Question Sound problem - could it be sound card, speakers or windows?

Feb 28, 2021
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Sorry for asking, but somebody who understands sound on PC better than me could advice me the direction of my problem - could it be a sound card (=old motherboard) problem, could it be something with the speakers or is it a Windows 10 problem?

I have my good old PC running Windows 10. It is an old, but my fastest computer (Q6600) with an old motherboard with a built in solid sound card with SPDIF-OUT to which I have connected a sound system via optical cable. It has worked perfectly without any problems for many years, even after the installation of Windows 10 and many updates.

Recently, the sound started to be quite distorted - it is kind of a very annoying hissing sound in some moments when a person is speaking or a song is playing or the computer makes a warning sound. I tried a few things that could help to identify the direction of the problem:
  1. When I set the speakers to very loud and set the volume in the PC stream to very low, the sound is perfect without any problem.
  2. When I set the speakers to very silent and set the volume in the PC stream to very loud, the distortions and hissing sounds are terrible.
  3. Both 1 and 2 applies to both SPDIF optical cable connection of the speakers with the sound card and SPDIF coaxial cable connection of the speakers with the sound card.
  4. When I connect the sound card via a normal jack (sound out) audio cable (not SPDIF) to another speakers, the sound is perfect even at very loud volume in the PC.
  • Does 1 mean that the speakers are OK?
  • Does 3 mean (two different types of cables) that the cables are OK?
  • I am afraid, it will be the old motherboard with the built in solid sound card, but all the problems seem to have started after a major update of Windows 10 yesterday, so could it have something to do just with Windows? I tried to update the sound driver, but it did not help.
 

Karadjgne

Titan
Ambassador
When I connect the sound card via a normal jack (sound out) audio cable (not SPDIF) to another speakers, the sound is perfect even at very loud volume in the PC.
So either the sp/dif port is bunk/dirty or the cable has possibly suffered damage and cracked internally.

The audio originates at the same source for both, it's only the output/transmission that's in question.
 
Feb 28, 2021
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So either the sp/dif port is bunk/dirty or the cable has possibly suffered damage and cracked internally.

The audio originates at the same source for both, it's only the output/transmission that's in question.
But the SPDIF on the sound card has two outputs - optical and coaxial. When I connect it with the speakers via optical, the sound is terrible. When I disconnect the optical cable and connect it with the coaxial cable, it is again terrible. And these are two completely different cables ... so it would be very improbable that they would both crack at the same time, right?

Could there be a problem inside the onboard sound card in its part that creates the SPDIF?
 

Paperdoc

Glorious
Ambassador
Your tale says either the audio chip on the mobo has developed a flaw in the system that generates the digital output signals irrespective of the means of sending those signals out on either of its output ports, OR there is a problem with the way the updated Windows deals with that audio chip device on the mobo. It seems suspicious that you say this all began suddenly the day that Windows was updated.

See if you can find and update the device diver for the audio system on your mobo. Although updates to Wndows do not commonly require changes to device drivers, I suppose it's possible. And sometimes it is not the driver itself, but the way it is installed to discover and configure itself for the hardware actually present. So, even if you cannot find a new driver, you could try deleting the current driver and rebooting, which would cause Windows to go looking for a driver and install it, whether it is a new one or the older one you already have.
 
Feb 28, 2021
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Your tale says either the audio chip on the mobo has developed a flaw in the system that generates the digital output signals irrespective of the means of sending those signals out on either of its output ports, OR there is a problem with the way the updated Windows deals with that audio chip device on the mobo. It seems suspicious that you say this all began suddenly the day that Windows was updated.

See if you can find and update the device diver for the audio system on your mobo. Although updates to Wndows do not commonly require changes to device drivers, I suppose it's possible. And sometimes it is not the driver itself, but the way it is installed to discover and configure itself for the hardware actually present. So, even if you cannot find a new driver, you could try deleting the current driver and rebooting, which would cause Windows to go looking for a driver and install it, whether it is a new one or the older one you already have.
OK, thank you, I will try to play more with different drivers. The problem might be that the motherboard is very old, so it for sure does not have some proper Windows 10 drivers, but it has worked on Windows 10 without any problems for quite a few years.

One question - I just tested it again (and described before in 1+2) - when I set the sound system to extremely loud while setting the computer sound in volume mixer to extremely silent, the music, movies, sound, everything is perfect, with the use of any SPDIF - optical or coaxial cable. Does this mean anything? E.g. that the audio chip SPDIF output is not damaged?
 

