Premium Gaming Audio Cards

undertheradar

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I have an X-Fi Fagtality Titanium Pro. Creative sucks with their driver updates, as many already know. I am considering an upgrade and passing this card on to the HTPC in the living room. So I was wondering what to get... needless to say, the new X-Fi Ti HD is off the list (is it even 7.1?)
http://www.amazon.com/Creative-Blas...UTF8&coliid=I2J3YI7QSA50FY&colid=O97BGIKYLPEI

So I remember the Asus cards really kickin butt in past reviews, and they update their drivers much quicker. I am confused though by all the cards that they have on their site though; so let me toss some stuff out there and tell me what is what and what I should get...

Is the best gaming card the Xonar D2X?
http://www.amazon.com/Asus-Xonar-D2...=UTF8&coliid=I50FMPFHJZRP7&colid=O97BGIKYLPEI

Is this Xonar Essence STX Virtual 7.1 also good for games? Or am I reading this correctly that its more of a music card that will eat up more CPU in games? Is this better or worse?
http://www.amazon.com/Essence-STX-C...=UTF8&coliid=IU52L6ILCHVC9&colid=O97BGIKYLPEI

And what is the story with this one? The Asus Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe:
http://www.amazon.com/Asus-Xonar-De...=UTF8&coliid=IUXTERJYA8327&colid=O97BGIKYLPEI

Are these the top cards to look at? Which is best? Are there other models I should consider? How do they compare? Someone mentioned to me that non-gaming asus cards tend to suck up alot of the CPU... not sure about that. I need some direction here...lol. Thanks in advance.
 
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SirMaster

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I haven't really seen much CPU usage from sound in this day and age. Sound processing hasn't gotten anymore complicated in the past several years. In that time, CPUs have gotten exponentially faster and have 4 or 6 times the number of cores.

I don't believe audio processing for games take much more than 2-3% CPU usage on a modern i7 processor. It doesn't seem worth it to get spend over $100 on a sound card when you could just get a faster CPU instead and get so much more from it.

Or why not get a dedicated external amplifier with that money which is going to have superior sound to any internal sound card.
 

heflys20

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I've heard that good speakers with a decent sound card can make a world of difference.
 

yang88she

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if you are that serious into gaming, then I assume you will be using a set of cans...

go w/ the stx, has a built in headphone amp and quite frankly one of the best as far as sounds cards w/ built in headphone amp

-if you can find an auzentech forte, those were great for the price 79.99 from microcenter a couple of years back...I had the forte, sold it like a dummy and now I'm going w/ the stx to match my senn 595's and z5500's
 

SirMaster

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I've heard that good speakers with a decent sound card can make a world of difference.

Well, yes but the problem is there are no good sound cards as in sound devices in a PCI or PCIe slot. It's just way too small of a space and not enough clean power to do any sort of HiFi sound.

Why do you think all the good external amps are so large? They would make them smaller if it were possible I assure you.
 

heflys20

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Wait....I'm not sure I understand. Couldn't you just connect the amp to the sound card, particularly if you're going for larger/better quality speakers? And if he's using headphones, some sound cards come with a built-in headphone amp.
 

SirMaster

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Wait....I'm not sure I understand. Couldn't you just connect the amp to the sound card, particularly if you're going for larger/better quality speakers? And if he's using headphones, some sound cards come with a built-in headphone amp.

You have to understand how audio works.

Somewhere in between the digital files on your hard drive, and the sound coming out the speakers, 2 things have to happen.

1. The digitally represented waved must be converted into analog, because well, sound is analog and therefore speakers are analog.

2. After the signal is converted into analog, the analog signal must be given power by some amplifier so that it actually has the power to drive the speakers. When I say drive the speakers, I mean that the signal needs power to physically vibrate the speaker heads. the larger (and the more resistive) the speaker, the more power you need.

Now, when you are using some sort of digital audio transport, like S/PDIF (optical/coax), HDMI, or even USB, you haven't done any work yet. The sound is still just a stream of bits like it is sitting on your hard disk.

A sound card like a Creative X-Fi has a DAC chip on it. You need a DAC chip on it. The DAC chip stands for Digital to Analog converter. It's just a digital circuit that converts a stream of bits into voltage representations, since voltage is how you represent data in analog.

