a blind test and they couldn't tell the difference between the $2 onboard and a dedicated $2000 audiophile desktop DAC. I wouldn't doubt that to a trained ear, there can be a difference, but I'd wager that for the vast majority of people, there isn't, and even if there was, it'd be miniscule.
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/high-end-pc-audio,3733-19.html

The OP talks about mic amplification, that can be a feature to get a soundcard for.
 
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coercitiv

Diamond Member
Jan 24, 2014
5,160
8,270
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Tomshardware did a blind test and they couldn't tell the difference between the $2 onboard and a dedicated $2000 audiophile desktop DAC.
Keep in mind that $2 Realtek chip was placed in a $300 MB. Wanna bet what happens when you bring that MB budget down to $50?
 

yhelothar

Lifer
Dec 11, 2002
18,408
39
91
Keep in mind that $2 Realtek chip was placed in a $300 MB. Wanna bet what happens when you bring that MB budget down to $50?
True, the rest of the circuitry, such as interference and ground noise can make a difference, but if you're spending $50 on a mobo, you probably wouldn't care if the mobo came with quality sound anyways.
 

RampantAndroid

Diamond Member
Jun 27, 2004
6,591
3
81
Tomshardware did a blind test and they couldn't tell the difference between the $2 onboard and a dedicated $2000 audiophile desktop DAC. I wouldn't doubt that to a trained ear, there can be a difference, but I'd wager that for the vast majority of people, there isn't, and even if there was, it'd be miniscule.
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/high-end-pc-audio,3733-19.html

The OP talks about mic amplification, that can be a feature to get a soundcard for.
With my IEMs, I can hear a GREAT difference between my motherboard audio at work (on an ASUS P6 motherboard that was around $200 new) and both my ASUS Xonar STX and the DAC I built using Wolfson's WM8741. The STX is a good sounding card that lets you change out some OPAMPs and has a good amp built in. My DAC is relatively high end. I eventually will replace it with a Twisted Pear Audio Buffalo 3 or AMB's new gamma3 DAC...but that's to get high resolution USB audio and balanced outputs.
 

FlippedBit

Member
Apr 28, 2015
62
0
0
So the problem is that there's no metric by which audio devices can be benchmarked? It makes sense, since, unlike things like CPU, I/O, and RAM, you can't just run a utility to get a number. If we could do that, objectively, then manufacturers would have points to compete against and targets to meet (besides just specs on paper). Consumers would shop by their desired level of audio performance, objectively.

Pipe dream, I guess. There are things like MOS scoring, but who can do that easily?
 

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