A Better Way? (Dump Sound Card?)

Agrajag

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I've been using sound cards longer than pretty much anyone posting here going back way before even the Ad-Lib cards of 1987. However, I've grown a bit tired of a few challenges I'd like to meet:

1. I'd like something that's easier to work with on my desktop.
2. I'd like something that can easily connect to a 5.1 setup (at a minimum) without having to go through an intermediary (like a Logitech head unit (I still use Logitech Z906's, but could change out).
In fact, it'd be great if I could connect five speakers and a sub directly to it and have it drive those speakers.
3. I'd like something that can easily plug my headphones into on my desktop.
4. The unit should be able to drive QUALITY headphones/earphones (think Senn HD600's and above).
5. I should have a SIMPLE switch from headphone to speakers without having to load something like Creative's interface to change a setting.
6. The sound should be crisp, clear and free of any filtering issues with system noise and such.

I've been reading about DAC setups, but haven't seen any that can handle this. My current card is an SB AE-5.

What should I be looking at?
 
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cyclone3d

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cyclone3d

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Ah, into the card. I thought you plugged it all into the control unit on the desk.
Nope, control unit on the desk can be used for headphones / microphone but I just plug those straight into the card.

The control unit also does volume control for the headphones.
 

Agrajag

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You're looking for a proper surround receiver. It will exceed all of these requirements. It's really not complicated.
Unless there are quality mini receivers with a single input then that would be dramatic overkill. Plus if there's a audio interface as that input now that's two things on my desk to control audio. I'm really surprised there isn't a simple device that plugs in to any PC via USB 3.x that has a proper amp with receiver-like speaker connection options. My actual receiver sits 3 feet from my PC, but it can't handle this task as it's busy driving my theater setup and Zone 2 would be limited to stereo and the receiver would need to be on 24/7 for the PC. Major overkill even if it could work.
 

inbedwithhomer

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Unless there are quality mini receivers with a single input then that would be dramatic overkill. Plus if there's a audio interface as that input now that's two things on my desk to control audio. I'm really surprised there isn't a simple device that plugs in to any PC via USB 3.x that has a proper amp with receiver-like speaker connection options. My actual receiver sits 3 feet from my PC, but it can't handle this task as it's busy driving my theater setup and Zone 2 would be limited to stereo and the receiver would need to be on 24/7 for the PC. Major overkill even if it could work.
You would use HDMI. So what you want is something that can amplify both 5 discrete speakers OR headphones and you can't wrap your head around why something like that doesn't exist in a smaller form factor? Okay...
 

Agrajag

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You would use HDMI. So what you want is something that can amplify both 5 discrete speakers OR headphones and you can't wrap your head around why something like that doesn't exist in a smaller form factor? Okay...

I said before, what I think I really am looking for is a single-input receiver. It doesn't need to a full-blown receiver with all its complexity. Amps do not have to be huge. The attitude was entirely unnecessary.
 

inbedwithhomer

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I said before, what I think I really am looking for is a single-input receiver. It doesn't need to a full-blown receiver with all its complexity. Amps do not have to be huge. The attitude was entirely unnecessary.
You seem to be unable to accept that something that meets ONLY your use case doesn't exist. The difference between what you want and what I suggest is a few extra inputs. Companies make products that meet a variety of use cases, and this is the tool that exists that can complete your task. If you had spent any time actually looking at similar posts in this very forum, you would see that this solution has been recommended countless times before, for as long as the forum has existed.

I'll go ahead and give you a little bit extra, since you didn't understand it either: that sound blaster x-7 posted above? How you weren't "entirely sure how I would connect the rears, center and sub (all raw wires)." Yeah, those are line outs for powered drivers, requiring amplification (bulk). Not to mention it's already as expensive as a receiver.
 

Agrajag

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There's absolutely zero wrong with my coming in and asking if something exists to meet my use case regardless of whether it's only my case or not, and trust me, it's far from my being the only one with this case. I know that to be a fact because I get asked about it all the time. I thought I'd come to one of my favorite places for quality recommendations and ask the community for a pointer. I got that, but I also had to deal with this nonsense.

