Can a soundcard replace a high end processor?

Discussion in 'Computer Components' started by Triggaaar, May 3, 2004.

  1. Triggaaar

    Triggaaar
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    Firstly, I’m only asking with regards to movies.

    I’m going to build a media PC for jukebox, and DVD duties. I was planning on
    outputting SPDIF to something like a S/H Tag AV32R

    So my first question, was does the quality of a soundcard affect the quality of the
    signal passed to the processor, or is it a simple pass-through - I’ve been searching on
    SPDIF, and am not hugely wiser - ignoring problems like lip-sync with SPDIF out, is
    it right to assume opinion on quality is varied?
    Has anyone done a back-to-back comparisson of SPDIF out, to their processor, using
    different soundcards/motherboard?

    My searches lead to my new question - can a decent soundcard provide 5.1 analogue
    outs to a power amp, to rival decent processors?
    I see that soundcards can’t yet offer all the decoding functionality of some of the top
    processors (like DPLII decoding from external source) - but how good is the 5.1
    analogue output from the best soundcards?

    Many thanks for any help
     
  2. MikeTV

    MikeTV
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    For the vast majority of people, there is a major quality improvement provided by spdif, in comparison with analogue alternatives, particularly for DVD playback (Dolby Digital and DTS). And regular CD/MPG playback is usually greatly improved too. The reasoning is that the "bits" are being passed directly to the receiver, which then performs the analogue conversion itself, instead of the cheap soundcard performing the conversion first.

    However, for some audiophiles, there are real differences between the soundcards, even when outputting via spdif, since some cheaper cards resample the output. But it is true to say that usually most people wouldn't be able to detect an audible difference.

    Similarly, some other people are using their PC's as pre-amps/processors (analogue outputs), in preference to using spdif. But from what I can gather, this requires high end equipment for the best results, and the jury is still out regarding the quality.

    As a rule, for 5.1, I'd be inclined to go the spdif/ac3 passthru route at first, because it is the cheapest bang for the buck, so to speak. And then perhaps investigate other alternatives later.
     
  3. Triggaaar

    Triggaaar
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    Hi Mike, thanks for the reply. I was beginning to wonder if my questions were just stupid (no comment please :))

    I understand the choice is between the soundcard or processor doing the dig-analogue conversion. I terms of music, I've seen the reviews of plenty of comparisons of top end equipement, and the good soundcards (£300-£500) have performed very well in both digital and analogue out. Certainly a better conversion than a £1K AV receiver.

    Opinions seem to be that even the digital out (which is obviously affected less than the analogue out) of decent soundcards, is considerably better than the cheaper soundcards (again, I've only seen these comparisons for 2 channel music).

    For movies, I realise that with a cheap soundcard, you would obviously want to output SPDIF to an AV amp.

    Yes, that's the impression I had been given - BUT I've only seen much info on 2 channel abilities. As for movies...

    Its Bang for buck most of us are after. And when you say high end equipment, I get the impression that £500 gets you a very good soundcard. The comparison for me would be:

    £1000 amp & £1000 5.1 processor
    vs
    £1000 amp & £500 soundcard

    The impression I've got from all comparisons I've found on the forums, is that the Soundcard combo, outputting analogue, would musically (2 channel) beat the AV amp & processor - but I don't know if the same could be true for movies (5.1).
     
  4. Madders

    Madders
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    Hi Triggaaar,

    This is a tricky one and really depends on what you are after for the final result. Would you mainly be listening to 2 channel music? Or 5.1 movies etc.

    I see you posted on the for sale thread regarding the M&K's, this also poses more questions....

    For around £500 you can get a Lynx Two B soundcard which has 6 analogue outs and a S/PDIF and, from my experience, offers far superior sound compared to any other soundcard and processor I have heard. However, what the HTPC lags behind in at the moment is bass management and decoding of the Dolby Digital signal. If you are looking at going down this route, you would have less headaches with full range speakers rather than a sub/sat setup (I speak from experience! :( ) With the right amp this will give you fantasic 2 channel sound and fantastic quality of sound for Dolby Digital etc, but would not be as good in steering the surround sound (never really been an issue for me, but has been commented on at length in other forums so thought it best to point it out!) You would also miss out on Dolby Digital from Sky+ if this is an issue (no software available to do this at the moment.)

    Don't know whether any of this helps but best of luck!

    Cheers,

    Steve
     
  5. Triggaaar

    Triggaaar
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    Yes, that does help, thanks. That answers most of what I needed to know - ie, the analogue outs from a top soundcard, are not yet good enough for 5.1.

    I want to use the system for movies and music - 60:40 or 50:50. Bascially, I don't want to 'notice' a compromise on either. However, I may choose a movie biased system, as I'm probably better at distinguishing between good an bad quality movie set-ups than music set-ups (although I haven't yet heard a Sat/Sub combo I like for music).

    The Lynx is the £500 card I was thinking of - but if I'm still better with a decent processor for movies, I think the most I'll pay for a soundcard, is £300 (RME).

    I do need DD from sky. I will use a decent sub, although as you see from my interest in the M&Ks (like what I've heard before but the S150s may be too big), not tiny sats.

    Looks like I'll need that processor. I'm trying to demo a Tag AV32R. Meridiam 561, and Lex MC1.

    For movies only, using SPDIF, is it the case that cheap soundcards alter the signal before passing it to the processor? Ignoring analogue outs, and ignoring 2 channel output, what is the minimum spec soundcard that will provide a high quality SPDIF out?
     
  6. SimonInd

    SimonInd
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    From what I've read and understood, the main differences exist with music rather than movies.

    In the two channel arena the M-Audio, RME and Lynx cards seem to provide D/A conversion comparable with high-end processors but the cheap cards ( Soundblaster et al ) have less able D/A converters and often don't even support the ability to pass the PCM data unaltered to their S/PDIF outputs. This is because Windows kMixer re-samples everything to 48kHz and needs to bypassed if the 44.1kHz PCM data is to be left untouched. The higher-end cards support ASIO ( or something similar ) that bypasses kMixer thus ensuring that there is no unnecessary re-sampling going on.

    However when it comes to movies it's a whole different game - kMixer can't handle Dolby Digital or dts so the bitstreams are left alone and even the cheapest soundcard with S/PDIF out should perform admirably ( I started out with a £18 Trust 511 which had a co-axial S/PDIF ).

    I'm currently running an old RME card ( DIGI32 series ) which outputs PCM untouched along with Dolby Digital and dts via it's S/PDIF output. However I'm aiming to get a good 2-channel soundcard to feed the analogue inputs of my amp for music and S/PDIF for movies, the RME DIGI96/PAD or M-Audio Audiophile 2496 are the current front runners. Doing the surround processing in the PC has it's appeal, Pro Logic II decoding for example, but at the moment it seems like an awful lot of work for very little gain....

    Hope this helps

    Simon
     
  7. Triggaaar

    Triggaaar
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    Yes, thanks Simon. I'm am now withit. I'll see if I can get SPDIF output on the motherboard. If not a cheap soundcard to start with - then once I have the whole system, I'll see if I'm happy with 2 channel performance (Squeezebox to seperate DAC). If not, I'll probably go for something like an RME.

    Thanks again guys, all clear now :)
     

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