On-board Sound Quality

I have a question for those in the know: How does on-board sound of modern boards (I’m looking into a 875P chipset) rank against an Audigy 2 card? Specifically, does onboard have EAX capability? In the past, on-board was terrible but I understand it’s much better now…

EAX (reverb, echo, etc) will all be in software. As is the general audio codec. Generally the on-board sound isn’t terrible, quality wise, but it will eat your CPU time. If you’re a gamer, I would spring for a PCI sound card of some kind.

Creative isn’t the only option-- I’ve heard some good things about Turtle Beach, for example. And then there’s that M-Audio 7.1 card.

The onboard sound on the 875P is usually host-based. If the motherboard uses the Analog Devices 1985 codec, it will likely support the latest version of AD’s SoundMax software, which can handle a lot of 3D gaming audio, and even do synthetic sound generation if the game supports it. Note, though, that you’ll eat into some CPU cycles, so you want a fast CPU. If you do decide to go with the integrated audio, try to find a board that supports three discrete output ports (5.1 channels) and two discrete input ports. The AD1985 can support a stereo array microphone, which can do nifty noise cancellation stuff.

However, the Audigy2 is more sophisticated in other ways, such as support for DVD-Audio (if you care), and does offload the CPU. We’ve found that the Audigy2 offloads the CPU more than Audigy 1, SoundBlaster, Turtle Beach and Hercules cards. However, the difference isn’t really large. What Audigy 2 also delivers is EAX 3.0 and 4.0, though no games supports 4.0 quite yet.

As ever,

Loyd Case

Nvidia Nforce boards have good on board sound.

Yes, that’s true, nForce2 with SoundStorm* has good on-board sound which won’t eat into your CPU.

One catch: you won’t want a single-cable Dolby Digital 5.1 out as your standard sound output, because it is a lossy codec. The first time I listened to an MP3 with this setup I thought I had gone deaf. Make sure you get all the analog out ports with the mobo otherwise you’re stuck. You’ll need 3 stereo out jacks beyond line-in and microphone (we need versajack, because who the hell uses microphone or line-in these days?). And trust me, manually building motherboard header connectors is no fun. Nor is buying them for $25 on newegg. If they’re even available. BEWARE.

  • we have to be specific because for some stupid reason I can’t quite fathom, probably due to money, a lot of mobo makers stick a generic AC97 codec on nForce2 boards. Be careful.

Thanks all around for the great info. Very useful stuff.