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This thread is designed to help point out the differences between on board sound and a sound card. I see this as being a stickied thread or at least a thread that can be shared with those that need convincing or an opinion/reason to go sound card rather than stay with on board.

The Rules:

Feel free to extend your opinions on the matter, but before you post, I strongly suggest you take out your sound card or external DAC and listen to on board again to see the difference. Give it 1-3 days for it all to sink in then you may return to your dedicated sound card.

Post what version of Realtek or Creative your motherboard has and what sound card/External DAC you've tested it against. I will add your opinion if it's informative, brings about new ideas or uses an on board driver/sound card mix we have not stated so far.

Also add what speakers/headphones you tested the differences with.

I will also support a separate section for those of the opinion that a sound card is NOT better than on board up to a certain price range.

The Story:
I have recently sold off 2 Asus Xonar DXs and gone back to on board sound. My motherboard uses the ALC1200 by Realtek which is a product of Asus only. Other motherboard producers have similar "special" versions of Realtek ALC.

I will personally be comparing ALC1200 to a Xonar DX and will let you know my opinions on what the differences were. I have tested the sound on Energy CB-20 speakers, Logitech X540 surround speakers and Audio Technica AD700s. I've used these in particular because I find that most users use AD700s or a similar product, use Logitech X540s if they're into low budget surround and are wanting to know how their speakers will benefit and are wanting to upgrade eventually..and I've provided the Energy speakers for those with higher end bookshelf speakers that would like to see how their speakers stack up.

The Review:

On-Board Sound
I'll start my review with the AD700s.
ALC1200/AD700s: The AD700s shine with beautiful mids and highs as we all know, but what some of us may have forgotten is that headphones, no matter how good they are, only shine as brightly as the sound card will allow them to. In short: The AD700s with on board sound is atrocious. I am willing to state that the AD700s with on board sound are barely better than any skull candies you can pick up for 20 bucks. The AD700s are extremely crippled without a sound card in my opinion. What do I mean crippled?


Music:

The AD700s sound washed out. There's absolutely nothing special about them with on board sound. They're dead. They have no life. It's worse than just being neutral..it's just not great sound. I encourage everyone to try and take their ipod earbuds and test them against AD700s with on board. I'm sure the AD700s will sound better, but I just don't think they're THAT much better. The AD700s do not suffer from crappy staticy sound like cheap trashy ear buds may, so that's a plus, but the sound quality itself is simply..unimpressive. I don't feel drawn into music. I don't find myself smiling. There's nothing 'special' about it.

Gaming:
The AD700s step up slightly in gaming compared to music and perform better than ear buds. There's no doubt about this; however, footsteps simply do not stand out as they should or as the owner of these headphones would hope for after having purchased these headphones for 90 dollars. I remember wearing these headphones for the first time before I had purchased the Xonar DX and being quite disappointed with my purchase. All the hype over these "awesome headphones" and this is what I get? I was not pleased to say the least. I saw minimum advantage and was longing for more. All the sounds were simply meshed together. It was difficult to pull one sound from the other. Footsteps were not as apparent as I was hoping for. I came in with the mindset of "OH YEAH, KILLER ADVANTAGE, GUNNA KILL SUM N0RBZ YAAAA"

After further testing with the AD-700s and Modern Warfare 2, I've noticed that while I could still hear the footsteps, they weren't anywhere near as sharp as with a sound card. Additionally, I had no idea where the footsteps were coming from and sound position was lost.

On-Board/X-540s:
Music:

Everything seemed normal, couldn't complain with X-540s. I was happy with them and didn't really know what to expect from them at the time. After having gone from a sound card to onboard again though, I did notice some differences. Most of the music awesomeness I was to experience with a sound card was placebo effect. I could easily tell after going from sound card to on board again that with music, I was not missing too much. I'll describe more in the sound card section the differences.

Gaming:
Seemed normal. Was slightly worse in terms of positioning and hearing footsteps than the AD700s, but sadly not much worse. I know some of you may rage that I've come to that opinion, but that's how I genuinely feel on the matter with on board. AD700s had the advantage in positioning, but pulling sounds apart from one another was still a messy mesh. Bullets being fired in the background got mixed into the music and other noises such as explosions, footsteps, ladders clanging etc.

