Using multiple sound cards

Discussion in 'Linux, BSD and Other OS's' started by megamaced, Aug 28, 2008.

  1. megamaced

    megamaced Geek Geek Geek!

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    I recently upgraded my appalling Creative i-trigue 2.1 speakers which I paid £80 for a couple of years ago, with spanking new Roth Audioblob2 2.1 speakers. I am getting a much better sound now, but am wondering whether I could improve sound quality further?

    The VIA VT8233 sound chip on my Asrock P4VM890 motherboard is currently responsible for sound processing (yes, shock horror, I have a VIA motherboard... :) ). It does a decent job I suppose, but I haven't exactly compared it with a modern day sound card.
    I was recently given an old SoundBlaster Live! card which I tried out the other day. It sounded awful in comparison to the VIA, plus I could only get it to work in Vista, as I could easily select which sound card I wanted to use as default (I don't want to disable the onboard sound card because I'd lose the functionality of the front MIC input which I use for Skype). In Ubuntu, although the sound card was detected, I could not get it to produce any sound. That didn't bother me at the time because I had already decided that I was going to bin the SoundBlaster anyway.

    I suppose my question is two fold. Firsty, what with modern day onboard sound cards improving all the time, would I notice much difference in the quality of sound comparing say, my VIA onboard sound with an M-AUDIO Audiophile 2490?
    Secondly, and ignoring the SoundBlaster Live! debacle, how easily can I switch between my onboard sound and an PCI card in Ubuntu?

    Ta
     
  2. Anti-Trend

    Anti-Trend Nonconformist Geek Staff Member

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    If that's a real Live card, it has an EMU10k SPU, which is a great chip. Made by EMU, not Creative, and it shows. It does have a complex IO bus though, so it should take a little tweaking in alsamixer to sound right. For instance, there's a tone switch that makes the sound muffled if it's disabled... why does it even exist? :confused: But to make things worse, it's off by default!

    As for modern sound cards improving all the time... actually they're not. In fact, sound cards have improved precious little since the early 90's. Creative is a good example of this; a lot of their newer cards are just pure gimmick. Essentially, AC97 with a few Phillips sample converters to upscale to 96k or whatever. The signal source is still the same old 44.1k though, so it's all hype and no substance.
     
  3. megamaced

    megamaced Geek Geek Geek!

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    The Creative SoundBlaster Live! has the EMU10K chipset, the same card I thought worse than the onboard VIA sound chip.

    Surely onboard sound has improved, just like onboard graphics cards have improved?
     
  4. Anti-Trend

    Anti-Trend Nonconformist Geek Staff Member

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    Like I said though, it has a complex sound routing bus, so it takes a little work to get it sounding correct. I'd take the bass to 50 and the treble to ~90 or so, turn on tone, and get the speaker channels lined up according to your speaker layout. Then make a judgement on sound quality. It also has a two-stage preamp, which is a beginner's trap for sure. It's easy to screw up the preamp to make it clip or sag. On the other hand, you can get some great sound out of it if you put a little work into it.

    Historically, I've been able to get a better sound out of my EMU-based sound cards in Linux than in Windows by no small margin. My current card is an EMU10k1 (aka Audigy 2) through a Bose Companion 3 (series II), and let me tell you, it sounds a lot better than even my home stereo (Bose/Celestion 5.1 with Yamaha receiver).

    Not really, no. :( They have a few more channels on average, maybe even an SPDIF out. But the actual sound quality itself is pretty much the same as it's been for the last dozen years. Sound cards have moved much, much slower than video.
     
  5. megamaced

    megamaced Geek Geek Geek!

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    Interesting that you make the point about modern sound cards not really improving, but just offering gimmicky features. That's exactly what I thought of the X-FI range.

    Looking at the bigger picture, VIA make some of the best sound chips around. Their Envy24HT is what powers the Audiophile 2490 and other more expensive, professional cards. Perhaps I struck lucky, what with having a VIA onboard sound chip (albeit more basic)?
     

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