I'm entirely familiar with powered drivers and powered speakers. It seems most people use such devices mainly just for stereo hookups and headphones. Great. Not my explicit use case, but I still appreciate the input. What I do not appreciate, nor was in any way helpful or appropriate, was, and is your continued insults and attitude. In researching the X7 a bit more, I realized it will not meet my needs as I will STILL need the Logitech Z906 controller on my desk along with the X7 which defeats a major concern. If price was a concern, I'd have said as much. I didn't. It isn't.
 
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inbedwithhomer

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Not understanding is not weakness, nor is someone recognizing that a slur. My only intention was to hand over a wrench when what you asked for was a tool to turn bolts. If my direct approach came off as demeaning or insulting, I must apologize. Good luck.
 

Agrajag

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Not understanding is not weakness, nor is someone recognizing that a slur. My only intention was to hand over a wrench when what you asked for was a tool to turn bolts. If my direct approach came off as demeaning or insulting, I must apologize. Good luck.
Let's just move on. Text sucks.
 

Darunion

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That may very well be it. Not entirely sure how I would connect the rears, center and sub (all raw wires), but this is the closest thing to what I've been looking for. Thanks!
Oh yea you would need a 3 channel receiver for the rear and center. Sub I assume is powered so it can take the line out.

I used to use my denon x1300 for my pc gaming driving infinity ref speakers, very nice setup. I know it is large but it would give you a really great sound and lots of bells and whistles, i cant comment on headphone drive power though.

Maybe someone else can find something but I cant find anything other than receivers for your use case.

Something like this wouldn't be as intrusive

https://www.crutchfield.com/p_642NR1510/Marantz-NR1510-2019-model.html

For headphones I might go the route of taking its preout to something like a schiit magni https://www.schiit.com/products/magni-1
 

Agrajag

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Something like this wouldn't be as intrusive

https://www.crutchfield.com/p_642NR1510/Marantz-NR1510-2019-model.html

For headphones I might go the route of taking its preout to something like a schiit magni https://www.schiit.com/products/magni-1

Not too bad, though still a bit more than the job calls for, but that may be the only way in the end. The other downer with this sort of setup is that to switch from headphones to speakers you'd have to keep plugging and unplugging the heaphones all the time. Eh. Not the end of the world. I also have a bunch of Infinity and Energy speakers I've been wanting to put to use. The only reason I hadn't done so yet is their footprint being a bit obnoxious.
 

cyclone3d

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So why not just get a ZxR then? You don't have to use the volume control/mic that comes with it.

Plus there is the hotkey app I linked above to switch between speakers and headphones.

And everything can stay plugged in all the time and you don't have to have anything on your desk except the current controller that you are already using.
 

Agrajag

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So why not just get a ZxR then? You don't have to use the volume control/mic that comes with it.

Plus there is the hotkey app I linked above to switch between speakers and headphones.

And everything can stay plugged in all the time and you don't have to have anything on your desk except the current controller that you are already using.

I don't see any real difference between the ZxR and the AE-5. The 124dB vs 122dB is negligible. The Logitech controller is part of what I'm looking to replace. I can't plug headphones into it (but we may be able to use the software switch and I can macro it on one of my Corsair G keys that I never use), however I see some people saying it doesn't work for them so my mileage may vary on it working. When the power goes out the Logitech tends to forget how it was set so I have to keep redoing it.

In all honesty I assumed that things had long since evolved since I got this setup likely 15-20 years ago. What in tech lasts two decades as one of the top recommendations? I'm sort of glad that's true, but also blown away by that.

