Can anyone recommend a good sound card and computer speaker combination for music?
January 7, 2004 12:37 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend a good sound card and computer speaker combination for music? [a little more inside]

I have this computer in an extra bedroom and the all the equalizing in the world doesn't seem to help the flat sound (kind of muffled and plain, no dynamics) I'm getting from my current set up. I have a set of 3-way speakers from Creative that I picked up at Best Buy one day. They aren't horrible, just not very good or consistent (a few tracks or genres sound decent). The sound card I have now is pretty generic, but new. Am I wrong in thinking that the quality in the sound is going to be most affected by the quality of the speakers and not the card? Again, I'm concerned with music sound moreso than say, gaming (if that makes a difference).

OS = Windows 2000

player = iTunes for Windows (in case that matters)
posted by Witty to Computers & Internet (16 answers total)
What's your price range?
posted by mhaw at 12:44 PM on January 7, 2004

I recently switched to Mac, but when I was using my Win2k machine I was VERY happy with my Winnov a/v card.
posted by terrapin at 12:47 PM on January 7, 2004

Can anyone recommend one of those external USB sound cards? I've currently got a cheapo 7.99$ Sound Blaster imitation, and the sound quality is seeminlgy terrible. I've got the line out connected to my stereo reciever via a 1/8"-to-RCA Y-adapter - the sound is muddled compared to the other devices connected to the reciever, so I'm assuming the crappy sound is due to the sound card, not any of my other equipment. All I use it for is playing mp3s, so I don't need any fancy MIDI or XLR inputs or anything like that. Will an external USB sound card make a difference?
posted by skwm at 1:03 PM on January 7, 2004

If I may amplify on Witty's question (heh) -- say he went from iTunes to soundcard to amplifier to speakers -- what's going to contribute most & least to the quality of the sound? (Assuming some "decent" baseline quality to all components.) Could he ignore the crappiness of his soundcard as long as he's running through a decent amp into decent speakers? Where in that chain should the dollars go?
posted by luser at 1:16 PM on January 7, 2004

luser: What's your price range? I can suggest a variety of sound solutions, but I need to know more about your budget. (Can you tell I used to do this for Sony for a living?)

skwm: For USB sound, it's hard to beat this card for value. The sound is fantastic, and it's really affordable. You'll never need another USB soundcard unless you have a 7.1 setup.
posted by Jairus at 2:30 PM on January 7, 2004

Crap. Replace 'luser' with 'Witty'. Thanks.
posted by Jairus at 2:31 PM on January 7, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks luser. Good question.

mhaw - My price range is... well, I don't want to break the bank since this isn't really my primary music source for the house. But I'm "man enough" to belly up a few bucks where necessary. The room is kind of a secondary hang-out area, so it would be nice if the tunes sounded pretty good. But I certainly can't justify going 4-500 bucks or something like that. Maybe I'm just being naive.
posted by Witty at 2:33 PM on January 7, 2004

Witty: For a relatively cheap PC speaker setup, it's hard to go wrong with the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 setup. They're the best sounding 2.1 system for PCs in their pricerange (~$180), period. (Reviews: 1 2.) If that's a bit too much, take a look at the JBL Creature system, it's around $130 or so -- but the Klipsch is worth the extra money, to my ears.

You should be able to find a local speaker store that'll let you listen to the two systems. I might think they're wicked, but make sure that they sound good to you before you buy.
posted by Jairus at 3:25 PM on January 7, 2004

You all want an iMic - works on PC and Mac, and gives great sound quality (for a computer).
posted by ascullion at 6:41 PM on January 7, 2004

I use a Creative SB Live 5.1 with digital output to a Kenwood VR-705 with a couple of Cerwin-Vega VS100 speakers hanging off it.

The Kenwood amp is a little weak -- I can crank it all the way up to 0db attenuation and yeah, it's loud but not loud enough to cause structural damage to the building. It's standing in for an older analog amp that had a little more oomph before I eventually broke it.

It's not a conventional "computer speaker" setup, but it's still pretty good. Before I hooked up the amp to the computer, I used to keep a pair of Yamaha M15s on my desk. They're not earthquakers, even with the optional subwoofer, and they're entirely analog from end to end, but I really like the audio quality.
posted by majick at 8:08 PM on January 7, 2004

Oh, and you could probably get all these parts together from eBay or craigslist or a troll through the pawn shops for well under $300.
posted by majick at 8:10 PM on January 7, 2004

To expand on what majick's saying, a receiver/speaker combo is going to give you the best possible sound -- mind you, if you're going to spend 300$ on a 'real' sound system, there are better options available to you. Take a look at some of Energy and Paradigm's low-end offerings.
posted by Jairus at 8:49 PM on January 7, 2004

Totally OT, but I got to tell you majick, a buddy of mine has some CV's like yours, only they're the VS120's, and those things are the reigning indoor champions for blasting Led Zeppelin, or other similar dinosaur stomping bands that got addicted to piles of Marshall stacks. They really have a distinct character.
posted by dglynn at 9:58 PM on January 7, 2004

I really like the Klipsch Promedia system I bought a couple years ago. Nice clarity.
posted by kindall at 10:24 PM on January 7, 2004

In my opinion, the answer to the original question is the speakers are more crucial than the sound card.

I'm currently using my 2.1 Altec Lansing speakers from a 5 year old system that sound dynamite, no matter what sound card they're connected to.

I've heard that Klipsch speakers sound great, and they sell "scratch and dent" models for a pretty reasonable price in their online outlet.
posted by SteveInMaine at 11:33 PM on January 7, 2004

Response by poster: Just wanted to come back and offer my thanks to everyone that responded. I got some good ideas. I just need to decide what I want to pay. But I am intrigued by the idea of adding an amp to the mix. Thanks again.
posted by Witty at 1:38 AM on January 9, 2004

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