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Realtek ALC1220 - a look on PC sound

Offler

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If you purchased new desktop PC in last 3-4 years you probably have one of those on your motherboard. Since I spent few last weeks trying to make it work as best I could, here are few findings:

1. Technical data about the chip were already summarized here:
https://www.igorslab.de/en/realtek-...-is-really-different-from-the-larger-alc1220/

2. Target Audience and target formats.
Soundcards located on mainboard usually target CD and DVD quality sound. First of all its because Windows computers use 44.1KHz and 16bit stereo as default audio output. Chip itself officially has 120dB SNR, but in real life situations it goes down to about 90dB, which is enough for CD audio quality.

3. Design, and noise sources.
An example review of one such soundcard:
https://www.techpowerup.com/review/asrock-x399m-taichi/8.html

a) Components related to sound.
You can find Nichicon capacitors, gold-plated connectors, isolated power source or Ti NE5532 amps for headphones. Its certainly no high-end configuration, but should serve the purpose.

b) Other PC components.
If you build your PC like I did, you probably know that high-performing components draw a lot of power when under load. In my specific case, CPU (Threadripper 1900x) can use up to 180watts, but power supply is designed for >280watts and power supply does not produce any audible or EM noise.

Then there is graphic card (Radeon VII), when under load coils produce audible whine or high-pitched sound. This is however measurable on analog audio outputs of ALC1220.

GPU under stress test:
aud02.jpg


GPU Idle:
aud01.jpg


This could be measured on input, output and USB. Solution how to avoid this type of noise is to use optical SPDIF output (Toslink) to an external DAC. Bluetooth connection over aptX should work as well.

Similar noise source can be PSU of the PC if overloaded.

4. Drivers
Its important to install drivers which are available at support page of your motherboard's manufacturer.

I had to learn it the hard way. I have been using Microsoft's driver for two years, and I attributed few post-boot lockups to different device. After I installed the correct audio driver, the issue disappeared without a trace.

Microsoft is offering its own High-Definition audio driver, and you probably looked for different version or driver with ASIO support, but Realtek does not offer a download of a driver for this chip. Apparently, different uses of this chip require different drivers.

5. Do you want or need better DAC?
If the PC is used for gaming, browsing or general music ALC1220 is sufficient.

If you just want to get rid of the noise choose a DAC connected over optical SPDIF or wirelessly. Mainboards equipped with ALC1220 usually have Toslink connector capable of 24bits 192KHz signal. (Some SPDIF outputs might be limited to 20bits, but its not case of ALC1220).

Wireless connection - over Bluetooth - now also very common may allow higher rates with support of aptX protocol, however I have not tested it yet.

Getting an external USB DAC or more expensive "shielded" internal card can be hit or miss. Its individual and depends on the rest of PC components where is the noise coming through. Nevertheless this post claims that sound quality of a Soundblaster AE-5 is affected by GPU noise, but much less when compared to ALC1220,
https://www.reddit.com/r/hardware/comments/ag12dp
Identifying and removing the noise source is of course possible solution as well, however it might be at quite high cost of performance.

6. "Flat" sound out of SPDIF? Its not DAC...
Analog and optical outputs from ALC 1220 are unbalanced. Install Equalizer APO and use following configuration.
wave05.jpg

Both values are set to avoid triggering CAudioLimiter. More info here:
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...nding-the-windows-audio-quality-debate.19438/

Equalizer itself can be placed at 1st position.

7. Equalizer APO not Working on Realtek ALC1220?
Open the Configurator, Troubleshooting options, select "Install as SFX/EFX (Experimental)" and reboot. However, enhancements cannot be disabled.

Thats all folks, hope it will help you.
 

jcadduono

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In addition to the motherboard drivers, there is also a guy maintaining universal Reaktek drivers that should work with all motherboard onboard Realtek audio chipsets. He has driver releases @ https://github.com/pal1000/Realtek-UAD-generic
They are more up to date if your motherboard manufacturer is slacking there, and could possibly contain some bug/vulnerability fixes.
They are also somewhat slimmed down compared to manufacturer releases and fully compatible with the Realtek UAD console app which is nice.
Might be a good idea to get some measurement comparison to ensure his universal drivers are working correctly.

I mentioned the GPU noise affecting onboard audio in another thread and had people absolutely insist that it wasn't the GPU and other USB devices and devices connected to other AC outlets in the house were causing it. Be ready for them to show up here too. :rolleyes:
One of my favourite forms of GPU noise interference is scrolling a webpage causing a small framebuffer processing spike that makes a scratching noise come through the onboard audio.
 
