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Expack3

Are discrete soundcards worth buying for modern games?

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As a lover of retro games, I will be the first to tell you to pick up either a SoundBlaster X-Fi series soundcard or, failing that, one of ASUS' top-of-the-line soundcards, like the Xonar Essence STX or ROG Xonar Phoebus, if you intend to play any PC games pre-2006. Unreal Tournament 1-3, the original Deus Ex, Bioshock, Baldur's Gate I and II, and many, many more classics are designed with a discrete sound card in mind - even if those few sound cards still compatible with anything later than EAX 2 are typically in the sub-200 USD range. (Good luck finding anything modern which is fully-compatible with A3D.)

 

That said, I'm wondering if a discrete soundcard is worth buying these days for those more interested in modern games. Every Windows game I know of uses some sort of software audio engine, with only a few of them still having the legacy code required to delegate sound processing to a discrete card, only one game I know of, Thief (2014), uses a modern hardware-based audio solution, and even OpenAL is software-based these days thanks to the seemingly-unilateral adoption of OpenAL-Soft as an open-source audio engine. In addition, integrated sound cards, while AFAIK still remain software-based, are fast enough and high-quality enough to be comparable to high-end soundcards for the average gamer.

 

Any thoughts?

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Unless you're an audiophile or someone who does a bunch of audio-related projects, there's no reason to buy a sound card for modern games. As you have already mentioned, the sound cards integrated in most modern motherboards are high enough quality to render the discrete options obsolete.

 

To get the best audio quality nowadays, just buy a pair of decent headphones. They do give a distinct advantage over most players in multiplayer games.

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Back in the day, technologies like EAX added special processing and effects that were handled by the card; modern methods achieve comparable results through software.​ Most audio methods have no hardware acceleration on Windows Vista and later, so that advantage is also mostly gone (Windows 8 introduced a new form of hardware acceleration for audio but this is only for Windows apps built for WinRT).
​

You mentioned Thief (2014) using AMD TrueAudio but this is a GPU/APU feature (it doesn't exist in sound card form).

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It's worth it.

And with worth I mean just 30-50€ "low end" Xonars. For that price you have up to 150Ω headphone amplifiers, ASIO pure drivers, hardware buffers restoration (and EAX 5) but above all you get all the Dolby/DTS giggles.

Which is not only the dolby/DTS you are accustomed to hear in film, but real time filters like Dolby headphone/Live or DTS Connect/Surround (a godsend when you have headphones or you are on S/PDIF)

 

Then of course there are also higher end audiophile class 200€ card with 4 times this impedance and sister boards.. but  imo, with my Xonar DX you are already a god.

 

Also, this. Tl;dr (and perhaps I have badly written my thought) if with usual comparisons (ie music) it's pretty easy to score similarly, with games there might be programming lazyness or bugs that affects sounds, in particular positioning.

 

TrueAudio could still benefit of some of these things btw.

 

EDIT: well, it seems ASIO isn't so much exclusive nowadays

Edited by Mirh
added trivia

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You mentioned Thief (2014) using AMD TrueAudio but this is a GPU/APU feature (it doesn't exist in sound card form).

Just as a small clarification: AMD TrueAudio doesn't use the GPU or APU for sound processing per say; instead, a dedicated audio processor built-in to select GPUs/APUs handles the audio.

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It's worth it.

And with worth I mean just 30-50€ "low end" Xonars. For that price you have up to 150Ω headphone amplifiers, ASIO pure drivers, hardware buffers restoration (and EAX 5) but above all you get all the Dolby/DTS giggles.

Which is not only the dolby/DTS you are accustomed to hear in film, but real time filters like Dolby headphone/Live or DTS Connect/Surround (a godsend when you have headphones or you are on S/PDIF)

 

Then of course there are also higher end audiophile class 200€ card with 4 times this impedance and sister boards.. but  imo, with my Xonar DX you are already a god.

 

Also, this. Tl;dr (and perhaps I have badly written my thought) if with usual comparisons (ie music) it's pretty easy to score similarly, with games there might be programming lazyness or bugs that affects sounds, in particular positioning.

 

TrueAudio could still benefit of some of these things btw.

The general public could care less about the things you and I care about. The only thing people would care about within those low-end Xonars is support for both the real-time filters and standard Dolby and DTS decoders - and that's if they're using their computer as a media center or are really into surround sound. Otherwise, why bother with a 30-50€ piece of hardware when you can just use an integrated sound card with sound quality so close to the discrete hardware that only audiophiles, professional audio engineers, media center owners, and retro PC gamers can tell the difference? (Besides, at least in laptops, most modern integrated sound cards come with either Dolby or DTS real-time filters.)

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The general public could care less about the things you and I care about. The only thing people would care about within those low-end Xonars is support for both the real-time filters and standard Dolby and DTS decoders - and that's if they're using their computer as a media center or are really into surround sound. Otherwise, why bother with a 30-50€ piece of hardware when you can just use an integrated sound card with sound quality so close to the discrete hardware that only audiophiles, professional audio engineers, media center owners, and retro PC gamers can tell the difference? (Besides, at least in laptops, most modern integrated sound cards come with either Dolby or DTS real-time filters.)

Oh right!

I had forgotten laptops. Most of times they just have mic/hp jacks and HDMI.

