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Old Dec 30, 2007, 03:39 PM   #1
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Dr. Zhivago
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Default Sound Card Buying Guide

Given that there's been so many "How good is this sound card?" threads lately, this article comes at a good time: Sound Card Buying Guide

Quote:
Being an audio geek and all, I feel that this guide is long overdue. There is just so many misconceptions flying around on how to select the right sound card. Before I start though, I am going to emphasize two schools of thought here :

* gaming, where the frame rate (frames per second or fps), directional accuray and environmental sound effects in a game is paramount, and
* audiophile, where sound quality and high fidelity comes are the most important factors.
Hope this helps!

Enjoy!
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Last edited by caveman-jim : Dec 31, 2007 at 03:52 PM.
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Old Dec 31, 2007, 12:15 AM   #2
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Auzentech
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Old Dec 31, 2007, 03:54 PM   #3
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Thanks, Dr. Z! Added to the General Hardware important Info links sticky.
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Old Dec 31, 2007, 04:03 PM   #4
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I say audio cards are useless nowdays unless you're the audio enthusiast. You know, somebody who spends most of their time audio mixing/producing. Other than that, integrated audio chips are more than enough for the average gamer's needs. Audio cards give you a 5% boost in gaming performance thanks to their dedicated hardware engines, but then again, why pay $50+ extra for something that'll make such a nominal difference?
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Old Dec 31, 2007, 04:53 PM   #5
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I haven't heard any onboard chips that actually sounded OK to me. I just tried the onboard 'High Definition' AD1988B on my new motherboard a few days ago, and I'm glad I have the Auzentech card to use instead. I guess High Definition is another way of saying interference, background noise and all round harsh sound.
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Old Jan 1, 2008, 02:12 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by caveman-jim View Post
Thanks, Dr. Z! Added to the General Hardware important Info links sticky.
Cool!

Quote:
Originally Posted by sMashPiranha View Post
I haven't heard any onboard chips that actually sounded OK to me. I just tried the onboard 'High Definition' AD1988B on my new motherboard a few days ago, and I'm glad I have the Auzentech card to use instead. I guess High Definition is another way of saying interference, background noise and all round harsh sound.
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Old Jan 1, 2008, 02:40 PM   #7
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I figure that anyone that says onboard is good enough for gaming falls into one of these categories,

1. Never used anything else so don't know better.

2. Speakers/headphones or ears are broken.

Quote:
Audio cards give you a 5% boost in gaming performance
That isn't the reason anymore for using a dedicated sound card.
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Old Jan 1, 2008, 05:03 PM   #8
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I see they've released a driver update for DD live on the Prelude now. I think if I was going to get a sound card, I'd go for that.
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Old Jan 1, 2008, 08:06 PM   #9
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Nice guide Dr Z as always +rep
Hey Dr Z whered u get that fan in your avatar? Do they come in 120mm?
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Old Jan 1, 2008, 08:36 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ristogod View Post
Auzentech
Nuff said.
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Old Jan 1, 2008, 09:34 PM   #11
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Old Jan 1, 2008, 09:37 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sMashPiranha View Post
I haven't heard any onboard chips that actually sounded OK to me. I just tried the onboard 'High Definition' AD1988B on my new motherboard a few days ago, and I'm glad I have the Auzentech card to use instead. I guess High Definition is another way of saying interference, background noise and all round harsh sound.

X2! Onboard sound is for people who can't afford a sound card and for office work. I've tried a lot of onboard sound setups and they all sucked.

I've been very happy with HTO Striker. I did however like my SB X-FI Platnium better.. but it didn't like my mobo. :/
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Old Jan 1, 2008, 09:42 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erek View Post
good find. C-Media too.
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Old Jan 2, 2008, 12:29 AM   #14
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Interesting that before the Auzentech, Blue Gears, stuff no one ever seemed to pay attention to C-media, yet for many years they produced quite high quality sound chips, that beat the cheaper Creative stuff for value and driver support.
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Old Jan 2, 2008, 12:36 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by cmar View Post
Interesting that before the Auzentech, Blue Gears, stuff no one ever seemed to pay attention to C-media, yet for many years they produced quite high quality sound chips, that beat the cheaper Creative stuff for value and driver support.
Fully agree.
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Old Jan 2, 2008, 02:13 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ultimadrift View Post
Nice guide Dr Z as always +rep
Hey Dr Z whered u get that fan in your avatar? Do they come in 120mm?
Hey Thanks!

