Sound cards, A/V receivers and magic

Mathyas

Prominent
Jun 8, 2017
2
0
510
0
Hi!
On my journey to improve my gaming and music experience a little, I started looking around for a sound card. However, reading through forums and user reviews, etc., the general consensus seems to be that sound card are hardware as awful as it gets. Looking for a solution, I found out that it seems my best bet is to keep my stock sound card and get myself an A/V receiver.

Now, being the utter and complete technical illiterate I am, I wonder about one thing about this magic - how can it enhance my sound, when the receiver would be receiving its data from the same ol' unsatisfactory stock sound card? And if it works, is it really my best bet?

Looking forward to hearing from you,
Mathyas :)
 

ssddx

Glorious
Moderator
first, there will always be more complaints than there are praises on the internet. not many will praise a product that works but many will complain when it doesnt. for that reason its hard to get a good judge on quality of an item by going on bad reviews alone.

the next thing to remember that the vast majority of complaints are often easily thrown out due to user error or a problem originating somewhere but the product. people often just do not know enough and tend to blame something before knowing the source of the problem. a good example are the hundreds of "my usb mic has static noise... it sucks" type reviews. often this is noise from your power supply/motherboard/case and has nothing to do with the mic (any device would be similarly affected) but mics get the blame.

no product is perfect, i've read more receiver "complaints" than you likely have read for soundcards. no product is perfect and it is impossible to satisfy everyone. i will say that there are certainly good soundcards and good receivers and both are completely viable options.

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i've used everything over the years from 2.0 unpowered 2w speakers, tv speakers, powered bookshelves, 5.1 pc surround systems with a soundcard, external amps w/ dac and a receiver. quite honestly any of them work and outside of tv speakers or crap pc unpowered speakers all can sound great and i was happy with them at the time.

what do i think sounds the best? i'm quite partial to my home theater (then again, the price tag is also not cheap) but the 2.0 set in the other room we have hooked up to a small amp sounds great as well. for say $100-250 you can do quite well for a little 2.0 system.

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whether to go with a receiver or soundcard really depends on what you want to do. right now we have no idea on what you actually do with your computer, what kind of speaker setup you want, your budget or taste.
 

ssddx

Glorious
Moderator
i'm not sure where you were reading that "sound cards are as awful as it gets" but that really could not be further from the truth.

yes, there are certainly bad soundcards out there. onboard audio or cheap no-name products tend to fill this role. there are also bad receivers. again, generally no-name products.

first you would really want to understand your options.

what is a receiver good for?
if you want to use home theater speakers this is your only real option. yes, there are multi-channel amps but the price of those is more than a receiver generally. also, you can connect with hdmi right out of your video card. alternatively you could use optical out of your onboard or a soundcard if it supports 5.1 over optical.

what is a soundcard good for?
if you want to use pc speakers or use analog inputs (ex some microphones) this is a good option. also, if you want virtual surround sound for headphones this is one of the few solutions for that.

keep in mind that soundcards are generally meant for use with powered speakers. allmost all pc speaker sets are self powered with an ac plug. this means the input power to them only needs to be low level (hence why most soundcard amps for 5.1 are not strong). receivers on the other hand need to have stronger amps since most speakers are unamped so need to be powered by the receiver.

are there other options?
sure. people using headphones may be using an external dac and amp (bypassing soundcards/onboard) or use just an amp (to just boost output power) as soundcards (generally) are not meant for powering some of the high power products on the market (but most average headphones are fine). people using specialty mics (xlr) may use an audio interface to mix (its an external dac/amp/mixer). some people might use usb input mics (bypassing soundcards). recording studios might use specialty soundcards (claro xt for example) which are meant for a different market than general use ones.

also you will want to understand what they are. a soundcard is basically a dac (digital to analog converter.. or what allows you to actually make an analog signal [that powers speakers] out of a music file), an amplifier (which powers up that signal so that it can actually power speakers [though in a souncards case it is only amped up enough to power 1-2 watt speakers or headphones]) and a software suite which controls things like virtual surround, which input/output does what, etc.

likewise, a receiver is generally a dac, amplifier, switcher (for switching inputs) and has its own hardware/software mix. generally the outputs on receivers are high power meant for unpowered speakers.

what are your speaker options?

