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Should I Use an Onboard Sound or an Upgraded PCI or External Soundcard?

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  • Should I Use an Onboard Sound or an Upgraded PCI or External Soundcard?

    There is no right or wrong answer, but it depends on how you listen to your musi.c If you sound like one these people, then this should HELP you decide. Just remember, it’s always easier to upgrade later if onboard isn’t cutting it.


    • If all you want to listen to are low bit rate MP3’s or some other form of compressed music.

    • You plan on using stock speakers or maybe even just an inexpensive set of coaxial speakers (tweeter mounted in the center of the speaker).

    • You are the type of person that listens to music at home on a home theater in a box/boom box setup. Yes, even the Bose systems are home theatre in a box systems.

    • You are running your computer through your stock or aftermarket radio through AUX_IN or by an FM modulator.
    Upgraded PCI or External soundcard

    • You are going to be using component speakers or spent a decent amount of money on replacement speakers for your car.

    • You are using amplifiers of good quality (brands such as Rockford, JL Audio, Kicker, XTANT, Audison, ARC, Zapco, USAmps, Steg, Focal, Butler, TRU, Brax, etc. just to name a few reputable brands), or if your 4 channel amp costs more than $300 (retail).

    • Your computer audio output goes directly into amplifiers.

    • You desire more control over your sound that onboard cannot do (crossover, better EQ, time delay).
      If you want to do things with ASIO, look for a supported ASIO card and Read here and here
      A cheap way to do more advanced sound processing is an Audigy Card with the KX Project drivers.
    • You have good home theater equipment i.e. you do not listen to music at home on a home theater in a box setup or boom box.
    PCI or External

    • Are you using a laptop or a desktop?
      • Laptop = External Card or PCIMIA card

      • Desktop = Either PCI or external will work most of the time

    • Do you have room for a PCI card in your case/car?

    • Do you want to do all tuning via software on the computer or are you going to be tuning with an external processor (like the Alpine PXA-H701 processor for instance).

    • Have you spent a decent amount of money on sound deadening your vehicle and on audio equipment for it? (greater than $1000 in most cases).
    For a list of external cards see this compiled list.
    Article written by RedGTiVR6 and Durwood

  • #2
    Not really current anymore. Onboard sound is more than enough. They have become very good, and theres always the choice of taking digital out, which is just the best you can get, no matter what. The much more important choice is what kind of sound mixer you will use (that will also affect digital out). The stock Windows one is not the best one and will swallow a lot of high frequencies and other stuff that you dont want. Better to use alternatives like for example foobar2000 with ASIO4ALL.
    Last edited by Gullimonster; 02-13-2014, 04:45 AM.


    • #3
      IMO, the biggest issue with on board sound if you don't use the optical out, your stuck with a 3.5mm plug that I really doesn't give you a great connection long term in a vibrating environment. An external also allows you to get the sound card far away from the PC P/S which may help reduce noise. I don't know whats out there but if I was to try to use internal, I would look for a card that has a pair of RCA's on the back.
      My 2007 Ford F350 Work Log located HERE


      • #4
        You can counter vibration problems with flimsy connections like that (not only for sound) with a little bit of industrial gasket/mounting gum. I dont know the exact name of it.
        Its like chewing gum, very sticky, but also stabilizes a lot, if you take enough of it. It wont get hard and can be removed without leaving behind anything. So you can still remove the connectors easily, if needed. I use it all the time for various stuff. Its really helpful.


        • #5
          Found out how that stuff is named: Butyl.
          You can buy it as tape on rolls.

          Recently used it again to get rid of some annoying noises in my car. Its awesome for so many things.


          • #6
            Butyl tape does dry out and crack over time. It's used extensively in RV manufacturing to seal behind exterior moldings, extrusions, etc. The sun does dry it out and it cracks over time. I'm not sure if using it inside the vehicle would extend or shorten it's life. It eliminates the contact with the elements but it spends more time in the heated environment of a vehicle interior.
            My 2007 Ford F350 Work Log located HERE


            • #7
              I have been using it for 5 years as sealant for my intercooler duct and for mounting an outside temp sensor and its consistence is still as on day one. On both spots pretty high temperatures are reached and weather will reach it directly.
              It gets harder the colder the temperature is, but even a 0C its still very soft.
              Maybe only direct sunlight will dry it out (since sunlight doesnt reach those spots), or the stuff I use is different. On the inside I have used it on so many spots I cant remember, and prolly for over 10 years without it ever changing consistency or stickiness. My car hifi guy also used lots of aluminum butyl mats on my install and that is 10 years old now and they are still as soft as before.


              • #8
                Butyl still won't prevent the types of issues using a 3.5mm plug will. I also think there are different variations of the stuff available that may last less or more. Windshields are sealed with the stuff these days and if those can stand up to daily use in sunlight and weather etc I am sure it is just fine. But then again I have also used it in places where it was dry and brittle within 6 months.

                Personally if you have a solid connector and a good plug I don't think there is an issue with the sound card output of a computer only being a 3.5mm plug. Beyond that the digital output is the best thing if you have it.

                If you do not have a digital output and are having noise issues with the internal sound card then the next best choice is a USB sound card that can be placed right next to your amplifier or processor. This should isolate any noise induced issues that an onboard sound card can produce. Again the ultimate noiseless connection would be the digital connection.



                • #9
                  Butyl to hold a windshield in place? That was 20 years ago.
                  I think we are talking about different things here.


                  • #10
                    I'll second using a USB soundcard placed near to your amp for cleaner sound. That will get rid of added noise

                    I'm my case, I took it further and use a USB Audio DAC with line out connected to a DSP, which feeds my amps. All the audio is intercepted in the digital domain from the PC, then decoded into super clean 117db s/n ratio 2vrms line out stereo, fed to the processor for time alignment and soundstage creation, then to the amps.