MP3: Tell Me....Do I Need A New Soundcard??

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Chuck C, Aug 11, 2001.

  1. Chuck C

    Chuck C Cinematographer

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    In my attempt to turn my school PC into a genetic freak of a machine, I've been wondering about soundcards. MP3s using my Altec Lansing speakers and home theater tend to sound grainy, but when I copy MP3s onto CD-Rs, they sound great--like they were original studio recrdings. This leads me to believe that I have a piece of crap soundcard. I guess it's called the "VIA PCI Audio Controller". Who's ever heard of such generic junk? Anyway, does my hypothesis sound correct? If so, which cards shoud I put on the list?? What about sound cards that pass DD and DTS signals for future HTPC use?
    thanks for your help...oh ya, total budget, whatever it takes (aka less than $300)
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    Chuck
    Chuckster's HT Equipment List
     
  2. Colin Dunn

    Colin Dunn Supporting Actor

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    When you play the CD, are you playing it on your computer through the computer speakers? Or are you taking it to a stereo with its own amp and speakers?
    If you're playing the CD on your stereo, your computer speakers may not be able to handle the full-range audio signal generated when you play back an MP3. Most cheap "multimedia speakers" are very lo-fi; good computer speakers usually cost over $100 for a pair. It isn't cheap to build and market a decent amp and 2-way speaker system.
    If you're staying on the computer, is the CD player applet playing the disc by digital audio extraction or in analog (having the CD-ROM play the CD and send an analog signal to the sound card)?
    If you are staying at the computer and NOT using digital audio extraction, you do have a problem with digital sound on your sound card.
    But before you junk your sound card, compare the levels for CD audio (analog audio piped through to your sound card) and for wave audio (digital audio that is converted to analog using the sound card's D/A converters). If the WAV level is too high, you may be distorting the pre-amp section of the sound card and getting "grainy" sound. Try turning the wave level down and listen to find out if that "cleans up" the sound. If it does - you were overdriving the preamp section of the sound card. If it does not - you have a bad sound card.
    If you do need a new sound card, I like the Sound Blaster Live! series. These give clean (though not hard-core audiophile-quality) sound and have digital outputs that can be used for Dolby Digital AC-3 or dts output in conjunction with software DVD players. There's an X-Gamer and MP3+ model for about $85-$100; they differ only in the software bundle. Or you can go "all the way" and spend $175-$200 on the Platinum Edition, which has lots of input/output jacks for all sound card applications (A/V input/output, MIDI, etc.) in a "LiveDrive" that goes in your 5.25" drive bay. The Platinum Edition also has the most extensive software bundle of all.
    If you need the purest, audiophile-quality sound, there are expensive cards on the market that are generally used for recording-studio applications. I don't know much about these. They are probably not suited to general multimedia and home theater PC use. Unless you know you need one, stay away from the super-high-end offerings...
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    Colin Dunn
     
  3. John Chow

    John Chow Second Unit

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    Also, what software are you using for MP3 playback? If you're using Winamp, there are known flaws in the default decoder, which may or may not contribute to it sounding worse.
     
  4. Rob Gillespie

    Rob Gillespie Producer

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    Abdul Jalib Stunt Coordinator

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  6. Chuck C

    Chuck C Cinematographer

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    Thanks for the replies thus far....
    Colin, MP3 CD-Rs on other systems sound better than MP3s played thru my computer. In other words, "Live and Let Die" played on my stand alone CD player sounds better than the DVD-ROM drive, both sources connected to my home theater.
    I headed over to AVS, and they're telling me the same stuff.
    Rob, I'm pretty sure it's part of the motherboard; it's part of a whole array of 9-pin and LPT jacks. If I take out the modem that I'll never use, that'll free up a PCI slot. So I guess I'm a good candidate for something sweet huh?
    I've heard a lot about that audiophile 24/96 card. I just want to be able to pass digital signals to my receiver. I guess the 2496 and Live! cards can do this?
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    Chuck
    Chuckster's HT Equipment List
     
  7. Colin Dunn

    Colin Dunn Supporting Actor

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    Rob is right, the integrated audio on most motherboards is mediocre at best. From your description, it almost seems that you're hearing music in 8-bit instead of 16-bit audio fidelity. If it's 16-bit, it's a lousy implementation.
    If you just want to pass a digital signal to a receiver, you don't need the M-Audio Audiophile 24/96 card. The Sound Blaster Live! series will do that. If you're interested in semi-pro musician (hard disk recording, software-based synthesizers driven by a MIDI keyboard, etc.) or analog applications, the M-Audio card is probably a better choice than a Sound Blaster, based on a review I just read.
    If you want to pass a signal that's greater than 48KHz/16bit (or Dolby Digital or dts), you will need the M-Audio board. I don't think stuff like DVD-A and PCM at 88.1/96KHz are supported by the Sound Blaster.
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    Colin Dunn
    [Edited last by Colin Dunn on August 12, 2001 at 02:34 PM]
     

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