The fan is a Bgears b-COOL Fan. And yes they come in 120mm. The fan in my Avatar is the 120mm version. They used to be called Bluegears, but recently changed their name to Bgears due to some brand confusion. You'll probably have to search by their old name to find products.

You can buy them here if you don't feel like searching. They are a local company to my area and good to deal with.

HTH!
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Old Jan 2, 2008, 02:24 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cmar View Post
Interesting that before the Auzentech, Blue Gears, stuff no one ever seemed to pay attention to C-media, yet for many years they produced quite high quality sound chips, that beat the cheaper Creative stuff for value and driver support.
Not to be a naysayer, but they did produce one chip that wasn't FULL duplex and it suffered from a terrible SNR when using it in Full duplex mode. It was the CMI8738. The A7M266-D mobo in my server has such a chip in it and I had to use a dedicated sound card so the TV sounded good. With the onboard sound, it sounded like a poorly tuned FM station. Oh well, nobody's perfect.

I have used OP Amps they make to modify audio processing gear for better performance. I like their stuff generally.

Peace!
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Old Jan 2, 2008, 05:47 AM   #18
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No offence, I had an Asus board with the same chip and an ECS board which used that codec. Interestingly that chip on a separate sound card fared much better than as an onboard solution.
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Old Jan 2, 2008, 08:28 AM   #19
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Missing from that is: "musician or audio engineer" as #3, where power, flexibility, DACs, firewire/USB/analog /optical/digital/lightpipe ports, compatibility, on-board DSP, etc. all matter as well.
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Old Jan 2, 2008, 12:27 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vitocorleone View Post
Missing from that is: "musician or audio engineer" as #3, where power, flexibility, DACs, firewire/USB/analog /optical/digital/lightpipe ports, compatibility, on-board DSP, etc. all matter as well.
That too. But then again someone that is doing that sort of thing really wouldn't be looking at consumer level sound cards, they would be looking at something like these,

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...7239&name=E-MU

or other professional grade card.
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Old Jan 2, 2008, 12:47 PM   #21
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I think musicians and audio engineers that would be interested in buying that stuff should at least be able to decide better on their own with their knowledge of the technology, or with the advice of someone who knows better.


I liked it, it explains a lot, and I'm sure will be useful, but I was hoping to actually see the stats for some cards... not just guidelines for how to do a review.
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Old Jan 4, 2008, 10:03 PM   #22
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I saw lots of letters and lots of pages, but not many words in between for me it's really been very simple for consumer level cards

need/want EAX for games? -> Creative X-Fi/Audigy with hardware 3d audio (or Prelude 7.1)

want great analog output quality? Audiotrak Prodigy HiFi with replacement OpAMPs or anything else thats comparable (like prelude 7.1, but it resamples, albeit with high quality, from 44.1 to 48 except in audio creation mode in limited circumstances while the Prodigy does not; plus the prodigy allows replacing opamps of all the outputs and the line-in, while the Prelude 7.1 is limited to only the front l/r opamp)

want to connect to HT via spdif with real time 5.1/7.1 sound? DDLive and/or DTSConnect capable card such as HDA Xplosion 7.1 or Prelude 7.1

none of the above? onboard sound
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Old Jan 4, 2008, 10:40 PM   #23
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Nice.
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Old Jan 4, 2008, 11:05 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Zhivago View Post
Not to be a naysayer, but they did produce one chip that wasn't FULL duplex and it suffered from a terrible SNR when using it in Full duplex mode. It was the CMI8738. The A7M266-D mobo in my server has such a chip in it and I had to use a dedicated sound card so the TV sounded good. With the onboard sound, it sounded like a poorly tuned FM station. Oh well, nobody's perfect.

I have used OP Amps they make to modify audio processing gear for better performance. I like their stuff generally.

