Before I started the tests I grabbed a hold of my nifty headphones, hunted around for the RCA plug size adapter thingy (which happened to be exactly where I'd left it, oddly enough - dunno why I didn't look there first), and, armed with Meteora, hooked up to the family $800 RCA hi-fi system. I got a feel for what "quality" sounds like on my headphones, then went back upstairs to test.
The onboard VIA AC'97 audio is, in a word, crap. Aside from the weak amplifier, it sounds like it goes through a 12 bit DAC. It's kinda crackly and stuff. Blech.
While I was waiting to reinstall the Vibra, I hooked up to my $80 CD player and noticed that the quality really isn't all that much worse. Obviously my CD player doesn't support surround or anything, but I think I'd be happy enough with that sort of quality in a sound card. I'm no audiophile.
The Vibra sounded a lot smoother than the onboard chipset, which is good of course. It did sound rather muffled, though - poor reproduction of the higher frequencies. I thought that might have something to do with my headphones, but no - I tried them in my CD player again and they sounded fine.
Oh, and in a moment of "duh": I had my Recoton speakers powered on but not connected to a signal, and I was getting noise on them. Grr. So, obviously it's the USB power feed that's causing the noise and not the sound card. *sigh* I guess I do need new speakers after all.
Now...do I get the TDK Tremor speakers now or wait until I can afford the Klipsch speakers...? ;D Decisions, decisions.
I read some online reviews for the M-Audio Revolution 7.1 and the Audigy 2. Apparently, the Revolution has the best sound quality out of any sound card available for less than US$100, but the Audigy 2 pips it for game audio. But then, I'm really only interested in a sound card for music and DVD playback.
Speaking of DVD playback, I'm not getting the full frame rate on Apollo 13. :/ I'm not sure if it's my Duhron 1200, my TNT2-M64 card or possibly WinDVD 3.1 that's causing the problem. Been looking at upgrading to an Athlon XP 1800+, since my motherboard can handle it. Hehe. ;>
I wonder what sound cards my friends have...