Is PC audio dead?

Edited 2 years, 2 months ago

Poll: Is PC audio dead? (124 votes)

Yes, EAX is a goner and OpenAL is a fizzle 17%
No, Creative tech is still relevant, BlueRipple can resuscitate OpenAL 14%
Null, Motherboard audio meets the needs of gaming 71%

Has anyone else noticed that PC Gaming journalism doesn't seem to give a rip about sound in the last few years?

No one aches and gushes over sound chipsets like they do for the latest NVIDIA and AMD architecture, there are no engineer interviews getting column inches and Maximum PC's Dream Machine and Best-of-the-Best segments no longer even mention sound cards despite newer cards still coming out from Creative, Asus, and Auzentech.

Did I miss something? Wasn't OpenAL supposed to achieve the dream of ray-tracing with sound? Along comes Blue Ripple out of nowhere making Dirt 2 sound phenomenal, Creative is building audiophile-grade Sound Core3D boards on the Zx and ZxR lines, and there's nary a blip from the likes of PC Gamer, Maximum PC, Tom's Hardware, [H]ardOCP, or Ars Technica.

I'm due for a complete rebuild, and struggling with 'where does the sound card go', as it seems only MSI remembered to reserve a top 1x PCI-E slot for the task of dedicated audio. The options don't seem to have improved in several years.

Am I wasting valuable fantasy-building time on audio?

#1 Posted by VACkillers (1171 posts) -

ITs not on the forefront of gaming reviews this is true, but PC audio is far from dead, there are some really good sound cards out there, this was something I was looking into very recently actually. Its difficult because there are some really awfull sound cards out there, and you wont know untill you buy one, and play something like Battlefield 3. A lot of focus seems to be on headsets these days when you are talking about games and sound in the same sentance, like Razors new headset that is the first official 7.1 surround sound headset. For things like music editing, using programs such as Adobe audition, you really do need a good sound card to make the most of what these programs have to offer, I'm actually making music on my own right now using a program called Magix Music Maker along side Adobe Audition and without a good sound card, you cannot hook up an electronic keyboard or not have the same quallity anyway unless you have a realyl decent sound card, with all the relevant software that goes along with it. There is a lot of things that goes into making the audio for games and the music, and really should be talked about more definitely. on board audio has come along so far now though, its actually quite amazing how good on baord sound actually is these days, but there is absolutely still a need for professional audio cards, and you actually still miss a lot of the audio with on board sound, especially in games like battlefield 3, where the sound of the environment is everything.

That's my 2 cents worth anyway

#2 Posted by Vestigial_Man (317 posts) -

I don't have a sound card in my PC and it's been fine. I don't see how you make sound objectively better but I use the speakers built into my TV so I'm probably an audio philistine.

#3 Edited by louiedog (2381 posts) -

We reached a point where onboard sound is good enough for just about everyone. People used to talk more about sound cards because there was a time when you needed one, and people need them, they think and talk about what's the best.

#4 Posted by ChaosDent (236 posts) -

You can encode multi-channel audio over SP/DIF or HDMI using almost any combination of onboard audio and video card these days. Most desktop motherboards come with discrete outputs for multiple speakers (assuming anyone cares about that anymore). Abstractions like DirectX and OpenAL seem to be doing the job of positional audio and environmental audio just fine for games.

There is certainly a case to be made for sound cards with respect to input and output quality, lower interference and peripheral options. For games, I'm happy to just pipe stereo audio over optical or even RCA to a receiver and use a pair of desktop speakers or headphones. For every desktop I've built in the last 8 years, gaming audio has been a totally solved problem out of the box.

#5 Posted by Devildoll (944 posts) -

i've got a xonar ST, mostly cause i'm an audiophile though.

but the onboard sound on my mobo really doesnt cut it, once you've experienced anything better.

#6 Edited by VoidProd (134 posts) -

Alot of people think the onboard sound is good enough, the same way alot of people think sub 720p 30 fps on some console games is good enough. It's not exactly an apples to apples comparison, but the reality is most people don't think too much about it.

That said you don't need to spend alot of money to get a soundcard that beats onboard audio. Onboard audio has come along way in the last few years, but unless you have really cheap headphones/speakers, I'd say a dedicated card is absolutely worth it.

#7 Posted by Devildoll (944 posts) -

@gothmoogle: yeah the 20 buck soundblaster audigy i used for a long time was a noticable improvement over the onboard audio on both my p4p800se and p6t deluxe v2 mobo's.

#8 Edited by BisonHero (8333 posts) -

@gothmoogle said:

Alot of people think the onboard sound is good enough, the same way alot of people think sub 720p 30 fps on some console games is good enough. It's not exactly an apples to apples comparison, but the reality is most people don't think too much about it.

