Do i need a sound-card in my PC if i plan to connect the PC to Home Theater?

Abhinav Prakash

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May 24, 2013
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Hi All,
Feels great to be part of this forum:)

Here is my little question: My motherboard(Asus p8Z mPro) has Realtek® ALC892 Audio codec and I plan to connect it to a 5.1 Home Theater using S/PDIF . Now my question is- Will I get improved audio performance if I also install a sound card on my motherboard?

What I have learned after several hours of research is that when passing signals over S/PDIF, it's the DAC chip of receiver that does analog-digital conversion.
But does this mean a Sound-Card doesn't add any value if I use S/PDIF? Also is it true for even an audiophile card like Xonar Essence SXT?

If this is so- that even good sound cards don't add value when using S/PDIF out then I will try your patience by one more question -
What would be a good home audio setup in this case? Onboard-Realtek+ Dolby Digital 5.1 Home Theater (like Onkyo HTS 3400) or A good sound card (Xonar Essence SXT)+generic 5.1 PC speakers (Logitech Z506) ?

Thanks for your patience in reading this long harangue :)
I hope i have been able to put across my doubts clearly, but my apologies if they sound very naive

Cheerio
Abhinav
 
there are four ways you can export sound.

-via spdif sound only from motherboard
-via dvi along with video from video card
-via hdmi along with video from video card
-by your soundcard to speakers.

using the first three options to a receiver does not require a soundcard as the audio information is procesed by the receiver. the only possible benefit of a good internal card may be if your onboard solution introduces noise into the signal however this is more often the case for connecting speakers up to an internal sound card as analog cables are much more succeptible to noise than digital.

this is not to say that good sound cards add no features. some support more formats and modes however in general for exporting sound via spdif they are a waste of money in most cases.

i have heard some some issues with spdif and new dolby HD sound and there may be limitations of spdif technology so i would highly advise using your video card to export the sound out via hdmi or dvi. most recent cards support this.

i have a $500 pioneer receiver and $900 klipsch speaker system which is fed directly by a dvi-hdmi cable from my gtx470 video card and it sounds great. i have no need of a sound card.

as far as your comparision buys are concerned...

i would try to avoid home theater in a box type setups. i would highly advise a propper receiver unit instead of the junk they package with the set in most cases. the speakers they use in such sets are also subpar and for a reasonable amount of money you can purchase much better equipment. of course this option is not cheap but is definitely worthwhile if you want good sound.

pairing up a $180 sound card to a $80 speaker set is a bad idea. while true that said soundcard is much better than onboard sound the speaker system you want to use is just not good enough to get the full benefit. for $80 speakers you can use either your onboard sound or a cheap $50 soundcard option. perhaps if you wanted to buy $300 speakers such a soundcard may be appropriate but in this case it is not. good sound requires good speakers and good hardware. dont get me wrong the basic logitech sets sound very good considering the price however they can not compete with higher end products in terms of sound quality.

what is your maximum budget and what are you expecting out of the speakers?
would you consider yourself an audiophile? (your budget should reflect this too)
what do you want the speakers for? music, games, etc
how much physical space do you have for speakers?

in case you were wondering what i personally use.....



 

thee_prisoner

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First of all, those Logitech don't have an optical in so the speakers use analog input and have the sound card or mobo sound do the 5.1.

Secondly, a sound card hooked up to a good receiver(or separates like, amp, pre amp and integrated amp) won't offer a big upgrade in sound if you are just passing along a digital signal.

Thirdly, When you buy an all in one system like the Onkyo HT S3400, it is basically an OK receiver with speakers that are called home theatre speakers but are pretty much just like PC speakers, in other words the quality isn't very good. So either way you will spend about the same amount of money. Having said that, the Onkyo HT system offers more flexibility over on board and or sound card.

Options: 1 Get a better sound card that has optical out and analog out. For example the HT Omega:http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16829271007 and then whatever PC speakers(or powered home speakers) you want to buy. It will work with pretty much any speaker systems.

2: Just use the mobo sound with a receiver( or not a receiver if the speakers are powered) it has both analog, optical and HDMI outs that gives you more flexibility to choose what speakers to get. And it saves you money to buy better speakers and then later on if you want buy a quality sound card like the HT Omegas.

3: Use the optical out on the mobo to the Onkyo HT system. It offers easy setup but you get an average receiver with suspect quality of speakers.

4: Best option-GO to a used/stereo store and check some speakers systems, receivers, etc and listen before you buy. By buying used you can save a lot of money and speakers are the most important thing to spend the money on.

PS: I would read up on HDMI outs in terms of surround since I think they are a good option just less cables deal with. Me personally, I use analog but wouldn't be opposed to going the HDMI route now since there has been great improvement. You just have to be careful about what kind of HDMI the mobo or receiver supports in terms of surround.

Happy listening, the Prisoner...


 

Abhinav Prakash

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May 24, 2013
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hi SSDX,

Thanks a lot for a very detailed and very insightful response.

1. My total budget for sound rig- I had considered a one time investment of $300 but now I see that to build a truly good sound system its just the first installment. So probably I will start with an audiophile Sound Card and arrange for other parts piecemeal.
2. Am I a audiophile? - I love to have clear and melodious sound from my system. My Altec Lanssing 5.1 speakers and Bose headset meet this demand to certain degree. But I feel there is lot more out in market that can help improve my experience further. So over next several months I will invest several hundred $s more to get that.
3. Use: I am primary a movie watcher- (have a reasonable collection of blurays) and music listeners. I hardly ever play games.
4. my pc room is small. 10X12 feet.

