Audio interfaces, sound cards and sound quality

Discussion in 'Soundgear' started by waverider, Jan 3, 2019.

  1. waverider

    waverider Kapellmeister

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    Hello,
    I'm still rather new to music making on the computer, so I have a question about sound cards and audio interfaces. So far I've only had consumer type Windows PCs with Creative Sound Blaster sound cards. I currently have a Sound Blaster ZxR which was pretty expensive (around 250$). I used to to some PC gaming but nowadays I mostly enjoy this sound card for the great quality that it gives me when listening to music via good headphones. It also comes with an ASIO driver which allows me to have some good latency.

    So this is fairly decent for music making, I'd guess.

    Now my question. People often recommend external audio interfaces. Some of them are pretty expensive, and they also come with other features like microphone phantom power, amps, and a lot of plugs, and so on. I'd assume these interfaces would be superior for music making than the sound card that I have (which is more focused on gaming and entertainment). So, I wonder if these external audio interfaces give me at least the same kind of great sound quality when I listen to music using these interfaces with the same headphones. I mean, the ZxR costs around 250$. If I buy an audio interface in the same price range, would I get the same kind of great, clear sound? Do these interfaces come with the same kind of components (DAC or whatever) to give that kind of sound experience. Or are they more geared towards music production and have other strenghts without delivering the same kind of sound? What external audio interfaces are known for their great components and their great sound quality that rivals the Sound Blaster ZxR and the Asus Essence STX II, beyond just being good for music production?

    Just planning for a possible new PC in the future.
     
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  3. SmokerNzt

    SmokerNzt Platinum Record

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    if you not using extra guitar and hardware I think you don't need any extra audio interface
    you got great audio interface which can drive 600oms headphone

    you just need to understand one fact when you buying studio Grear it comes flat as possible as can .
    In order to give you the original sound without put extra color !

    it's same as you go to your car put your cd and listing it on car speakers or studio speaker
    it will sound different

    but in your case this sound card is amazing and I don't think you will have any problem to make great music with it !
    creative company was here long time
    and they in the field of sound really good and many of the gaming stuff even batter then the expansive one's
    the Blaster Zxr cost today around 185$ and it sound amazing !

    Trust only your hears !
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2019
  4. Olaf

    Olaf Kapellmeister

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    In terms of playback/output quality (i.e. DAC) any soundcard/audio interface from a decent company should be good enough today. Even your on-board codec could be good enough if the mainboard manufacturer didn't mess it up.
    With audio interfaces you're paying mainly for recording/input quality (i.e. ADC), that often is not really good on consumer ("gaming") cards, and of course additional features, like various input/output options with direct monitoring and advanced routing, preamps, hardware controls, stable ASIO drivers, etc.

    So if you're not even recording external sources and your card already has dedicated ASIO drivers, chances are that you don't need anything different at all.

    Audient has some great converters. iD4 might be the best you can get in its price range. But if it's just better quality you want, go for better speaker/headphones first.
     
  5. Daskeladden

    Daskeladden Platinum Record

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    If you consider a Audio Interface in the future your pc should have a thunderbolt port. USB is not optimal (due to BUS) for audio and latency.
    Buy a motherboard with internal thunderbolt like this:
    Gigabyte Z390 DESIGNARE
    https://www.gigabyte.com/Motherboard/Z390-DESIGNARE-rev-10#kf

    And maybe a audio interface like this:
    Presonus Quantum 2
    https://www.presonus.com/products/Quantum-2

    Presonus Quantum has great drivers for Windows which is very important when i comes to a external audio interface (I know cause I use a Quantum on windows).
    If you gonna build a new audio production pc future proof and affordable I think that is a great start. Until then stick with your pci audio card which is better than most usb audio interfaces when i comes to stability and latency
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2019
  6. SineWave

    SineWave Audiosexual

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    You paid $250 for a sound-fucking-blaster... that's such a mistake. And now you're going to tell me professional sound cards are expensive. What a load... :sad:

    I will always trust more to an established pro audio company than a consumer one. :wink:

    Please, Presonus is a crap company... they used to be good once upon a time. Focusrite is similar... unfortunately, but I'd still rather buy a Focusrite because I've never had a problem with them.
     