Indeed, I think part of the issue is that human language tends to have about a zillion more words that act as visual descriptors, compared to a scant few words that are auditory descriptors. The majority of reviewers are not audiophiles, and are far more focused on graphics and gameplay and writing than they are on sound quality, unless there's a truly horrendous sound bug in the game. The lack of attention to sound quality extends far beyond PC gaming.

So @ViktorKing is right in his guess that PC gaming journalism basically does not give a flying fuck about audio in PC games. I really don't think they care, and neither do most of their readers.

#9 Edited by Devildoll (944 posts) -

one game i do remember for the audio was battlefield bad company 2.

those explosions and stuff sounded so awesome in the beta.
Pretty much all of my buddies reacted the same way the first time they played it.

#10 Edited by AlisterCat (6102 posts) -

Onboard audio is good enough. Unless you're an audiophile I don't see it being a big benefit.

#11 Posted by Azteck (7416 posts) -

It's not dead, but with the introduction of 5.1 on the motherboard, it kind of took a back seat. People who still want an above average sound experience can still get one without problem. Most people just don't have that need.

#12 Edited by Demoskinos (16224 posts) -

If you're just gaming on board audio is almost surely enough for most people unless you are an utter audiophile.

#13 Edited by mellotronrules (1478 posts) -

i think it's a matter of exposure- once you've heard or seen the difference between 'good enough' and amazing, it becomes harder to stomach the cheaper experience. but on the whole, people probably don't care. but mobo sound usually is pretty terrible- the DACs are sooo bad.

and i would agree that there is certainly a disproportionate emphasis on the fidelity of visuals over audio- but that's been the case for a very long time, and i'm not sure if that's symptomatic of the human response, or simply the byproduct of the technology and industry itself.

#14 Posted by arch4non (472 posts) -

Sound in general is good enough as it is. What needs innovation is dynamic voice acting.

You'll hear game reviewers gushing over sound in video games when NPC's start changing their speech mid-sentence depending on what they're doing, when things like running and jumping effect what they're saying.

#16 Posted by Andorski (5459 posts) -

Unlike graphics it is much harder for people to appreciate quality sound. Audiophiles will still find a sound card necessary but Joe Shmoe PC user is completely fine with just on board audio.

#17 Posted by Caustic_Fox (118 posts) -

It's like if sound cards have been forgotten in modern gaming or something. I still remember a time when computer games relied heavily on midi music. And depending on what sound card one had, that would be the sound s/he got out of their game. And sometimes there was a big difference if you compared a basic MS Midi synth to a full blown Creative Labs AWE 32/64 sound card. Even the game setup options had a selection on what sound card(s) you had available/installed.

Speaking of which, I think sound cards still include a midi/gameport input, so it might be possible to use legacy controllers with them.

#18 Posted by Karkarov (3671 posts) -

The onboard sounds is perfectly fine basically every time. Even the most basic mobo will have outputs now for full on speaker systems and many can do spdif. Most modern graphics cards can now output audio over hdmi as well.

Personally I do own and use a sound card, but not for listening to sound. My onboard/graphics card are plenty good enough for listening to audio when paired with 5.1 speakers or better. If you want high quality recording though, such as instruments or voice over.... you will have to have a sound card. On board solutions can't record for crap. In fact most "gamer" sound cards can't do it either, even the expensive ones.

#19 Posted by RollingZeppelin (2279 posts) -

I've never seen the point in getting an audio card. They way they market them is very poorly done, I have no idea what kind of improvement over my current sound set up I will have if I buy one. I have no idea if I'll also need to upgrade my speakers or headphones in order to notice the difference, and audiophile speakers can run into the thousands of dollars. I'm not gonna pony up that kind of dough for improved sound when I'm content with what I currently have.

I really like great sound but the prices charged for good audio equipment is exorbitant, and I think they mostly rely on a perceived sense of superiority in the customer rather then offering actual price for performance.

#20 Edited by ripelivejam (5915 posts) -

there's a lot of electrical noise/interference with onboard audio i've noticed. got this for $50 after rebate and it's a definite improvement, so no i'd say it's not dead.

(tho for disclosure i bought it more for music listening. i'm fairly sure a better dedicated audio card would help with clarity and positioning of game audio, but many people seem to be alright with the onboard so whatever floats your boat...)

#21 Posted by DxBecks (77 posts) -

Personally, I would rather buy an external amplifier and D.A.C. to use with headphones than an onboard sound card, or purchase a sound card.

#22 Posted by zenmastah (1055 posts) -

Ive put 1200e into my soundsystem, thats a subwoofer and two speakers, and i can thell that the onboard audio just doesnt cut it.