Btw, I'm describing Modern Warfare 2 unless I state otherwise.

On-Board/Energy Speakers
I can't remember the name of the amplifier used for these speakers, but I can find out if you all find it imperative. These speakers belong to my friend who I recently sold his DX since he was the one to originally want to upgrade. These speakers sounded better than the X-540s, that's for sure, but having heard what the Energy Speakers could do before hand, it was clear as day what I was missing out on. Music became dull, bass was simply not right. It seemed bloaty in some sections when it should have been punchy. Instruments weren't as clear as they should have been, voices weren't as powerful as they should have been. It was sort of like the AD700s but more tolerable. I was less disappointed with the speakers than I was with the AD700s, still a lot was missing with on board.

On-Board/All/Misc:
Here are some things I noticed with on board AFTER I had gotten rid of my sound card, but never really noticed it before I moved to a sound card.

I immediately noticed that I had to bump up the volume significantly with on board. I'd say the sound card gave me about 2.5x the volume of on board. I realize the DX does not have a built in amplifier, so I was a bit puzzled by this, but I'm going to assume it has some sort of amplification method that simply comes from the parts on the card. There's no other way to describe it really.

I also noticed that system sounds were very distant. They were especially distant for me because I have a custom Windows 7 theme where all my sounds now take on anime quotes and jingles.

On top of that I noticed everything was a bit echoey. It's interesting. Also, I made sure that no effects were on and the environment was set to none. There's no reason the music, movies, or gaming sounds should have been echoey, but at times it was very apparent that there was a sort of echo. It was not always apparent, but at times it most definitely was.

Clarity in general. In all things was absolutely reduced. It was like night and day the difference in clarity. On board was simply not a great separator of instruments and did not provide the clarity we all hope for when listening to music or when gaming.

When watching a TV series or movie, I notice that when they're whispering or speaking very low it's very muddied and difficult to understand what they're saying. I notice I have to turn up the volume from time to time just to hear/understand what they're saying. It's pretty bad.

5/7/2011 - On board has difficulty keeping up with all sounds when complex sounds are present. Many instruments or noises from many areas lead to confusion and loss of instruments/sounds. Sometimes sound is even distorted and doesn't at all sound correct. I remember hearing a grenade explosion amongst other sounds and basically just heard "CHSSSHRRRR" It was horrible
frown.gif


Asus Xonar DX
Music:

The first thing I noticed for the AD700s music-wise is how clear everything became. CLARITY if I had to sum up the entire review with one word is the word I would choose. Everything became infinitely clearer. I could hear individual instruments better. I had a better understanding of the sound stage. The AD700s were finally being used the way they were meant to be used. The headphones shined, music sounded brilliant. The highs were high, the mids were sweet. In comparison, it was almost like I was listening to an orchestra or band from behind a closed door with on board and when I put in my sound card I opened the door.

Gaming:
This is truly where the AD700s shined for me and imo it was all thanks to the sound card, not just the AD700s themselves. It was like the potential of the AD700s were locked when it was using on board, but with the help of a sound card, that potential was unlocked and the result was simply staggering. In Modern Warfare 2, footsteps became clear as day. They stood out from other sounds. Bullets became clearer and you could additionally tell the location of the foot steps and from which way bullets were coming.

Foot steps could now be heard as far as 1/4 of the map away. The sheer brilliance with which I could hear footsteps made people believe I hacked. I would be going down the stairs one moment, turn around after hearing footsteps above and not even seeing anything shoot the person down. It would make someone believe watching the kill cam that they were indeed hacking, but sound positioning is so phenomenal that unless you've tried it you won't understand.

Battlefield Bad Company 2 on the other hand with the Xonar DX was a terrible experience. Hearing footsteps with the Xonar DX was dreadful. You couldn't hear anything unless they were like 10 feet away from you. Good luck hearing bullets in that game too and making sense of which way they're coming at you from. Asus cards are not impressive for their positioning in this game. In other games it's pretty good though.

