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

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coercitiv

Diamond Member
Jan 24, 2014
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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.
So it is a $2 onboard, but I should spend $200 - $300 to get it working up to specs? Doesn't that completely negate the perceived advantage of the onboard solution?
 

Cerb

Elite Member
Aug 26, 2000
17,484
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So the problem is that there's no metric by which audio devices can be benchmarked?
No, there's just not a quick and easy, yet also relevant to real use, method to do so; and it's not financially interesting enough for hardware sites to spend real money and time on it (that they need to reasonably expect to make back up with the related articles), as opposed to special SSD testing tools, specialized power measurement setups, etc.. I know enough that I could get started with DIY and used equipment, but just with that, which won't be as accurate as something like a brand new AP 2, I would be in $500+, and would then still need time to come up with good, and repeatable, testing procedures.

Basically, PSRR, CMRR, and related measurements, are what need looking at, along with filtering, more than the possible steady-state performance of the chips. The financial case is there for commercial audio/video product developers, but not so much PC hardware reviewers.
 

yhelothar

Lifer
Dec 11, 2002
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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.
There could be a big difference due to amplification differences if you have high impedance headphones.
 

RampantAndroid

Diamond Member
Jun 27, 2004
6,591
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Doesn't matter high or low, I think. There is noticeably less EMI on my STX card. On my workstation's onboard audio, I can only make it listenable if I put a volume pot inline and turn it down and turn the volume on the PC up (overcoming the noise floor a bit better.) On my phone, Xonar and personal DAC, I don't need that. My phone will have some noise as say the radio turns on or similar. My Xonar and custom DAC just don't have noise with straight IEMs. How you filter the power coming in/the quality of your power source AND your shielding really makes a difference. The Xonar's metal shield seems to do just fine (and it's sandwiched between two GTX670s) and my DAC is inside a hammond metal case.

Having ANY amp present makes a difference. Driving a pair of $20 headphones off a sound card directly might be fine. Driving anything nicer (or REALLY nice like say, an HD650) and you NEED some form of amplification.
 

yhelothar

Lifer
Dec 11, 2002
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I've been having a lot of motherboards with EMI lately, and it doesn't seem to correspond to the price of it.
My current Asus P6T Deluxe has a very clean sound. I could turn up the volume all the way on low impedance headphones and it'll be dead silent. On the Asus Rampage III Extreme, a top of the line $300 mobo, there was a decent amount of noise.
My Lenovo X61T and Dell Latitude XT2 laptops are both dead silent. My HP Envy 15 Beats has a lot of noise.
I also have a $200 iBasso USB DAC headphone amp with a Wolfson DAC. The ground noise carries through the USB so it doesn't help on those systems with noise to use an external DAC. I'd have to buy an additional USB isolator.

But what you're saying isn't related to the DAC quality but rather the power circuitry in your computer.

Having an amp makes a difference for high impedance headphones, not low ones.
 
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RampantAndroid

Diamond Member
Jun 27, 2004
6,591
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I've been having a lot of motherboards with EMI lately, and it doesn't seem to correspond to the price of it.
My current Asus P6T Deluxe has a very clean sound. I could turn up the volume all the way on low impedance headphones and it'll be dead silent. On the Asus Rampage III Extreme, a top of the line $300 mobo, there was a decent amount of noise.
My Lenovo X61T and Dell Latitude XT2 laptops are both dead silent. My HP Envy 15 Beats has a lot of noise.
I also have a $200 iBasso USB DAC headphone amp with a Wolfson DAC. The ground noise carries through the USB so it doesn't help on those systems with noise to use an external DAC. I'd have to buy an additional USB isolator.

But what you're saying doesn't seem related to the DAC quality but rather the power circuitry in your computer.

Having an amp makes a difference for high impedance headphones, not low ones.
That's not entirely true; high impedance cans will need more voltage; lower impedance cans will need more current. If your onboard audio can supply that current - great. But it won't always be the case.

I had a ground loop with my darkvoice 336SE and my DAC using audio...my solution was to just use optical out from the PC to my DAC, and a quality power source on the DAC.

If the issue is noise and you're going from DAC -> cans, it isn't a ground issue as much as a power issue. If you're going DAC -> Amp -> Cans I think it'd be a ground loop issue, and you can fix that in the amp with a ground loop breaker. (aka, if it's DAC to cans, it can't really be a ground loop. If it's grounded PC -> DAC -> grounded amp, check the resistance on the AMP to see if it has a ground loop breaker.)
 
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Cerb

Elite Member
Aug 26, 2000
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Having an amp makes a difference for high impedance headphones, not low ones.
The rest is right, but not this. If the buffer has trouble sourcing and sinking sufficient current, you will get distortion with low impedance headphones that will not be there if the buffer can quickly and accurately source and sink said currents. Very literally, the driver will be overshooting, undershooting, and in some cases, even wobbling around. With voltage feedback (99.9% of amps), damping factor is a fair approximation of how good it is at taking care of that.