The DAC is only used when you are using the analog output from the sound card because when you are using the digital output, there is no work to be done since in that case you are just moving bits.

Now after that signal has been converted by the DAC it is then forcibly amplified by another circuit on that sound card. Sounds cards use small op-amp circuits to amplify the voltage signal and give it power. I say it's forcibly amplified because all the sound cards they sell always run the output from the DAC through the op-amp circuit.

The alternative would be to avoid the amp and just send the line-level analog signal out to a different amplifier, but this just isn't how sound cards are built.

So, with a sound card, you are either using a digital output (which in this case the sound card isn't doing anything and you might as well be using the digital output on your motherboard) Or, you are using the analog outputs (which in this case you are always using the DAC and amplifier on the sound card)

The problem with using a sound card is that the DAC chips and amplifiers they use are really no good. At least they are nowhere near as good as what you can get in an external receiver. As I said earlier, there is simply not enough room or proper power available to a PCI or PCIe card to house sufficient audio circuitry to handle audio with out adding lots of distortion and noise.

Receivers are large because the circuitry they use to convert and amplify the audio takes that much space to operate as well as it does.


So, now thinking back, if you are using the digital output from your sound card, then you are bypassing all of the expensive parts of that sound card and merely using the DAC and amplifier in the external receiver. This is great, since the receiver probably has a much better DAC and much better amplifier. However, you just wasted $100 on a sound card that you aren't even using as it's DAC and op-amp chips aren't being touched.

The other option is you are using the analog output, in this case, you are forcibly using the DAC and op-amp on the sound card which is adding lots of distortion and noise into the signal right there that cannot be removed later. After the amplified analog output leaves your sound card, if it goes into headphones then its already sufficiently amplified to drive them (presumably if you don't have such demanding headphones). If you are using speakers, then the signal must be further amplified by the amplifier in the speaker amplifier. The speaker amplifier is housed in the unit which plugs itself into the wall in your particular speakers model. Now the amplifier that comes with your speakers is only going to be ad good as how much you pay for it. It's generally good enough to handle the speakers it was packaged with.

However, when you got the signal from your sound card's analog outputs, you were already forced to use a pre-amplified signal that was amplified by a not-so-ideal amplifier that was inside your sound card and therefore has distortion and noise that is only going to be further amplified by the amplifier in your speakers.


There are few reasons to get a sound card anymore. Though it can depend on your speakers. You would want a sound card if you have no other way to get digital audio out of your PC already. Though most motherboards today have either an optical output or a digital coaxial output. These outputs are just as good as the outputs on any sound card.

Another reason might be that you want to get 5.1 sound out of the digital port. To do this you really need to have some software that will encode the 5.1 channel sound into Dolby Digital or DTS which is then capable of being transmitted via optical or digital coaxial (If you can use HDMI sound, then you don't need to do this as you can just send the raw 5.1 digital signal across HDMI)

It's kind of a shame that you still have to buy a sound card to get your sound encoded into Dolby Digital or DTS because the sound card isn't actually doing it. It's all done by the drivers in software and could be done by a software only package and then output from your motherboard's included digital port. So if you are buying a sound card for this feature, then you are really paying $100 for some simple software, since in using the digital port on the sound card, you are bypassing the DAC and amplifier chips (which are the majority of the cost of the card).

I believe that some indie developer could make thousands writing a simple universal software program that could convert arbitrary audio input into Dolby Digital and or DTS to be output from a motherboards S/PDIF port and sell it for like $10-20 bucks, because this functionality alone is why many users shell out for a whole sound card and never end up actually using any of the hardware since they just use the digital output.

The last reason to use a sound card, and I suppose is the most common reason is if you have relatively cheap analog-input speakers from the likes of Logitech or Creative so someone similar. Therefore, you bought a sound card because you want an analog output on your computer that is better than the on-board. again for analog output, you need a DAC and op-amp (which your onboard sound does have, but are even worse than the ones in a dedicated card) In this case, you are actually fully utilizing your sound card and it will be increasing the quality to some extent. However, you are still using the op-amp in your sound card as a pre-amp to the amplifier thats included in your speakers and this can really be avoided.

