Considering Upgrading Audio - Help me Understand How

AngryGoldfish

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Jun 1, 2012
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So I recently built my first PC. It was for gaming and for every day media and web browsing. I'm pretty stiff when it comes to audio and specifically chose a motherboard that had solid inbuilt audio. But after doing some more reading I noticed a few additional benefits to having a dedicated sound card or amplifier. Can someone expound on whether those benefits are worth it? I'm using an ASRock Z87 Extreme4 with the 'Purity Sound' chip and 7.1 Realtek ALC1150 audio codec.

What do I need if I wanted to invest in an excellent sounding setup? A dedicated DAC or amplifier? A desktop unit or a sound card connected to the motherboard? Will I need to rewire the front audio and mic jacks on the case?

Also, although I don't have the money for them right now, I'll be investing in some proper gaming headphones and I was wondering whether folks could list a few perennial favourites? My budget is going to be around £200. Some might consider that high and thus would suggest anything, but I'm new to the gaming headset world and I'm interested to see what gamers and enthusiasts like to use. I'll then make a decision myself based on reviews and my own preferences.

And finally, though not so important, what kind of power does an external sound card require? I have a Corsair AX760 so power is not an issue at the moment, but if I want to run two GTX 770's in the future then I might be in trouble. I said I would when I built the computer, but I probably won't in the end. If I can find another one later this year at a good price, I might, but otherwise I'll just sell the 770 and get a 780ti or whatever the equivalent is a year from now. Theoretically, my i5-4670K shouldn't start to bottleneck for quite a while.
 

ssddx

Glorious
Moderator
what equipment works best depends on how you want to have things hooked up and what type of equipment you will be hooking up.

generally an integrated solution is perfectly fine. i would only upgrade if you are noting some sound quality issues such as buzzing, static, hissing, sound distortion or if the onboard isnt capable of working with the equipment you want to hook up to it.

one why people use a soundcard instead of onboard is to reduce electrical noise from the system. another is for more connection options, features, lower THD and in general a bit more quality (depending on quality of card/price/model/etc). the reason why people move to an external dac is to eliminate the noise completely since the external is outside of the case (they do make external "sound cards" as well)

for example if using pc speakers i would say the onboard is fine unless you note sound issues.

for example if using high end studio headphones i would say that you might need a DAC w/ amp to power them.

for example if you want "gaming surround sound headphones" you might not need anything as some are usb, some have their own dac while others use the soundcard speaker connections in which case if you notice sound issues you might want to upgrade but if you dont then you could use them as is.

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i have a pair of audiotechnica ath-m50s that i use when i need to use headphones for whatever reason. typically i plug them into my receiver (which has an amped 1/4" headphone jack) but they also work on my laptop and normal pc headphone jack (since they arent high resistance and are easy to power unlike some studio headphones can be)

my speakers are powered by the receiver (i have audio exported by my video card and the video passes through the receiver to my tv)

i've used both integrated and sound cards in the past and honestly good onboard sound is equal to at least mid grade soundcards in many cases.

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you need to specify exactly what kind of headphones (or are you thinking of a headset) you are thinking about.

if its just your run of the mill gaming headset then you are likely fine (as many of the more pricey models either have their own DAC external or have a built in soundcard and connect via usb)
 

AngryGoldfish

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I have noticed some irregularities, but they could be associated with the sound source rather than the motherboard's replication of it. For instance, I've noticed a few voices distort on Youtube videos. However, that could be from the creators side or from Youtube itself, because the audio in music doesn't distort and I haven't noticed movies or anything else distort. Maybe it was always there and I never noticed it before on my previous system. The sound is definitely clearer.

Another irregularity is probably due to my ignorance and because I never experienced it before. It's to do with the inconsistency in the volume levels. For instance, I'm listening to Biffy Clyro on MusicBee at the moment with its volume set to 50%. A Youtube video, then, has the appearance of being quieter despite being set at maximum volume. This is a very new PC I just built a couple of weeks ago so I'm still adjusting settings here and there, but I find myself having to tweak different settings depending on where the source of sound is coming from. I find it a little tedious, TBH.