Logitech X-540s w/ Asus Xonar DX

You wouldn't think much difference would be heard over a pair of ..what 45 dollar speakers? You'd guess wrong. Even on these simple speakers I could hear a difference with the sound card. The difference was mostly in music; however, as opposed to gaming. Gaming sounds were clearer, but the ability to truly understand the positioning of footsteps was nowhere near as helpful as the AD700s. Still, these speakers made for a decent listen if I wasn't in the mood for wearing headphones and wasn't participating in FPS games. It was acceptable to me. I wasn't wow'd at all, but it definitely wasn't so bad that I couldn't listen to them. I think for 45 dollars these speakers are exceptional. Music wise, they really did well for me. I was pleased with them which should be differentiated from "wow'd." I was only wow'd in that I bought them for 45 dollars and they were decent, but I was merely pleased with them on a scale of disappoint to Wow'd with pleased being in the middle or slightly above. Again the 45 dollar point really makes these speakers. These were a great intro pair of speakers and I don't regret buying them. They served me well, but it's time to move on from them now.

Energy Speakers
I couldn't test with the Xonar DX, but instead were used on a Yamaha receiver. Simply put, they were marvelous and it's kind of an awkward feeling but I felt like they were sending wave of "energy" through me. Corny, I know, but the speakers were really nice. I felt the speakers could handle higher highs without turning painful. The speakers were even clearer and..for some reason I want to use the term powerful, but I'm not sure if that's the right word to truly describe them.
Don't ask how long it took my to write this up. Enjoy and I hope I may have solved any questions you had about whether a sound card is worth it over on board.

The Conclusion:
It is most definitely worth it to purchase a sound card or external DAC if you at all care for quality of sound/music/gaming or whatever. What you're hearing on on board sound is only the tip of the ice-berg when it comes to audio. If you really want to unlock sound, you should upgrade and a sound card is your first humble step. I would argue that it is MORE important to buy a sound card than to buy a high end pair of headphones. You will see MORE out of a sound card + low budget headphones than high budget headphones and no sound card or no external DAC.

This thread has been added to: http://www.overclock.net/sound-cards-computer-audio/248036-essential-reading-audio-fans-please-read.html

