Will an external USB soundcard reduce picked-up "computer noise?"

Discussion in 'General Hardware' started by MichaelD, Nov 9, 2012.

  1. MichaelD

    MichaelD Lifer

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    We all know the inside of a computer case is an RFI/EMI nightmare and sometimes you get extraneous "computer noise" (whines/clicks/buzzes) transmitted through the onboard or PCI soundcard. Some MBs/cards produce a little, some a lot.

    I bought a Supermicro MB/Xeon i3 v2.0 to use as the backbone for a new video editing rig. It has no onboard sound, but I figured I'd use my old Audigy ZS PCI souncard. The card picks up a TON of computer noise. It's not a ground loop or anything like that. It's your typical whining/buzzing/whirring "computer noise." It's darn near impossible for me to concentrate on what I'm doing with all that noise in the background. :(

    I don't need 7.1 or even 5.1. Basic 2-channel output to feed my powered monitors is all I require.

    So I'm wondering if an external USB "soundcard" would reduce that noise? Something like this http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16829102032

    or (more than I want to spend) this http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16829102032

    Thoughts are most welcome as well as any personal experience with USB soundcards. Thanks.
     
    #1 MichaelD, Nov 9, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2012
  2. dave_the_nerd

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    USB can be laggy. Might be annoying while recording.

    I have one of these that is very, very quiet. You need good headphones to go with it though.

    But really, if you're just outputting to a speaker system connected to your video edit rig (as opposed to music editing) you probably should just go optical as much as possible. (I only do stereo recording, so I'm a bit ignorant with surround sound, but my studio monitors have an optical input and reasonably good onboard D/A converts and amps, so the wiring from the computer is all optical, and immune to "computer noise" as a result.)

    I guess I should also point out that some equipment (like sound cards, or my old Mackie mixer, may it RIP) can get noisier with age. Repair can be worth the effort for the high end stuff, but not for a consumer sound card like the Audigy.

    For some reason, if I use cheap headphones with my computer, they pick up the local ESPN radio station. :D
     
    #2 dave_the_nerd, Nov 9, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2012
  3. MichaelD

    MichaelD Lifer

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    Thanks very much for the detailed reply. I don't record with this rig; I capture the raw DV from the camera via Firewire and edit with Vegas Pro. Not sure if lag (reasonably few microseconds) would make much difference with video/audio in this case. That's a nice interface. I didn't think of going the pro audio route.

    My monitors are powered and have XLR/RCA inputs. The outs on that Focusrite are TRS and I have XLR to TRS cables. I could go balanced. Sounds great but I'd still have to deal with any noise picked up via USB. I guess the only way to know for sure is to try it.

    Thanks again; you've given me another route to consider. :)

    *edit*
    I just realized what you were saying about optical. Optical=no noise. Duh. Missed that. Would SPIDF be "noise free" like optical? Probably not since SPIDF is digital. I guess I could look for a PCI card with an optical output and then an optical to line converter? This is getting expensive, quick.
     
    #3 MichaelD, Nov 9, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2012
  4. Zap

    Zap Elite Member

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    Yes, SPDIF. It can be coaxial or optical. Both are digital. The "noise" you hear a sound card pick up from the system is in the analog portion (after the DAC).
     
  5. DaveSimmons

    DaveSimmons Elite Member

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    I have a $27 Turtle Beach USB stick with optical digital out that I connect from my music jukebox to my receiver, it works well.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16829118007

    Like Zap says, the coax or optical digital out from any soundcard or USB stick will be noise-free. The noise you hear is RFI hash from components and that only affects the analog section of a soundcard.

    For a USB stick with just analog, you might be able to fix any noise issues by moving the stick away from the PC, for example by plugging it in to a USB hub or using a USB extension cable.

    $13 analog USB:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16829128002
     
    #5 DaveSimmons, Nov 9, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2012
  6. MichaelD

    MichaelD Lifer

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    Thanks, Zap and DaveSimmons. I dug up an old (2008) Behringer USB UCA200 codec that came free with my mixer. This thing:

    [​IMG]

    It is almost as noisy as the Audigy. :( Same amount of whine, just slightly less clicks. The main issue for me is that my monitors only support XLR or RCA inputs. I'll have to do some research, but so far it's looking like a Prosound USB interface would be my best bet. The Audigy ZS has a SPIDF-out, but again, I've got no SPIDF-->analog outboard converter.
     
    #6 MichaelD, Nov 9, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2012
  7. richaron

    richaron Senior member

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    I only ever use USB audio interfaces as my "sound cards". Being outside & away from the computer helps reduce EMI, as does being inside a separate case. Plus I have real knobs to play with, some flashing things, & lots of space for big plugs (I would for shizzle go balanced to the monitors).

    There are plenty of entry level 2 channel (stereo) interfaces made by real audio companies which I'd much prefer over a little usb sound card. I'd start by checking out online retailers (sweetwater/zzounds/musiciansfriend/et al) and researching audio interfaces in your price range.
     
  8. MichaelD

    MichaelD Lifer

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    Agreed. Been on Sweetwater (and EBay) for about an hour now. :D Looking primarily at Focusrite and Presonus pieces.

    In my old NLE rig, the onboard sound (Realtek something-something) was almost dead silent and served the purpose really well. But that rig got old in the tooth and slow. I wanted a rock-solid backbone for the new NLE rig, hence going with a "server MB." The two onboard Intel 1GB NICs can be teamed (my switch supports link aggregation) so that will help with transferring large files. But in hindsight, I probably should've went with something with onboard sound. My Audigy ZS is like 8+ years old. :(
     
  9. dave_the_nerd

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    Is it possible the whine (hiss?) is from cabling, or from the speakers themselves?

