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 Post subject: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2011 8:07 am 
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I know this is not a video card question, but there is no sound card or general component forums, so I figured this is about as good as I can get.

Setup: System in signature. Using onboard Realtek audio. Recently I've been wondering: am I missing out?
Currently, the onboard audio outputs to a Belkin PureAV TOSLINK (optical cable) into my Marantz SR-7300 reciever. This is fed through Monster Cable Z-1 Series Biwire speaker cables to Paradigm Monitor 9 speakers (and a Kilpsch 10" powered subwoofer).

Uses: Games mostly, Music (high Bitrate MP3, some FLAC), and internet streaming TV shows and movies.

Would I get a percievable benefit from upgrading from Realtek Onboard Audio to a dedicated sound card? I've been looking at the Asus Xonar DX, I need something that is PCI-E only. I don't want to spend "too much" money, since my wife wouldn't want me to spend even $1 on this...

Currently, I think the quality of my music is mostly limited by the quality of the source, generally a CD-ripped 320 kbps VBR MP3. I want the warmest, richest sound I can get without spending a lot more. I listen to music through FUBAR to bypass the windows volume modulation.

Question: Using a digital output, is there any real benefit to using a dedicated sound card, or is it just a waste of time/money?


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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2011 8:49 am 
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I think it would mostly depend on whether on not your onboard sound card is simply passing the digital bits through, or if it's converting it to analog and then back to digital. If it's the latter then I would say that an upgrade would definitely improve quality. On the other hand, if it's the former I can't really say conclusively. The only real issue I'm aware of with an all digital signal is jitter and subsequent timing errors which can "smear" the sound. I would say if you're happy with your current set up, keep it as is. If you have some disposable income you could put towards a sound card upgrade, go for it, the sound can only get better!

I recently built my new silent rig which is using an Asus Essence STX sound card outputting through the analog RCA and headphone jacks, and I have to say there is a very noticeable increase in fidelity in everything, even my high quality mp3s. I can even hear a difference through my ~$200 Logitech PC speakers, which are pretty basic and relatively lo-fi..


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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2011 9:44 am 
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Quote:
the onboard audio outputs to a Belkin PureAV TOSLINK (optical cable)


in short - there is no benefit in a fancy sound card when using digital output.

Since you are using the optical digital out all data is converted to analog at the Belkin unit. so the sound card's quality has nothing to do with what you hear. Your content (MP3s and Games that often have low bitrate and copressed audio) coupled with high quality speakers and amplifier and you will notice the MP3ish qualities.

I love the worm sound of vinyl records, too bad nothing new comes out on vinyl.

.

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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2011 9:51 am 
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That's what I was thinking, but it's nice to see it discussed. I had heard that Digital Coax is better than Digital Optical, mainly for the reduction in Judder, but that could just be "folk wisdom".

I wouldn't be opposed to having a lossless music library, the problem is then you have to have a "lossless" library and then a "portable" one for phones, in-car audio, and MP3s. It gets kind of complicated.

It is also time consuming to rip each of your CDs twice, and also make sure they are named correctly. I had helium music manager for a while, which I thought was decent.


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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2011 10:21 am 
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ame wrote:
Since you are using the optical digital out all data is converted to analog at the Belkin unit
.


Think you may have mispoken...Belkin is just the toslink cable. The end result is the same, it's digital from the PC to the Receiver. So, no reason to get a sound card.

I've considered re-ripping my library to lossless as well since going from 320k VBR (about 5:1 compression I think) to lossless (about 2:1) would just mean consuming 200GB of HDD space instead of 80GB..and hard drive space is cheap and plentiful. Only thing stopping me is my refusal to use Apple lossless (proprietary format) and that iPods can't read FLAC. Bastards!

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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2011 10:36 am 
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I'm HIJACKING my own thread!
I've been thinking about having a regular "music" directory and a "lossless" directory as well. It would be really nice if I could RIP my SACD and DVD-A discs.. there may be a way, actually.

A lot of my "rock" music I don't need lossless. My "chill" or "sound quality" music would be nice to have however as lossless.
Sounds like a fun weekend: ripping tons of CDs and converting them to various formats, then editing the tags, organizing them, and backing them up.


