Tom's finds $2 onboard codec sounds like $2000 DAC

This topic is locked from further discussion.

#1 Posted by MonsieurX (29486 posts) -

http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/...udio,3733.html

Of course, we're ready for the audiophile community to rise up in arms about the statement you'll read next, but it's true that neither an intermediate enthusiast nor a serious one with ~$70,000 in gear at home were able to reliably tell apart any of the four devices once we properly set up a blind test with accurate volume-matching. We actually enjoyed them all as great audio experiences.

Using world-class headphones, a $2 Realtek integrated audio codec could not be reliably distinguished from the $2000 Benchmark DAC2 HGC in a four-device round-up. Again, all four devices sounded great. The same might not apply to full-sized speakers; we can't say, since we didn't test them. But as far as some of the best headphones in the world go, we stand by these test results.

Items Tested:

- Benchmark Media DAC2 HGC

- JDSLabs O2+ODAC

- Asus Xonar Essence STX

- Realtek ALC889

#2 Posted by ferret-gamer (17310 posts) -

Audio quality is one thing, but features and configuration capability is completely different. Comparable sound quality is worthless if my realtek drivers can't be set up in a way to make my audio devices work how i want them to, and sound bad because of it.

#3 Posted by nutcrackr (12459 posts) -

Interesting article, says kinda what I've been thinking is true for a little while.

#4 Edited by JigglyWiggly_ (23457 posts) -

I've used realtek 889 and 892 devices. They have audio hissing at higher volumes. I don't think these people should be testing this. They should be getting 13-23 year olds who have much better hearing than 30+ year olds.

I can easily notice the difference between onboard and my x-fi hd usb. It's not just a little noticeable, it's really noticeable.

#5 Posted by the_bi99man (11047 posts) -

I bet the difference would be more evident with some giant speakers, rather than headphones. Good headphones sound awesome, but huge speakers (assuming they're also good speakers) at performance volume levels will reveal more little details.

#6 Edited by KHAndAnime (13394 posts) -

Calling bullshit on this article. I attribute it to deaf people who aren't credible at sound analysis in addition to poor testing methods. Just because someone has tons of money to blow on speakers doesn't automatically mean they can hear any better than the average person. Nor does it mean they are particularly scrutinizing. Just means they like to throw their money around like all other people with extra money do. I'd wager the majority of audiophiles are no better at scrutinizing sound than the average listener. Why not get an experienced sound mixer? Or multiple types of sound mixers and engineers? People who can spot these differences professionally, daily? Or would that make too much sense?

The differences in the lows between onboard and my DacMagic (or even onboard and Auzentech X-Fi Forte) are night and day. That's not even taking into consideration of the blatant EMI when listening through onboard. I can even hear the difference between the different phase settings on my DacMagic. Maybe my onboard is particularly poor? I don't know, I don't exactly see what motherboards do to prevent EMI, yet EMI is perfectly audible at high volumes which is why I had to buy my Forte in the first place. My Forte even had some EMI, which is why I moved onto the DacMagic. The DacMagic has no EMI.

This article is suggesting that the hissing on my onboard at high volumes is in my head? Lol.

Something also obvious: Any decent headphones at high volumes simply aren't getting enough power from onboard ports. We're not talking placebo : we are talking science. The sound stage, bass, and a multitude of other aspects of the sound would be completely altered in comparison to a properly amplified port (which the DAC they tested had). I'm not sure if they tested headphones that benefited from amplification, but obviously most decent headphones do so it would make sense to test these, right? Plug my SR-225i's into a Realtek port and turn up the volume all the way - you will hear NO bass. Hell, they don't even get loud enough to enjoyably listen to. Plug them into my DacMagic or Forte and suddenly I can hear bass that wasn't there previously. Not placebo, but common sense - Realtek ports can only deliver so much power.

#7 Posted by MlauTheDaft (3356 posts) -

I would've liked if ALC1150 was included, since that's what I have.

#8 Edited by kraken2109 (13005 posts) -

Interesting article, but the test itself doesn't really make sense. What they should have done is basic A/B testing.