Paperdoc

Glorious
Ambassador
Your description tells me that your external speakers and amplifier are OK at high amp gain with low input signal. I had not quite grasped one detail about those two outputs: the Optical (SPDIF) signal is digital, whereas the coaxial output is an analog signal system. You get the same sound result when either of these is used to feed your amp / speakers. Likewise, when you reverse and send a high signal from the sound chip to the amp / speaker and reduce the amp gain, you get distortion using either output type. Now, I might suspect the analog signal source is over-driving the preamp of your amplifier, but that is not very likely; I really doubt that could happen, though, from the digital signal source.

The third option - that is, sending the signal out from the Line Out (light green for speakers) to a different speaker set without the amp gets you good sound. So the audio chip can generate a good signal in its early stages, but MAY be generating bad signals from some but not all of its output stages. However, it also is possible that the problem IS in the input stages of your amp.

Do you have any other amplifier you could use (even borrow temporarily) in place of your regular amp that you are using with those speakers? It may not have both types of inputs, but since the performance problem appears identical for both, any other amp you can use would help do this test. If you have exactly the same distortions with the different sets of operating settings, then you know the problem is in the mobo audio chip. If not, then either your amp has a problem, or you somehow have made an odd configuration setting. Here I'm thinking of amp settings like input impedance or signal level, although I'm not at all sure how that could affect both analog and digital inputs. Also check whether the amp is set for 2-channel or more (like 5.1 channel) signals, and whether your mobo audio output system is set to match that.

One more suggestion to try, although I have no idea whether this could be involved. In BIOS setup for configuration of the mobo audio system, you probably have an option to Enable or Disable Azalea HD Audio (not the same a simple HD audio). See if that makes any difference - it MIGHT impact the number of audio channels in the output streams, but it can't change the TWO stereo channels of the rear panel light green jack socket.
 
Feb 28, 2021
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Your description tells me that your external speakers and amplifier are OK at high amp gain with low input signal. I had not quite grasped one detail about those two outputs: the Optical (SPDIF) signal is digital, whereas the coaxial output is an analog signal system. You get the same sound result when either of these is used to feed your amp / speakers. Likewise, when you reverse and send a high signal from the sound chip to the amp / speaker and reduce the amp gain, you get distortion using either output type. Now, I might suspect the analog signal source is over-driving the preamp of your amplifier, but that is not very likely; I really doubt that could happen, though, from the digital signal source.

The third option - that is, sending the signal out from the Line Out (light green for speakers) to a different speaker set without the amp gets you good sound. So the audio chip can generate a good signal in its early stages, but MAY be generating bad signals from some but not all of its output stages. However, it also is possible that the problem IS in the input stages of your amp.

Do you have any other amplifier you could use (even borrow temporarily) in place of your regular amp that you are using with those speakers? It may not have both types of inputs, but since the performance problem appears identical for both, any other amp you can use would help do this test. If you have exactly the same distortions with the different sets of operating settings, then you know the problem is in the mobo audio chip. If not, then either your amp has a problem, or you somehow have made an odd configuration setting. Here I'm thinking of amp settings like input impedance or signal level, although I'm not at all sure how that could affect both analog and digital inputs. Also check whether the amp is set for 2-channel or more (like 5.1 channel) signals, and whether your mobo audio output system is set to match that.

One more suggestion to try, although I have no idea whether this could be involved. In BIOS setup for configuration of the mobo audio system, you probably have an option to Enable or Disable Azalea HD Audio (not the same a simple HD audio). See if that makes any difference - it MIGHT impact the number of audio channels in the output streams, but it can't change the TWO stereo channels of the rear panel light green jack socket.
Thank you so much for your comments! It seems, you know quite something about audio and understand what I described.

I somehow hope, my very old but good external speakers (Logitech Z-680 - https://www.cnet.com/reviews/logitech-z-680-review/, https://download01.logitech.com/web/ftp/pub/pdf/speakers/z680.pdf) are OK, because those I would not be able to replace. If I understand correctly what do you mean by an amplifier, it is a part of these speakers - these are speakers+subwoofer+amplifier all in one. And yes, as you write, when I send to these speakers from the PC a low volume output signal and turn the speakers very loudly, the sound is perfect without any distortion, even if I make it VERY loud. While when I send a high volume output signal, there is no music, no speech, just a very loud distortion so that you cannot understand a word.

I do not understand much about the SPDIF, but my built in sound card has two SPDIF outputs - an optical and a coaxial. I believe, that because both of them are SPDIF (optical is for sure and the coaxial has large letters SPDIF next to it), that means, both of them are digital. Just the type of cables is different, optical is some kind of fiber glass(?), while coaxial is metal. But they both are transferring a digital signal. So any transfer of the digital signal is bad (as long as the volume from the PC is high). Not sure what that means, because I thought, the audio chip on the motherboard sound card does not do anything with the digital signal, it just transfers it to the speakers.

