Is there any point to getting a dedicated sound card in a PC?

Having bought a computer recently, I’m wondering whether I should have paid 25 to 125$ for a sound card rather than relying on the integrated sound card.

If you’re not a musician, sound artist or sound engineer, is it worth it?

Onboard sound has gotten much better than it was ten years ago.

You are probably fine without a dedicated sound card unless you intend to use your PC as home theatre rig or for high quality music playback. Even then - no big whoop. For sure, if you’re just going to play .mp3s on it you’re not going to notice any difference.

You may squeeze a bit more out of your CPU for gaming with a dedicated card, but I would be very surprised if anyone could tell the difference on a new computer, honestly.

Increased system stability. Slight speed boost. Lack of that annoying hum and pop that happens sometimes on Realteks.

I swear by mine, I find it’s worth it. Mostly for the system stability and honestly better sound. Clearer separation, for one thing.

(Razer Barracuda AC-1.) Creative drivers still suck, by the way.

Not including a sound card is the biggest blunder most system builds have these days. If you have any kind of quality speakers or headphones, it’s worth it. Sound cards are so cheap these days there is no excuse. Integrated sound cards are as bad as integrated video. There is so much noise on them. It’s awful.

The integrated sound on last motherboard I bought was so noisy that it was basically unusable.

On the other hand, I have a Foxconn board with onboard digital (both optical & coaxial) audio that is pretty great.

You can barely tell the difference if you’re just using a set of $20 computer speakers, but if you have any sort of reasonable headphones or speakers you can instantly tell the difference. When I use my cheap speakers with integrated sound it sounds fine, but if I listen to it with my HD280s it’s horrid.

You just get better sound quality across the board due to having better output amps and such, as well as better sound processing effects like equalizers and better seperation and localization on multitracked audio.

I recommend the xonar line, since creative is… hit or miss in a lot of ways.

Could you elaborate on how this would work? It seems to me that each extra component you add to a system adds potential conflicts or instability. The most stable system should be one with no peripherals at all. No driver conflicts, no untested configurations, fewer misinterpretations of the same spec.

The minimal testing required to ship a board ought to be testing it with it’s own components. If that’s not stable, how would a more complicated setup be?

Honestly? Better written drivers, I suppose. Less crosstalk on the motherboard. Fewer CPU cycles being used for sound. It is an undoubted fact that the external soundcard will make your PC faster… if only by one or two percent. This means things are being done more efficiently.

The OS just knows it has to output this sound to the soundcard. It doesn’t know if the soundcard is on the motherboard or the PCI slot. If the soundcard accepts the sound more properly, it’ll be more stable.

You ever have one of those looping sound crashes, where the game borks and the same sound plays over and over and over again? Avoiding those increases stability. Better card? Fewer crashes.

Along the same lines as: If you have cheap speakers, it won’t make much difference if you have a good audio card.

  1. What kind of listening environment do you have? You’re listening to the computer fans and the air conditioner in the background?

  2. What are you listening to? I find most of the 10-second looping tracks of background sound in video games an annoying distraction. Who wants to listen to the same ocean wave six times a minute for three hours? I certainly don’t want to hear that more realistically!

  3. Not to get personal, but … how’s your hearing? If you are now 30, and regularly attended Aerosmith concerts in your misspent youth … your hearing is probably degraded in the high end by 20-30%. No point in buying a card that can play 44KHz … if you can’t hear much above 10KHz.

I’ll be using Logitech G35 surround sound headphones. For reference, it’s typically sold online for about 130$.

It is plugged in using a USB port, I don’t know if this matters. Do sound cards tend to include a USB port or only rely on jacks and pins?
1)It’s a quiet bedroom. The computer fans will likely be quiet since water cooling will be used. Air conditionning only comes into play 2-3 months a year. In any case, the headphones will cut out most of the noise; they cup the ear and I believe they have noise canceling tech.

  1. Music and games, especially first person shooters.

  2. I’m 27 and my youth was misspent being far too conservative in lifestyle. My hearing is quite fine.

USB headphones are essentially external sound cards with headphones soldered to them. So that pretty much ends it right there unless you’re planning to get new headphones. You’ve been using one this whole time.

I ordered the headphones a few hours ago and haven’t received the PC yet. Do USB headphones tend to function as decent sound cards or not?

USB headphones tend to be terrible sound cards. The G35s are pretty good though. They have Dolby chips and all that stuff fancy stuff. They’re probably the best USB headphones you can buy.

What Palooka said.

I’m slowly putting together the parts for a new system right now, and I am thinking that I am going to go with a sound card this time around. Two desktops ago, I had a Creative card, and the sound was good but I had a ton of driver and stability issues. For my current desktop, I am just using the onboard sound, and while overall the experience is fine, I do have some isolated issues (particularly when I’m using the mic on my headset: some programs play nice, some - TF2 in particular, but also a couple of others - don’t). I’m not looking for anything particularly high end: this computer will primarily be for gaming, alternating between an above-average-but-not-top-end 2.1 set that I have as well as my headset.

So, my question, to those of you who have bought a sound card in the last five years: is there any reason for me not to just go with something like this, assuming Newegg gets it back in stock in Feb? I am willing to spend more if there’s a compelling reason to do so, but getting this handled for $23 after shipping and rebate would be pretty ideal. I do have some time to wait or poke around for sales as necessary, since I’m waiting for the fixed Sandy Bridge MBs to get into circulation.

I think it depends on the type of motherboard you have. In my old rig the onboard sound was terrible with my new one the difference is so minor I gave my wife my sound card.

And yes I have pretty good speakers and could tell the difference if there was a major one.

Those logitech G35’s are what I use, and they sound pretty good to me. Definitely a step up from even high end non-USB headphones plugged into my integrated sound.

I too have a G35 (and it’s wireless sibling the G930), like the suspiciously similarly named fellow above.

Much better than integrated audio. But it still can’t beat a good card and a good set of cans.

I’m thinking about selling my G930 since the stupid microphone is giving me all sorts of issues and going for the Xonar Xense bundle. The card is top notch and the headset is not quite a pair of HD555’s but still pretty good set of sennheisers.

You’re going to use G35s with a Xense? That ain’t a good idea.

Oh, the Xonar Sense bundle comes with PC 350s. Oops.

Useful: The PC 350 uses the same speaker as the HD595s, but is crippled by air pressure issues or something. If you rip them open a drill a hole as seen here, they’re way better.

For $300 though, I’d get a Xonar DX, an amp, a lapel microphone, ATH-A700 headphones, some sour patch kids and some bourbon instead.