If anyone wants to test (or improve) their listening, I recommend you look at Philips Golden ears.

#9 Posted by nicecall (428 posts) -

I actually like my onboard realtek sound quality and driver options more then my creative x-fi card so i been using that for the last few years. Once i setup the EQ settings i can get things minty. I use optical output so onboard is fine, nothing can interfere with it. All these expensive ones are supposed to be shield for EMI but its basically for using analog headphones or analog outputs which seems pointless to me. Digital all the way... and free onboard sound for all.

I was looking around at sound cards not long ago and noticed most of there manufacturing build dates are many years old... seems like the soundcard tech doesn't evolve much so theres no need to make new ones. Probably with the fact we have multicore cpus, we don't need any kind of dedicated card now, 1% cpu usage more on a system for sound is not a big deal

#10 Edited by Ribstaylor1 (436 posts) -

I no where saw them list the kind of sound files they are using to test this. Because if compressed sound like an mp3 is what they are using they can throw that test right out the fucking window. Hell I switched to a sound card a cheap $50 dollar one and now I'm hearing things in games that my onboard didn't produce at all. Hell my onboard had a hard time with flac files couldn't play them without crackling and screeching, also didn't produce enough sound to make the back speakers of 7.1 even be noticeable.. Now that i have a sound card they sound perfect. Came with a nice headphone amplifier built in so my headphones sound louder(onboard was faint no uhmph) and the base is almost double what was coming from my on board. I call bullshit on this one. Test with some actually equipment that tests the difference in sound or get some got damn sound engineers people trained in this kind of thing.

Honestly if flac files weren't used I can't take this test seriously. Why would you test audio quality of devices without using the highest grade sound files you can get? Also some of the files they used they had to re sample and change because they wouldn't work for the test at certain hrtz... The hole test seems like flawed, from the audio they are choosing to how they choose to test them. I usually like Tom's work but fuck this article is poorly done, and poorly conceived.

#11 Edited by comp_atkins (31264 posts) -

@ribstaylor1 said:

I no where saw them list the kind of sound files they are using to test this. Because if compressed sound like an mp3 is what they are using they can throw that test right out the fucking window. Hell I switched to a sound card a cheap $50 dollar one and now I'm hearing things in games that my onboard didn't produce at all. Hell my onboard had a hard time with flac files couldn't play them without crackling and screeching, also didn't produce enough sound to make the back speakers of 7.1 even be noticeable.. Now that i have a sound card they sound perfect. Came with a nice headphone amplifier built in so my headphones sound louder(onboard was faint no uhmph) and the base is almost double what was coming from my on board. I call bullshit on this one. Test with some actually equipment that tests the difference in sound or get some got damn sound engineers people trained in this kind of thing.

Honestly if flac files weren't used I can't take this test seriously. Why would you test audio quality of devices without using the highest grade sound files you can get?

didn't look hard, did ya?

http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/high-end-pc-audio,3733-9.html

#12 Edited by lostrib (34282 posts) -

I don't put much stock in all the audiophile crap anyways

#13 Edited by Elann2008 (32953 posts) -

I've used realtek 889 and 892 devices. They have audio hissing at higher volumes. I don't think these people should be testing this. They should be getting 13-23 year olds who have much better hearing than 30+ year olds.

I can easily notice the difference between onboard and my x-fi hd usb. It's not just a little noticeable, it's really noticeable.

I'm no audiophile, just a person in his 20's with excellent hearing. I've been called out on my ultra-sensitive hearing. I notice it too. It's very noticeable.

#14 Edited by achilles614 (4847 posts) -

I can't tell if people have legitimate complaints about the article (it seems like their testing procedure was fine) or are trying to rationalize their expensive audio tech purchases by dismissing this article.

Leaning towards people trying to rationalize excessive audio equipment. To each their own though, I know that I buy things that seem excessive to others so who am I to judge.

#15 Edited by KHAndAnime (13394 posts) -

@achilles614 said:

I can't tell if people have legitimate complaints about the article (it seems like their testing procedure was fine) or are trying to rationalize their expensive audio tech purchases by dismissing this article.