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Doodski

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I mentioned the GPU noise affecting onboard audio in another thread and had people absolutely insist that it wasn't the GPU and other USB devices and devices connected to other AC outlets in the house were causing it. Be ready for them to show up here too. :rolleyes:
I too use a SupremeFX S1220A CODEC. I have had zero issues running 3 different VGA's. The audio is dead silent when the volume is set to full out. I suspect mute transistors are at play unless a signal is being amplified.
 
OP
O

Offler

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I too use a SupremeFX S1220A CODEC. I have had zero issues running 3 different VGA's. The audio is dead silent when the volume is set to full out. I suspect mute transistors are at play unless a signal is being amplified.
I definitely can hear the coils whine on the GPU, and when I use analog input, the noise is also coming from the speakers. I used Toslink and everything is clean.

Its better to test it for yourself:

1. You need something to measure it.
https://www.audiotester.de/download.htm
Its terrible but can measure inputs/outputs - just connect headphones out into line in.

2. And then you need stress test:
https://geeks3d.com/furmark/kombustor/

And I am not telling its not possible that there will be clean sound. Stress test on my CPU does not generate any noise in 20Hz-20KHz spectrum, GPU definitely does, and I can repeat the results consistently.
 

jcadduono

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To generate the most amount of GPU noise that affects audio, you need to send frames to the GPU framebuffer but don't need to display them. The noise comes more from framerate than it does from core usage. As an example, when you run Furmark, you can start it and it will render at like 4000 fps which sounds quite terrible, but hit Esc to close the window so that it is still rendering frames but not displaying them, the render framerate goes much higher, beyond 10,000 fps, and the noise also becomes much louder and higher pitched. I think GPU manufacturers need to put more effort into shielding other components from this process.
 
OP
O

Offler

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To generate the most amount of GPU noise that affects audio, you need to send frames to the GPU framebuffer but don't need to display them. The noise comes more from framerate than it does from core usage. As an example, when you run Furmark, you can start it and it will render at like 4000 fps which sounds quite terrible, but hit Esc to close the window so that it is still rendering frames but not displaying them, the render framerate goes much higher, beyond 10,000 fps, and the noise also becomes much louder and higher pitched. I think GPU manufacturers need to put more effort into shielding other components from this process.

This is true. There is a game called Witcher 2 and its intro video sequence and menu can run on astonishingly high FPS on modern hardware. For me it ran at over 10 000FPS just as you say and the noise from GPU was incredible. There were cases that this caused damage to the graphic card. That is why I ended up with a frame limiter set to maximum refresh rate of my display.

On other hand there is a claim that stress-test software such as MSI Kombustor does not produce real-life load and its way too high. Well, no.
a) If you are an overclocker who spent time building the PC and tuning the cooling system, you need something which is capable to test the hardware in worse conditions than is average load.
b) There are old games where designers had no idea about potential of future hardware and by running them without frame limit you can do more damage than MSI Kombustor.
 

wiz2596

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I own a asus rog strix mini itx mobo with supremeFX audio based on ALC1220 codec, I was curious about how it sounds, so I decided to give it a try, and based on what I heard, I can tell I'm really impressed with the sound quality of it, to be honest I couldn't find any difference against my current dac my topping d10s and audioengine a5+ speakers.

the nowadays mobos are equipped with good audio in general terms, actually I don't see myself buying more dacs anymore after this
 

jst

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I am using Aorus Z390 Aorus Ultra and it also has this ALC1220 Realtek onboard soundcard, ALC1220-VB Enhance 114dB(Rear)/ 110dB(Front) SNR in Microphone with WIMA Audio Capacitors, as written on the spec page. Before that I was using my old Onkyo U55sx which kinda broken now, distorted sound randomly occurs. Both sound devices have different characteristic of sound and I can't say one is better than the other, but I like them both. This ALC1220 sounds not bad for an onboard soundcard.

I am thinking about getting Topping d10s or e30 but I hesitate, because in the Realtek ALC1220 audio console, there is upsampling setting which I assume will generally make whatever sounds coming out of it to be..."better", while d10s doesn't have any setting/physical button on the hardware, so I assume sounds will come out as is or cmiiw ? maybe the ESS sabre 9038q2m will do anything different to process/produce sound output and make it better as well ?

Reading what others commented here hesitates me further to actually buy the external DAC Topping D10s.

