We test the audio quality of motherboards using the loopback test of Rightmark Audio Analyzer. Please note that we test the quality of the output and the input of the onboard sound cards at the same time. The "weakest link" determines the result.
The dynamic range and noise level tests are very similar and also show almost identical results. The dynamic range test measures the difference in volume between the loudest and softest weather signal to be taken, the noise level test measures the difference between the loudest sound and the noise level. The stereo crosstalk tests the extent to which sound for one channel (left or right) resonates on the other channel. Finally, with RMAA we measure the total harmonic distortion, in fact an average of the distortion in the frequency domain.
To put the numbers in perspective for a moment: the highest dynamic range or noise level that is theoretically possible with 16-bit sound is 96 dB. 99.9% of the sound you listen to on your PC (CD's, MP3's, YouTube, games, ...) is 16-bit, so the graphs prove that the hardware is virtually unlimited in all cases. The higher scores can only be achieved by testing with 24-bit audio. We can't imagine that there is anyone who can actually hear the difference between 100 dB and 115 dB signal-to-noise ratio.
Regular readers know that the ALC1220 audio codec is virtually a guarantee of good sound quality, but manufacturers can still distinguish themselves with a good implementation. Among others the ASRock X470 Taichi, Asus RoG Crosshair VII Hero and Gigabyte X470 Aorus Gaming 5 are doing really well, but also the other boards all have a very large dynamic range and a very low noise level. It is striking that the MSI X470 Gaming Pro Carbon is doing relatively badly despite its on paper good audio codec - despite repeated attempts we didn't get any better results.
The three motherboards with a lower-positioned audio chip clearly perform less well in this respect.
- Dynamic range
- Noise level
- Stereo crosstalk
- Total harmonic distortion