Oh, I almost forgot! I owned a ZxR at one point and it's now in my wife's machine which is ancient. It literally wouldn't boot up correctly in three different systems I built so I finally just gave up on it. I'd boot and the system would tell me there's no soundcard there. I'd reboot, and reboot and reboot and when it decided that I had enough roulette it would let me win and show up.
 

cyclone3d

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I've only had one motherboard that randomly had issues with my ZxR. Every once in a while if I left the computer on for days/weeks, it sometimes would stop working. A cold reboot would make it show back up.

I haven't had that issue with the motherboard I am using now... And really, I think the newest driver update fixed that particular issue anyway.

As far as the logitech controller losing settings, why not get a UPS for when the power goes out?

As far as new stuff goes, good quality surround equipment, especially for computers is really hard to find. Seems like most companies have pretty much abandoned surround and only really care about stereo as far as speaker setups go.

It seems to me like you want/need a completely different setup as far as your soundcard / amp goes.

I'm looking to see if I can find something with spdif or optical out and then a desktop amp with spdif or optical in that also has a headphone amplifier.

I don't really think you are going to find an all-in-one USB DAC or a soundcard that does exactly what you want. The market for something like that is just way too small for it to be profitable.
 

Ebernanut

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I know you mentioned that you have a receiver nearby but that it only supports stereo for zone 2 but have you specifically checked whether it has multichannel pre-outs that can be assigned to second zone because some can, you would still need to add an amp but that should be cheaper and smaller than a second receiver.

I've been wanting to upgrade my PC audio for years but kept holding off because it didn't really seem like any of the sound card or speaker options. I slowly came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to be happy was to get an external receiver that could power some decent speakers, I finally bit the bullet on a decent receiver and speakers a couple of weeks ago and couldn't be happier.

I have a love/hate(but mostly hate due to driver issues) relationship with Creative sound cards so I've been hesitant to go that route and they don't seem to focus on audio quality as much as i/o and gimmicks for their high end stuff. I was keeping an eye on the Asus cards to see how they were after a couple generations but they never really got much of a foothold in the market and I'm not sure if I trust Asus any more than Creative for drivers.

On the speaker side I had been running a 20 or so year old Creative 5.1 set that wasn't quite as good as the old 4.1 Klipsch speakers but better than anything currently available. Basically my only upgrade path on that side of things without a receiver was to drop 5.1 and get some powered studio monitors but I like surround and while I appreciate accuracy I'd rather my listening speakers not be quite that revealing.

I ended up spending quite a bit more than I originally intended but I don't mind because I feel like I got something for the extra I spent. In hind sight as a cheaper alternative I probably would have been happier with a halfway decent home theater in a box over any sound card/pc speakers available. I have a decent pair of headphones but I don't like wearing them at the PC, if I did care I'd probably get a separate dac/amp for them.
 

cyclone3d

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The headphones I currently use are the very underrated Sennheiser HD630VB. Awesome frequency response and clarity and can literally be powered by anything, including a cell phone.

They even have a really good inline mic.

Granted the output on a cell phone doesn't do them justice as far as frequency response goes, even with a higher-end cell phone DAC, but that is to be expected I guess when compared to something like the output of the ZxR.

I just tested the switcher program and it does indeed work for switching between headphones and speakers. Should work with any Creative card that uses the Sound Blaster Command app.
 

Agrajag

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On the nearby receiver, it's a Yamaha Aventage which is fairly beefy and runs hot. It literally heats the office my PC is in. It's not a problem normally as it runs my home theater setup but then I'm not in the office. It'd be a real challenge if it were on most of the time. It would also be a pain to deal with headphones running across the room/floor.

I too have a love/hate relationship with Creative products and that's part of the process here. I miss the days when they had real competition. As I've aged I've drifted from paying as close attention to all the changes in the audio industry and just assumed with most things moving to USB that sound likely did too and that a complete solution was likely out there somewhere. Nope. I also, like you, have a question about Asus being any better than Creative. My Asus motherboards have been the biggest challenges with Creative cards. Then again my MSI boards gave me fits with Nvidia. Ugh.

