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Should I get a sound card?

This is a discussion on Should I get a sound card? within the Sound Cards forums, part of the Tech Support Forum category. I know this probably gets asked a lot, but bear with me for a second (or a couple of minutes)


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Old 09-03-2016, 04:11 AM   #1
8kg
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I know this probably gets asked a lot, but bear with me for a second (or a couple of minutes) here.
I'm not going to ask if my situation and needs require me to get a sound card instead of using the motherboard for sound reproduction. On the contrary, I'm trying to understand if there is something wrong with my motherboard, or the way it's been plugged, or whatever else that could be affecting the sound reproduction.

As far as I can tell (or rather, as far as CPU-Z tells me), the motherboard I have on my PC (desktop PC) is an ASRock H77 Pro4/MVP.

I've always found the sound a bit "different" on this computer compared to what I was used to on others (laptops mainly), but after spending the last month playing games on my laptop, going back to my desktop computer felt really, REALLY bad.

First of all, the sound is a lot lower in volume than it is on my laptop. I can usually play with about 50-60/100 volume (or even 20-30 if I'm in a quiet room) when I'm on laptop, but here on my desktop PC I always have to raise the volume to 100/100, and it's somewhere in the ballpark of 40/100 on my laptop. It's mostly ok to play and do stuff, but for instance, when I watch a movie, I always find myself needing to use VLC's volume booster up to 150% or even 200% to have a decent level of sound. Also, the high/maxed-out/beyond-max volume usually causes distortion of quality, as it's probably expected.

Now, I may not be the most fine-hearing person on the planet, but I'm not deaf either, so I know this one's not on me, and this volume level problem is already a pretty big deal.

The second, and probably even worse problem, is that the sound quality is actually different. It feels as if it's "deeper", but not in a good way. It's not that I can hear deeper basses (or something like that) which I couldn't hear on my laptop; it's more like the sound is being played underwater rather than through the air. I am exaggerating it a bit (it's not THAT "filtered"), but that's the closest that I can come to explaining how it sounds.

As far as plugging and peripherals goes, my setup is cheap and basic: I've plugged a cheap set of earphones into the back of my computer, where the various ports of the motherboard are (pink, green, blue, paler-pink, grey; the earphones are plugged in the green slot). I also have a jack port (green port) on the side-front of my PC; not sure if that's another motherboard port or what, but I tried playing sound from there and it's even worse (same quality, same volume level, but with an additional low-volume hissing sound).

Now, granted, I could buy more expensive earphones or headphones and expect a better quality of sound, but I don't think that's the only problem here. The fact is, the sound quality on my laptop IS enough for my needs (and it's not a fancy laptop either; it's HP 15 Notebook PC) when I use these cheap earphones, so I know they are not as awful as they could be.

I tried messing around with various options in the realtek audio management panel, but nothing seems to really improve the situation (the volume gets a bit higher with Volume Equalizer ON, but that's about the extent of the improvement).

I just checked for driver updates, and it seems like my system is, in fact, updated (at least for the sound drivers part).

Lastly, I don't know if this matters or not, but my computer is plugged to my monitor via HDMI. It sounds very far-fetched to me, but I've included this info just in case this might affect something (I know HDMI transmits sounds too, now I almost wonder if the volume is low because part of the sound is "lost" through the HDMI output, and only part of it can come out of the motherboard lol).

So, let's wrap this up:
1. Is it possible that there is something wrong with my motherboard, plugging, wiring, or something like that which could explain why the sound quality AND volume are so low on my PC?

2. More simply, a purchase advice: Superlux HD681 EVO (headphones) + Creative 70SB150000001 Sound Blaster Z (sound card) = good combo or not? I'm not looking for anything too high-end, but if I'm going to spend some money to improve the sound, I might as well do it once and do it good.

2B. Also, are there any compatibility issues that I need to check, when looking for a sound card? Since my motherboard is not THAT old I'm assuming any "normal" sound card (like the one I wrote earlier) should work, but better to ask and be safe than sorry.
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Old 09-03-2016, 05:14 AM   #2
8kg
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Oh and one last thing that I forgot earlier...there was another thing wrong with my sound, and that is that the sounds left/right are played backwards by default. In other words, if I plug my earphones in the motherboard directly, the sound test left/right will fail. I bypassed this problem with a couple of external devices, which re-routed the left channel to the right and viceversa, and kinda forgot about it until now. But now that I think about it, that's one more reason for me to suspect there is something wrong with the hardware somewhere.
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Old 09-03-2016, 08:38 AM   #3
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The sound blaster z is a gaming oriented card, that's not saying it wouldn't be good for music or video, just that game sound and hi-fi don't always go hand in hand. Gamer's often look for different things in a sound card than someone looking for a good music card.
A great gaming card can be a mediocre music card, So pick a card that matches your needs.
Not familiar with those headphones, so can't say. But a good set of headphones/speakers is a must for clarity.
I prefer running a music oriented sound card because I like music with clean sound.
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Old 09-05-2016, 07:41 AM   #4
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Hi 8kg

Have you checked the effects settings on your audio-driver's control-panel? They often have built-in effects to simulate various room sizes, long tunnels, underwater and so on (I don't know of anyone who's ever actually used them ) and usually drop the volume too. Otherwise, adjusting the graphic-equaliser settings can give a good boost to the volume, just slide all the sliders upwards, then trim the overbearing frequencies down, to suit your tastes (some like bassy sounds, others like less bass but lots more treble etc.). Just be wary of 'clipping', when the volume exceeds the peak-volume and distortion starts to creep in, if you can get the volume loud enough

If you do opt for a new sound-card, the 'Asus Xonar' card provides very good audio and has a built-in headphone amplifier which does an excellent job
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Old 09-06-2016, 01:18 AM   #5
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Thanks for the replies. I think I'll get a card after all - I just hope it will fit on the motherboard along with that fat-*** GTX 1070, which is already going to cost me an additional 100 bucks for a new case due to its size -.-
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Old 09-06-2016, 09:56 AM   #6
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The nice thing with audio-cards is that they'll fit in any spare PCi-e slot, so you can fit it at t'other end of the row from the graphics-card
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