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2019
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  7. tooloud

    tooloud Guest

    If you're about to embark on a serious journey into computer based home recording then you'll come to the realisation that $250 is small change and the road ahead is filled with bank statements that will have you asking "why is it I never seem to have any money anymore?" Then your girlfriend leaves you. You'd start drinking, but you're saving for the latest mastering plugin that's going to make you famous.
     
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  8. Daskeladden

    Daskeladden Platinum Record

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    Strange cause the Quantum get high praises everywhere. And the drivers for Windows is rock solid and latency numbers best in the world. (And if I remember correctly your a Mac guy ..... :bleh: when we are talking about crap companies)
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2019
  9. SmokerNzt

    SmokerNzt Platinum Record

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    sorry but your wrong brother.
    creative is amazing company which existed from long time ago before even the new high pro audio company
    they have amazing headphone amp inside the hardware, and it's fact you can try it and confirm it !
    second if he not using extra hardware such guitar , this sound card is amazing .

    plus you can find amazing companies today without any name's tag , which produce top quality product
    with low price .

    I believe the same as you before , but when I try some low price quality without any tag/name
    i found amazing products. (from china for example )

    never trust the name but rather your hear
     
  10. SineWave

    SineWave Audiosexual

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    I had only bad experience with anything Presonus, sorry. Their hardware is made really low quality and their software is suffering from eternal issues. I can't believe you claim their ASIO driver is amongst the best? The last time I checked their ASIO driver was at best average. I wouldn't buy anything more from them than the Faderport I have, because many people I know fell for their lower than you would expect prices, and after a year or so the hardware they bought is having all kinds of problems due to low quality parts. Unless it's a Presonus' hammer. :sad:

    Of course, it could be that my experience is just - my experience.
     
  11. waverider

    waverider Kapellmeister

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    Thank you very much for the input.

    I think I should make my problem a bit clearer. I paid a lot of money for this sound card (even though, compared to other "real" studio equipment, it's relatively cheap lol) because over the years I wanted to get good sound quality while listening to music. Gaming was also a thing but not so much anymore. Once I had my first Sound Blaster card which was some time in early 2000 or so, I could not go back to onboard sound because that would not satisfy me anymore. I know that nowadays the onboard sound cards are amazing compared to how they used to be, but I can tell the difference right away and instantly it feels like I'm missing something if I have to listen to music using the onboard sound card. So I was just wondering whether there are professional audio interfaces that offer the same "audiophile" listening experience when they are used as a playback device for a media player.

    Yes that is one thing that I have to consider. I would guess this pertains to headphones a lot more, right? I don't have studio headphones or monitors. I need to get some. I think the ZxR has a whole lot of bass compared to other sound cards, that could be an issue.

    A while ago, I tried an external DAC (FiiO E10K Olympus 2, I think somewhere around 80$), it got great reviews over the net, and I thought I'd love it, but alas, being used to the ZxR, I felt like something was lacking. So when you say "any modern sound card should be good enough", I think I'll feel the difference when listening to music, especially orchestral music in lossless WAV format.

    Thank you for the heads up, will take a look. Seems like the one you linked is mostly used for guitar and microphone amplification.

    I didn't consider this at all, thank you.

    Well, compared to the 250$, there are interfaces that cost north of 1000$, right? I think that's a lot more expensive. I also know that the ZxR has problems. Especially the drivers seem to be a big issue for a lot of users, I got lucky there so far and haven't had any problems yet. But I just love the sound because I listen to a ton of music all the time. So it was worth it for me. And reading the responses here, it looks like I can actually keep using it for (at least basic) audio production.