Leaning towards people trying to rationalize excessive audio equipment. To each their own though, I know that I buy things that seem excessive to others so who am I to judge.

Articles try to make sensational points to gain attention, it's one of the most common media tactics (media 101). It's pretty easy to do no personal research and take an article at its word. Most people do that. Unfortunately for people who have a lot of experience with these sorts of things, the point that the article is trying makes no sense. Have you even tested headphones that benefit from amplification in a non-amplified port? If you have, you would realize that the difference isn't one you'd have to do any sort of A/B testing with.

The point that the article is trying to make is that the audio market is a snake-oil market where nobody can actually benefit from the products they buy. The suggestion that there are entire forums with dozens of thousands of active members who buy, discuss, and indulge in snake-oil audio products is actually quite crazy. It's more than just forums, but an entire industry of enthusiasts, publications, stores, etc.The DAC aspect is the most arguable aspect they play up, yet the benefits amplification provide are absolutely not arguable (no matter how many random audiophiles you grab that claim they can't hear the difference). A lot of this simply can't be realistically and consistently differentiated in A/B testing. It's like being shown two pictures, pictures that only have the slightest differences, but you would be unable to spot the differences because you can't see both pictures at once nor would you be given enough time to fully memorize every detail of each picture. Audio works the exact same way. If they tested music that each subject knows by heart (based on how it sounds through their audio setup), with the equipment their used to using - in comparison to random equipment that none of them have used before, then perhaps I've give the article more credibility when it comes to the statement it's trying to make. Essentially the tests they set are set up exactly in a way that you definitely wouldn't be able to tell any differences in audio.

Or you can just do zero personal research and take some random article at its word based on relatively uninformative testing methods. Most people like to do that.

#16 Edited by JigglyWiggly_ (23457 posts) -

I can't tell if people have legitimate complaints about the article (it seems like their testing procedure was fine) or are trying to rationalize their expensive audio tech purchases by dismissing this article.

Leaning towards people trying to rationalize excessive audio equipment. To each their own though, I know that I buy things that seem excessive to others so who am I to judge.

I don't think $2000 DAC equipment anything is worth it. I just use a x-fi hd usb with monoprice earbuds. The difference between the noise floor is very significant between any onboard soundcard I've tried vs my x-fi hd usb.

Even on my galaxy skyrocket and htc one there is a ton of interference that a lot of people simply don't notice. When I ever play a sound on my htc one/galaxy skyrocket I hear hissing and then the phone mutes itself. It's not a rom problem, they all do it. Most people don't notice this, they are probably too old.

#17 Posted by kraken2109 (13005 posts) -

@achilles614 said:

I can't tell if people have legitimate complaints about the article (it seems like their testing procedure was fine) or are trying to rationalize their expensive audio tech purchases by dismissing this article.

Leaning towards people trying to rationalize excessive audio equipment. To each their own though, I know that I buy things that seem excessive to others so who am I to judge.

I don't think $2000 DAC equipment anything is worth it. I just use a x-fi hd usb with monoprice earbuds. The difference between the noise floor is very significant between any onboard soundcard I've tried vs my x-fi hd usb.

Even on my galaxy skyrocket and htc one there is a ton of interference that a lot of people simply don't notice. When I ever play a sound on my htc one/galaxy skyrocket I hear hissing and then the phone mutes itself. It's not a rom problem, they all do it. Most people don't notice this, they are probably too old.

Sounds like an impedance issue, probably due to your in-ears being low impedance. Happens with my Nexus 10 and certain headphones.

#18 Edited by kraken2109 (13005 posts) -
@achilles614 said:

I can't tell if people have legitimate complaints about the article (it seems like their testing procedure was fine) or are trying to rationalize their expensive audio tech purchases by dismissing this article.

Leaning towards people trying to rationalize excessive audio equipment. To each their own though, I know that I buy things that seem excessive to others so who am I to judge.

The tests were flawed, there's a reason nobody uses 'A/B/C/D' testing. They didn't even volume-match properly.