I was going to invest in a gaming headset for virtual surround sound first, and then dedicated headphones and in-earphones solely for music and movies later. I'm not worrying about them for now, and I already know the in-earphones I want. The gaming headsets I'm looking at are the Sennheiser PC363D and the Astro Gaming A40/A50's. I'm not sure what else there is at that price range that is as highly reviewed for both music, movies and gaming. They both come with their own sound card and DAC. The Sennheiser has a superior microphone, but the A40/A50's seem to fit right into both consoles and desktops, which is great for me because I game on both.

As far as other equipment I'll be using, I have a pair of M-Audio AV40 Studiophile speakers running into the motherboard with a standard 3.5" audio cable, but I'll be upgrading those eventually to better studio monitors. I'll be using those for the majority of the time. I listen to music mostly, but I'll be playing a lot of games and watching movies as well. The headphones will be used when I have a full house and I want some peace and quiet. I've heard the Sennheiser's don't block out/in very much sound, but they are more comfortable than closed-back designs. I'm not sure which attribute I am willing to sacrifice. Again, gaming, music and movies.
 

ssddx

Glorious
Moderator
in reference to youtube audio distortion... yeah its most likely the video. if you had distortion issues you would notice it when playing cds from a disk in your pc, in games and during movies

as for the volumes... that is also normal. for example two different youtube videos could have a massive difference in volume between the two. online music could also have a different volume than youtube and movies a different volume still. you could try having all the sources up... maximizing your "windows" volume (if you use speakers. if not keep this set to about 50% for headphones and you will use this like the volume knob on speaker sets) and then adjust the different volume levels in programs to where they work good in reference to eachother (ie the same apparent loudness). keep in mind that since the sources even from the same medium can vary greatly this can only make it a little better and isnt a complete solution.

well.. if you wanted a cheaper solution you could just use the headphones/in ear you plan to buy for music/movies and use them for gaming as well. technically my m50s are music recording headphones but they play games just fine (if you want a mic you can get a clip on zalman mic, a modmic or just use a desktop mic) so its possible to use them for gaming as a headset too. no need to buy a special gaming headset. you can also get virtual surround on any stereo headset (not just gaming headsets!) provided you have software for it (some soundcards come with this software package). i suppose you could still get an all in one headset if you really wanted or if it worked better for all your hardware. they do make adapter kits such as the xjacker for pc headsets but they only work so well. a usb headset is likely better for console AND pc use.

as for headphone style...

closed over the ear designs provide superior sound isolation (my m50s are this style) so you hear less of the world around you. they also tend to be capable of better bass since its an enclosed space as well as being more immersive. they can get a bit hot though since they dont breath and since sound waves cannot escape they might be slightly worse sounding (though can still be really great) than open designs.

open on ear designs breath so you dont sweat and may sound better since sound has a place to go however leak badly (you can hear the world around you and they can hear what you listen to) and might not have the same bass capabilities of closed designs.

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you dont have to sacrifice.. there are headphones which can play games, music and movies ... and sound great at doing all of them. its one reason why i like my m50s. not saying they are the headphones for you.. only that you dont have to sacrifice in this regard.

the only thing is that you might need either a seperate headset when you voice chat for gaming (one that could be used with all devices including consoles) or you could just keep a seperate cheap gaming headset for console use only (the option i prefer for myself).

just a few ideas.
 

AngryGoldfish

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Jun 1, 2012
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I've tried maxing the windows volume before and controlling it elsewhere, but there were too many accidental volume boosts. That was with my old PC, though, so I might try it with the new one to see if it's any different. Thanks for the advice.

When you say "a USB headset is likely better for a console and PC use", what do you mean exactly? Can't any headset with the right adaptors be USB compatible, or am I missing something?

I think I'd rather a closed-ear design. I don't usually play games for longer than five hours, and there are only a few games that push me to play for that long, so I think the benefit of sound isolation (I have an 8-year-old playing in the same room as my rig) is more important to me than breathability.

As far as microphones, I could pick up a dedicated set of 'audiophile' cans and use a lapel microphone for voice chat, but I do have my heart set on a dedicated gaming and movie experience headset. I'll need to think about that one. I won't be doing any commentary, just chatting.

I have my eyes on the Astro Gaming A50's, but they're £50 above my budget, really. I do like the idea of wireless a lot.
 

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