The system you have built looks really great and I am sure it must be sounding great as well :)
Thanks again


 

Abhinav Prakash

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May 24, 2013
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Hi
Thanks for your suggestions- especially the last one . I guess i had been trying too hard to judge quality of sound systems without actually listening to them :)
Tomorrow will hunt them in local markets

Cheers
Abhinav




 

thee_prisoner

Distinguished
Seems to me spending $190.00 for a soundcard that is just going pass a signal along and not do anything is a waste of money. Especially since your motherboard has the optical, analog or HDMI connections already. And I looked it up, the modo supports HDMI 1.4. HDMI is progressing and really is at this time the future, not SPDIF. Both ssdx and I mentioned this but you seem set on buying a soundcard. Spend the money on good speakers since they have by far the most influence on your sound.

Happy listening, the Prisoner...
 
again, what is your maximum budget. you list $300+ several hundred. an exact budget would be ideal. also i would suggest buying everything at once since pc speakers come in a whole set and individual home theater speakers may be hard to find later if you dont pick them all up now as they can get outdated.

i would not purchase a $190 soundcard if you plan on exporting sound via spdif as this is a waste of money. if you plan on getting a high end pc speaker set such as the logitech z906 or z5500 this will work however such sets feature spdif inputs which means that you do not need a soundcard at all if your system already supports spdif output.

i would not buy a soundcard at all if you plan on using a receiver. i would use hdmi or dvi to output your sound on the same cable from your video card to the receiver. the only way i would suggest optical out to a receiver is if you dont want to run your video through the receiver for some reason.

here are a few options for you to consider:

optical output on your motherboard to logitech z5500 or z906
-you can get such a set for $400 and they will sound better than low end computer speakers however not quite on par with good home theater speakers. an optical connection would make hookup simple and easy. i've read that some people have issues with uncompressed audio over spdif.

3.5mm output on a soundcard to logitech z550 or z906
-an audiophile level card may be better than the soundcard included inside the speaker set and may offer different/better options. this may or may not improve performance of the set slightly. this would handle uncompressed audio better.

dvi or hdmi output from your soundcard to a receiver and speaker system with video passthrough to your monitor
-your video card still renders and outputs the video while the receiver passes through the video to your monitor and only seperates out the video so that it can process it and send it out to your speakers. hdmi supports uncompressed audio and doesnt have any limitations like spdif does. home theater speakers can be much more powerfull and sound much better than computer speakers.

optical oputput from your motherboard to a receiver and speaker system
-i've heard of some issues with uncompressed audio but this can work.

---------

now, while i pour myself some more moscato (who knew answering threads was such thirsty work!) i took the liberty of giving you a few images to look at....

this is a z906 set from logitech. $400. not a bad set for the average computer user. far better than $100 and $200 computer sets at least.


this is a z5500 from logitech. $500+ (they are not made anymore and are hard to find). from what i've heard this is the best speaker set logitech ever made and is lightly better than their new z906.


klipsch quintet iv 5.0 speaker set $300 (this is what i personally use i paid $500). this is a good example of a matched speaker set. ideally you want to buy speakers that are meant to be paired with eachother. this set has all of them in one box although some sets you buy individual pieces but they are all from the same series of speakers.


klipsch 450w subwoofer $450, 350w subwoofer $350 (i use a 450 and paid about $400). i personally have my 450w turned way down and it is capable of quite a bit of power in a small room. the only reason i have one is because i got a deal where i paid the same as for a 350w.


pioneer vsx-30 receiver $???? (i use this and paid $500 not sure if you can still get it). this is what i would call a middle level receiver. it has quite a number of nice functions not included on basic receivers however a basic receiver for under $250 is really all you need. typically i would suggest between 1/5 to 1/3 of your total budget should be for the receiver.


klipsch kb-15 bookshelf speaker $250/pair, can get onsale for $100. this is an example of a bookshelf speaker. again, there are many brands to choose from. the second picture is of a kc-25 center channel speaker $250 which you will need if you buy all your pieces seperately.



sony ssf-5000 floorstanding speakers $200/pair. this is a good example of floorstanding speakers. we bought these speakers (one pair) as a christmas present for my dad and they use it on their old tube tv (no receiver) and for the low price (floorstanding speakers can be expensive) they sound rather good and are definitely more than loud enough. they have no dedicated subwoofer (technically the speakers themselves have larger drivers which function similar) but they can shake the walls.


here are a few photos showing different system setups with computers

z906


bookshelf speakers


tower speakers


bookshelf speakers


you've already seen a photo of mine from the front. here is it from the back showing my other two speakers.


------

as you can see there are quite a few different choices available if you went with a home theater. dont be scared by some of the prices i listed. the parts i personally used totaled about $1400 however you can create a very nice 5.1 set on a much smaller budget. if you buy used equipment you can easily put together a similar system for 1/3 the cost. for brand new parts i would suggest at minimum around $500 (which is what you would spend on a z5500 anyways) but a larger budget of $600-800 would be easier to work with.

a receiver is nice because you can input from multiple sources easily. for instance i use it for my ps3, ps2 and pc. i also have the option of using my laptop, camera, ipod or other device as an input with a simple swap of the knob. i made the switch to a receiver and audio system about 3-4 years ago and i will never go back. i was without my receiver for about a week recently and was forced to use the tv speakers and it was torture. not to mention i had to unplug cables or swap inputs on the tv which was not nearly as easy as reach-turnknob-relax.

if you do not want to go with a home theater setup there are good computer speakers available for purchase as well. even $200 logitech speakers do not sound all that bad for the money but higher end speakers like the z906 will sound better.

everything depends on just how serious a sound system you want and if computer speakers are good enough or if you want more.

for a room your size satelite or bookshelf sized speakers are fine.

......hope this gives you some more insight to possible options out there.
 
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