    Could pick up some new cables from Monoprice and see if there's a difference. Cheap experiment. (I find I have to replace my mic cables every couple years. I don't really know why, I'm pretty gentle with the, but nevertheless, the noise is there, then I replace the cables and it isn't.)
     
  10. DaveSimmons

    DaveSimmons Elite Member

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    > I dug up an old (2008) Behringer USB UCA200 codec that came free with my mixer. This thing: It is almost as noisy as the Audigy

    Did you try moving the box as far away from the PC as the USB cable would reach? (That looks like a nice long cable.)

    The closer the box (with its analog hardware) is to the PC, the more RFI it will pick up.

    Edit: also, as a sanity check did you try listening to some different content like a YouTube video or music samples at Amazon? If you're using the same test audio over and over it's possible that the audio itself is messed up not your soundcard.
     
    #10 DaveSimmons, Nov 9, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2012
  11. MichaelD

    MichaelD Lifer

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    My monitors are definitely not noisy. They are KRK Rokit 8's and I've had them for about 5 years now. My main gaming box (Asrock P67 MB) plugs into them through a DVI KVM and it's almost dead-silent. Sure, if you put your ear to a tweeter you hear a bit of hiss, but no clicking/popping/whining noises. As opposed to this new Supermicro motherboard which sounds like a frying pan full of bacon, nuts and bolts. :(

    I did not try moving the POS Behringer codec (my mixer is solid, BTW;) ) far away from the PC , though I doubt it'll make a diff. My cables are solid.

    Quick question for dave_the_nerd With your Focusrite, how do you control the volume of the playback from the computer, since the USB input/output has no associated volume control? Through the mixer/recording software, I'd imagine? I would want to use the Focusrite as a "soundcard" w/o having the mixer software open all the time. Would that work for me?

    I just tried moving the Behringer codec away...as far as the cable allows. Clicking is MUCH less but the whine is still there...like alternator whine in a car stereo...my tweeters are at ear-level so you can imagine how annoying it is. :/
     
    #11 MichaelD, Nov 9, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2012
  12. dave_the_nerd

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    Assuming you set it as your default audio device, you can control it with the Windows System Tray Volume icon, same as anything onboard sound card.

    If you plug headphones into it, there's a physical dial on the box for headphone (monitor) volume as well.
     
  13. MichaelD

    MichaelD Lifer

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    NICE. That's exactly what I wanted to know. Thank you.

    Is it safe to assume other similar products such as the Presonus 44VSL operate in the same manner? http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/AudioBox44/
    I am debating b/t the Focusrite 8i6 and Presonus 44VSL. I need the additional inputs for a drum machine. (might as well do double duty on the NLE box)
    I'm looking forward to having a working headphone output again as well. All my "PCs" are actually in 4U rackmount cases (I have a 22U rack in my office) and none of them have headphone jacks on the front of the case. MY DVI KVM has a headphone jack but the volume is so stupidly low it's not worth using.
     
    #13 MichaelD, Nov 10, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2012
  14. MichaelD

    MichaelD Lifer

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    dave_the_nerd: Going back to your 2i4, if you are listening to your computer (mp3/game/video/whatever), what input do you use for the headphone source selection as shown here? The USB input really isn't "an input" per the front panel. Thanks for putting up with all the questions...I want to be sure before I buy.

    [​IMG]
     
  15. Insert_Nickname

    Insert_Nickname Platinum Member

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    I don't know if this is relevant. Some years back I had a similar problem with noise in the analog output. What I eventually traced it to was the internal front-panel speaker plug. When the internal speaker (unconnected) was turned up, it caused low-frequency "humming" (you know, typical white noise). When disabled the problem went completely away, and the output was crystal clear...

    Don't know if its useful, but thought I'd mention it... :)
     
  16. MichaelD

    MichaelD Lifer

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    Thanks for the suggestion, Insert_Nickname. My case has no front panel audio (it's a rackmount case), and I've tried using different cables, moving things around, etc. Over the years I've discovered that some motherboards are just prone to much more EFI/RMI than others.

    For example, my old system was based on an Asus P5 Pro MB. Realtek onboard audio. Fairly noisy. Lots of hisses and pops. My new system is based on an Asrock P67 MB. Realtek onboard audio. Same cables, same DVI KVM, same speakers. Almost dead silent. o_O It's hit or miss, basically.

    With this NLE rig I bought a server/workstation MB with no onboard sound which in hindsight was a mistake. Then again, there's no guarantee that if I had bought a MB with onboard sound that it wouldn't be noisy. Like I said, hit or miss, unfortunately.

    I'm probably going to go the Proaudio/recording route and get something the like Focusrite that dave_the_nerd has. That would remove the audio codec from the case, physically and give me more I/O flexibility as well. It's just one more thing with wires hanging out on my desk...but I'll live with it.
     
  17. mfenn

    mfenn Elite Member <br> Currently on <BR> Moderator Sabb
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    Yeah a server motherboard like a SM isn't really designed with the goal of minimizing EFI.

    With regard you your question in post #14, the input selection only matters when you are using the direct monitor mode. If you have the dial fully turned towards playback, you will only hear the output from the computer.
     
  18. MichaelD

    MichaelD Lifer

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    Thanks, mfenn. I've got an EBay bid in on a Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6. It's array of inputs will meet my needs nicely. If I get it, I sincerely hope I don't pick up too much noise through the USB cable from the SM MB. It was not the best choice for this project but I've got it now and will have to make the best of it. My main gaming rig is plenty fast for HD NLE editing (and it's soooo quiet) but I wanted to keep the two functions separate. We'll see how it goes.