I'm a huge Etymotic fan and can literally say they improve performance for gamers as they are the most accurate audio devices on the market (the ER-4p's) but they aren't the easiest things to drive properly so a cheap solution won't do and I also don't like wearing them for all my audio. If I'm gaming with others they're on me. If I'm just solo they're likely off. I still play the original Company of Heroes a ton and it's great in surround sound. Same for Flight Sim 2020. If not for those I'd just go powered stereo on the desk.
 

Canon

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Honestly as others have said in this thread, what you are really looking for is an AVR connected to your PC via either HDMI from your video card or optical SPDIF from your onboard sound card many motherboards have this feature these days. Hopefully you are looking to upgrade your speakers at the same time to make it worth the upgrade. :)

If you want a better headphone amp, consider getting a USB DAC and AMP. Windows will either automatically switch when you turn the DAC on or off or you can switch the output by clicking the speaker icon and clicking the output listed above the volume slider to select the one you want...

I have also been a long time Sound Blaster sound card user, all the way back to the Sound Blaster 16, AWE64, Audigy 2 NX (USB sound on my old laptop), Sound Blaster Live, Sound Blaster Titanium Fatal1ty, Sound Blaster ZXR... I loved my Sound Blaster ZXR, but like you said, the software was cumbersome. Also I found the microphone inputs on all creative cards I have had to be less than optimal from a noise perspective, probably EMI from inside the computer case...

I ended up getting a GOXLR mini which in basic terms is an all in one Audio interface (3.5mm mic/XLR mic, line input, virtual sound devices) with a software defined mixer that has a headphone output and line output. I was very surprised at the headphone output quality and the 3.5MM mic input quality is unbelievably better than any of my Sound Blaster sound cards... Same for line input... perfectly quiet and pristine. For me since I only need Stereo audio, this checks literally all of my boxes with one box (nice pun?). For me if I want sound from my speakers, I just turn on my receiver... If I want to use headphones, I turn off my receiver...
 

Darunion

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You really should split your goals here. You are wanting a unique all in one solution to your exact setup, but it might be best to get a separate dac and amp for your headphones, because honestly the more crap they stuff into a single box the more potential loss for quality. My setup although stereo but just to give you an idea: Schiit hel plugged into usb on my pc, the preamp outs of that go to my mackie speakers. When I plug in my headset (600ohm dt-880) into the hel, it bypasses the preamp outs so the speakers get no sound. The hel also has a mic input and amp on it so i get a much better input interface than the ae-5 sound card (although likely not as good as the goxlr as posted above).

IMO make your setup modular, then you can upgrade components as needed/desired. Get a nice equipment stand and it will still look great, for heat i use AC infinity usb fans sitting on my avr, almost no noise at all but circulates a lot of air. My onkyo gets way too hot for my liking so it has those on top exhausting air upwards.
 

DoubleTap

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I've been using sound cards longer than pretty much anyone posting here going back way before even the Ad-Lib cards of 1987. However, I've grown a bit tired of a few challenges I'd like to meet:

1. I'd like something that's easier to work with on my desktop.
2. I'd like something that can easily connect to a 5.1 setup (at a minimum) without having to go through an intermediary (like a Logitech head unit (I still use Logitech Z906's, but could change out).
In fact, it'd be great if I could connect five speakers and a sub directly to it and have it drive those speakers.
3. I'd like something that can easily plug my headphones into on my desktop.
4. The unit should be able to drive QUALITY headphones/earphones (think Senn HD600's and above).
5. I should have a SIMPLE switch from headphone to speakers without having to load something like Creative's interface to change a setting.
6. The sound should be crisp, clear and free of any filtering issues with system noise and such.

I've been reading about DAC setups, but haven't seen any that can handle this. My current card is an SB AE-5.

What should I be looking at?
There isn't a better way.

PC Surround Sound systems are essentially dead.

If you really want surround sound, the best way to do it is with an HDMI receiver.
You can also use optical plus a decoder or just discrete analog channels - all work, all have their own set of issues and drawbacks.

