External sound device vs PCI soundcard

Hi all

I’m still feeling my way around the area of PC audio, so please don’t shoot me if I’m way off track.

After reading through many of the post on this site is seems the general consensus is that doing a D-A conversion inside to PC case degrades sound quality to much due to electrical interference.

One way I thought of getting past this problem was to use an external sound device like the M-audio Sonic Theater, USB. If the sensitive DAC process was kept away from the PC, wouldn’t the output signal be relatively good.

Any thought or experience with external sound devices vs. internal soundcard would be greatly welcome.

External is definitely better. We use an external ESI U24 for our acoustical measurements. The noise floor is much lower this way--even on a battery operated laptop. I'm not familiar with the one you mentioned, but I would expect it would be superior to an internal. The only other option is that some PCs have SPDIF output--then you could go to a good D/A. I have not done this latter one myself, so there could be some configuration issues (such as sample rate and bit depth), but perhaps other a-goners have done this and can comment on it.
Thanks Rives

Yea, I looked into using an external/stand a lone DAC for 2.1 and 5.1 sound. But here in little old New Zealand it is quite pricey buy one new and there is little in the way of second hand.

I've carried on searching and from reviews I’ve come across I narrowed it down to four contenders. First is the M-audio Sonic Theater USB, second is the M-Audio Revelation 7.1 PCI, thirdly the Terrtac Sky 5.1 PCI and lastly the M-Audio Audiophile 2496.

Most theses cards are in the same price range $300.00 - $450.00 NZ, so if I weigh up the sound quality of the output signal from each card, is it most likely that the Sonic Theater will come out on top because its outside of the case?

Any thoughts.

P.s, just to clarify, the quality of the output signal is my sole measurement criteria. I know that usb sound devices can use added PC resources but with a high end HTPC it won’t be an issue.
If I need to provide more info get more responses let me know.

It's just that most other forums I've visited that deal with PC audio reason that a semi-pro soundcard is insulated against electrical noise and does not affect the DAC, which seems to contradict views on this site.
I have an M-Audio FireWire 410 FireWire external digital audio interface and it has no noise as far as I can hear. The quality is outstanding and it is capable of supporting multichannel playback. M-Audio recently released the less expensive FireWire Audiophile which I would prefer over the USB Audiophile interface. Even with USB 2.0, I am not excited about the bus technology in terms of avoiding resource conflicts. FireWire, in my opinion, is a more media-friendly bus for handling bandwidth-intensive I/O. You might be better off going with the FireWire Audiophile as it also draws power from a wall wart power supply rather than through the bus connection like the M-Audio Sonica. Sometimes drawing power through the data bus can be a resource problem. Let the data bus be a data bus.

Now just to address the internal vs. external argument, I would say that there are many who are misled to believe that an external audio interface is better than an internal simply because it sits outside of a PC chassis. True, the PC chassis interior can be a noisy environment, but some high quality PCI-based cards have been rigorously evaluated against external audio interfaces and have been judged to be superior to some external DACs. It all comes down to circuit design and layout, quality of the components used in the circuits and the quality of the PC itself including power supply unit, motherboard design and quality, etc. Craig Anderton, a highly esteemed audio engineer and editor for EQ Magazine changed his views toward PCI soundcard audio interfaces when he came across the Lynx Studio Technology PCI soundcards.
I'm using the M-Audio USB Audiophile with my system and am amazed at the soundstaging I'm getting even from Internet radio stations. I'm about to pull the plug on all my standalone CD players in favor of a PC w/an outboard soundcard.

Initially, I used the Creative Extigy but found that the software they supply tends to 'take over' your computer. Also, their release processes for updates is *really* tedious and prone to updates crashing other software. This, I believe, is the result of using different software houses to produce their software products.

Granted, M-audio doesn't update their products often, the quality of the sound is excellent. No experience beyond that one model but I do see their stuff used frequently with semi-professionals around the area here in CA, which says something.

I'm just blown away with the quality of sound for the price. Forget outboard DACs from now on.....


I have juts aquired a USB driven M-Audio sound card, called MobilePre. I havent had time to test it thorougly yet, but my intention is to use it as a mobile test-setup with a laptop and a Behringer Microphone.

Anyone has some experience with this card used as a mobile testsystem like I intend to, or any other experiences with this soundcard?

If PC is located in another room, what's the max USB2.0 or Firewire cable's length possible? Ethernet is unlimited in terms of a house, but with the first two there may be a problem...
The optimum solution will be a high-quality DAC, such as a Benchmark with a USB interface installed, or an outboard USB-to-S/PDIF coax converter. Installing the USB interface inside the DAC is better, but the outboard converter can be quite excellent as well. Far better than the best transport on the market.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I picked up a Lynx One sound card (msrp $500) on ebay for $200, using Monkey Audio (APE) for lossless compresion, and foobar 2000 for my media player. It all sounds great but the sound card is designed for professional sound mixing people and sometimes I wonder if this makes the card a bit more difficult to work with. But it sounds great and I sold my MSB Dac/ McCormick Transport, have never looked back.

Sherwood Newcastle AVP-9080R preamp
Sherbourn 5/1500A amp (5 x 200 watt/ch)
Front Speakers – Paradigm studio 20’s
Center – Paradigm Reference CC
Rears – Monitor Audio Silver S1
Sub – PSB Century SubSonic 2I
DVD/CD Kenwood Sovereign DV-5700 (w/ DVD audio)
Sony 36” XBR450, HDTV

Motherboard- MSI K7N2G-ILSR, CPU – AMD Athlon 2500, Window XP home, RAM – Kingston 512mb
Hard Drive – Maxtor 160GB, Case – Antec Sonata w/ Thermalright heatsink and Panaflo L1a fan
Video Card – ATI AIW 9600, Transcoder- Crescendo-Systems TCP2200, Powerstrip
Sound Card – LynxOne, Media Player – Foobar
DVD/CD Burner – Plextor PX-708A
I tried an M Audio delta 44 but the computer power supply noise was so high I gave it up. I did buy and install their M Audio DIO 24/48 and have used their Flying Calf S/PDFI 24 bit dac for 4+ years with great results. I am doing many locations recordings in 2-channel and it sounds better than many commercial recording I buy. I do wish I had maybe bought the ADA 1000 from Lucid, but I am over it. It is probably better, but by what degree?

I have a new laptop and will be turning that into a 2-channel recording rig as well, probably using firewire. Cool Edit 2000 is no more so it looks like CakeWalk to the rescue.

Jim Tavegia
can the M-Audio FireWire 410 be used with a turntable (direct input from a turntable) for converting analog to digital? turntables need a pre-amp if not mistaken....

i'm trying to get set up to record some vinyl to cd. I was also hoping to be able to use the device for some home studio recording as well. if the M-Audio FireWire 410 isn't a good choice or i need a supplemental piece of hardware please advise. i'm pretty much a rookie here.

I am using Apple Airport wireless unit with its audio out connected to the benchmark media DAC1. I store all my music, lossless, on my notebook and stream it to the DAC1 through the apple unit.
gts, you WILL need a RIAA phono pre whatever audio interface you buy.
The M-Audio Audiophile USB is OK for starting out, but sonically it is not really an "audiophile" piece.

For the next level of performance, the Apogee Mini-DAC with USB input is a big upgrade in sonic performance. It sells for around $1100. It's sonics are improved further by powering it with 12V battery power (I'm using a 7AH lead acid battery).