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Need help figuring out how to use a $150 budget to improve my audio by the highest amount possible.

Hey, TH community, I recently decided that it was time to see what could be done to give a bit of a boost to the audio quality of my desktop (I say "a bit", because I am on a tight budget of roughly $150). I did some research, and it seems as though in order to produce decent sounding audio, the most important things are the desktop's sound card and the quality of the speakers themselves. With my tight budget, it is not possible for me to afford both a decent sound card and decent speakers, so I need help determining how I can use the $150 to get the best possible audio. As far as I can tell, there are three possibilites. Do I...

A. Get only a high quality sound card and continue using my cheap Logitech Z130's.
B. Get a high quality sound card and buy a cheaper audio system such as the Logitech Z323.
C. Spend the entire budget on the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1's and forgo the sound card.

Note: My current "audio equipment" is:
Speakers: Logitech Z130 - http://www.logitech.com/en-us/product/speakers-z130?crid=47
Sound Card: The onboard audio of this motherboard - https://www.asus.com/us/Motherboards/M5A97_R20/
12 answers Last reply Best Answer
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  1. First of all let me state that I am not an audiophile and I daresay that some people have a far better ear for sound than myself.

    With that out the way let me tell you of my experience. First of all I don't have a sound card and am using the onboard sound from the motherboard. However, I do have a decent set of speakers (some may disagree) and I am more than happy with the sound I get.

    I am using foobar 2000 to play my flac files and I get great sound. The only downside is that the equaliser in foobar does not work with my setup.

    These are the speakers I am using: http://www.superfi.co.uk/p-9743-acoustic-energy-aego-m-subwoofersatellite-speaker-package.aspx?VariantHid=102469&gclid=Cj0KEQiAlO20BRCcieCSncPlqqMBEiQAOZGMnKF50MBGstV65jqvBtLcV28viAZAdX1LpXmAgMABaboaAomY8P8HAQ
  2. want the most bang/buck? you might want to use headphones.

    the hd558 are $99 and the rest can be spent on a soundcard or amp

    want speakers? get some hifi equipment. you have a choice between using an external amp and some passives or powered equipment. the mb42x paired with a nice soundcard like the xonar dx or similar would be great. if going unpowered with external amp, the mb42, bs22 are good speakers and use the rest of budget for amp. you wont improve your dac quality this way, but would make a big jump on speakers.
  3. ssddx said:
    want the most bang/buck? you might want to use headphones.

    the hd558 are $99 and the rest can be spent on a soundcard or amp

    want speakers? get some hifi equipment. you have a choice between using an external amp and some passives or powered equipment. the mb42x paired with a nice soundcard like the xonar dx or similar would be great. if going unpowered with external amp, the mb42, bs22 are good speakers and use the rest of budget for amp. you wont improve your dac quality this way, but would make a big jump on speakers.


    Interesting suggestions, but they have given rise to some new questions from me.

    1. The "Micca MB42X" speakers that you recommended are bookshelf speakers as I saw on the amazon page. My research has shown that bookshelf speakers have decidedly better audio quality than the speakers of desktop audio systems. Does this mean that I can assume that those speakers will sound better than the speakers of the Logitech Z623's, and the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1's, but sacrifice bass due to the lack of a dedicated woofer?

    2. Would you happen to know how the Micca's compare to the M-Audio AV40's?

    Edit: Out of curiosity, how would you rate the quality of my current onboard audio? Would upgrading to an ASUS XONAR DX or Sound Blaster Z make a noticeable difference?
  4. Take a look at this interesting article by TomsHardware: http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/high-end-pc-audio,review-32894-19.html
  5. 1. hifi or home theater speakers do generally sound better than computer speakers. some bookshelf sized designs can hit bass notes but do not extend very low due to no subwoofer correct (you can add one in the future). *see below for more

    2. no, but i do know the av40's are also very popular and come recommended. i have heard that they have a bit of a quality control issue though. even the mackie cr series isnt bad. you arent just limited to the few choices i listed above. but i'm trying to leave you room in case you wanted to upgrade your internal dac. if you did not care about that, you could of course spend more ** see below for more

    3. fair to middling. generally high end onboard (on expensive motherboards) is generally equal to $30 soundcards like the xonar dg in quality, sometimes just a bit better. any decent card is going to be better. with that said, unless you are noticing issue like static, crackling, buzzing, distortion, etc onboard is often "good enough" and upgrading to better speakers will result in a better perceived "upgrade" than just changing out the soundcard.

    * i owned the promedia 2.1 for a few days, we have the z130, i've heard the z323 and z623 in the store. i personally thought the promedia had promise but the subwoofer is sized far too large for the speakers and overpowers them. i was so impressed that i ended up buying home theater speakers from klipsch instead and have been using them since. logitech speakers tend towards average sound quality and big boomy but not rumbly or tight bass. good value but not high end sound.

