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How to: Give your soundcard a boost now!

In recent years, there are an increasing number of people opting to use onboard sound solution instead of stand-alone soundcard – citing minimal improvements and huge cost savings as the primary reasons for such a move. True enough, for a typical user who uses the computer to surf internet, listen to mp3 and watch a couple a movies, there may really be little difference to justify for the need to get a stand-alone soundcard, not to mention, a $100 Creative X-fi series soundcard.

Stand-alone soundcard has come a long way since the good old days of SoundBlaster 16 till today where we have a wide variety of choices to choose from. These include the usual offering from Creative X-fi and Audigy range, the Asus Xonar and not forgetting the Auzentech Prelude and X-meridian.

For those of you who are already using one of these soundcard, you may be wondering if anything can do done to improve the sound quality without breaking the bank. That’s right; you have come to the right place! I am going to give you a brief run through (aka guide) on how you can modify your stand-alone soundcard to give it the much needed boost for as little as $30!

Hardware boost

Disclaimer: As this is a hardware modification, it will void all warranty for the card once the mod is performed. Extreme cautious has to be taken for soldering or desoldering of the op-amps as they are highly delicate and small components. Failure to do so may damage the card and render it unusable.

In this guide, I will be using the Creative X-fi Xtrememusic soundcard as the example, however, do note that this mod will work for generally most soundcards, do send me an email if you have any enquiries. )

 Creative X-fi Xtrememusic

 

This modification will require a number of equipments and they are as follows:

  1. National LM4562 Op-amp
  2. Soldering iron and solder
  3. Desoldering wick
  4. Tweezers
  5. Steady hands

The National LM4562 op-amp is chosen due to the raving feedbacks it has received since its introduction last year. If you are adventurous enough, you can also consider the Analogue Device AD8599 which is said to produce a warmer and more laid back sound compared to the LM4562 which is famed for it’s highly resolving and aggressive but cool output.

You either obtain samples of these op-amps from their respective manufacturer’s website or alternatively, you may try to procure them from your local distributer.

LM4562 and AD8599

 

For simplicity, I will replace the op-amp responsible for the front 2.1 channels output with the LM4562. In most cases, this is usually enough since music playback is only done through the front 2 channels; there is little need to replace the surround op-amps. However, if you prefer, you can replace all the 4 output op-amps with the LM4562 too, the procedures will be the same. )

 

You will need to first heat up your soldering iron, and then slowly, you pry off each leg of the stock op-amp from the card, repeat this for all the 8 “legs” and you are done with the first part.

Stock op-amp removed

 

For tidiness, it is recommended that you use a desoldering wick to clean off the remaining solders on the pads before soldering the new LM4562 onto it.

Next, apply a small amount of solder onto the first pad (lower right). With that, place the LM4562 onto the card using a pair of tweezers; do note the orientation of the op-amp to avoid any problems later.

LM4562 Installed

Carefully heat up the first pad to melt the solder which will then fixate the LM4562 in place. After which, simply apply small amount of solder onto the remaining 7 legs of the new op-amps and you are done!

Now that you are done with the hardware modification, plug it into your PC and be amazed by how much a difference this mod can do to your sound card!

Stay tuned as I will be posting some software tweaks which will work in tandem with this hardware mod to bring out the best of your PC audio system! )

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