Also about noise etc, do you guys actually hear it coming out from speakers coz I don't, even if I put my ear close to the speaker driver and crank up the volume, I hear absolutely NOTHING.

I also have a question regarding SINAD, what software is used for testing that ? or does it need additional hardware too ? If we check cpu benchmark we will see something like passmark scores, but after checking reviews I see that SINAD is used here, I'm curious what my current system's SINAD score is. Or if anyone ever did it on your ALC1220 , what's your SINAD result ?

Another question regarding Topping D10s, it doesnt have dc slot so we can only draw power from USB, Aorus Z390 Ultra has USB AUDIO slot , is that f or serving the purpose of providing good enough power for external DAC ? Coz Linear power supply for DAC can be pricey, so if the mobo even tries to provide a usb for audio, they should know what they're doing and what is needed to supply audio specced power for external dac.
 
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OP
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Offler

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I would start with the speakers or headphones you use with the system. Those will mostly make the quality of the output more or less audible. Also in my case I needed a stereo amplifier for pair of passive speakers, which I paired with TOSLINK on purpose to keep PC and amplifier electrically separated, as I definitely can hear the coilwhine produced from my GPU through a speakers if i use analog input, and as the graphs in the first post show, its a measurable phenomenon.

Upsampling in case of ALC1220 is unfortunately just another post-processing filter which will add little to nothing to the actual sound quality...

Also measurements for your board are here:
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...yte-aorus-pro-wifi-z390-realtek-alc1220.6434/
Basically results should be the same.
 

jst

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I would start with the speakers or headphones you use with the system. Those will mostly make the quality of the output more or less audible. Also in my case I needed a stereo amplifier for pair of passive speakers, which I paired with TOSLINK on purpose to keep PC and amplifier electrically separated, as I definitely can hear the coilwhine produced from my GPU through a speakers if i use analog input, and as the graphs in the first post show, its a measurable phenomenon.

Upsampling in case of ALC1220 is unfortunately just another post-processing filter which will add little to nothing to the actual sound quality...

Also measurements for your board are here:
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...yte-aorus-pro-wifi-z390-realtek-alc1220.6434/
Basically results should be the same.
Most of the time I use EdifierR12U, it is a cheap and small usb speakers but I like it a lot, dunno why nowadays I like small speaker system and put it nearby like 50cm distance and it's front firing directly to my face kinda makes it sound better, I use it on long session daily in front of my computer because if I use big speakers it will tire my ears.

If I want louder sound I use my old system Wharfedale Diamond9.2,Azur640A and WharfedaleSW300 sub, but I bypass azur builtin preamp (using "direct" button) and use cheap tube preamp FX Audio tube-01. I'm no audiophile but what I want from my system if I change anything at all is to eliminate harshness coming out of it, especially at louder volume, the term is probably 'bright' or cmiiw, that's why I use tube because imo the high is more pleasant to my ears even though its cheap.

Upsampling though in actuality it's probably not differ that much, but to me it gives the placebo I need that it helps eliminate harshness sound lol, especially when there's the sound of S or CH..and many others. I think I read there are filters in topping dac, but maybe not on d10s because I read it doesn't have any buttons on it to change anything, maybe other models.

I'm no audiophile and not familiar with any readings from analyzers but here I see reviewers use SINAD scores, like in cpu there's passmark score, here in audio equipment I see SINAD and there's benchmark chart for it. Is there any software I can use for that ? or the SINAD scores in the benchmark chart also need external equipments ? I read that ALC1220 only scores 83-89 while most good DACs have like 110+, or at least the ones that I'm interested to buy, like d10s/e30.

I also would like to know if my amp and speaker is set up "correctly", because the impedance of the speakers is 6 ohm while the azur640a is 4 ohm to 8 ohm , maybe depending whether using bi wiring or not, I use bi-wiring and use different high and low cabling for it to the amp so it's probably 4 ohm to 6 ohm speakers, been using it for years with no problem but curious whether I set it right. I copied the system from random dude from different forum years ago lol because I didn't know what sounds good with what.

Oh and seems like harshness of sound probably coming from the "SOURCE" , nowadays every sound coming out of pc is digital and compressed, I tried Deezer HiFi (flac/lossless audio streaming) the other day, and it definitely sounds much better, especially at high volume. I wonder if I change ALC1220 to Topping d10s or e30 , would I get more or less that kind of improvement ?
 
