Anything I can do to improve poor headphone sound quality with on-board Realtek HD?
May 1, 2012 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Anything I can do to improve poor headphone sound quality with on-board Realtek HD?

I bought some Creative Fatal1ty Pro MKIIs and plugged them into on-board Realtek HD (latest drivers). A HQ MP3 sounds pretty good when I plug the MKIIs into my android phone (not audiophile, but a full, loud presentation without clipping, a little muddy).

The same mp3 sounds awful from the on-board sound. The volume won't go very high and the sound is crunchy even at low volumes (it sounds like you turned up the headphones way too far, and then maintained that bad sound quality at all volumes).

I've messed with some of the settings in the windows control panel and the Realtek control panel (EQs, loudness adjustments, etc.) but the headphones still sound like maybe $5 computer-show headphones.

I'd think it was just that on-board sound is poor, but I used the same on-board sound as a line-out to my stereo (yamaha amp, nice klipsch speakers) with movies for years and I didn't notice the sound quality problems.

Am I missing something?

I'm only using the on-board sound for gaming and music listening (rarely), so I'd like to avoid spending even $50 on a dedicated sound card.
posted by elmonobonobo to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I think you might be plugging into the line-out jack of your card, which runs at a much lower voltage. Since it's outputting a lower voltage, it distorts when you turn it up loud enough to hear because you're at full blast in low-voltage land. See if you can configure one of the jacks to be a headphone jack.
posted by rhizome at 8:50 AM on May 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think you might be plugging into the line-out jack of your card, which runs at a much lower voltage. Since it's outputting a lower voltage, it distorts when you turn it up loud enough to hear because you're at full blast in low-voltage land. See if you can configure one of the jacks to be a headphone jack.

Yeah generally the difference between a line-out jack and headphone jack is that the latter runs the signal through a headphone amp to increase the volume. Sometimes a poor quality built-in headphone amp can distort the signal enough to be noticeable, but it sounds like yours is not getting amplified above the line-out level at all. You can buy your own headphone amp to plug in between the line-out and your headphones if that really is the problem, but that would probably be more expensive than just buying a better soundcard.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:56 AM on May 1, 2012


I have six headphone sized plugs in the back of the computer. When I plug anything in, the realtek menu comes up and asks me what it was (line-out, headphones, front speakers, rear, mic, etc.) I've tried setting the headphones as "headphones" or "front speakers" with similar results ("headphones" seems to change the EQ to boost the treble slightly). I have noticed that not all of the plug-ins can act as mic, so it may be that some of the plugins have dedicated functions that the on-screen menu doesn't understand.
posted by elmonobonobo at 9:01 AM on May 1, 2012


Is this with all mp3s played through the card?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:10 AM on May 1, 2012


I've tried a few different mp3s (WMP as the player) to the same results. Games sound crisper, but tinny. Youtube clips sound a bit fuller. I haven't really done testing on various audio sources, so these are all just one-off impressions.
posted by elmonobonobo at 9:13 AM on May 1, 2012


Could it be that the sound card is simply revealing the basic limitations of the mp3? How does a know quantity, like a favorite CD, sound through the card?
posted by Thorzdad at 9:18 AM on May 1, 2012


I wondered this too, but the sound is poor with .flac's as well and the same MP3 on other devices (android phone) - same headphones - sounds much better.
posted by elmonobonobo at 9:24 AM on May 1, 2012


Sounds like a poor on-board sound; my dell laptop has really poor quality headphone outputs - you can really tell, compared to an mp3 player or audio interface. Don't think there is much help in this case apart from a dedicated sound card.

Also, are your headphone plugs color coded? http://www.hobby-hour.com/electronics/sound-card-color-code.php or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_card could tell you which plugs are which.
posted by TrinsicWS at 9:28 AM on May 1, 2012


One thing you could try is uninstalling all the Realtek drivers and software and just running Windows' native drivers. I'm pretty sure this worked for me when I had a similar problem on my laptop.
posted by hnnrs at 2:13 PM on May 1, 2012


Driving lower-impedance headphones is a lot more work for the sound card than the likely very high-impedance line inputs on your stereo, so it's not surprising your card can struggle at the one and do fine on the other, especially if you're using an output not explicitly designed with headphones in mind. I definitely would check again and see if one of the card outputs is, in fact, optimized for headphones, and has some additional amplification circuitry...

If that doesn't work, and you can't find a software solution - there are inexpensive usb DACs/headphone amps that you could try. These are only $30 and get pretty good reviews...
posted by kickingtheground at 7:10 PM on May 1, 2012


Solved. The manual swears that all 6 pugs in the back (well 5, since the mic-in is different) can be assigned any role by the software. The plug in the same row and adjacent to the mic plug drives the headphones much better than some of the other plugs. Go figure.
posted by elmonobonobo at 9:58 AM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


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