Question Making the Most of PC Audio

TheGinjaNinja

Novice Member
Hope someone can guide me here!

I have the following bits of PC kit:
  • MSI X570 Mag Tomahawk Motherboard
  • Sound Blaster ZxR Sound Card (mother and daughter cards)
  • Sound Blaster Crystal Voice microphone
  • RTX 3080 GPU
  • Hyper X headset
  • 2x16GB DDR4-3600 (not sure if relevant!)
  • AMD Ryzen 9 3900X CPU (again, possibly not relevant!)
And the following External Hardware
  • Onkyo 5.1 TX-NR509 AV Receiver
  • 2 x Dali Spektor 1 speakers (used as front left / right)
  • 3 x Tannoy surround speakers (used as centre and rear left / right)
  • 1 x Sub Woofer
I want to get the best possible sound with the kit I have, for music, gaming, movies and video conferences (in that order).

At present, I do not use the onboard sound on my Motherboard at all. I have an optical cable from my sound card to my amp. I prefer not to use the headset - it seems to have great quality but it's mainly to avoid noise when the rest of the household is sleeping!

With this setup, there are different ways I can run audio:
  1. Setting Windows audio device to "Speakers (2 - Sound Blaster ZxR)". When I choose this option, I must also go into Sound Blaster Studio's "Cinematic" tab and choose either Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect. If I don't do this, the sound doesn't work.
  2. Setting Windows audio device to "Digital Audio (S/PDIF) (2 - Sound Blaster ZxR DbPro)". When I do this, I must then make sure that 'No Encoding' is selected in the cinematic tab on Sound Blaster Studio.
  3. Connect the HDMI of my GPU to my amp, then HDMI from amp to monitor. Set the Windows audio device to "G27Q (NVidia High definition Audio)". Not 100% sure on this as I have never done it. (as an aside, I have 3 monitors: 2 connected to display port and one to HDMI. I could probably use similar option of any of them)
With that background, my questions are:
  1. Which of the methods (1 to 3 above) is best for music (or perhaps another method I haven't listed)?
  2. Which of the methods (1 to 3 above) is best for gaming (or perhaps another method I haven't listed)?
  3. Which of the methods (1 to 3 above) is best for movies / Netflix (or perhaps another method I haven't listed)?
  4. Can you explain the actual difference between options 1 & 2 above?
  5. Is using the optical cable the best solution, or, should I use a wired connection from sound card to amp?
  6. Should I use the sound card at all when I have onboard sound? (sound card was purchased for previous motherboard with terrible onboard sound)
And a bonus question:
  • I'd like to be able to record snippets of music to a file (for example making a music quiz for family during lockdown), and then play these snippets over a Zoom call (for example). I think that probably has something to do with setting my input device in Windows to the "What U Hear" option from Sound Blaster, but I've never managed to get this to work in such a way that it meets my intended purpose. The recording levels are low and when I attempt to play it back over a zoom call, the other people can't hear it. If I understand correctly, I can't really just play over my speakers and let microphone pick it up, the sound software deliberately tries to avoid that kind of feedback loop. How best to achieve my goal?
I think I probably have decent kit but not sure how to use it to it's full capability. The phrase "all the gear and no idea" probably applies here :)

Thanks in advance for any help!

Update 1: After a bit of tinkering, the music sound is better (fuller and more bass) using method 1. I'd still like to understand if this is as expected and why.
 

next010

Distinguished Member
By default Windows outputs uncompressed PCM digital audio but not all connections can handle it.

Optical SPDIF = PCM 2.0, Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1

HDMI =PCM 7.1, Dolby 5.1, Dolby TrueHD 7.1, DTS 5.1, DTS-HD 7.1, Atmos, DTS:X

For the methods 1 & 2
DD Live and DTS Connect are real time transcoders, their purpose is to convert the PCM audio output of Windows into something you can send over digital optical 5.1 or analogue 5.1.

At first I thought you had 1 and 2 swapped around somehow but upon looking at Creatives own suggestion guide this is what they recommend for using optical, you actually leave it on speakers and you don't use the optical output in Windows audio settings - that is very strange to me but your using it correctly the way Creative intended.

For method 3 - This is uncompressed PCM 7.1 digital audio sent right out over the GPU so no quality loss, for this to work you have to connect the GPU HDMI output to the Onkyo TX-NR509 either directly or via a secondary connection using one of the GPU's extra video outputs so your not bound by the AVR for video output.

questions
1 - it shouldn't matter, music is usually just stereo PCM 2.0 so that is fine over optical, I don't know if the Creative audio transcoder converts it, you should check the sound system info when its playing to see if its 2.0 or 5.1

2 - games are usually PCM 5.1 or 7.1 so the transcoder gets you the surround audio from those over optical but at lower bitrate so GPU HDMI would be needed (assuming you can hear the difference in quality).