    I guess another reason for asking is that it seems like the market for internal sound cards is shrinking. Both the Sound Blaster ZxR as well as the Asus Essence STX II are several years old, and I'm just considering that perhaps, as more people get used to and are content with onboard sound cards, perhaps there'll be a time when there won't be any internal sound cards like the ZxR left in the market. But I don't know the background of the market too well, so that's just speculation.
     
  12. SmokerNzt

    SmokerNzt Platinum Record

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    ZxR is great sound card plus it not usb , it has amazing headphone Amp like i said .
    if you not using extra guitar or mic ,you have amazing sound card for music productions
    ZxR has quality like RME sound card ! (which is amazing for that price )
    you will not find a sound card which will give you such Amp for that price as yours !
    you can use it for music productions without any fear ,
     
  13. SineWave

    SineWave Audiosexual

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    If you want to go with a professional card, you will have to adapt to listening flat, or EQ-ing the output to your taste somehow before it reaches your ears. I had a reverse problem when I started with PC, because my ears were accustomed to hearing everything flat in the studio, so I felt that Sound Blaster was hyping the sound, and I didn't like it, because it was not suitable for any kind of pro audio production. As soon as I got a pro audio card, my problems were solved. :wink:

    So it depends on what you want and need... you don't seem to be into pro audio much, so this Sound Blaster could be exactly what you want. And it's even good for some music doodling as it comes with some kind of an ASIO driver, as far as I remember. It seems like you've got what you wanted, eh? :wink:

    If you want to be able to listen to music at a pro level, maybe buy some pro headphones next, not some Logitech or such. And the price difference shouldn't be that big. Try some Beyer Dynamic DT or Sennheiser's Pro series HPs, or AKG K series.

    edit: I can bet you would really like AKG K701, because they sound a bit "hi-fi", but also a bit on the expensive side.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2019
  14. Andrew

    Andrew AudioSEX Maestro Staff Member

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    No need for a "pro" card if your goal is sequencing or just listening. "Pro" cards tend to have botched headphone outputs, compensating for a lack of short-circuit protection in their NE5532 by adding huge 47Ohm resistor in series. This in turn makes the HP output suitable only for headphones above 400Ohm which also happen to have high enough sensitivity so that the 1 Vrms is enough for them.

    "Sound quality" tends to be comprised of several factors, the most of which is gained or lost through the selection of transducers (speakers/HP). Other factors include electrical damping, DAC filtering, gain staging, etc.

    For the above use, $99 OL DAC is pretty much the best shot. Also UAC1 compatible - no (shoddy) drivers necessary. No balanced outs by design, but it's moddable, and as far as specs, blows most boutique or consumer gear out of the water. Also does AES/EBU.
    External HP amp will be needed though, but you probably have that covered with Fiio.

    When comparing headphones, it's useful to do that in person, but for all other uses, you can get a good idea of the sound by comparing their uncompensated frequency response curve to ISO 226-2009 equal loudness curve. This tells you much more concrete info rather than relying on subjective reviews.
    This webpage has the lot: https://reference-audio-analyzer.pro/en/report/hp/

    Such as:
    https://reference-audio-analyzer.pro/en/report/hp/beyerdynamic-dt-880-pro.php

    Under "Perception of headphone frequency response curves of equal loudness ISO" check out the "Summary" column, values closer to 0 are what you're interested in.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2019
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  15. waverider

    waverider Kapellmeister

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    Thank you again, for your detailed answers. That's a lot to take in. I am actually very interested in music production, just still using a consumer machine and over the years gotten used to the great headphone sound of my consumer sound card, so I'm just anticipating that I'll lose a significant part of that in one way or another as soon as I buy a new machine with a real "flat" pro audio sound card. But it's not just the flatness I'm concerned with, it's what Andrew describes as "sound quality" which is so hard for me to objectively pinpoint. I just don't want to lose that if I switch over to pro audio gear.