So i bought Asus Xonar Essence ST and im really pleased with what it offers.

But i totally get why the average dude appreciates graphics more than sound, personally i enjoy both =)

#24 Posted by ViktorKing (39 posts) -

I deliberately included a 'null' voting option simply to find out how many people had an opinion that ultimately stood outside the argument. Never discount the power of 'I don't care'.

It depresses me, because I feel the segment is lacking in both innovation and marketing. It's not just the journalism. I would almost offer that NVIDIA and AMD might be the people with the resources to bring back innovation. Things like finite speed of sound, real-time Doppler effects, and real-time occlusion may require CUDA and Stream processing power.

But what of existing innovations? Motherboard chipsets might be capable of adequate fidelity, but support for advanced effects is almost always lacking. What happened to reverb and reflect properties being embedded in textures? What happened to variable occlusion? What happened to positional audio from stereo speakers and headphones?

Is it just me, or did we go from base recordings, shifted and distorted as needed, *back* to distance-staggered microphones and eighteen different foot-step sounds?

#25 Posted by Stonyman65 (3016 posts) -

It depends on what you are doing. For 95% of everything, on-board audio is perfectly okay. The stuff we have today straight out of the box is what we would have to pay $300 for a decade ago for an awesome sound card.

Now, if you are one of those crazy Audiophile people and you have a soundsystem that can take advantage of it, than getting a nice sound card would be pretty awesome.

And lastly the people that are doing home recording (especially when multitracking) a good sound card with a nice audio interface is a must. When you get into the higher-level stuff, you really can't do anything without it.

#26 Posted by ajamafalous (12396 posts) -

Onboard is fine for 98% of the population.

#27 Posted by believer258 (12713 posts) -

Personally, I don't have a stereo nor headphones good enough to take full advantage of a sound card, and even then the onboard audio is "good enough".

I know there's better out there but I'm not going to chase it when I have other things I'd like to buy and I'm satisfied with my current audio setup.

#28 Posted by Bourbon_Warrior (4569 posts) -

I have a Creative Sound Card just because it does Dolby Digital out, the only format my Turtle Beach PX5 supports because it's a console headset.

#29 Edited by Devildoll (944 posts) -

@believer258: my 40 or so buck sennheiser hd 212pro's could differentiate just fine between both my onboard soundcards and my 20 buck sounds blaster audigy.

You don't really need something crazy to be able to be able to hear improvement in soundquality.

#30 Posted by believer258 (12713 posts) -

@believer258: my 40 or so buck sennheiser hd 212pro's could differentiate just fine between both my onboard soundcards and my 20 buck sounds blaster audigy.

You don't really need something crazy to be able to be able to hear improvement in soundquality.

Then we'll go with the "I would rather spend 40 bucks on a new game" approach.

#31 Edited by MikkaQ (10296 posts) -

@alistercat said:

Onboard audio is good enough. Unless you're an audiophile I don't see it being a big benefit.

Even as an audiophile, I can't be bothered. I mean my computer music library is already compressed so I'm not going to worry about how the on-board sound degrades it. If I want to hear the best quality audio, I use CDs or vinyl anyway.

As for game audio, the on-board sound is more than sufficient. It's just explosions and tire-squeal anyway, I kinda get the point with on-board audio.

The only sound cards I own are for recording and sound mixing for film which isn't something I imagine a lot of people do.

#32 Posted by bassman2112 (989 posts) -

As a professional in the Audio industry, the onboard sound from your motherboard is more than enough.

If you really care about audio fidelity, you'll invest in an interface that transmits audio data via Firewire or USB - the dedicated cards have run their course (unless you're doing Pro Tools HD, in which case you have to get that stupid Digidesign 192 card, but that's completely different)

#33 Posted by EXTomar (5027 posts) -

Sound standards haven't been a thing since Adlib died. And Soundblaster lost their edge when they stopped innovating and let everyone reverse engineer the basic SB-16 system. With sound more driven by wider standards like PCM and HDMI there is almost no money in development sound hardware which is why you see it integrated on mother boards and video cards.

#34 Edited by charlie_victor_bravo (1198 posts) -

For gaming onboard audio is fine and more reliable. However if you have to record anything, onboard audio gives pretty crappy signal to noise ratios.

#35 Edited by MordeaniisChaos (5904 posts) -

I've yet to hear anything especially "special" that was PC specific. Nothing anywhere near "raytracing for sound." I'm not hearing things differently based on the material that sound is penetrating or the space it's in, and when I am, it's not done very well. Beyond that, it's just the pure quality of the signal.