Please refer this link to all people new to audio and in need of answers to questions that have already been answered.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Others Opinions:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Thedark1337;13274138
Auzentech HD Theater vs Realtek AC888. Even with this Logitech setup i have, i can notice the instruments more clearly, and more defined. I have a 3.5 mm connection to my Z cinema, and for Home Theater i have it optical to my Dad's Marantz receiver, to a pair of Canton's. All i can say for that vs Realtek is
drool.gif
I love the clarity and definition that it gives to the music and movies. It is totally worth the $250, but in the future i might upgrade the OPAMP to something more, just to be even more overkill
lachen.gif
Quote:
Originally Posted by frankth3frizz;13248613
well comparing my onboard Realtek ALC888 and my yamaha receiver, my onboard sounds total crap with my ath m50s. like when its loud the sound gets distorted and the highs have a piercing sound which is annoying after a while :/
Quote:
Originally Posted by Addictedtokaos;13366903
I always used onboard with Trittons AX pros using Toslink connection. I definitely noticed a difference when going from the Realtek to my Forte. The sounds were clearer and there seemed to be more range and depth to the audio. Then I got my AD700s.
smile.gif
Sometimes I think ingame sounds are in my gaming room. This doesnt apply to just Computer audio. The same applies with many areas of audio. For example, you can get a fender or marshall guitar amp for $100. Being your first amp it will sound awesome to you until you hear that $1200 Mesa Rectifier with 2x12 cab. It will not compare. The electronics, engineering, speaker materials are all going to surpass your $100 practice amp.
Quote:
Originally Posted by PCSarge;13493735
my creative x-fi titanium fatality card arrived, i just installed it and threw jurrasic park on for sound test in 5.1 in entertainment mode, i can say, i will NEVER use onboard audio again.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Iceman23;13568536
Recently got my parts in for my new PC and I thought I'd do a quick comparison between my Maverick D1 and the onboard of my MSI P67A-GD65 onboard. It has the ALC892 from Realtek, which appears to be the highest level model. Instantly noticeable was the terrible output power. I was not expecting to be wanting more volume as my old Zune can drive my Denons quite well, and they are low impedance. The onboard was quite a bit quieter than my Zune, which is pretty disappointing. Sound quality wise, I was actually fairly impressed. A lot of this probably has to do with the low listening volumes I was forced to match with, but it wasn't terrible. However, I could clearly hear distortion in the upper high frequencies - this would only be accentuated at higher volumes. As far as detail was concerned, the differences were subtle but apparent (again this has a lot to do with low volume). All in all, I think it would suit someone with lesser headphones quite well, but anything that requires a little juice would leave the user sorely disappointed. Also something to note is the DAC in higher end soundcard is an improvement over the Maverick D1, and I think would offer even more details and transparency.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scrappy;13641358
TITLE: Xonar DX, Worst Purchase Ever :DOkay so yea, total troll title but still. Got this thing and it's way to good now I'm afraid I'm going to become an audiophile
frown.gif
it's too expensive. Anyway found it manufacturer refurbished for $55 with shipping (PM me if you want links, it's one of those evil sites that OCN doesn't like) and this thing is amazing, it is completely worth the upgrade from onboard, I can hear stuff in my music that wasn't there before.
wave2.gif
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jolly Roger;13660753
Before I got my xonar DS I was using the Realtek ALC892 onboard. Before I installed the DS I created a 5 song playlist that had different music styles and sounds and played it on a continuous loop for a while so I would become accustomed to it. This was on my onboard sound. I then installed the DS and downloaded the drivers and began a test by listening to the same playlist. At first I wasn't exactly blown away like I had expected, but as I listened to a few different songs I began hearing things in the music that I hadn't heard before. There is so much more detail to the sound. The best way I can describe it is reading a book as fast as you can vs actually slowing down to stop and enjoy the literature and the words the author carefully put together. I could actually hear the type of instruments being played. With the onboard I could of course identify the kind of instrument they were playing, but with the DS not only could I tell, but I could almost see it in the musicians hand just based on how realistic it sounded. It no longer sounded recored, but almost live. Sounds are much sharper. That, I would say, is the biggest difference for me. Things just have a much better quality to me. Another thing that I noticed is the "stereo" effect. Many songs, especially, electronically produced music (ie. dance, house, techno) have sounds that move from the left to right channel or visa versa and back again for special effects. With the DS these effects seemed to be much more apparent. The music actually moves. The bass for me stayed the same. I've got decent speakers when it come to bass so i wasn't too blown away. The only thing that maybe changed with that is that it seemed to maybe be a bit cleaner. Music is one of the main things that I use my computer for, and I have never had anything but onboard. I'm sad to say that I have been missing out. After a day or two of listening I am now glad to add my name to the list of people who will never go back to onboard sound.
band.gif
EDIT: The clicking the DS produces on boot and shut-down kinda freaks me out, but I've been told its normal. Hope so.
Quote:
Originally Posted by EffnNice;15214546
okay nvm.... i got it to work some how i just opened up my case and just tighten everything i plugged in T_T i love this card to death T_T cannot believe i thought sound cards were gimmicks
 

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I'll throw in a comparison between onboard, a low end sound card (Audigy LS), and external DAC when I get home. Not sure I want to hear onboard again though, I'm sure I've forgotten how bad it is
tongue.gif
.
 

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Absolutely great post dude!! I was just about to ask about if a sound card is really needed for my Sony MDR-7506 set.

I generally listen to a wide board of music, rock, jazz, pop, rap, classical, everything really...except for country.
tongue.gif


What would be a good soundcard for my needs? I don't need the "best". I was looking at the Asus Xonar DX at the retail stores. I also seen some other users on the marketplace boards selling Xonar Essence STX/ST. Would those be overkill for my headset?
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dhalmel;13233228
Absolutely great post dude!! I was just about to ask about if a sound card is really needed for my Sony MDR-7506 set.

