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116dB vs 124dB +

post #1 of 17
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I am looking over a lot of audio card and my question is about the SNR; does it really make the big different in price between 116dB and 124dB? Or does it really make a different in sound quality?
 
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post #2 of 17
SNR is generally not an important performance measure for audio systems these days because at a reasonable signal level, the noise level of the gear is going to be below that of ambient noise anyway, so you wouldn't hear the difference. Other factors and performance specs play a larger part. Also, the electronics these days play an even lesser role than seems intuitively right for many people, because that part can be done so well for cheap.

That said, manufacturers often lie about specs. Or at least, they are misleading; if they say they are using a chip with an SNR of 120 dB, other parts of the circuit may contribute noise and make the SNR of the entire system more like 100 dB. If a sound card is picking up EMI from the rest of the computer (as opposed to their evaluation board in a lab in pristine conditions), that can be degraded further in practice. Furthermore, they are often inconsistent about which signal level they are using for the SNR quote. It's a ratio. Sometimes if you crank up the signal level and the noise does not scale completely with the signal level, you can record a higher SNR.
post #3 of 17
The simple answer is it does. For every 3db of SNR, it makes a whole lot of difference, so something that has 124 SNR is going to be a whole lot better than the 116 SNR.

However.....It also depends on your headphones. If you are getting really cheap and poor quality headphones the SNR isn't going to matter much because you are going to have a harder time hearing the difference. As soon as you start looking at headphones like audio technica, AKG, Sennheiser, grado, ultrasone, and similar companies with headphones that are about 150 and up, then you start to notice the difference between the two cards (or at least I can). If you are looking at headphones that are 300 plus, then you shouldn't even bother with a 116 SNR sound card.

Lastly, once you hit the 500 dollar headphones price point, it is time to get yourself a dedicated USB DAC and a tube amplifier.

So in a sense it is going to come down to which part will bottle neck the other.
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post #4 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeaj View Post

SNR is generally not an important performance measure for audio systems these days because at a reasonable signal level, the noise level of the gear is going to be below that of ambient noise anyway, so you wouldn't hear the difference. Other factors and performance specs play a larger part. Also, the electronics these days play an even lesser role than seems intuitively right for many people, because that part can be done so well for cheap.
That said, manufacturers often lie about specs. Or at least, they are misleading; if they say they are using a chip with an SNR of 120 dB, other parts of the circuit may contribute noise and make the SNR of the entire system more like 100 dB. If a sound card is picking up EMI from the rest of the computer (as opposed to their evaluation board in a lab in pristine conditions), that can be degraded further in practice. Furthermore, they are often inconsistent about which signal level they are using for the SNR quote. It's a ratio. Sometimes if you crank up the signal level and the noise does not scale completely with the signal level, you can record a higher SNR.

That first part is wrong. the higher the SNR, the clearer the sound. You just need to make sure you have a good enough pair of headphones that can take advantage of the higher SNR.

The second part can be true. This is why a dac amp combo with a good pair of headphones is actually your best bet so long as you are using high quality parts. The DAC takes a very clean digital sound input and converts it into analog. Then the amp will amplify the sound without adding any noise to it. Depending on the op amps you use, you can also get a much better experience than with any sound card on the market.
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post #5 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tjj226 Angel View Post

The simple answer is it does. For every 3db of SNR, it makes a whole lot of difference, so something that has 124 SNR is going to be a whole lot better than the 116 SNR.
Maybe in comparison to each other, but in a real life scenario, where a 16-bit record has the quantization noise of -93dBFS, both of these systems would be audibly transparent to a CD-quality source. If you run your DAC without digital volume control, and deliver the full scale signal, you should get the reported dynamic range/noise floor. Enormous noise floors only matter if you run a digitally attenuated signal, which you then amplify with a pre-amp, which is a silly practice anyway.

So no, the SNR in modern gear doesn't really matter in conventional listening scenarios. Furthermore, manufacturers lie. For instance, the measurement dBA means frequency-weighted sound pressure, which means they're omitting something from the measurement. What is there to hide? Second of all, as stated earlier in lab conditions, EMI/RFI free environments with lab-quality power supplies, gear can work a lot better (implying a bad PSRR in the developed circuit, if it only works with super high quality PSUs). Furthermore, sometimes manufacturers only state the performance of the CHIP (op-amp, or DA-chip, not the whole circuitry), which can be completely misleading in relation to the whole circuitry and it's design choices.

Don't go by manufacturer specifications, and don't think these humongous signal-noise ratios matter at all. Spend your money elsewhere.
Edited by seepra - 12/8/12 at 9:25am
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post #6 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by seepra View Post

Maybe in comparison to each other

Alright, I will give you that. Most of what I know about audio is simply by comparing and contrasting to other hardware.
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post #7 of 17
In a case like this it comparing numbers is not good enough, the difference is insignificant as mentioned earlier.
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post #8 of 17
Thread Starter 
Well... I have a $350 headphone here... I'm not sure if I go for a more expensive audiocard $200 range+ 124dB up.
 
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post #9 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by djriful View Post

Well... I have a $350 headphone here... I'm not sure if I go for a more expensive audiocard $200 range+ 124dB up.

It looks to me like you already have a sound card. If that isn't good enough for you, then get dedicated sound components. http://www.amazon.ca/Audioengine-24-Bit-Computer-Interface-Black/dp/B006IPH5H2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355002016&sr=8-1

Out of curiosity, what headphones do you have?
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post #10 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tjj226 Angel View Post


However.....It also depends on your headphones.

I have asus Phoebus sound card and I just ordered Sennheiser G4me Zero headphones which is 150ohm. Do you think I should replace my Phoebus with Creative SoundBlaster ZxR? Phoebus is 116dB and ZxR is 124dB. By the way I managed to get rid of the Phoebus' EMI noise issue completely. (I'm a CS:GO competitive player) Your thought will be effecting my decision literally.
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