My recommendation for this last situation is to buy a small external DAC that connects to your computer via S/PDIF or USB and has a line-level analog output when you will run to your speakers. This will lead to superior quality for the money compared to buying an internal sound card. However this is really only sufficient for stereo audio as you wont really find small cheap external multi-channel DACs.

For headphones, I would definitely recommend just getting a small external DAC/Amplifier combo as you can definitely get better sound for the same price as a sound card. One entry-level solution that comes to mind is this product:
http://www.nuforce.com/hp/products/iconudac2hp/

If you want something that will be best for both headphones and an external stereo speaker set, then you would want this one:
http://www.nuforce.com/hp/products/iconudac2/

It has both a powered headphone output as well as a line0level output form the DAC that is perfect for connecting to speakers that have their own amp already (like a receiver).

Now, these are just the entry level products and you can easily get better equipment depending on your audio wants. For example, you can pay over $1000 just for the DAC chip and over $5,000 just for the amplifier. However, I believe even these entry-level products to be better than what is available in a PCIe sound card from a company like Creative, Asus, or similar.

I hope this helps you understand the computer audio world a bit more.
 

undertheradar

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"Another reason might be that you want to get 5.1 sound out of the digital port. To do this you really need to have some software that will encode the 5.1 channel sound into Dolby Digital or DTS which is then capable of being transmitted via optical or digital coaxial..."
Yes!
It is a shame, as you mention, that a software package alone wouldn't be made available for this... prolly has more to do with the brand names (THX, Dolby, DTS) than anything. Perhaps it is time for the CS guys out there to develop the software open-source sound-processing equal to these... like linux, but for sound.

I have a HiFi in another room with the serious speakers and power amps, and if I want a high-end DAC, I would make it myself, but the card is for all that positional audio fx stuff. Im an EE, last month for fun I made an analog differential amp with a CMRR that my EE buddies still haven't determined because the common mode is too low for any of the scopes, even after amping it up 1,000,000x. This computer does run 7.1, but its more for gaming and sometimes as a netflix box when the HTPC in the other room is "occupied". So what I really want to know is... of the gaming cards, which is the best? Im not so concerned with audiophile quality things like CMRR as much as processing power, features, and positional audio, as no DAC will be getting used in the PC.

Is there a serious disadvantage with positional audio if I dont get an X-Fi since the Asus boards wont have CMSS-3D or the other positional audio that gets used in games? It seems that in comparison, the D2X is the best card for gaming from what I can see... or is it?

BTW, I run the optical output from the card to an external amp, so no analog or DAC is being used. If I use computer headphones like my Logitech G300's or Sharkoon Xtactics, they use the analog outputs from the external amp, or I do have a pair of Creative Arena headphones that plug right in to the PC via USB. The system in this room is a "cheap" sub-sat 7.1 setup, nothing like the monitors in the other room.
 
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Snufykat

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I have a HiFi in another room with the serious speakers and power amps. This computer does run 7.1, but its more for gaming and sometimes as netflix. So what I really want to know is... of the gaming cards, which is the best? Im not so concerned with audiophile quality things like CMRR as much as processing power, features, and positional audio, as no DAC will be used in the PC.

Is there a serious disadvantage with positional audio if I dont get an X-Fi since the Asus boards wont have CMSS-3D or the other positional audio that gets used in games? It seems that in comparison, the D2X is the best card for gaming from what I can see... or is it?

BTW, I run the optical output from the card to an external amp, so no analog or Dac is being used. If I use headphones lke my Logitech G300's or Sharkoon Xtactics, they use the analog outputs from the external amp, or I do have a pair of Creative Arena headphones that plug right in to the PC via USB.

Then what is the point of having a sound card if you are just passing a SPDIF signal to external hardware?
There is no differnece from one SPDIF and the SPDIF that you would get from a "new" soundcard.
 

undertheradar

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Isnt there some digital processing/coding going on (digital effects)? I thought the card handled the calculations and coding for where the sound is supposed to come from based on what is going on in the game. Am I wrong? I didn't think my computer and game alone could generate a Dolby/DTS signal...
 