2-3w 2.0 unpowered pc speakers. generally stay away from these
2.0, 2.1, 5.1, 7.1 powered pc speakers. some sets are generally not bad though may fall behind higher end and pricier audio solutions
2.0 studio monitors (powered). generally used by people mixing or for people who want nice small self powered bookshelf speakers.
2.0, 2.1 unpowered speakers. either amp or receiver. good for people who want a small set. home theater speakers are generally decent.
3.1, 4.1, 5.1, 7.1 unpowered speakers. for over 2.1, a receiver would be needed. home theater sets generally offer better audio than many pc speakers.
HTIB. home theater in a box sets. i generally advise avoiding them as not all play nice with external inputs. some however do work fine.

--

in short?

there are good soundcards. xonar dx, stx, creative z, etc.

there are good pc speakers. creative t40, jbl creature iii / soundsticks iii to name a few.

soundcards can be used with powered non-pc speakers. xonar dx paired with mackie cr4 for example is decent.

home theater setups are good if you have the money. avoid htib sets if you can though.

a home theater set may cost you $500+ (mine was about $1200) while high end pc speakers generally cost around $300+ (logitech z906).

are they comparable? i would say no as a "good" quality home theater sounds much better. for the money spent though there are certainly outstanding pc speakers. in the non-pc powered speaker category (studio monitors for example) many compete with the better pc speakers on the market though i consider monitors to generally sound better (though remember monitors dont have a sub.. though its possible to add one).

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confusing? surely. however understanding your options and clearing out the notion that "all soundcards are bad" is essential.
 

Mathyas

Prominent
Jun 8, 2017
2
0
510
0


Firstly, thanks a lot for your thorough and detailed reply.

As far as sound cards go (I tried to avoid the most superbudget stuff, looked more into lines such as Phoebus, Strix, Z, etc.), from what I have gathered on the interwebz, any ASUS product offers sound that would definitely satisfy me, but I have encountered way too many people complaining about their drivers being unstable and crashing or even people who couldn't even get the drivers to work at all. Sure, there's always a handful of people with issues with just about any product, but this was way too many. Plus people complain that ASUS customer support flat out doesn't exist.
As for Creative hardware, the software is good, but in their case it's too many complains about the sound.

Eh... Guess I'll just sit on my money for a bit more and lurk around the internet to find the best solution, maybe I'll manage to learn something more about it to make that decision easier. Right now I am mostly just overwhelmed and confused by all the audio talks :D
 
If you were to connect an AV receiver to the analog audio outputs of a mobo or soundcard you would still be stuck with the quality of that audio output.
If you were to connect an AV receiver to the digital audio outputs of a mobo or soundcard you would be bypassing most of the audio portion inside the PC. The receiver would do the surround sound processing (with dedicated chips) and converting digital to analog.
Usually this is much better quality (and more money). The receiver also powers passive speakers so you options in that respect are much greater than using PC speakers.
For music you would use a USB DAC that would bypass all the audio circuits in the PC and many even reclock the diigital output and isolate the PC from the audio system. This is usually limited to two channels.
 

ssddx

Glorious
Moderator
first, there will always be more complaints than there are praises on the internet. not many will praise a product that works but many will complain when it doesnt. for that reason its hard to get a good judge on quality of an item by going on bad reviews alone.

the next thing to remember that the vast majority of complaints are often easily thrown out due to user error or a problem originating somewhere but the product. people often just do not know enough and tend to blame something before knowing the source of the problem. a good example are the hundreds of "my usb mic has static noise... it sucks" type reviews. often this is noise from your power supply/motherboard/case and has nothing to do with the mic (any device would be similarly affected) but mics get the blame.

no product is perfect, i've read more receiver "complaints" than you likely have read for soundcards. no product is perfect and it is impossible to satisfy everyone. i will say that there are certainly good soundcards and good receivers and both are completely viable options.

---

i've used everything over the years from 2.0 unpowered 2w speakers, tv speakers, powered bookshelves, 5.1 pc surround systems with a soundcard, external amps w/ dac and a receiver. quite honestly any of them work and outside of tv speakers or crap pc unpowered speakers all can sound great and i was happy with them at the time.

what do i think sounds the best? i'm quite partial to my home theater (then again, the price tag is also not cheap) but the 2.0 set in the other room we have hooked up to a small amp sounds great as well. for say $100-250 you can do quite well for a little 2.0 system.

---

whether to go with a receiver or soundcard really depends on what you want to do. right now we have no idea on what you actually do with your computer, what kind of speaker setup you want, your budget or taste.
 

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