I generally listen to a wide board of music, rock, jazz, pop, rap, classical, everything really...except for country.
tongue.gif


What would be a good soundcard for my needs? I don't need the "best". I was looking at the Asus Xonar DX at the retail stores. I also seen some other users on the the marketplace boards selling Xonar Essence STX/ST. Would those be overkill for my headset?
Essence ST/X would be overkill for your needs, yes. The Xonar DX would be a nice fit, but even the DS would be a nice match for your headphones. I was going to add that I did a comparison with the Sony V6s, but got tired of typing and simply didn't want to write it out for the Sony V6s, but it's mostly the same except less noticeable than with AD700s. The V6s ALWAYS sound boring to me, whether with a sound card or on board, but even moreso without a sound card.

Just be careful. Once you buy a sound card you may fall down the slippery slope of buying audio equipment. It'll be a sound card now. New headphones+External DAC later.
 

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I was busy with this highly technical match up with a onboard vs soundcard but my browser crashed so I'm going to make this real short without upsetting anyone hopefully because I notice when it came to this subject there are always 3 camps.

1. The people with a pair of Cheapo Tech speakers who just want to hear some noise coming from it when playing audio or a game.

2. The people buying a soundcard to go hook it up with their receiver making themselves believe it sounds better coz they just wasted a 100usd on emulation software with a card bundled with it.

3. The people who loves their audio and like anything else on a pc they know the most important part are not the best but the most balanced.

I always believe the type of connection your using.
Onboard if you use a Digital connection->receiver->speakers
Soundcard if you use a analog connection or you got a decent set of cans.

You won't hear a difference using the onboard or a cheap soundcard CMEDIA=aSUSTEK when you got a pair of Cheapo Tech speakers. Some people do but hear a difference but that's just make believe.

unfortunately audio is you get what you pay for. A expensive soundcard won't make a pair of cheapo Tech speakers come alive.
If your not using headphones you'll be better of spending money of your amp and speakers than on a sound card.

And those EAX and hardware acceleration fundus Microsoft abandon direct x sound and bundled a half unfinished api with vista and windows 7. What you thought was hardware acceleration is just software emulation so don't fall for the EAX 4.0 stuff
 

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Realtek audio from the analog output doesn't sound that good. The volume is much quieter than a discrete audio card at the same Windows audio setting.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I just want to remind everyone that before giving their opinions on the matter, at least state what equipment you've personally tested your hypothesis on. The sound card, the on board, the speakers, the headphones etc.

We at least need these minute pieces of information. Blanket statements are useless.
 

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I totally agree with On board + AD700 and DX + AD700.
With on board, the AD700 sounds dead, muffled, no dynamics at all.
 

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well comparing my onboard Realtek ALC888 and my yamaha receiver, my onboard sounds total crap with my ath m50s. like when its loud the sound gets distorted and the highs have a piercing sound which is annoying after a while :/

oh and i used to have a skullcandy skullcrushers before my m50s and my ears were so used to having bass where it wasnt supposed to be and i noticed how 80% of my songs has less bass than i thought xD
 

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If you got headphones you'll need a soundcard especially one for a amp for the headphones to drive it. Onboard just to weak
 

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I actually read the entire thing, very interesting. I have a question, so I figured I'd post it here, Simca.

Would you consider it a waste of money to purchase a Asus Xonar DX, and hooking z-5500s up to it? As we all know, the z-5500 speaker system isn't the "greatest" for that price range. However, it does its job fairly well in some departments.

Just wondering your personal opinion. I'm not an audiophile, however I mix Dubsteo very actively and Music is basically my life. I also game very much, so I'm considering a sound card as my next upgrade after I crossfire.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Simca;13241371
I just want to remind everyone that before giving their opinions on the matter, at least state what equipment you've personally tested your hypothesis on. The sound card, the on board, the speakers, the headphones etc.

We at least need these minute pieces of information. Blanket statements are useless.
Agreed. I will be testing my HD555s and AD700s on my Asus DX. Is any body able to give any numbers such as SNR?

As much as I appreciate subjective listening, we need some quantifiable measurements we can compare to.

I don't believe that my DX makes the audio "sound" better. It just sending a "hotter" signal.
 