3 - streaming services are typically just Dolby 5.1, movies on the other hand can be a mix of 5.1 and 7.1 sources so the transcoder converts those too at lower bitrate. If streaming services only optical is fine, if playing BD rips with 7.1 audio if you need GPU HDMI for that.

5 - optical is best since the sound card has no hdmi.

6 - Onboard sound likely wont have a real time DD/DTS 5.1 audio transcoder built in but some media software do have this feature for example Kodi, MPC-HC etc.


For the recording stuff I'm not sure, never dabbled with that. Have a look at this guys tutorials for the audacity recording software, maybe that will do what you need.
 

EndlessWaves

Distinguished Member
Dolby Digital Live/DTS Connect are lossy compression so you'd optimally only use them to squeeze surround sound down a low bandwidth S/PDIF connection.

HDMI is the highest capability output so that'd allow you to transmit uncompressed audio, However, that's provided by the graphics card, so your sound card wouldn't have any ability to manipulate it.
 

TheGinjaNinja

Novice Member
Thanks next010 and EndlessWaves.

I'll experiment with the GPU -> AV via HDMI and report back. I hadn't considered whether the AV receiver can 'keep up' with the frames per second the GPU is kicking out and whether this would impact the G-Sync for video. I can change to run all three monitors over DisplayPort and dedicate the HDMI output of GPU to sound.

As an additional note, SoundBlaster also give me the option of "DTS Neo:pC". When I do this, my AV goes into 'Pure Audio' mode. I'd say it's better quality than method two, but not as good as method one.

A couple of follow-up questions if I may:
1. if the HDMI -> amp (via GPU) is better, am I correct in thinking I no longer really need my sound card?
2. Given most of my music is MP3 or Spotify, is there anything you can suggest to improve quality of playback (other than buying my entire collection again on vinyl!)? I want to avoid cluttering my man-cave with the original CDs as well.
 

next010

Distinguished Member
Thanks next010 and EndlessWaves.

I'll experiment with the GPU -> AV via HDMI and report back. I hadn't considered whether the AV receiver can 'keep up' with the frames per second the GPU is kicking out and whether this would impact the G-Sync for video. I can change to run all three monitors over DisplayPort and dedicate the HDMI output of GPU to sound.

As an additional note, SoundBlaster also give me the option of "DTS Neo:pC". When I do this, my AV goes into 'Pure Audio' mode. I'd say it's better quality than method two, but not as good as method one.

A couple of follow-up questions if I may:
1. if the HDMI -> amp (via GPU) is better, am I correct in thinking I no longer really need my sound card?
2. Given most of my music is MP3 or Spotify, is there anything you can suggest to improve quality of playback (other than buying my entire collection again on vinyl!)? I want to avoid cluttering my man-cave with the original CDs as well.

Yes you would lose G-Sync if you send video through the AVR.

If you are out of video ports and by chance have a second PCI-e x16 slot you could get a very low end Nvidia GPU just for its HDMI output.

DTS Neo is a upmixer it turns stereo into 5.1.

1. If your only sending PCM over HDMI then the sound card is redundant.

2. Well this is why you might want to keep the soundcard as it does audio processing, it does have that crystalizer you can mess with for mp3. The AVR would have to have equivlant features for it do the same thing over HDMI.

You could keep both
  • set windows sound output as Nvidia HDMI - this covers games and movies.
  • in music software set Creative speakers as output.

Not all music software might support selecting the audio output but you can override that.
1. Right-click on the speaker icon on your system tray
2. Select open sound settings
3. Scroll down to bottom under 'advanced sound option' select 'app volume and device preferences'.
4. Select Spotiify output as creative speakers.
 

TheGinjaNinja

Novice Member
Actually, my motherboard has an HDMI out as well. I had assumed it would only work if my CPU had onboard graphics (which it doesn't). Do you think I would get sound over that HDMI out?

(Unable to test at the moment as I would need to order a longer HDMI lead)
 

next010

Distinguished Member
Actually, my motherboard has an HDMI out as well. I had assumed it would only work if my CPU had onboard graphics (which it doesn't). Do you think I would get sound over that HDMI out?

(Unable to test at the moment as I would need to order a longer HDMI lead)

You need a Ryzen CPU with built in GPU to use that HDMI, it says so on page 16 of the motherboards manual.

Also any DP to HDMI should work fine too if you have a spare DP output.
 

The latest video from AVForums

Podcast: Sky Glass, Epson Laser Projectors plus Home Cinema Subwoofers and More…
Subscribe to our YouTube channel
Support AVForums with Patreon

Top Bottom