When sound waves are being physically simulated (which is what you'd need for the equivalent of ray tracing in the sound world, as ray tracing is simulating photons), then maybe people will get more interested. When I see the "PhysX" of sound, I might anticipate more interest on a larger scale, but as it is, sound hasn't changed much in a long time.

And there's the issue of the expanding audience, fewer of whom are enthusiasts than in the past, which means they are usually more ok with just average stuff.

I've got a weird onboard solution that I don't really know if it's awesome or awful or in between, but it's served me well so far. I want a sound card, unfortunately right before my new PC got a fancy one along with some very high end headphones, I lost my job, so I'm not in a position to spend $600 just to have better sound (combined price of headphones+soundcard with amp).

I just wish games would stop having such fucking quiet rear channels. God that pisses me off to no end. Same exact speakers in the front and back, and yet the volume and clarity is terrible on rear channels. Even when I play with levels.

#36 Edited by doomguy64 (27 posts) -

I've gone through 2 creative sound cards and ended up with just a headphone DAC+AMP and never looked back. I remember being super excited to hear all the extra details in Bioshock and BF2 because it was using EAX, it was great! But now that I think of it not many games use EAX, the only benefit I see in getting a dedicated solution is if your an audiophile or into music production.

#37 Posted by ViktorKing (39 posts) -


Is that what the deal is with positional audio? 'Quiet Rear Channels'?

Why did Microsoft kill DirectSound3D, orphaning EAX? That's the big mystery to me. That, it seems, is where audio effects began their decline.

#38 Posted by BBAlpert (1803 posts) -

As one of the people for whom onboard sound is "more than enough," I can't help but wonder if actually the case or if I'm just part of the 'problem' (in the same way that for a lot of people, anything over 30 fps is overkill).

#39 Posted by Corvak (1202 posts) -

I think part of it is simply that motherboard sound hit a high enough quality level that it matched what you got out of a game console or TV, short of adding an expensive reciever/speaker system.

It's pretty well pushed the dedicated cards into the audiophile bracket.

#40 Posted by warxsnake (2720 posts) -

HT Omega Claro Halo + DDH DL Astro mixamp + Sennheiser IE80 in-ears treating me ok.

#41 Edited by MordeaniisChaos (5904 posts) -

@viktorking: Every time I've tried to play games in surround sound, the rear channels have been miserable in almost every game. There are some exceptions, one brilliant one being PlanetSide 2 which sounds incredibly awesome in surround sound, but that's more due to A) proper channels and B) awesome battles with decent sound design than it is to any special audio tricks.

@bbalpert: I don't think you're a "part of the problem." Like I said earlier, most audiophile grade stuff is just improving the quality of the signal, which is going to be compressed anyway unless you're playing some massive 3GB WAV file. There's not much in the way of special effects or anything that you'll really get out of a PCI card than onboard sound. When a special card enables stuff like the audio tricks they are doing in The Last of Us in a dynamic way that wouldn't really work without that card, I think it'll make more sense for people to take notice, but as it is, sound is pretty good as long as you don't have cheap, shitty speakers/ an out-dated chip.

It's hard to give a fuck when things just sound a bit more crisp. For some people, that's important, but back in the "good ol' days" there was more to it than "it sounds a bit better." For one, there were effects that were only possible with dedicated solutions, and for another, sound quality was pretty low on average so it was noticeable when it was better. Now, the signal isn't really much of a problem beyond interference. And that just means you have to be smart about your cable management.

#42 Edited by Corvak (1202 posts) -

@mordeaniischaos:I agree. It's hard to say if it's really a "problem" either. Kind of how console reviews don't take into account an expensive home theatre setup when talking about sound quality in console games.

#43 Posted by rsfarmer0928 (13 posts) -

Yes, EAX is a goner and OpenAL is a fizzle.

#44 Posted by MonetaryDread (2353 posts) -

Fact: Cell Phones and built in Sound Cards have shit audio in comparison to certain dedicated devices.

I guess it comes down to how much you value the quality of sound that comes out of your headphones / speakers. Asus makes sound cards that have audiophile grade sound and this makes it worth the $40-$200 expenditure on a sound card. Yet I guess this is not much of a priority for some people. I mean, look at the amount of people who use their cell phones for audio.

#45 Posted by CheapPoison (790 posts) -

I think there are enough options out there, but for games i wouldn't be too fuzzed although i am not sure since i haven't used my build in soundcard for a while.

Now if you do other audio related stuff besides gaming.

#46 Posted by zenmastah (1055 posts) -


Just bought Galaxy S3 mini awhile ago and was quite shocked how it playes music actually, i mean without some serious EQuing it sounds flat but i managed to fiddle with it so it plays music relatively well.

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