You suggested me to try another amplifier, unfortunately, I do not have anything else that would have an input SPDIF digital signal ... even not to borrow one in the current pandemy conditions ... However, what I tried is - I found an analogue connector in the Z-680 speakers for a normal analogue signal via jack (the light green one), I switched all the input on them to analogue and on PC to analogue output and these Z-680 speakers play the analogue signal without any distortion - HOWEVER, what I found is that if I wanted to play it at the same volume level as I tested the digital, I had to increase the speakers quite a lot. So, it means that the analogue signal comes already automatically in a low volume (even when I turn it to the maximum in PC) and therefore, the speakers play it fine, as they do with the low volume digital signal.

Concerning the settings, I do not have any settings like impedance or signal level on the speakers ... I just tried the various effects in them like Stereo, Stereox2, PL2 Music, PL2 Movie and all of them produce the distortion. The only other settings I found were some surrond delay, panorama mode, dimension, center delay ... but they probably do not have anything to do with the input. The speakers are not set to any 5.1 or 2.1, they are I think 5.1 but they do it automatically ... and as I am sending to them from the PC only stereo signal from AVI or youtube or MP3, they are enabling only the 4 modes Stereo, Stereo x 2, PL2 Music, PL2 Movie , which they can produce from a stereo signal. The same with the audio mobo output signal, I am not setting anywhere the type of speakers, it only offers to me "Speakers (High definition audio signal)" and "Digital Audio (S/PDIF) High definition audio signal".

So, if I understand it correctly, you are thinking about the problem being either somehow in the amplifier of the speakers or in the onboard sound card on the MOBO, in its SPDIF part more specifically? So it is probably not a Windows 10 driver issue? I could actually try that one, by booting from a LINUX CD and testing, whether the problem is the same, right?

Thanks for the suggestion with the Azalea HD Audio in BIOS - I will try it and mention here, if it produces some kind of difference. Thanks!
 

Paperdoc

Glorious
Ambassador
Sorry, I don't know where I came up with that error! Of course you are right, BOTH types of S/PDIF ports put out digital signals.

Now I understand your sound system with that Logitech Z-680 set. As you say, it has its own amplifier connected to its own speakers, so you can't really substitute. Just about the only way to test it might be to haul the entire set to a friend's place and plug it into their computer's rear panel jacks to see if it does the same. And of course, to do that you would need a friend whose PC has at least one of those S/PDIF output jacks. The other vague possibility is if you have a game system OR a CD or DVD player that has such an output.

The S/PDIF system system was designed to handle several types of 4-, 5- or 6-channel audio from sources, as well as 2-channel stereo. If it gets a multi-channel signal source, normally it will automatically set itself to use that as they are. If it gets only a 2-channel signal, then you have options to use the Z-680 system to create a multi-channel effect from that source using your system.

You and I were thinking something similar - a digital signal is just the pure untouched signal, and the source does not manipulate it. But of course the amplitude (loudness) of the signal MUST change as the music plays, so both frequency and amplitude of the signal are important information. This also means that any digital audio signal generator certainly CAN be made to alter the average amplitude of its output, just like the volume control on any sound system. Your mobo audio card certainly does that for its analog green output jack AND for the two digital output jacks.

I really cannot explain why the Windows update apparently changed the range of the digital outputs from the mobo, but that appears to be what happened. Whereas before this you could not send out a signal too loud for the Z-680 system to handle, now it CAN send out a digital signal much too high in maximum amplitude, and that causes substantial distortion in the final analog signals it sends to its speakers. I suggest you stick with what you have found does work well. Set the PC's audio output "volume" low, and the Z-680 system to higher "volume" so that you get the loudness you need (maybe even too loud sometimes so you can afford to reduce it) with NO distortion.
 
Feb 28, 2021
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Sorry, I don't know where I came up with that error! Of course you are right, BOTH types of S/PDIF ports put out digital signals.

Now I understand your sound system with that Logitech Z-680 set. As you say, it has its own amplifier connected to its own speakers, so you can't really substitute. Just about the only way to test it might be to haul the entire set to a friend's place and plug it into their computer's rear panel jacks to see if it does the same. And of course, to do that you would need a friend whose PC has at least one of those S/PDIF output jacks. The other vague possibility is if you have a game system OR a CD or DVD player that has such an output.