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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2011 11:26 am 
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djkest wrote:
Sounds like a fun weekend: ripping tons of CDs and converting them to various formats, then editing the tags, organizing them, and backing them up.


I think maybe time operates differently in your part of the world if it only takes a weekend to re-rip your collection ;) Good luck w that!

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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2011 12:23 pm 
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ame wrote:
I love the worm sound of vinyl records, too bad nothing new comes out on vinyl.


I haven't tried it myself, but most audiophiles say that passing the raw sound output through a vacuum tube amplifier will make the audio 'warmer' than transistor amps.

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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2011 5:15 pm 
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djkest wrote:
Sounds like a fun weekend: ripping tons of CDs and converting them to various formats, then editing the tags, organizing them, and backing them up.
If you're doing something like that I would HIGHLY recommend using this program: http://www.jtclipper.eu/thegodfather/ or one like it for batch editing ID3 tags and organizing files. This program does both with amazing speed and efficiency. I think I edited about 3,300 tags in about 30 seconds once I set the global settings to use.


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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2011 9:05 pm 
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ame wrote:
in short - there is no benefit in a fancy sound card when using digital output.

I wouldn't say that's entirely true. The sound may be transfered as a digital signal, but in the case of games, a lot of sound processing can be performed by the card prior to getting sent to the speakers. Things like EAX effects use the card's hardware to properly reflect and obstruct sounds in an environment, and to add reverb effects and so on. Many integrated solutions poorly implement these effects, and sometimes don't support them at all. Without proper hardware support, many effects might also be simulated on the CPU, which can potentially effect performance, though generally only by a very small amount on modern hardware. However, I know that many onboard sound chipsets have improved a lot in recent years, so the differences might be minimal. Also, a number of recent games have been skipping support for hardware sound in favor of their own software-based systems.

It would be nice if some site were to do a thorough roundup comparing recent sound cards against onboard solutions, both for games and other audio. Otherwise, one is required to actually test the hardware themselves to see how it compares.


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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 08, 2011 3:35 am 
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I'm not very experienced in this, but can you output 7.1 sound from basic Realtek onboard audio via one optical cable?

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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 08, 2011 4:59 am 
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CA_Steve wrote:
ame wrote:
Since you are using the optical digital out all data is converted to analog at the Belkin unit
.


Think you may have mispoken...Belkin is just the toslink cable. The end result is the same, it's digital from the PC to the Receiver. So, no reason to get a sound card.


I thought the Belkin was the Reciever ? My bad...

As for tube amps I personally don't own one, But I do have a TL Audio tube preamp I use for recording and the sound does have some noticable warn character when compared to other preamps I have. It's a subtle touch that can be nice at times.

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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 08, 2011 5:49 am 
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alecmg wrote:
I'm not very experienced in this, but can you output 7.1 sound from basic Realtek onboard audio via one optical cable?


You can output 7.1 compressed audio over optical, IE AC3/Dolby Digital or DTS. You can't output 7.1 RAW digital over optical because it does not have enough bandwidth. This has nothing to do with Realtek, it's a limitation of the SPDIF/TOSLINK standard.


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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 08, 2011 5:54 am 
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Thanks for the tips. I really liked Helium Music Manager when I had it. I have a problem in that I have about 60GB of MP3 files right now. I try to keep these files current in 2 places at the same time. It is a pain to sync them both up though. I may get helium also. That godfather program looks pretty interesting too, once you understand how to use it.

Yes, the Marantz is the reciever. The Belkin is the cable.

So an interesting counterpoint was brought up: sound quality for games might be improved with a standalone sound card. It actually sounds like cool EAX effects would be a big factor, although computer games are moving away from such with the "Consolification" of games. (IE, dumbing down of PC games so as to make them compatible with console gaming systems like XBOX 360.)

I need a script that does this:

Insert CD
find metadata online
rip CD to WAV file
Encode wave files to FLAC and tag
Move FLAC files to FLAC directory
Encode wave files to 320kbps VBR MP3
Move MP3 files to MP3 directory
delete .wav files
eject CD

ETA: I'm not a huge fan on 7.1, or 6.1 for that matter. Last time I checked the two rear channels are 1 discrete channel that is split into two speakers. That a lot of expense and additional complexity for a dubious benefit. Perhaps it's changed now. But even then, most things are only encoded in 5.1 still, since most consumers dont' even have a stereo to run their movies through.