SirMaster

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Then what is the point of having a sound card if you are just passing a SPDIF signal to external hardware?
There is no differnece from one SPDIF and the SPDIF that you would get from a "new" soundcard.

Yep, this is true for stereo audio and for sound already encoded into DD or DTS as you find in movies.

However, I believe he has gaming as his primary purpose and wants 5.1 which means he is stuck with the unfortunate reality that he must get a sound card only to be able to install the proprietary software that will encode his game's audio into DD or DTS so it can be transmitted across the S/PDIF interface.

So, for this case, he should go find the cheapest card that supports either Dolby Digital Live or DTS Interactive.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dolby_Digital#Dolby_Digital_Live
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DTS_(sound_system)#DTS_Connect

He also speaks about processing effects like CMMS:3D. Those are for converting stereo signals into 5.1 surround. It's not something you would really use for gaming as all games pretty much already support real 5.1 surround sound which is always better than the fake CMMS:3D.

Also, since I think he is using a receiver, it likely has Dolby ProLogic II or DTS Neo:6 which are much better systems designed to take a stereo signal and convert it into surround sound so he should be using those processors instead of CMMS:3D.
 

SirMaster

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Isnt there some digital processing/coding going on (digital effects)? I thought the card handled the calculations and coding for where the sound is supposed to come from based on what is going on in the game. Am I wrong? I didn't think my computer and game alone could generate a Dolby/DTS signal...

No, the game alone is responsible for sound calculation and where sound is coming from etc.

For say a FPS game, there is some sound file on your hard drive that sounds like a gunshot. When someone shoots the gun in the distance to your left, the video game is responsible for pulling up that gun shot file off the hard drive and mixing into whatever signal you have your game set to (stereo, 5.1, etc.) If there is some echo or other distortion effect applied to the gunshot to make ti sound more realistic for where it is, that is either done with OpenAL sound APIs which can be executed on the sound card or on your CPU, or the game has its own sound effects which wont be standard and will only be able to be run on the CPU.

In either case, in this day and age with modern processors, this sound processing takes a negligible amount of CPU time and isn't going to slow your game down. Back in the days of single-core processors it mattered a lot more and sound cards were much more useful, but those days have come and gone. If performance is what you are interested in, $100 toward a CPU or Video card are going to net you 10x the performance gains that any sound card could possibly ever offer.

Also note that it doesn't matter where the sound processing takes place. It's going to sound the same, its just digital calculation and math being applied to a digital stream of bits at the processing stage.

The preferred solution would be to then use HDMI to send out the 5.1 raw channels of audio to a receiver which would then convert them to analog and amplify them out to speakers.

If your receiver doesn't support HDMI sound then you need to either use analog cables (green, black, orange typically) or optical/digital coax with both transfer a S/PDIF signal. As we have seen, S/PDIF is limited to stereo if its a raw digital signal. The sound must be encoded to DD or DTS before more than 2 channels can be sent across S/PDIF.

Using analog would warrant a sound card because its likely better than onboard since with an analog transmission you are using the DAC and amplifier. And using S/PDIF warrants a sound card because its the only way to get the software that converts the signal into DD or DTS. However its just the software diing this when using the S.PDIf. All that hardware on the sound card isn't doing anything when you are using the S/PDIF output. Unless you are using it to apply weird effects like CMMS:3D and stuff.

But we already talked about those effects and they aren't really useful.
 
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Forceman

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Unless you are using it to apply weird effects like CMMS:3D and stuff.

But we already talked about those effects and they aren't really useful.

Actually, CMSS:3D is very useful if you are using headphones for gaming.
 

SirMaster

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Actually, CMSS:3D is very useful if you are using headphones for gaming.

I've found that using the dedicated headphone option in the game provides the most accurate virtual surround sound signal for headphones. And the next best is using Dolby Headphone on my receiver.

I never really liked Creative's solution much. It seems to just muffle all the sounds and they all sound dull and distant. I seem to even prefer the plain stereo mode sent to my headphones compared to turning on CMMS:3D.

But I guess some people seem to still like it.