The S/PDIF system system was designed to handle several types of 4-, 5- or 6-channel audio from sources, as well as 2-channel stereo. If it gets a multi-channel signal source, normally it will automatically set itself to use that as they are. If it gets only a 2-channel signal, then you have options to use the Z-680 system to create a multi-channel effect from that source using your system.

You and I were thinking something similar - a digital signal is just the pure untouched signal, and the source does not manipulate it. But of course the amplitude (loudness) of the signal MUST change as the music plays, so both frequency and amplitude of the signal are important information. This also means that any digital audio signal generator certainly CAN be made to alter the average amplitude of its output, just like the volume control on any sound system. Your mobo audio card certainly does that for its analog green output jack AND for the two digital output jacks.

I really cannot explain why the Windows update apparently changed the range of the digital outputs from the mobo, but that appears to be what happened. Whereas before this you could not send out a signal too loud for the Z-680 system to handle, now it CAN send out a digital signal much too high in maximum amplitude, and that causes substantial distortion in the final analog signals it sends to its speakers. I suggest you stick with what you have found does work well. Set the PC's audio output "volume" low, and the Z-680 system to higher "volume" so that you get the loudness you need (maybe even too loud sometimes so you can afford to reduce it) with NO distortion.
Hey, thank you once more for your ideas. I did not have another amplifier to check it, but your suggestions brought me to another idea - I rebooted the computer and booted from a CD with Linux ... opened youtube on Linux, set the connection to optical SPDIF, set the PC sound output to maximum and started playing - a perfect crisp sound without any distortions.

So, from this test, I assume - the speakers are fine. The MOBO sound card is fine as well. It must be the stupid windows - the UPDATE!

I did already reinstall the driver once before writing here and it did not help, but now that I can assume, the problem is not in the speakers, neither in the sound card, it must be in the Windows, so I will need to dig deep in different drivers!

So thank once more everybody who gave me suggestions on what to try, it helped me to come to the conclusion that the speakers and hardware are fine, it is Windows!
 

Paperdoc

Glorious
Ambassador
That's really good info. Here's a thought - I have NO idea if it is right. When Windows updated recently, it MAY have decided that the existing device driver for the mobo audio chip was too old and a new driver should be found and installed to go with the new Windows. Look in Device Manager, and see if you can figure out what driver is in use, AND whether there is a record of the previous driver that WAS used. IF you can find that, remove the current driver and install the old one. OR, sometimes there is already an option to revert to the previous driver, so do that simpler process. If that does not help, you should probably return to what is now the current driver before going looking for others to try.
 
Feb 28, 2021
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That's really good info. Here's a thought - I have NO idea if it is right. When Windows updated recently, it MAY have decided that the existing device driver for the mobo audio chip was too old and a new driver should be found and installed to go with the new Windows. Look in Device Manager, and see if you can figure out what driver is in use, AND whether there is a record of the previous driver that WAS used. IF you can find that, remove the current driver and install the old one. OR, sometimes there is already an option to revert to the previous driver, so do that simpler process. If that does not help, you should probably return to what is now the current driver before going looking for others to try.
That's really good info. Here's a thought - I have NO idea if it is right. When Windows updated recently, it MAY have decided that the existing device driver for the mobo audio chip was too old and a new driver should be found and installed to go with the new Windows. Look in Device Manager, and see if you can figure out what driver is in use, AND whether there is a record of the previous driver that WAS used. IF you can find that, remove the current driver and install the old one. OR, sometimes there is already an option to revert to the previous driver, so do that simpler process. If that does not help, you should probably return to what is now the current driver before going looking for others to try.
I already tried to update the current driver before in the device manager and it did not help. But now, it is not a problem when I know where the problem is. Maybe, I will need to install an old driver and force it to behave like under some older version of Windows, Windows 7 or so. I have also an old printer that does not have a driver for Windows 10, but behaves without any problem with the old driver pretending Windows 7.

When I asked here at this forum, I was afraid, some of my hardware is "dying" and by continuing to use it, I might damage the whole computer even more and it might at the end stop working completely, possibly even corrupt some data. Therefore I needed to find, where the problem is. And now I know it, it is the driver, so in the meantime, I can easily continue using the "low amp from PC, high amp at the speakers" and once I find the time, I can look for all possible drivers, I can find in the internet, test them, incl. the options under the older Windows versions ...

The only bad thing is that right after the Windows update, I had a 4 hour speech/interview for youtube and the sound was so bad that we cannot use it ... because the sound was like doing "waves up and down" ... probably, it is related to the same problem.
 

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