Large relative changes in currents are often a problem for opamps, especially traditionally popular ones for line buffers. FI, an opamp specified for current into a 300 Ohm load is not going to get near that performance on a 50 Ohm load (but, if it's good enough, like an LM4562, 50 Ohm will still be OK, just might be over 0.0005% or whatever it is THD).
 

yhelothar

Lifer
Dec 11, 2002
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Hmm interesting. I guess I've never run into that before.
How low of an impedance are we talking about? Will your average 20-30ohm ones have an issue? How prevalent is it?

My setup is a USB DAC. I've seen many recommendations for a USB isolator to remove the noise.
 
May 11, 2008
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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?
It is not that the audio codec is that bad, it is usually noisy power supply lines to the codec and analog audio circuit that is not filtered properly. That and the fact that such circuits are on the same motherboard with a lot of switching powersupplies such as for example the CPU switching mode power supply that has to deliver out of nothing anything from 5 A to 100 A of current to a cpu that goes from idle to calculating where for example the mouse has to be positioned. The switching powersupplies switch on a frequency that is way too high to hear, but a cpu going from idle to active to idle all the time is going to cause load changes to the power supply that are in the audio range.
 
Nov 26, 2005
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I mainly game on my PC. I've had about 6 or 7 different platforms since 2000. I've never experienced better sound than from upper end Creative sound cards (4 gaming)
 

Caveman

Platinum Member
Nov 18, 1999
2,466
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I'm so glad I found this thread... So many things here that I've wondered about! A few questions spawned from this discussion... Sorry if some of these are REALLY BASIC questions...

It's been 8 years since my last rig build and I'm wondering what to do on a new build...

Rig is primarily for flight simulation with a secondary use as a HTPC.

GREAT SOUND is a must... But I'm a "Buy to get 98% for 50% of the price kind o guy"... NOT a "I'll spend double the cost for that last 2% kind of guy"... Looking to spend no more than $150-200 though... Questions:

1) Most recommended sound card based on $150-200 price range. Of course if I can get something cheaper with 98% functionality, then that's good...

2) I'm assuming I need a soundcard even if I'll be able to port the sound out through a nice AV Rx... If I pump garbage into my nice Rx, it can't magically change the source sound, correct? In other words, I still need a sound card...

2) Planning to pump the audio/video via single HDMI cable. How will I get the Audio from my sound card to travel with the video signal out of a single port on my 770GTX?

3) I've also got a TOSLInk Cable I could use to send audio but want to use HDMI for simplicity back at the Rx.
 
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rgallant

Golden Member
Apr 14, 2007
1,361
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I mainly game on my PC. I've had about 6 or 7 different platforms since 2000. I've never experienced better sound than from upper end Creative sound cards (4 gaming)
I agree
I used my on board for 2 months when I was looking for a pic-e sound card
and it sounded very flat compare to the extreme music on the old mother board.
put the new sb-z in , to me it was night and day.

not sure how peeps can play some PC games and not having a room shaking capable sound system , when the game code has a big sound event.
 

Puffnstuff

Lifer
Mar 9, 2005
15,555
4,262
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Many people who promote on board sound have never heard hi fidelity sound before so they have nothing to compare it to. I'm a firm believer in a quality sound card and speakers or headphones that have the range for it. I don't have any audio equipment at the moment, apart from my klipsch F3 speakers w/o a receiver, so I depend on my pc to listen to music. This is why I have a beyerdynamic DT 990 pro 250 ohm headset with my asus xonar d2x sound card.

Several of the high end motherboards offer better sound but until they actually include the higher end components they will never approach the quality of a discrete card.
 

Subyman

Moderator <br> VC&G Forum
Mar 18, 2005
7,876
32
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I'm so glad I found this thread... So many things here that I've wondered about! A few questions spawned from this discussion... Sorry if some of these are REALLY BASIC questions...

It's been 8 years since my last rig build and I'm wondering what to do on a new build...

Rig is primarily for flight simulation with a secondary use as a HTPC.

GREAT SOUND is a must... But I'm a "Buy to get 98% for 50% of the price kind o guy"... NOT a "I'll spend double the cost for that last 2% kind of guy"... Looking to spend no more than $150-200 though... Questions:

1) Most recommended sound card based on $150-200 price range. Of course if I can get something cheaper with 98% functionality, then that's good...

2) I'm assuming I need a soundcard even if I'll be able to port the sound out through a nice AV Rx... If I pump garbage into my nice Rx, it can't magically change the source sound, correct? In other words, I still need a sound card...

2) Planning to pump the audio/video via single HDMI cable. How will I get the Audio from my sound card to travel with the video signal out of a single port on my 770GTX?

3) I've also got a TOSLInk Cable I could use to send audio but want to use HDMI for simplicity back at the Rx.
I don't understand the need for a sound card if you are using a direct digital signal. :confused:
 

Cerb

Elite Member
Aug 26, 2000
17,484
33
86
I'm assuming I need a soundcard even if I'll be able to port the sound out through a nice AV Rx... If I pump garbage into my nice Rx, it can't magically change the source sound, correct? In other words, I still need a sound card...
That all depends on the input of the receiver. If it has good jitter rejection on S/PDIF or TOSLINK, you'll be just as well off with onboard as some other transport.