    ** as long as your onboard audio doesnt show signs of problems it should be safe to just spend your budget on speakers or speakers and an amplifier. if you have issues, you might want to get a better dac or soundcard.

    as far as that $2 codec...

    there is a whole lot of "ifs" and "assumptions" to be made when saying that i'll briefly list a few:

    - the listeners ears. not everyone can perceive audio in the same way, tone levels or complexity. what sounds good to me may sound terrible to you. what they said about sound file quality also relates to this.
    - build quality. some onboard has issues like EMI, distortion or other issues to worry about or poor quality jacks
    - poor amplification. some onboard has weak amplifiers which are completely incapable of powering high demand headphones or high %thd which really shows on lower quality songs
    - headphones used. some headphones point out audio flaws like salt on mirror while others ignore subtleties so you might not hear it.
    - lack of features. soundcards are specialized and onboard even more limited. while they work for the vast majority of people there may be features that are required by some people not supported by onboard.

    basically that whole article only serves to say one thing which i mentioned above.. for most people onboard audio is sufficient unless you are having onboard audio issues or you find it lacking in quality. there is a reason why high end equipment is available, but not everyone needs it.
  6. ssddx said:
    1. hifi or home theater speakers do generally sound better than computer speakers. some bookshelf sized designs can hit bass notes but do not extend very low due to no subwoofer correct (you can add one in the future). *see below for more

    2. no, but i do know the av40's are also very popular and come recommended. i have heard that they have a bit of a quality control issue though. even the mackie cr series isnt bad. you arent just limited to the few choices i listed above. but i'm trying to leave you room in case you wanted to upgrade your internal dac. if you did not care about that, you could of course spend more ** see below for more

    3. fair to middling. generally high end onboard (on expensive motherboards) is generally equal to $30 soundcards like the xonar dg in quality, sometimes just a bit better. any decent card is going to be better. with that said, unless you are noticing issue like static, crackling, buzzing, distortion, etc onboard is often "good enough" and upgrading to better speakers will result in a better perceived "upgrade" than just changing out the soundcard.

    * i owned the promedia 2.1 for a few days, we have the z130, i've heard the z323 and z623 in the store. i personally thought the promedia had promise but the subwoofer is sized far too large for the speakers and overpowers them. i was so impressed that i ended up buying home theater speakers from klipsch instead and have been using them since. logitech speakers tend towards average sound quality and big boomy but not rumbly or tight bass. good value but not high end sound.

    ** as long as your onboard audio doesnt show signs of problems it should be safe to just spend your budget on speakers or speakers and an amplifier. if you have issues, you might want to get a better dac or soundcard.

    as far as that $2 codec...

    there is a whole lot of "ifs" and "assumptions" to be made when saying that i'll briefly list a few:

    - the listeners ears. not everyone can perceive audio in the same way, tone levels or complexity. what sounds good to me may sound terrible to you. what they said about sound file quality also relates to this.
    - build quality. some onboard has issues like EMI, distortion or other issues to worry about or poor quality jacks
    - poor amplification. some onboard has weak amplifiers which are completely incapable of powering high demand headphones or high %thd which really shows on lower quality songs
    - headphones used. some headphones point out audio flaws like salt on mirror while others ignore subtleties so you might not hear it.
    - lack of features. soundcards are specialized and onboard even more limited. while they work for the vast majority of people there may be features that are required by some people not supported by onboard.

    basically that whole article only serves to say one thing which i mentioned above.. for most people onboard audio is sufficient unless you are having onboard audio issues or you find it lacking in quality. there is a reason why high end equipment is available, but not everyone needs it.


    Been doing some research and thinking about what I should purchase for quite some time since reading your last response, but still haven't reached a decision quite yet. What's troubling me the most is the sound card business. I'm not too sure if I'm fond of having a sound card that would be considered "fair to middling", but my research is telling me that the gap between dedicated sound cards and onboard audio is smaller today than it was in the past. Additionally, my research has told me that the higher quality speakers you have, the bigger the difference you will notice with a new sound card. This has just left me with more questions.

    1. Would $85 - $100 bookshelf speakers be considered high quality enough to notice a difference from a new sound card?

    2. If you were in my position and had my onboard audio, would you want to get a dedicated sound card? If so, which card would you consider purchasing in order for the upgrade to be "worthwhile"?

    3. How do I determine which speakers to purchase? I was originally, set on purchasing the Micca's that you recommended, but while looking at them on Amazon, I came across two other seemingly comparable competitors, which are:

    A. http://www.amazon.com/Mackie-Series-CR3-Reference-Multimedia/dp/B00KVEIY4E/ref=zg_bs_11974991_1 (If I recall, you actually commented on this brand earlier)

    B. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B018YALTHK?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=ox_sc_act_title_1&smid=A3K929QT0IENFR
  7. Best answer
    1. depends on the speakers honestly. like what i stated about the $2 codec.. some headphones (and speakers) are very articulate and will sound like crud on a poor source while others are more forgiving but less detailed. if you have not had any issues so far with your onboard then you are most likely fine with continuing to use it.