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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Fri Apr 08, 2011 6:41 pm 
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djkest wrote:
Thanks for the tips. I really liked Helium Music Manager when I had it. I have a problem in that I have about 60GB of MP3 files right now. I try to keep these files current in 2 places at the same time. It is a pain to sync them both up though. I may get helium also. That godfather program looks pretty interesting too, once you understand how to use it.

Yes, the Marantz is the reciever. The Belkin is the cable.

So an interesting counterpoint was brought up: sound quality for games might be improved with a standalone sound card. It actually sounds like cool EAX effects would be a big factor, although computer games are moving away from such with the "Consolification" of games. (IE, dumbing down of PC games so as to make them compatible with console gaming systems like XBOX 360.)

I need a script that does this:

Insert CD
find metadata online
rip CD to WAV file
Encode wave files to FLAC and tag
Move FLAC files to FLAC directory
Encode wave files to 320kbps VBR MP3
Move MP3 files to MP3 directory
delete .wav files
eject CD

ETA: I'm not a huge fan on 7.1, or 6.1 for that matter. Last time I checked the two rear channels are 1 discrete channel that is split into two speakers. That a lot of expense and additional complexity for a dubious benefit. Perhaps it's changed now. But even then, most things are only encoded in 5.1 still, since most consumers dont' even have a stereo to run their movies through.
I'm pretty sure that dBpoweramp can do most, if not all of those steps for you. It definitely offers a batch CD ripper, metadata updates and file conversion, although scripting everything together would likely take some quite a bit of tweaking. That being said, you would probably need the pro version (read - not free) to do everything you want to. It may be a worthwhile investment for you.


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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Sat Apr 09, 2011 1:37 am 
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djkest wrote:

I need a script that does this:

Insert CD
find metadata online
rip CD to WAV file
Encode wave files to FLAC and tag
Move FLAC files to FLAC directory
Encode wave files to 320kbps VBR MP3
Move MP3 files to MP3 directory
delete .wav files
eject CD


I've had success with EAC which can do everything on your list except insert the cd. Check it out, it's a really good CD ripper, though it can take quite some time on badly scratched disks since it rereads them in order to get as perfect a copy as possible.


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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Sat Apr 09, 2011 7:22 am 
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+1 for EAC.

I usually search for the stuff online first, there are often good rips out there, with log files and stuff. Saves time. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Sat Apr 09, 2011 7:39 am 
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You could try using HDMI Out from the Radeon card to feed your amp instead, if it has hdmi input. S/PDIF is very limited in bandwidth, so you are either limited to stereo uncompressed, or 5.1 ac3/dts compressed. HDMI can do uncompressed 5.1 (and 7.1) as well.


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 Post subject: Re: Sound Card: worth the money for me?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 11, 2011 10:31 am 
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Alas, my Reciever is from 2004 and does not have HDMI. It's too expensive for me to think about replacing it right now for something with similar sound quality.

I used EAC this weekend and I like it OK. Quality seems good, but seems fairly slow and not too intuitive.
It's not super automated, I have to select the track list from the available options, and I have to select the cover art. It also does either FLAC or MP3 but not both at the same time AFAIK. I downloaded the LAME codec and so I made some rips in 896k FLAC and then ripped in 256 kbps VBR LAME MP3. Also EAC doesn't seem to like putting the rips onto my NAS, it wants the local drive only. So then I have to go copy them over.

I also don't like how it has a hard time creating folders like Windows Media Player does.
Example: I put in a CD by James Taylor- Greatest Hits.
WMP would create a folder in "My Music" Called "James Taylor" if there wasn't one already. Inside that it would create another folder called "Greatest Hits" and put all the tracks in there. However WMP doesn't do VBR AFAIK. Otherwise it would probably be the fastest way to rip stuff for me.

I got 6 CDs done with MP3/FLAC and put in the proper directories. Clearly this will take some time! More of a long-term project.

I may try some of the other suggestions out there. I will not consider "downloading" any music for a CD I already own.


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