Planning to pump the audio/video via single HDMI cable. How will I get the Audio from my sound card to travel with the video signal out of a single port on my 770GTX?
Forcewares include an audio driver. Make it the default output device, after connecting it for the first time. This is by far your best option, as well.
 

RampantAndroid

Diamond Member
Jun 27, 2004
6,591
3
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I don't understand the need for a sound card if you are using a direct digital signal. :confused:
Mostly this. I use digital for my speakers only - my cans go through the discrete card since the Essence STX has a headphone amp. I plan to build a simple gainclone later for a pair of extra speakers I have to run as my PC speakers (apartment life for me, so no need for a subwoofer on my PC really...not as long as I have 5-6 inch woofers on the speakers themselves.)

Many people who promote on board sound have never heard hi fidelity sound before so they have nothing to compare it to. I'm a firm believer in a quality sound card and speakers or headphones that have the range for it. I don't have any audio equipment at the moment, apart from my klipsch F3 speakers w/o a receiver, so I depend on my pc to listen to music. This is why I have a beyerdynamic DT 990 pro 250 ohm headset with my asus xonar d2x sound card.

Several of the high end motherboards offer better sound but until they actually include the higher end components they will never approach the quality of a discrete card.
I'd take the DT880 600ohm cans personally. :)
 

jji7skyline

Member
Mar 2, 2015
194
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0
tbgforums.com
I wonder if I would be able to hear a difference between running audio through my USB sound mixer (Steinberg CI2) or running audio through my onboard (ALC892).
 

Ranulf

Golden Member
Jul 18, 2001
1,796
326
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not sure how peeps can play some PC games and not having a room shaking capable sound system , when the game code has a big sound event.

Well, when its Creative it is due to their chronic lack of driver support I don't have a problem with it. Maybe they've gotten better but I've not used a dedicated card in any of my systems for over ten years.

Edit: Apparently the new gigabyte gaming mobo I bought has a creative X-fi chip built in. I didn't even pay attention when buying it.
 
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RampantAndroid

Diamond Member
Jun 27, 2004
6,591
3
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Well, when its Creative it is due to their chronic lack of driver support I don't have a problem with it. Maybe they've gotten better but I've not used a dedicated card in any of my systems for over ten years.

Edit: Apparently the new gigabyte gaming mobo I bought has a creative X-fi chip built in. I didn't even pay attention when buying it.
After my XFi and BF2 not agreeing I decided to *NEVER* touch Creative cards again. They blamed...let's see, RAM, CPU latency, the PCI bus, it being too close to the videocard (yes guys, it being too close to the videocard is causing DIGITAL noise.) I was one of the more vocal people complaining on their forums where they had THOUSANDS of posts on this problem...and got banned for speaking up. Scummy company.

As for your board having an XFI, I don't think anyone in here is really saying that the digital end of things matters. All digital these days is roughly the same (unless you want 24/192 over USB, then it's a different story.) The quality of the sound is determined by the quality of the analog section. I'm going to guess that the analog section is as lackluster as the rest.
 

njdevilsfan87

Platinum Member
Apr 19, 2007
2,287
228
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Positional audio no longer really needs add in cards. The days of the awful Creative stranglehold are pretty much dead.
I've tried both and with headphones, dedicated cards have been far better. They also do a much better job in "how far away" the object making the sound is, as opposed to just "the sound is coming from this way". Huge different especially when something like bullets go flying by, or you hear footsteps, and you can sort of figure out how much time you've got to prepare and engage your enemy based off the combined direction and distance of the sound. A dedicated card has always felt very "3D" whereas the on board - flat. There are times with onboard where I couldn't tell if the sound was coming from in front or behind me. I'm using DT 880 Pros too so it's not like my cans are bad either.
 

MongGrel

Lifer
Dec 3, 2013
38,751
3,067
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My ASUS P6T7 actually has pretty good audio onboard, but I admit I've never liked it as well, personally.

*edit* NM guess I went there all ready.

I actually despise old Creative X-Fi cards, well Creative cards in general, Auzentech received the license to use the X-Fi chip and updated them to make some good ones.

I don't think they do anymore, I just got that one out of mothballs at the time and bought a PCI to PCI-e adapter because I loved it so well and bout an adapter as a P6T7 was all PCI-E, I still like it.
 
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alcoholbob

Diamond Member
May 24, 2005
6,221
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Because the DAC's SNR (like the ALC1150's 115db) only represents the digital filter. It's easy to slap on a decent DAC chip and call it a high quality sound solution but the truth is the most important part is the analog stage and in that the ALC1150 measures like a $10 portable CD player. And the reason it's that bad is because everybody is trying to find places to cut costs when inflation is cutting into your profits.
 
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