I've tried every method - HDMI is the best, but if you don't use EDID emulation to maintain the connection, you will go insane.

I dismantled my 7.1 PC system last year - if I was going to go back and setup surround sound again, I think I would use a USB sound device (like the Creative X3) and self powered speakers (like the JBL 305 style speakers)

In general though, the days of a decent (for gaming) surround sound in a box for $299-499 are long gone. Those were always good for gamers, but came to be in a time when people didn't use computers for any serious music listening - don't kid yourself, those systems are bad at music. They are the nerd equivalent of a pair of 6x9s in the back of a Camaro connected to a $40 power amp. Terrible.

The market has shifted - people game on laptops and use headphones and the priority is clean, clear audio with an emphasis on music, not surround so if you want that magic, you have to work at it and you have to pay.

https://hardforum.com/threads/anyon...sound-and-just-go-stereo-any-regrets.1981603/
https://hardforum.com/threads/newbi...rround-sound-from-pc.1992078/#post-1044476100
https://hardforum.com/threads/anyon...o-stereo-any-regrets.1981603/#post-1044197818
 
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Agrajag

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Thankfully music on my PC is always just a bonus where I'm not all that worried about the quality. I'll listen on other better equipment in the house for that. I was never that big a laptop guy and certainly a laptop isn't the device of choice for the FPS crowd or the flight sim crowd, but it does seem to be the option for just about everyone else. It just seems so horribly limiting to me. Cramped keyboards, smaller screens, battery issues, etc.

It may really be time to just go stereo on the desktop it seems. That's just stunning to me.
 

DoubleTap

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Thankfully music on my PC is always just a bonus where I'm not all that worried about the quality. I'll listen on other better equipment in the house for that. I was never that big a laptop guy and certainly a laptop isn't the device of choice for the FPS crowd or the flight sim crowd, but it does seem to be the option for just about everyone else. It just seems so horribly limiting to me. Cramped keyboards, smaller screens, battery issues, etc.

It may really be time to just go stereo on the desktop it seems. That's just stunning to me.
Agree, they will have to pry my desktop from my cold, dead fingers.

I ran a triple screen + surround sound system for about 9 years and loved it, but it just got to be too much. I had two systems connected to 4 monitors and then all the monitor mounts and the cabling for 8 speakers and the receiver - it worked so so well for PC, music, Blu-ray and streaming media.

Then the main game I started playing just did not support surround sound very well and I had to start playing on headphones. I got used to it but I still prefer to listen to music on nice speakers.

Most devices are not good at headphones + speakers - often you want one setting for headphones and another setting for speakers and it's a pain. The other issue I had was that I hate changing inputs - even though I've long since mastered all the PC sound settings and inputs - it's a pain to get in there - so I wanted a single output that never changes and external control over what I'm listening to.

This is what worked for me:

1617463064208.png


Of course, everything here is now stereo (and I don't miss the surround like I thought I would)
The optical switch is my control center and it works very, very well.
 

B00nie

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I've been using sound cards longer than pretty much anyone posting here going back way before even the Ad-Lib cards of 1987. However, I've grown a bit tired of a few challenges I'd like to meet:

1. I'd like something that's easier to work with on my desktop.
2. I'd like something that can easily connect to a 5.1 setup (at a minimum) without having to go through an intermediary (like a Logitech head unit (I still use Logitech Z906's, but could change out).
In fact, it'd be great if I could connect five speakers and a sub directly to it and have it drive those speakers.
3. I'd like something that can easily plug my headphones into on my desktop.
4. The unit should be able to drive QUALITY headphones/earphones (think Senn HD600's and above).
5. I should have a SIMPLE switch from headphone to speakers without having to load something like Creative's interface to change a setting.
6. The sound should be crisp, clear and free of any filtering issues with system noise and such.

I've been reading about DAC setups, but haven't seen any that can handle this. My current card is an SB AE-5.