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Interesting, I was really thinking of getting an ASUS Xonar DX with my HD555's
This is probably going to make me get one for sure
biggrin.gif
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Quote:
Originally Posted by E-Peen;13255443
I actually read the entire thing, very interesting. I have a question, so I figured I'd post it here, Simca.

Would you consider it a waste of money to purchase a Asus Xonar DX, and hooking z-5500s up to it? As we all know, the z-5500 speaker system isn't the "greatest" for that price range. However, it does its job fairly well in some departments.

Just wondering your personal opinion. I'm not an audiophile, however I mix Dubsteo very actively and Music is basically my life. I also game very much, so I'm considering a sound card as my next upgrade after I crossfire.
IMO, even speakers like the X-540s and the Z5500s benefit from the Xonar DX. Whether you'd be willing to pay for the card is another issue. If the price of the Xonar DX does not scare you away and you're willing to toss that out there, you WILL see an improvement. I think whether it's worth it is ultimately subjective and will change between each and every person.

A rich person would cough up the money to use Z5500s with a Xonar DX rather than on board while a poor person would be content using on board (Don't ask why a rich person has Z5500s and a Xonar DX though. It ruins the example).

~I~ would use a Xonar DX rather than on board. I ~did~ use a Xonar DX rather than on board.

I simply can't go back to on-board ever again. It's really..bad.
Quote:
Originally Posted by youra6;13255507
Agreed. I will be testing my HD555s and AD700s on my Asus DX. Is any body able to give any numbers such as SNR?

As much as I appreciate subjective listening, we need some quantifiable measurements we can compare to.

I don't believe that my DX makes the audio "sound" better. It just sending a "hotter" signal.
It's interesting that you don't think the DX makes your audio "sound" better. When was the last time you listened to on board? If it's been a while you should give it a try for a full day to 3 days and let me know if you still feel the same way. Either way, if you still believe that I'll put your opinion down as tested with HD555s and Xonar DX/ALC889.
 

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Solid post thanks alot. I think im actually going to buy a soundcard now.

Quick question though.

Does plugging your headphones into the little jack on your speaker volume control distort the sound in any way. Or is there any advantage to plugging your headphones directly into the sound card? Also, what about splitters?

Thanks
 

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Auzentech HD Theater vs Realtek AC888. Even with this Logitech setup i have, i can notice the instruments more clearly, and more defined. I have a 3.5 mm connection to my Z cinema, and for Home Theater i have it optical to my Dad's Marantz receiver, to a pair of Canton's. All i can say for that vs Realtek is
drool.gif
I love the clarity and definition that it gives to the music and movies. It is totally worth the $250, but in the future i might upgrade the OPAMP to something more, just to be even more overkill
lachen.gif
 

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Ok I have taken a Dell Optiplex 745 that was lying in the back and load windows Xp on it with Virtual dj pro 7. Now its got a old P4 cpu with crappy netburst. This is just a idea to show you how much cpu a music file takes the decode. After all the quality when listening will depend on the source so I can't say what sounds better. Everything was with its onboard stuff only utorrent running in the back ground.

This is with vdj when it was stopped

VDJSTOP.jpg


This was when I played

VDJPLAY.jpg


This is when I load the mp3. Remember its analyzing the beat of it so most of the cpu you see is vdj

VDJLOAD.jpg


This is Adobe after effects with dx acceleration enabled
dxenabled.jpg
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Simca;13256855
IMO, even speakers like the X-540s and the Z5500s benefit from the Xonar DX. Whether you'd be willing to pay for the card is another issue. If the price of the Xonar DX does not scare you away and you're willing to toss that out there, you WILL see an improvement. I think whether it's worth it is ultimately subjective and will change between each and every person.

A rich person would cough up the money to use Z5500s with a Xonar DX rather than on board while a poor person would be content using on board (Don't ask why a rich person has Z5500s and a Xonar DX though. It ruins the example).

~I~ would use a Xonar DX rather than on board. I ~did~ use a Xonar DX rather than on board.

I simply can't go back to on-board ever again. It's really..bad.
Awesome, I know what my next upgrade is going to be
biggrin.gif
 
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