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Will a better soundcard help my system?
Box Cutter
post May 18 2005, 01:01
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Currently I'm using my computer as the source for my stereo system, and am running a line out of my integrated soundcard (its a soundblaster live! 24 bit) to my real amp which is driving my 2 speakers (they aren't crappy computer speakers). As such my stereo systerm, while certainly not top of the line, is nonetheless decent.

My question is, would getting a better soundcard for my computer have any effect on sound quality given that it is only a source, and not doing any amping? If it will, does anyone have any good recommendations?

My other question is are there any special settings I should set for my soundcard in order to keep it from amplifying the signal at all? Since I have an external amp, it seems like having the soundcard also act as an amp could cause worse sound quality.

Thanks for any help.
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audio2u
post May 18 2005, 01:51
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QUOTE (Box Cutter @ May 17 2005, 04:01 PM)
My question is, would getting a better soundcard for my computer have any effect on sound quality given that it is only a source, and not doing any amping? If it will, does anyone have any good recommendations?

My other question is are there any special settings I should set for my soundcard in order to keep it from amplifying the signal at all? Since I have an external amp, it seems like having the soundcard also act as an amp could cause worse sound quality.
*


Dude,
Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Cretive have done a Microsoft. They've produced the worst audio hardware in the world, but through absolutely brilliant marketing, have convinced everybody that they make the best sound cards around.
Now, I know a lot of gamers are gonna start jumping up and down and screaming blue murder and what not... quite frankly, go ahead. I'm a recording engineer. I have my own studio, but I work in other people's studios as well. Great example is one client who's studio I went to... they were running a desktop machine with a SoundBlaster Audigy2 24 bit, and the noise that that sucker generated was absolutely appalling. The hiss of the DA converters would have scared off a snake handler. I replaced their 'soundcard' for them (I should really refer to it is a 'noisecard', not a 'soundcard'... anyway, I digress) with a relatively cheap (AU$350) ESI Waveterminal 192L, and the difference was mindblowing.... and that was just a cheap card! A high end soundcard would have just made it embarrassing.
Look, I could rave on for hours, but I know you don't me to sit here, bagging out your noi..., sorry, soundcard. You want some help. And so it shall be....
My first suggestion would normally be "ditch the SBLive". However, there is a caveat. Do you own a home theatre amp with an S/PDIF digital input that is currently not in use, or are you just using a stereo amp?
If you have the former, then pop down to your nearest Radioshack/GuitarCentre/Dick Smith/Tandy/etc, and grab a 75 Ohm RCA-RCA cable... probbly set you back round $10-$15. This will enable you to use the digital output of the SBLive, rather than the analogue outs. This will make a huge difference to the quality of the audio going into your hi-fi. If you do only have a stereo hi-fi amp, then I'm sorry to say, you're back to square one (ditch the SBLive) if you want to improve things dramatically.
As for settings, no, there really isn't much you can do from your PC to improve audio quality. Once the audio gets to those DA converters in the SBLive, it all goes to shit.
Suggestions for other cards... well, like I said, the Waveterminal from ESI is a good card, but it's got 8 chnnel out, and you probably don't need that, so check out another card of theirs called the Juli@. Not sure how much they cost, but they will porobably be cheper than the Waveterminal, as it only has 2 outs.
As for other choices, I have to admit, without going off and doing some research, I can't really advise. I haven't had experience with any other good 2 channel cards, but there are obviously some out there if you go hunting.
Good luck with it.


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Bruce.
www.audio2u.com
The home of quality podcasts
(including Sine Language, a weekly discussion on all things audio)
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Box Cutter
post May 18 2005, 04:53
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Thanks for the quick response. Anyways, my amp is analog only (although this is becasue its old, not because its just a crap amp). As such, it sounds like a new sound card it in order. Assuming my primary concern is the quality of the DAC, do you (or anyone else) know what the best card would be that can be had for around 250 USD or less?

The ones i saw in my 30 minutes of research were the two you mentioned (do the Julia and Waveterminal have the same DAC?), the M-Audio Audiophile 192 or Revolution 7.1 (though people say driver updates are poor). and the Audiotrak Prodigy 7.1. Any recommendation among these, or another card?

Thanks.
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Lyx
post May 18 2005, 05:16
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Concerning settings: with NON-creative labs cards, do not resample the signal (i.e. upsampling from 16bit to 24bit cannot improve quality - it will only eat speed and in the worst case decrease quality).

Concerning soundcards, it really depends on what you want to use them for - as a rather simple checklist:
- do you need 3d-audio support in videogames?
- are you gonna watch movies on a surround-system with it?
- do you want to do home-recording with it?
- any special needs in terms of connectors?

For most of the above, there is a cheap but decent solution - but cards which are superiour in all of the above at once are rare and possibly expensive.

- Lyx


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I am arrogant and I can afford it because I deliver.
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Box Cutter
post May 18 2005, 05:46
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The main purpose of this system is to listen to music. The main purpose of this soundcard is to be a good source for music (this gets back to needing a good DAC). I don't do any sort of MIDI or sound mixing work, so I don't need any of those features. I will probably watch movies on it, but since I have only stereo speakers at the moment, surround sound isn't critical. I hope this helps narrow it down.

Thanks again.
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cabbagerat
post May 18 2005, 08:53
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QUOTE (Box Cutter @ May 17 2005, 08:46 PM)
The main purpose of this system is to listen to music. The main purpose of this soundcard is to be a good source for music (this gets back to needing a good DAC).
*

If you are on a strict budget and only need stereo then the Chaintech AV710 is a good choice. It features a very good Wolfson DAC on one of it's channels (and mediocre DACs on the rest). The VIA drivers let you use this DAC as a front channel. Detailed instructions for doing this can be found in this HeadFi thread.

Considering this card is available for about US$25 it's really great value.
AV710's Wolfson DAC.


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TheStonepedo
post May 20 2005, 04:51
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I have been running an M-Audio brand card for a bit. It has analog in and out, digital (coax) in and out, and MIDI connectors. Although I will never use the MIDI, the rest seems fairly useful with analog in (from my tape deck), digital out to my 5.1 amp (for watching movies using TV-out card), and analog out to my headphones. Their software is not great but I have not had to tweak M-Audio's software beyond adjusting output levels. I believe this card ran about $100.

I definitely agree that Creative is crap. They have some kind of obsession with stereo miniplug ports, to the point that they made an akward-as-hell stereo miniplug female output to a pair of coaxial digital outputs. Instead of encoding more than two channels on one output they made a coax front and coax rear digital output. I would never buy another card from a company that does not consider the actual applications of its product.


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grav
post May 20 2005, 06:55
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I've been using an Echo Mia and a SoundBlaster Live! for a while.
I could easily switch between them and though it was not a blind-test, I swear that I could hear a very clear difference between them even when playing back mp3s in 128 kbit.
The sound of the Echo card was much clearer and softer.
The Echo Mia is a no-nonsense card with balanced outputs. It's not produced anymore, but you might be able to get a used card for around 100 $.
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