    By the way, that the Sound Blaster would be "not flat" is something I had considered but didn't give enough weight. But it makes a lot of sense. I've seen this software on PC that would compensate for the differences in headphones and give you studio headphone sound regardless of what model you use. I guess, what would be the use of that, if my sound card is already making the sound different before it even reaches the headphones in the first place?

    Looks like if I want to get serious with building an audio production PC, I'd probably need a second PC / my old one with a consumer grade card like the one I have now, because the audio interfaces are meant for music production and not for music listening enjoyment.

    Andrew, thank you for the post. I have to admit it's above what I currently understand. Thanks for the recommendation of the OL DAC. Looks great but it's nothing you just hook up to a PC and connect a headphone to it directly, so it needs another device connected to it. I didn't actually like the Fiio too much (compared to the ZxR) so I'm not sure I can use that. Also the Fiio is supposed to be connected to the PC in order to be used as a USB sound card so I'm not sure it can even be used with the OL DAC.

    SmokerNzt, that is good to know, thank you. I'm mostly concerned about a new PC that I might build in the future, and if I should get a "real" audio interface then. I'm also asking because I believe that these consumer grade sound cards might not be around forever because plenty of people are satisfied with modern onboard sound cards. But what you say actually goes into the direction of what I was asking. Can you tell me which other RME interfaces have that same kind of sound and headphone AMP as the ZxR?
     
  16. tun

    tun Ultrasonic

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    i used to own a sound blaster many years ago, which i thought was great. i later upgraded to an edirol and i was blown away by how nice it sounded compared to the sound blaster, particularly the pre-amps. years later i heard the sound blaster again, and after hearing many other interfaces i realised that the sound blaster sounded like shit.
    im not saying your interface is bad (i havent heard it), but if you get a chance to listen to some others then you should take it and compare them.
     
  17. SmokerNzt

    SmokerNzt Platinum Record

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    the new "rme babyface pro"
    plus it come with great software bundle !
     
  18. midi-man

    midi-man Audiosexual

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    I am not going to say Focus rite is perfect. Why do you say they are a crap company like Presonus? I have also had not issues with my Pro 40.
     
  19. Daskeladden

    Daskeladden Platinum Record

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    I don't see any logic in paying $749 for an usb2 device in 2019, and it only has two analog XLR inputs. Presonus Quantum 2 costs $599, has a more analog inputs and outputs and thunderbolt connection. And the Quantum has better latency numbers:
    [​IMG]

    But of course if you only have a usb port the Babyface is probably a good solution
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2019
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  20. E.T.F

    E.T.F Producer

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    Buy a cheap laptop and use that for music production. I've mentioned this somewhere else on here, You can get refurb 1 year guarantee i5 or i7 laptops on ebay for less than £200 [gbp]. There's no need for any expensive gear when you are starting music production. Just TIME....
    I would recommend Audio Technica ATH M50 Headphones [about £110] and KRK Rokit 5 Monitors [about £250].
    Use built in audio interface [it really will be fine!] or there are a lot of £100 ish ones that will more than do the job.
    So a full setup for £6-700 which you would get years out of....with the occasional laptop upgrade.
    This was best deal I found on ebay:
    HP EliteBook 8760w Core i7 Quad Core 16GB 256GB NVIDIA Quadro 4000M Laptop= £324.99
    but i bought
    HP EliteBook 8470p Core i5 2.60GHz 4GB Ram= £150
    which is powerful enough [and really solidly built!] to run Ableton with tens of channels of VSTs, with loads of fx, audio etc. Technology really has improved and is so cheap there is no reason to worry about high sound quality if you read enough reviews [especially Sound on Sound or Music Radar] before buying anything....



     
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  21. beatletown

    beatletown Guest

    "Buy a cheap laptop and use that for music production."

    :invision:

    :deep_facepalm:
     
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