What should I be looking at?
The only reasonable way you can dump a soundcard and get your requirements is to get a HDMI audio connection from your display card and plug your stuff to an AV receiver.
 

Agrajag

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I had the same concern -- that I'd miss surround, but I'm pretty sure that's just irrational thinking. Virtually nothing uses it and all the crap that's setup here to support is what I was, in part, looking to address. I have a nice home theater in the very next room attached to my office, with a 150" screen. No way I'd watch a film in the office.
 

DoubleTap

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I had the same concern -- that I'd miss surround, but I'm pretty sure that's just irrational thinking. Virtually nothing uses it and all the crap that's setup here to support is what I was, in part, looking to address. I have a nice home theater in the very next room attached to my office, with a 150" screen. No way I'd watch a film in the office.
Surround sound was very nice in Battlefield, Overwatch and Guild Wars 2 - very positional and atmospheric.

So while I will agree that I don't exactly miss it, I found it functional and immersive.

I've also found that a headphone amp is as important - maybe more important then the headphones.

In Apex Legends, I get very tight, accurate positional audio from headphones - but when I first played it, I was using an ASUS USB sound card with a mediocre headphone amp and the sound was muddy and positioning was not great.

I ended up getting one of those Monolith THX amps and - yes, they are stupid overkill but - it made a massive difference and was well worth it.
 

B00nie

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Surround sound was very nice in Battlefield, Overwatch and Guild Wars 2 - very positional and atmospheric.

So while I will agree that I don't exactly miss it, I found it functional and immersive.

I've also found that a headphone amp is as important - maybe more important then the headphones.

In Apex Legends, I get very tight, accurate positional audio from headphones - but when I first played it, I was using an ASUS USB sound card with a mediocre headphone amp and the sound was muddy and positioning was not great.

I ended up getting one of those Monolith THX amps and - yes, they are stupid overkill but - it made a massive difference and was well worth it.
It all depends on your headphones. Use some fancy ones that create a heavy load and the USB based amp will most likely be bad. Use some light load headphones, works fine.
 

B00nie

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This was on 32ohm vmoda M100s

A pretty easy load.
Then the USB amp should have worked fine unless it had a design flaw. The USB 1.0 bus can deliver about 4,5 watts of power which should be anough to drive a 32 ohm headphone, even when efficiency loss is accounted for.
 
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DoubleTap

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Then the USB amp should have worked fine unless it had a design flaw. The USB 1.0 bus can deliver about 4,5 watts of power which should be anough to drive a 32 ohm headphone, even when efficiency loss is accounted for.
It "worked" I just found that the clarity was lacking and I felt like I was straining to hear details - the Monolith was like lifting a veil.
 

Bankie

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Check out the Creative Sound Blaster X3? It seems to have everything you're asking for and the software is not required unless you want some additional features (Super XFI positional audio through headphones, profiles, etc.).
 
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Check out the Creative Sound Blaster X3? It seems to have everything you're asking for and the software is not required unless you want some additional features (Super XFI positional audio through headphones, profiles, etc.).
Do you have the X3? From what I've read online, you do need the Creative drivers if you want surround sound. Else, Windows stock driver limits it to stereo only.

--------------------

To the OP/TS,

You don't want intermediary device but want something that can drive 5.1 speakers. Well, the closest thing you can get is an AVR because of the amps. But that can't drive a subwoofer. AVR via HDMI is a pain because it's treated by your PC as a monitor. SPDIF optical isn't ideal because you need the PC to encode it to AC3 first, which adds lag. For the headphone support, it will not meet your needs. Alternative is a Creative solution but I'm sure you are already well experienced with that (AE-5).

I understand your pain looking for such device. I'm feeling the same too. I love surround sound on PC. I have 5 units of JBL104 for this, all connected to my motherboard onboard Realtek audio. I can't find any good setup at the right price. Majority of good multichannel USB DAC are those meant for professional audio and cost a bomb. I'm not getting a Creative because I've heard too many bad news about them.
 
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