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Question PC 5.1 Audio

Korporativ

Member
Dec 29, 2001
160
2
81
BLUF:
Wondering what the best solution for 5.1 audio on PC is in today's environment. I see that the vast majority of ADC/DAC stacks are for Headphone/Stereo audio in 2021. I use mid to high end headphones when focusing, or playing a competative game, but I don't always want something on my head.

Detail:
I had been running a nice 5.1 PC Speaker setup, but had one of the speakers blow out. I had a spare set of decent 5.1 speakers that I inherited, and so I wired them into the powered subwoofer/breakout of the PC speakers. It works alright, but I think there is an impedence/other mismatch going on, and would like to put a proper solution in place. I've got a few options in mind, but would like to know if I'm being totally unreasonable.

Option 1:
- Use Existing DAC (Optical)
- Buy a receiver for the passive speakers

Option 2:
- Use HDMI out from my video card (dumb question... wouldn't this be a performance impact to the video card?)
- Buy a receiver for the passive speakers

Option 3:
- Use Existing DAC
- Buy a new set of 5.1 "PC" speakers.

Option 4:
- Buy a stereo AMP/DAC, give up on the clunky 5.1 PC audio
- Use existing speakers.

Am I missing a better option, or something else entirely? Should this be in the PC peripheral section, or the Consumer electronics/audio section of the forums?
 

mnewsham

Lifer
Oct 2, 2010
14,477
397
136
Option 2:
- Use HDMI out from my video card (dumb question... wouldn't this be a performance impact to the video card?)
- Buy a receiver for the passive speakers
This is the route most people take, and it sometimes works and sometimes doesn't.

For some reason, GPUs tend to ignore if the display is attached to a receiver, even if it has proper eARC support. Since the display usually only has 2.0 speakers, your GPU sees that and goes, cool, stereo audio only.

You can get around it with some registry edits and I've seen people online talk about using modified nvidia drivers to force surround sound audio. Though some people report modern Nvidia cards behaving better in-regards to this without needing to edit the registry or use non-standard drivers. Mostly from what I've seen they're people with RTX 2000 or RTX 3000 cards.


And no, using HDMI audio in no way degrades GPU performance.



On the whole, getting proper surround sound audio from PCs is a bit of headache.


Also, the reason people don't do option 1 that you mentioned is because optical audio doesn't support new surround sound codecs (Dolby Atmos and DTS:X), and while they do support older surround sound codecs, they only support lossy compressed streams, not lossless streams (Like Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD MA)


As for option 3, the 5.1 "PC" speakers I'm aware of all use optical input, or 3.5mm (6 channel) inputs, which has the same issues described above for optical, and when using 6x3.5mm you need a sound-card that supports 3.5mm 6-channel output AND supports the proper DTS and Dolby codecs (even if your soundcard or motherboard has 6 3.5mm outputs, that doesn't mean the sound-card has proper support for the DTS/Dolby codecs, since they cost a licensing fee)
 

Dranoche

Senior member
Jul 6, 2009
230
27
91
Option 2 has the most flexibility for usage and future upgrades if you can get it working. If all of your media viewing is at your computer and you don't have a separate surround setup at a TV, and you really want surround sound, it's probably worth the extra trouble.

Option 3 would be the easiest but locks you in to the full speaker set and possibly a sound card.

Option 4 is similar to Option 2 in ability to upgrade, and about as easy as Option 3 to setup. Potentially a little more work if you're trying to incorporate a subwoofer, but no more dealing with getting surround out of Windows. I would recommend Option 4 if the majority of your surround usage is actually just speaker fill to the rear channels, and not true surround. I don't miss my surround PC speakers at all since I went with this option.
 

OlyAR15

Senior member
Oct 23, 2014
573
41
91
I've been through this journey several years ago. I started off with a set of Creative Labs 5.1 computer speakers, running multiple line level outs to the speakers. While this worked, the speakers themselves weren't great, especially the "subwoofer" that wasn't close to a real sub. Also, you are dependent on the DACs of your motherboard, which aren't usually the greatest. I guess you could always use a discrete soundcard, either internal or external, but you are still limited to the computer speakers. Also, the mess of cables out of the computer. So to me, the best solution was to use an AV receiver and real speakers. To get multichannel out to the receiver, you can still go the line outs route, but again you are using the DACs of the motherboard, and again you have a tangle of wires coming from the computer to the receiver.