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Offler

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Most of the time I use EdifierR12U, it is a cheap and small usb speakers but I like it a lot, dunno why nowadays I like small speaker system and put it nearby like 50cm distance and it's front firing directly to my face kinda makes it sound better, I use it on long session daily in front of my computer because if I use big speakers it will tire my ears.

If I want louder sound I use my old system Wharfedale Diamond9.2,Azur640A and WharfedaleSW300 sub, but I bypass azur builtin preamp (using "direct" button) and use cheap tube preamp FX Audio tube-01. I'm no audiophile but what I want from my system if I change anything at all is to eliminate harshness coming out of it, especially at louder volume, the term is probably 'bright' or cmiiw, that's why I use tube because imo the high is more pleasant to my ears even though its cheap.

Upsampling though in actuality it's probably not differ that much, but to me it gives the placebo I need that it helps eliminate harshness sound lol, especially when there's the sound of S or CH..and many others. I think I read there are filters in topping dac, but maybe not on d10s because I read it doesn't have any buttons on it to change anything, maybe other models.

I'm no audiophile and not familiar with any readings from analyzers but here I see reviewers use SINAD scores, like in cpu there's passmark score, here in audio equipment I see SINAD and there's benchmark chart for it. Is there any software I can use for that ? or the SINAD scores in the benchmark chart also need external equipments ? I read that ALC1220 only scores 83-89 while most good DACs have like 110+, or at least the ones that I'm interested to buy, like d10s/e30.

I also would like to know if my amp and speaker is set up "correctly", because the impedance of the speakers is 6 ohm while the azur640a is 4 ohm to 8 ohm , maybe depending whether using bi wiring or not, I use bi-wiring and use different high and low cabling for it to the amp so it's probably 4 ohm to 6 ohm speakers, been using it for years with no problem but curious whether I set it right. I copied the system from random dude from different forum years ago lol because I didn't know what sounds good with what.

Oh and seems like harshness of sound probably coming from the "SOURCE" , nowadays every sound coming out of pc is digital and compressed, I tried Deezer HiFi (flac/lossless audio streaming) the other day, and it definitely sounds much better, especially at high volume. I wonder if I change ALC1220 to Topping d10s or e30 , would I get more or less that kind of improvement ?
 
OP
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Offler

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For any common compressed formats (MP3, AC3) you really dont need to upgrade anything.

For FLAC, CDA, or bluray uncompressed sound, you might benefit for using external DAC, but only with bigger set.

I went for a simple solution of integrated amplifier (DAC, preamp, amp in one package) and passive speakers (Elac DBR62, because i dont grow tired listening to them), combined with a desktop computer.
 

jst

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For any common compressed formats (MP3, AC3) you really dont need to upgrade anything.

For FLAC, CDA, or bluray uncompressed sound, you might benefit for using external DAC, but only with bigger set.

I went for a simple solution of integrated amplifier (DAC, preamp, amp in one package) and passive speakers (Elac DBR62, because i dont grow tired listening to them), combined with a desktop computer.
I see, then I'll just use my current system until I feel the urge to change anything coz so far I don't. Thx for the input.
 

L5730

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ASRock TaiChi X370 here. Seasonic Prime Ultra Titanium 750w PSU. Zotac nVidia GTX 1070 GPU.
Never heard any whine or scratchy things going on with the sound on this system via onboard audio. I did on an old Asus motherboard when I was using an Intel Core2Duo CPU, I think that was an AD1988 SoundMax audio thing. That was miles better than the old ECS Group board with an AMD Athlon 1.2GHz single core chip.

ALC1220 is definitely an OK audio solution. Even the ADC is not utterly terrible.

I have a driver installed which allows for ASIO and DSD playback but it's flaky. Much better to just leave the thing with DirectSound and be done with it. Easy life.
 

L5730

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I should probably add that the headphone experience might vary depending on which port one plugs their headphones into. The Ti NE5532 amp chip feeds the rear panel (I think) on my board, which is rather daft as it's the front panel where I'd want to plug/unplug headphones, leaving the speakers plugged in at the back all the time.
 

Gradius

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Interesting topic.

The main culprit about GPU stress noise is the PSU.

I'm planning to upgrading my PC soon and the new MB uses an ALC4080. The main difference between 1220 is it now uses USB (just like an external DAC) interconnection.
 

Sami

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I have also a motherboard with ALC1220. But recently it started developing some problems: when CPU is under load, the line out drops out. In Linux pavucontrol I see it's switching off/on about five times a sec, and I get "Unable to get default sink" errors.

I ordered Topping E30 to remedy the issue...
 
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