Peace!
I´d say those issues were not directly related to the cmi8738 chip. I mean, I own an "excel" sound card with this very same chip and sound quality seems perfect through an aiwa receiver/Yamaha stereo speakers. And I´ve had no issues using it for gaming.
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Old Jan 5, 2008, 12:54 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lukilla View Post
I´d say those issues were not directly related to the cmi8738 chip. I mean, I own an "excel" sound card with this very same chip and sound quality seems perfect through an aiwa receiver/Yamaha stereo speakers. And I´ve had no issues using it for gaming.
any card that passes the analog stage onto an external high quality receiver would automatically receive a boost in quality... that doesn't tell you anything about the sound characteristics of the soundcard and the dsp itself.
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Old Jan 5, 2008, 05:46 PM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lukilla View Post
I´d say those issues were not directly related to the cmi8738 chip. I mean, I own an "excel" sound card with this very same chip and sound quality seems perfect through an aiwa receiver/Yamaha stereo speakers. And I´ve had no issues using it for gaming.
The issue I was describing is ONLY heard when using the card in FULL Duplex mode. Meaning, you have audio streaming through the Line In jack AND you're outputting audio through the Line Out jack at the same time. Like my server when it's serving TV through EazyShare TV. What happens is the noise floor goes WAY up and there is a ton of "hiss" present in the audio.

Simply playing music or other audio streams does not have this problem. You have to be using the card in Full Duplex mode to hear it. It's a very specific scenario. You can search for this problem and find other posts about it.

Peace.
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Old Jan 5, 2008, 10:27 PM   #27
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I have to admit that I never used the line in before. And I don´t see how a good set of receiver and speakers can turn a bad analog sound signal into good crisp clean sound.
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Old Jan 5, 2008, 10:57 PM   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lukilla View Post
I have to admit that I never used the line in before. And I don´t see how a good set of receiver and speakers can turn a bad analog sound signal into good crisp clean sound.
I assumed you passed the audio via spdif, but guess I was wrong about that.
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Old Jan 5, 2008, 11:11 PM   #29
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lukilla is still being judged by the masses


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This card is so cheap/old that it doesn´t have spdif

Sounds great with the shielded cable though.Can´t say the same thing of the three onboard audio systems I´ve tested the set with.
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Old Jan 7, 2008, 01:21 PM   #30
junglist1996
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Join Date: Aug 2003
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junglist1996 is still being judged by the masses


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Good find, Dr. Z!

I'm in the market for a new sound card and I have given up on Creative this time. I have recently upgraded the HTPC with an HD3870 and the LG Blu-ray HD-DVD combo drive to go with the new 1080p TV. When I installed the HD3870, it somehow screwed up my user account. Strangely enough, my girlfriend's account worked normally. I quickly backed up everything and went out to get a new copy of Vista. I've heard about how horrible the X-Fi was in Vista. But I figured that Creative must have resolved the Vista issues by now. Also, I won't be gaming on the HTPC so EAX support isn't an issue for me. So, I downloaded the X-Fi Vista driver and installed the O/S. Shortly after the O/S installation, I noticed that the sound was screwed up. A quick visit to the Creative forum confirmed my worst fear. A half year old problem remains not addressed by Creative. So I looked further into the release note of the X-Fi driver and found this.

Quote:
Known issues:

Applications from the original Sound Blaster X-Fi CD (for Windows XP) will not work with this download.
The following are not supported:
Decoding of Dolby® Digital and DTS™ signals (Cyberlink® PowerDVD™ or InterVideo® WinDVD® is required)

DVD-Audio (PowerDVD may support selected DVD-Audio content)
EAX or DirectSound®3D (Download Creative ALchemy to restore this feature in Windows Vista)
6.1 speaker mode (not supported by Windows Vista)
http://us.creative.com/support/downl...pe=0&x=13&y=14

Why the f*ck do I need an X-Fi in the HTPC when it doesn't even do DD and DTS decode? That's right. I have finally given up on Creative. I guess I'll probably go with an Azuntech this time and hope that it'll do better in Vista. All I need to know now is which one best suits my needs.

/rant
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