Using either coaxial or optical digital out from the computer wouldn't work for most games since you can only get multichannel through DD or DTS. If you have a motherboard or soundcard that can do DD Live (or the DTS equivalent), then you can get multichannel sound via the single cable. However, that option has essentially disappeared from most modern motherboards. I don't know if any soundcards offer that option, either.

So that leaves HDMI (or Displayport, but I don't know if any receiver has DP inputs). I can say that it works, but it is far from ideal. The main advantages are that you send uncompressed multichannel audio through a single cable, and you can use the DAC in your receiver rather than the computer. The biggest issue is that HDMI tightly couples audio and video, so you end up with another display. You could, in theory, plug your main monitor into the receiver, but since I have a G-sync monitor that requires a DP connection, I ended up buying the cheapest 1080p monitor I could find as my second display. It works. I get multichannel sound in games this way. Occasionally, the computer forgets and resets to stereo, but that is easy to change back.

The ideal situation is a new connection that only does uncompressed multichannel audio (basically, half of HDMI). Of course, that really won't happen since multichannel computer gaming is a niche market.
 

CU

Platinum Member
Aug 14, 2000
2,326
22
81
Could you use a DP splitter and send one to your monitor and the other to a dp to hdmi converter then finally to a receiver?
 

CU

Platinum Member
Aug 14, 2000
2,326
22
81
Wasn't sure. Just figured since it was a splitter windows would only see one. Although I don't know what it would see really as I have never tried it. Really pretty sad that really good surround sound is so hard to get.
 

OlyAR15

Senior member
Oct 23, 2014
573
41
91
Really pretty sad that really good surround sound is so hard to get.
Well, to be fair, how many PC users actually go through the hassle of setting up a good surround sound system? Good speakers are expensive, no way to get around that. My speakers alone cost more than a high-end gaming rig (at least, before the current GPU price craziness). If you just want decent surround sound, then getting a 5.1 computer speaker setup is fine. Using the analog outputs of the motherboard is fine, considering the quality of most PC speakers. Yeah, you have a bunch more wires coming out of the back of your PC, but that's a small price to pay unless you are a real neat freak.

Or, just use a set of good headphones, which I suspect most people use.
 

CU

Platinum Member
Aug 14, 2000
2,326
22
81
Correct on the speaker price, but once you have a nice set they last forever. Compared to a gaming rig that ages much quicker. I just use a cheap 5.1 Logitech setup for mine, but I can understand wanting a better option. Just seems weird when we have VR and 4K monitors and GPU's to push them (ignore current prices) that highend 5.1 is difficult.
 

mnewsham

Lifer
Oct 2, 2010
14,477
397
136
Or, just use a set of good headphones, which I suspect most people use.
Yup, and with DTS Headphone:X and Dolby Atmos for Headphones, you can get pretty good surround sound mixes through headphones. Not something i'd use for gaming (unless the game has a Dolby Atmos mode), but for watching movies on my PC that have DTS:X or Dolby Atmos soundtracks? That's the route I go for these days.

Nice mid-priced headphones (HD 6XX) + decent simulated surround sound.


2021-09-17 17_19_04-Dolby Access.png
 

OlyAR15

Senior member
Oct 23, 2014
573
41
91
Just seems weird when we have VR and 4K monitors and GPU's to push them (ignore current prices) that highend 5.1 is difficult.
Well, it isn't too difficult. HDMI works. It just means you have a second display. If you already have an actual 2nd monitor, then it really is no issue (as long as your 2nd monitor resolution can be driven by your AV receiver.) Just connect your PC directly to your main monitor, then use an HDMI cable to connect your pc to your receiver. You will get multichannel sound. For the most part, it works. Again, every once in a while, I find that the computer "forgets" that it is hooked up to a receiver, and that only happens when I wake the computer from sleep. When I cold boot, it is fine. I think it is important, when waking the PC, that you turn the receiver on first.

Now, if you only have one monitor and don't want to add another, you can use Dual Monitor Tools app to constrain the mouse to one screen. That effectively gives you a single monitor setup, as long as you don't use the keyboard shortcuts to move windows to your second display.
 
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