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Sound Cards Guide For Beginners

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 

Sound Cards Guide

Sound Cards, Why Do I Want One?
These cards can be a great purchase for sound enthusiasts and hardcore gamers. They help eliminate interference and similar problems that degrade sound quality, as well as help create a more realistic 3D audio environment. The potential sound output is also much greater, with a wider and richer range that can be relayed.

What Should I Look for in Sound Cards?
There isn't a whole lot to sound cards as far as key aspects to look for. There are a few things in the mix though those do make a difference. For the sake of comparison, so that you can find one that works for you and fits your budget, we've broken them down into the five categories. Under each category there is at least one thing that you really want to pay attention to.

I-Audio Performance
The most important thing to look for is overall performance of the card. The most common measurements of performance are typically:
1-SNR (signal-to-noise ratio) which means how much a signal has been corrupted by noise (higher is better)
2-frequency response
3-THD (total harmonic distortion).

These three things are used to measure the quality of audio. Although they are not perfectly accurate, they do give you an idea of the potential performance of any audio device.

II-Sample Rate and Resolution

Sample rates refer to the speed that the card can reduce a continuous signal to a discrete signal. The latest trend is 192 kHz, the higher sampling rates do help with ADCs (analog-to-digital conversions) and DACs (digital-to-analog conversions).
Resolution is important because the larger bit depths decrease total harmonic distortion (background noise) and increase dynamic range, which gives you a better signal-to-noise ratio.

III-I/O Ports
-Some input and output ports aren't as capable as others. The ports with the highest quality sound will typically be S/PDIF.
Both coaxial and optical can produce some of the highest signal-to-noise ratios and resolutions, while keeping low distortion. They also can allow you to hook your computer to your home theatre system.
-3.5mm is what most non-audiophiles are used to seeing on their computer and transfer good sound as well but not to the same degree.

IV-Features
This section looks at a few hardware aspects like if it connects through PCI or PCIe (very handy with multi GPUs system because of nowadays huge GPU coolers that covers the PCI slots between the GPUs)
Also considers the processor that the card has. The rest is more software/application attributes that are included to enhance and simplify your audio adjusting. These additions are to achieve the most potential from the hardware that the card is made of as well as connections to A/V receivers and audio player software on your computer.

V-API Compliant Standards
APIs, or (application programming interfaces), are implemented and allow the card to interact with other software, working alongside the intermediary programs under the Features. Some, like EAX and OpenAL, are meant to unlock greater 3D sound for gaming, giving you an edge over your opponents. The more API support, the more compatible the card is with various programs, software and hardware.

No one card has everything,
but the differences can work perfectly for various people. Who those people are depends on what a person is looking for and what they plan on using it for exactly. If you're a sound enthusiast and want to enhance your computer's sound capabilities, then you're on the right track

All suggestions are welcomed
Edited by Crag - 7/17/11 at 6:04pm
    
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post #2 of 28
Nice. Great for beginners who want a straight forward answer. I have 1 complaint though. The Titanium HD is on the same level as the STX. The STX is better for music and the Titanium HD is for gaming.
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post #3 of 28
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by HybridCore;13329806 
Nice. Great for beginners who want a straight forward answer. I have 1 complaint though. The Titanium HD is on the same level as the STX. The STX is better for music and the Titanium HD is for gaming.

good point, but as numbers the STX has 124SnR while the Titanium Has 122SnR
so yes in the terms of performance the are almost the same but not completely
thanks for the info
    
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post #4 of 28
just to add, if youre using digital signals (AKA: using a nice 5.1 system or something) you can use a piece of SHT soundcard with spdif/adat and you'll get the same quality as a $1000 converter. (well.. maybe...)

in general, a digital signal is a digital signal its have to improve it.

personally in my studio (50k+ worth of gear) i use a $10 creative soundcard in my pc for spdif out into my pro tools rig... i'm recording digital audio using a $10 card because digital is digital.

just a money saver smile.gif
post #5 of 28
Ranking them is extremely subjective. They all serve different purposes.

For instance you have the Xonar DX below the Bravura and FATAL1TY. A lot of people don't think that's the case. You also have the D2X really high up there when it's not that great of a card. I also don't think the Xense belongs in 4th place, but there aren't enough reviews on the card with people comparing it to other cards to really get a proper feel for it unless you've personally tried it.

I'm sure Chinesekiwi would give more credit to the Xonar DG than it's currently given.

Also some minor misspellings such as "IMPORTNAT."
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post #6 of 28
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Simca;13336552 
Ranking them is extremely subjective. They all serve different purposes.

For instance you have the Xonar DX below the Bravura and FATAL1TY. A lot of people don't think that's the case. You also have the D2X really high up there when it's not that great of a card. I also don't think the Xense belongs in 4th place, but there aren't enough reviews on the card with people comparing it to other cards to really get a proper feel for it unless you've personally tried it.

I'm sure Chinesekiwi would give more credit to the Xonar DG than it's currently given.

Also some minor misspellings such as "IMPORTNAT."

Thanks Simca for the infos but to explain how i made this ranking i used the snr as the main aspect then the sample rate after that a little look about the I/O ports
so you can say that this ranking is more (Theoretical)
And yes i made a mistake with DX and the Bravura......fixed
(IMPORTNAT) fixed .....my bad redface.gif
Edited by Crag - 5/1/11 at 4:47am
    
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post #7 of 28
Crag, a far more objective ranking is via IMD distortion levels (the lower being the better) via RMAA. The way you've ranked them is quite flawed, particularly if you put any weighting on sample rates offered.
post #8 of 28
IMO,this guide is very misleading for a few reasons. The main one is the information used to rank the cards is from the companies sites and not real measurments. Some companies use the specification values of the DAC's which are very different in the real world.

Not to mention, measurments are only part of the puzzle.
I have tested basically every card in that list and I would never attempt to quantify their quality in a absolute list because it is not that easy.
I appreciate your idea for users that need a clear ranking but the idea is ultimately flawed and of no use.
post #9 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by GosuBuckets;13336458 
... i'm recording digital audio using a $10 card because digital is digital.

just a money saver smile.gif


It should be "Digital is Digital" but the real world and testing will suggest otherwise. You have to factor in aspects such as Jitter and component quality such as the Tx and Rx components that send the signals.
There can be differences between digital I/O's.

People think digital is digital because they only consider the 1's and 0's but there is another very important aspect and that is signal timing.
Jitter can influence a digital signal in very negative ways as can component quality.
post #10 of 28
"1-asus esesnce st(x)"

Also can you make the table:
"name" - "music/gaming/both" - price.
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