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Internal Audio Card vs. External DAC

DogeOfPC

41 months ago

It's a sticky subject I know, BUT since I'm going to be using my computer for music production as well as gaming, the DAC would need to have both a headphone and mic line in. I know that a DAC has little to no electronic interference, but that there are also audio cards that have very little/no distinguishable interference. My budget is around $150 so it's just a matter of what I can get with best value for that.

Thank you so much in advance!

Comments

  • 41 months ago
  • 2 points

What you need is an audio interface. Look into a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

[comment deleted by staff]
  • 41 months ago
  • 1 point

Yep.

  • 41 months ago
  • 2 points

Onboard audio can be quite good, and even the cheapest onboard can have better latency results compared to pricy external dacs.

USB dacs are also susceptible to jitter and dirty usb power, which people spend hundreds of dollars to fix. If you can play around with the cable for the front audio panel, you might find a place where the cable won't pick up noise. In my case, the front audio jack is quieter than the rear, and definitely quite a bit quieter than my dac.

Also, unlike common beliefs, without proper shielding, dacs are susceptible to interference. Cheap ferrite core usb cables, ferrite beads and proper shielding can alleviate this. If not, putting your cellphone next to a dac might even cause interference, though this is quite rare now as companies usually fix these issues quickly. Red motherboards pretty much always shield their onboard audio to done degree so the cable shielding is usually the main concern. With usb dacs, you may also get stuttering or distortion due to the nature of usb audio. There is no error correction, so if you are transferring a lot of data very fast (extremely high res audio), or if the USB ports are busy, you might find stuttering at times when you play music. Also, drivers with dacs can be a pain at times. :P

Finally, you might get channel imbalance with dac/amps that use analogue volume control (along with all the other issues with analogue). Onboard audio is always digital, so if the noise floor isn't high, they can be better.

If you are looking into music production, check out audio interfaces for pro audio. Even cheap ones offer better performance objectively compared to expensive audiophile products, as the goals that the designs are trying to achieve are different.

Sites like gearslutz.com are decent if you need help.

If you want to use onboard audio and it's a Realtek ALC1150, sometimes the official drivers intentionally distort the sound (that's the case with my onboard). Realtek ALC1150, when implemented properly, should offer a very neutral, accurate sound. If your sound is off (you can test this by connecting the onboard's line out/headphone out to your onboard's line in and do a frequency sweep), try installing this to bypass the onboard's default drivers:

http://forums.guru3d.com/showthread.php?t=392085

  • 41 months ago
  • 1 point

Oh wow, thats so much perfect information. Ill check between my rear and front audio interface for which is better. But I was not expecting so much information, thank you a whole lot!

  • 41 months ago
  • 2 points

It's just you usually find a bunch of info about how great dacs and amps are if you do a google search, and usually they are from a few years ago. Those are either popular threads or reviews from a while back. You rarely find the troubleshooting threads about those devices or about newer, dedicated reviews of different onboard implementations when you do a quick google search, as those only gets a few views and the posts stop after the questions are answered. Their popularity will never match popular threads that go on for years even though the hardware hasn't been upgraded.

Implementation of onboard audio is very important, so not all are created equal. Some have amazing measurements while some are indeed crap. That is up to the manufacturer. If there is noise when you listen through your headphones, play around with the audio cables in your case, pull it as far away from components as you can and see if the noise disappears, or diy a shielding for your cable/buy a cheap shielded cable. If you diy, make sure to cover everything on your modified cable with electric tape so you don't accidentally short anything. If the noise does not disappear when you move the cable around, then you might want to consider an external solution.

Motherboards from z87 up really didn't have much to compete with each other, as Intel moved a lot of stuff that affected over clocking potential into the CPU itself, do motherboard manufacturers started to spend their times on developing features to outshine their competitors, audio became one of those features. As a result, there was a significant jump in audio quality of onboard audio in the past few years. Threads about onboard audio that are just a few years old might already be outdated. The Z97 boards still had some diversity, but z170 red boards really all look the same now in terms of audio, so as long as you have a decent board, the implementation shouldn't be garbage. Same thing with laptops. I was quite surprised, as people who use my dac/amp setup have once claimed that it has improved their older Macbook audio significantly, however, today, many people are saying that they no longer see a point to purchase a dedicated dac for the newer Macbook Pro even when using their thousand dollar headphones. Many have suggested to only get an amp if one's headphones do not get loud enough, as the onboard is already extremely transparent.

In general, if it gets loud enough without clipping/distortion, and the noise doesn't exist/doesn't bother you, you have no need to go outboard dac/amp. As for music production tools, you are better off lurking around on the site I recommended as I have near zero knowledge on pro audio, aside from the existence of this thing called an audio interface.

Cheers. : )

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