    2. i have a rampage iii x58 which has decent onboard audio. if i did not already have a receiver unit (which takes the place of having onboard) i'd probably just use onboard as i havent had any issues with it. what card would i get if i wanted one? the xonar dx hands down. same dac as the double in price stx but without a strong amplifier. it pairs well with powered speakers, external amps for headphones and using an external amp for speakers.

    3. i was in that position awhile back, though i was looking for a 5.1 set. i ended up with a receiver and 5.0 klipsch quintet iv's and a 450w sub. if i wanted a 2.0 knowing what i know now i'd probably pick up a pair of klipsch bookshelves with an amp since i like how they sound. in fact in the future i'd definitely like to get a bigger set of speakers.

    if i absolutely only had $150 to spend AND my onboard audio was fairly decent sounding, i'd probably be looking at either some higher end used speakers (such as the set of kb-15's for $100 on ebay.. i'd probably send the guy a lower offer using his "make offer" button. and an amplifier like the dta-120 if i found it on sale or whatever the best amp i could buy would be with remaining budget. if i had to buy something new or needed something smaller sized, i'd probably get the pb42x or cr4.

    personally i like to hear them before buying though. i had the chance to actually give a listen to the klipsch setup before i bought it and listening to the bigger speakers is why i wanted those too. i've heard audioengine a2's (did not get why people rave about them) and the m-audio speakers (they were okay) but i wouldnt trade my system for them. after listening to a few sets you learn what you like... and i'm quite partial to the soundscape klipsch has - your opinion may vary.
  8. ssddx said:
    1. depends on the speakers honestly. like what i stated about the $2 codec.. some headphones (and speakers) are very articulate and will sound like crud on a poor source while others are more forgiving but less detailed. if you have not had any issues so far with your onboard then you are most likely fine with continuing to use it.

    2. i have a rampage iii x58 which has decent onboard audio. if i did not already have a receiver unit (which takes the place of having onboard) i'd probably just use onboard as i havent had any issues with it. what card would i get if i wanted one? the xonar dx hands down. same dac as the double in price stx but without a strong amplifier. it pairs well with powered speakers, external amps for headphones and using an external amp for speakers.

    3. i was in that position awhile back, though i was looking for a 5.1 set. i ended up with a receiver and 5.0 klipsch quintet iv's and a 450w sub. if i wanted a 2.0 knowing what i know now i'd probably pick up a pair of klipsch bookshelves with an amp since i like how they sound. in fact in the future i'd definitely like to get a bigger set of speakers.

    if i absolutely only had $150 to spend AND my onboard audio was fairly decent sounding, i'd probably be looking at either some higher end used speakers (such as the set of kb-15's for $100 on ebay.. i'd probably send the guy a lower offer using his "make offer" button. and an amplifier like the dta-120 if i found it on sale or whatever the best amp i could buy would be with remaining budget. if i had to buy something new or needed something smaller sized, i'd probably get the pb42x or cr4.

    personally i like to hear them before buying though. i had the chance to actually give a listen to the klipsch setup before i bought it and listening to the bigger speakers is why i wanted those too. i've heard audioengine a2's (did not get why people rave about them) and the m-audio speakers (they were okay) but i wouldnt trade my system for them. after listening to a few sets you learn what you like... and i'm quite partial to the soundscape klipsch has - your opinion may vary.


    Well, with your advice, I finally decided that I will be purchasing some bookshelf speakers and a sound card. Now comes the hard part of trying to decide between three different sound cards... Thank you for all of the assistance you provided.
  9. why the soundcard, are you experiencing some of the issues i mentioned before?
  10. ssddx said:
    why the soundcard, are you experiencing some of the issues i mentioned before?


    I am not 100% certain that this is related to what you described, but several weeks ago, I purchased the Logitech Z623 system, hooked it up to my desktop, turned it on, and was greeted by an extremely high-pitched "ringing" noise from both speakers. I assumed that it was defective and asked for a replacement. When the replacements arrived, I hooked them up, turned them on, and was greeted by the exact same noise. I once again assumed that they were defective and refunded them. After reading your posts however, it occurred to me that the issue may have been my onboard audio and not the actual speakers, meaning the problem may happen with other speaker systems that I purchase, regardless of brand. In order to prevent that possibility from becoming a reality, I decided to go with a sound card in addition to the bookshelf speakers. Also, my research has told me that purchasing a decent sound card will increase the audio quality by a noticeable amount and that whether the increase is "super noticeable" or just "noticeable" is purely subjective, but I'll just have to see for myself.
  11. do you have a microphone hooked up? it could be feedback loop if you do and have it close to speakers.

    if thats not it, it could be your onboard.. and some sort of feedback issue. odd.

    its likely not a ground issue (ground loop) as that will give you more of a buzzing noise normally.
  12. ssddx said:
    do you have a microphone hooked up? it could be feedback loop if you do and have it close to speakers.

    if thats not it, it could be your onboard.. and some sort of feedback issue. odd.

    its likely not a ground issue (ground loop) as that will give you more of a buzzing noise normally.


    Nope, I don't have any kind of microphone hooked up. Based on what you said, it seems as though the most likely cause is indeed the onboard audio.
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