Question Better audio quality with external audio hardware compared to onboard Realtek ?

srcordeiro

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Jun 10, 2020
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Hello,

I used my onboard Realtek ALC892 for a while and thought the sound was good, but this until this Christmas everything changed when I got both good headphones (Audio-Technica M30x) and a new Apple Macbook Air M1.

I noticed I get a better sound quality with the headphones on the Apple Macbook compared to the PC. When watching movies the sound has more depth, the lower end is very powerful yet clear, without distortion. I feel I get to use the headphones on their full potential on the Mac. On the PC they sound good, but compared to the experience on the Mac I feel it's a bit lackluster. Even listening to music on youtube the Mac is better.

Now I'm not very versed regarding sound stuff, but I'm wondering if it's a limitation of the sort of old Realtek onboard card, or related to windows somehow. But I wonder if a external device would raise the PCs sound quality to the Mac level.

If so, I've been seeing some options, but I'm quite confused regarding what should I get:
  • a external AMP like Fosi Audio Q4 Mini?
  • a external sound card like the Creative Sound BlasterX G1, Creative Sound Blaster G3, Creative Labs Sound Blaster Play 3? Or another brand, I've no clue what are the advantages and disadvantages of each model.
Regarding requirements, I would like something on a budget, like less than 100 bucks, preferably under 50 bucks really. And I think I also prefer an external device because I'm thinking on getting a new PC sometime this year and I would like to be able to use this device on other devices (like the TV).

Other things to consider: on the PC (Windows 10) I use the Asus Realtek HD audio manager (without any enhancements active). Also, on both machines I use the Boom 3D sound enhancement software, with equal settings (nothing too much, just the standard boost and a little increase on the "ambience" slider).
 

Lutfij

Titan
Moderator
I'd personally stay away from USB driven sound cards, certainly not from Creative since they are horrible in the support department. If anything you should be pairing those headphones with a discrete PCIe based sound card and you should be upping your budget to something like double the cost of the headphones, IMHO, or this at the very least. The current gen of motherboard's will come equipped with ALC1220 which is leaps and bounds better than the 892 which is from a decade ago, perhaps hold out and then invest on a sound card after you've experienced the ALC1220? You could take your headphones to a friend's/neighbor's house and test it out there and see if it's better than what you're getting.

What sort of a listener are you? An audiophile or a gamer?
 

srcordeiro

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Jun 10, 2020
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I'd personally stay away from USB driven sound cards, certainly not from Creative since they are horrible in the support department. If anything you should be pairing those headphones with a discrete PCIe based sound card and you should be upping your budget to something like double the cost of the headphones, IMHO, or this at the very least. The current gen of motherboard's will come equipped with ALC1220 which is leaps and bounds better than the 892 which is from a decade ago, perhaps hold out and then invest on a sound card after you've experienced the ALC1220? You could take your headphones to a friend's/neighbor's house and test it out there and see if it's better than what you're getting.

What sort of a listener are you? An audiophile or a gamer?
Thanks for the feedback.
Having a good PCIe card may be an option, but only when I get new PC.
The idea of having an external USB device would be know I could use it with other stuff.

I can't say I'm a audiophile, I just experienced superior sound quality on the Mac and it sort of bothers me that I can't get the same on the PC.
And regarding gaming, I play once in a while, but I'm not very demanding regarding sound on gaming, I'm more into audio regarding music and movies.
 

srcordeiro

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Jun 10, 2020
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For your budget there is a fantastic integrated DAC AMP

check out Schiit Audio Fulla it’s $109 And worth every penny the sound with good headphones is awesome and amazing

https://www.schiit.com/products/fulla-2
On the UK Schiit site it’s out of stock. Schiit have been out of stock of nearly everything for the last year in the UK and I think the EU is the same. Might be able to pick up a secondhand one, that’s what I did with my Asgard 3.
 
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I'd personally stay away from USB driven sound cards, certainly not from Creative since they are horrible in the support department. If anything you should be pairing those headphones with a discrete PCIe based sound card and you should be upping your budget to something like double the cost of the headphones, IMHO, or this at the very least. The current gen of motherboard's will come equipped with ALC1220 which is leaps and bounds better than the 892 which is from a decade ago, perhaps hold out and then invest on a sound card after you've experienced the ALC1220? You could take your headphones to a friend's/neighbor's house and test it out there and see if it's better than what you're getting.

What sort of a listener are you? An audiophile or a gamer?
Agreed on the ALC1220. It's way better than the ALC892. Above that you'll get severely diminishing returns for sound cards costing hundreds.
 

srcordeiro

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Jun 10, 2020
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I'm seeing on Amazon a good reviewed and sort of cheap DAC + AMP, the Fosi Audio Q4 Mini.

Will this be any good for what I want? I like the fact that it seems versatile regarding input / output options

Still sort of expensive regarding what I was expecting to spend on this, but if its good and future proof (I can use it on future computers and other devices) it may be worth it. Anyone tried one?
 
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srcordeiro

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Jun 10, 2020
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I couldn't decide really, there's too many options and different opinions with different price points (not only here, but also when search online). Not being too much into audio I can't really make a fully informed decision (if this were about GPUs I would sure know what I want).

I've decided to just wait until I get a new PC to make a decision, probably consulting with the PC builder. Maybe a new on-board sound will be enough (like the mentioned ALC1220 ).
 

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