And I wouldn't know if they have proper codecs (incertitude reassured, given not even in gaming laptops they mention the model)

 

The difference as I said might exist in games. People reported realtek had shitty positioning back then (with EAX).

But nobody mentioned fixes.

After a lot of years it's unlikely they still haven't managed to fix... still, somebody should test this.

 

It's a pitty I haven't play much since I have this sound card to report whether DH is a must or not.

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The difference as I said might exist in games. People reported realtek had shitty positioning back then (with EAX).

But nobody mentioned fixes.

After a lot of years it's unlikely they still haven't managed to fix... still, somebody should test this.

Modern games (which is what this thread is about) rely on their software sound engines to provide positioning, which broken support for EAX-based positioning will not affect.

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Modern games (which is what this thread is about) rely on their software sound engines to provide positioning, which broken support for EAX-based positioning will not affect.

Mhh.. Indeed those problems was experienced with BF2 and FEAR..

Still, I'm not entirely convinced.

 

After reading this I think I'll do some blind tests with a couple of friend when I have time.

 

EDIT (here just to not add another post): I know they are 2005 EAX games, I have indeed said I'm not 100% convinced

Edited by Mirh

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As side note, I have been using some earbuds and shoddy 20 years old speakers recently.

 

Just now I finally picked up my main headphones.. and the ears are almost bleeding by joy now.

All those forgotten bass and highs are there at last.

 

God, I can't imagine how many people are missing this. Perhaps they are already fine with laptop built-in speakers :|

I don't know... perhaps some words could be said about?.. somewhere..

 

And I'm by no means an audiophile (or at least I'm not a serious one I mean..ok I have a sound card, but there were probably better headphones for 50€, which isn't even that costly)

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Mhh.. Indeed those problems was experienced with BF2 and FEAR..

Both games released in 2005, BTW, and furthermore are known to use EAX...

 

The difference as I said might exist in games. People reported realtek had shitty positioning back then (with EAX).

 

All the reports about Realtek's broken positioning I've found focus on when a game's EAX support are enabled - and furthermore, cite Battlefield 2 and F.E.A.R. as best demonstrating the problem of incorrect EAX rendering by Realtek chipsets. Unless you've got sources which say Realtek also experiences positional issues in games like GTA5, Euro Truck Simulator 2, FEZ, Supreme Commander 2, and Batman: Arkham Asylum, all of which use software sound either exclusively or by default, I would say this is getting way off-topic. That said, I'm not saying your audio tests shouldn't continue; instead, just move them to either another page or a section of your user page. That way, you can still document your work for others to see while keeping this discussion more on-topic.

Edited by Expack3

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It's worth it.

And with worth I mean just 30-50€ "low end" Xonars. For that price you have up to 150Ω headphone amplifiers, ASIO pure drivers, hardware buffers restoration (and EAX 5) but above all you get all the Dolby/DTS giggles.

Which is not only the dolby/DTS you are accustomed to hear in film, but real time filters like Dolby headphone/Live or DTS Connect/Surround (a godsend when you have headphones or you are on S/PDIF)

 

Then of course there are also higher end audiophile class 200€ card with 4 times this impedance and sister boards.. but  imo, with my Xonar DX you are already a god.

 

Also, this. Tl;dr (and perhaps I have badly written my thought) if with usual comparisons (ie music) it's pretty easy to score similarly, with games there might be programming lazyness or bugs that affects sounds, in particular positioning.

 

TrueAudio could still benefit of some of these things btw.

 

EDIT: well, it seems ASIO isn't so much exclusive nowadays

This^^^.

 

If you care about audio quality to a high degree, then it's still very worth it. Especially if you can swap op amps to your preferences.

 

Dolby Headphone is great , I wish more devices used it.

Though a lot of onboard soundcards these days also offer DDL and DTS Connect for those with 5.1 optical receivers. (Different from DolbyHP)

 

Is it necessary? Probably not for the average person.

 

I work with audio, so it's worth it for that alone. ASIO dominates for working with audio.

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Currently the need is not great (for buying a discrete soundcard just for games).  But there are a few reasons to be hopeful for the future with more advanced audio being integrated into games.  

 

One is the push into VR will likely return attention to detailed positional audio.  Hopefully these games will also be playable on normal desktop environments and still have the positional audio.  

 

Second there's Vulkan which is an alternative to Windows/DirectX (which hasn't been a strong or stable native platform for advanced audio).

 

Whether these trends will also lead toward better utilization of discrete hardware isn't certain but at least there will be an opportunity.   Personally I'm a Xonar DSX user and I really appreciate it's inclusion in my rig.  But mostly for music playback; for most games it doesn't move the needle much.  

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I don't know what Vulkan should have to do with audio, but I'm pretty sure we'll never get back to dedicated DSP and all.

GPUs are probably going to be the new sound cards.

 

Though a lot of onboard soundcards these days also offer DDL and DTS Connect for those with 5.1 optical receivers. (Different from DolbyHP)

It's even true nowadays optical is starting to feel the age and give way to HDMI (I think newest PS4 lacks it).

 

I work with audio, so it's worth it for that alone. ASIO dominates for working with audio.

Well, as I said this is now natively supported even on Realteks.

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