Quality of Sound Cards

I’m wondering, if it’s true that Graphics cards matter regarding how much information can be processed, then isn’t it true of sound cards as well.

After upgrading from a Q6600, my ASIO load is close to the same with an i7 3770 (ivy). I use M-audios 2496, but am now wondering, perhaps it’s processor is small and there are different grades of sound cards that can handle ASIO loads better?

Anyone have some wisdom to share?

I think it depends as much on the quality of the device driver as the device itself.

But certainly M-audio has done a fair job on their driver for the 2496, right?

No prob Steve. Yea, my main point is that if Graphics cards make a difference then isn’t it true about sound cards as well. I would think it is. How many voices can they produce? Can’t, like graphics crossfire or SLI, sound cards be grouped to provide more audio power?

These benchmarks never tell me anything (of course I already have difficulty reading them because they don’t translate well to my understanding). I would like to see VST benchmarks, that would be something.


You can’t compare these ones.

Graphics cards handle high-level primitives like “draw a line” or “display a icosahedron with Mona Lisa painted on each face”. Their ability handle these primitimes instead of handling them in CPU is why their performance is important.

Now, sound cards basically just inputs and outputs audio. Very simple task. They do this more or less effectively, but differences between them are nowhere near compared to differences between craphics cards.

This of course changes, if you have a soundcard which has some processing power built into. Then they are able to handle high-level primitives like “process audio with plugin X” or “mix these audio streams into 5.1”. In this case there are huge differences between models.

But for basic audio interfaces the quality differences can be divided into these categories:

  1. How well programmed is the driver. This has effect on stability of the driver (no crashes) and how low latency you can get.
  2. Clock, converter and analog circuit quality. These dictate how good sound quality you can get in/out of the interface.


Thanks for the response. It seems like you’re saying that there are few audio cards that pre-process. But it seems there should be lots of them. If an audio card could be made with insane processing power, much the way a graphics card is, then perhaps that’s what lots of us are missing. In that sense it seems like you’re saying, they are similar to graphics cards in that they COULD lighten the load off the CPU by adding in processing power. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you. I realize most cards on the market are as you describe, but I’m talking about the potential to manufacture cards in such a way.

Something like this, maybe? http://www.uaudio.com/interfaces/apollo.html

Does it really matter if you pay for a CPU in your PC or a CPU in your audio interface? One way or the other you still pay for the processing power, if it’s available in the PC why not use that?

This is only really relevant if your PC is running out of gas because you use a lot of plugins at low latency. Thing is, you can use any plugin on your CPU, while the selection of available plugins on DSP cards is always limited.

Steve, thanks for that. Yea, I’m not complaining about what we pay for Strophoid. I’m simplying saying, it seems logical to me to say that if Graphics is simply binary data being processed in order to produce faster, smoother and more colorful graphics, than it seems Audio cards could head in that same direction but with sound rather than visual.

Sure what’s on the market might or might not have some of this. I’m simply wondering about the potential. It would be nice to be able to drop a large amount of money for an audio card that can handle everything today’s DAW’s can throw at it.

Instead what I usually read is that the best solution is to build another PC and slave it. Well how much does that cost? And isn’t it easier to keep things simple?

I myself would rather pay more for a high end audio card that can handle TONS of data (like the big graphics cards do in comparison to smaller) than to pay for another computer to run VST’s or do whatever it is the slave does.

I guess I’m really pondering why it isn’t like this? Perhaps it is and my misunderstanding of audio cards as Jarno commented. Perhaps this is already going on and I simply don’t know it. But then I would expect a response something along the lines of pointing out that the Delta 2496 is a weak card and what you really need is the Delta 2496 EXTREME EDITION - that can handle 75,000 voices. LOL.

The Audio card doesn’t do the processing. Your computer does. So having a super duper audio card makes no difference to performance at all. The divers will enable low latency and enhance performance, but the processing is still done by the computer.


Yes it’s possible, but it’s an expensive solution. Think about it. R&D costs of high-end graphics card should be similar to those of high-end audio processing card. Now, almost every personal computer has a graphics card, so manufacturer may sell 10 000 000 of those. How many audio cards they might sell? Well … 10 000 if they are lucky. If R&D costs for both are $10 000 000 and manufacturing costs $50, what’s the cost of cards: $51 for graphics card and $1050 for audio card, even as they both are technically equivalent units.

This keeps prices up… which keeps demand low … which keeps prices high: chicken and egg.

Audio processing cards are not anything new. All DAWs in early '90s had those. But then CPUs got faster and made those kinds of solutions obsolete on anything else but most high-demanding systems. And you can see this by just researching what’s available in the market: UAD. They are virtually only manufacturer nowadays making audio processing cards.

And far more headache … as we have witnessed here in this forum about your ordeal :laughing: :laughing: :laughing:

Exactly! This is wonder of modern DAW environment: You can have your desired collection of software and hardware which suits for your needs.

While a little off the path, I can tell you this. I bought a MOTU 896 HD 8 years ago for my audio interface. I think it is a fine unit for me and it has gotten so much better in the last 4 years. The reason has been that the drivers were always so unstable. Each update was worse than rhe previous one. They prevented so much advancement for me as a new user that it became so confusing almost to the point of abandoning it.

Fortunately I hung in there only because I had no time to start using the system so when a year passed and 3 driver updates, it started working better and better. Today it runs flawlessly albeit a legacy product now. If you asked me about the drivers and performance…certainly!