Although I can't help feeling this is another prime example of a waste of a feature to purchase a sound card. the CMMS:3D sound processing could be applied to the sound with another software package external to a sound card and it's processed signal could be output form any plug on the system.

See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head-related_transfer_function

I find it quite strange that there is no free or cheap software-only package out there to do this processing and also Dolby Digital Live processing for games.

The reason is, because an audio decoding/encoding system called FFDShow already exists with both of these features.

There is an option in FFDShow to take some non-standard multi-channel input like 5.1 mp3, 5.1 aac, 5.1 wma/wmv and encode its into a 5.1 AC3 signal which can be sent across S/PDIF. I believe it's using open libraries to do this so the already exist.

There is also another option in the mixer section that lets you take multi-channel audio and down-mix it using a HRTF algorithm into a stereo signal meant specifically for headphones and I use this all the time when watching movies on my laptop and want 5.1 sound in my nice stereo headphones. again, this is a completely free package so why cant someone implement these for games?

It seems like 90% of the work is already done. All that needs to be done is change the source of the sound to come from the game's audio output rather than from a file that you are playing from the hard disk.


If I had to come up with a reason for why this isn't done yet I would have to say that maybe its because you need random access to the audio stream on a hard disk to do the calculations in real-time and you can't simply apply the code to a live stream of audio. Or at least not the way FFDShow does it.

I find this to be a poor excuse if it indeed holds any truth whatsoever as Creative has managed to include both DD and DTS encoding to their sound cards through software alone, and its nothing that couldn't be done on a plain old CPU as is the case for HRTF or as Creative calls their implementation CMMS:3D.


Actually, looking back over HRTF, I believe that games that do have a dedicated headphone option often use the OpenAL API which already has an implementation of HRTF. It seems it would be trivial to make a third party program to call this OpenAL API for arbitrary sound in your computer no matter the source. You should be able to grab the game's audio stream once its hit the WASAPI and then pass it to OpenAL which can pass it back to WASAPI. All the actual hard work of HRTF calculation is already implemented in OpenAL.
 
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Forceman

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The reason why DD Live, Dolby Headphone, and probably DTS Connect aren't available in software probably has to do with licensing issues - you can't provide them in a free product because of the licensing fees and there probably isn't enough of a business case for developing a pay solution.
 

SirMaster

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The reason why DD Live, Dolby Headphone, and probably DTS Connect aren't available in software probably has to do with licensing issues - you can't provide them in a free product because of the licensing fees and there probably isn't enough of a business case for developing a pay solution.

You missed what I said in my previous post.

There are already fully implemented free and open source libraries to encode audio into Dolby Digital. They come with FFDShow:



Here is an image of the audio configuration with the option:
http://oi52.tinypic.com/35bgwo5.jpg

In the middle where it says AC3 (S/PDIF encode mode). FFDShow is taking in any 5.1 channels of audio and encoding it into AC3 and sending it out the S/PDIF port on my motherboard. My receiver accepts it and lights up with Dolby Digital 640k and 5.1 channel audio works beautifully via the oprical S/PDIF with no special sound card or anything.

So why can this library not be used with the audio coming from a game? Seems as all that needs to be done is to pipe the audio through this existing free code.


The same goes for HRTF (head related transfer function) which has various free implementations that are included again in FFDShow (on another page) and also in the OpenAL libraries. So why can't we pipe our 5.1 streams from games that don't have a headphone option into that function to get the virtual headphone surround sound output?
 

Forceman

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You missed what I said in my previous post.

There are already fully implemented free and open source libraries to encode audio into Dolby Digital. They come with FFDShow:



Here is an image of the audio configuration with the option:
http://oi52.tinypic.com/35bgwo5.jpg

In the middle where it says AC3 (S/PDIF encode mode). FFDShow is taking in any 5.1 channels of audio and encoding it into AC3 and sending it out the S/PDIF port on my motherboard. My receiver accepts it and lights up with Dolby Digital 640k and 5.1 channel audio works beautifully via the oprical S/PDIF with no special sound card or anything.

So why can this library not be used with the audio coming from a game? Seems as all that needs to be done is to pipe the audio through this existing free code.


The same goes for HRTF (head related transfer function) which has various free implementations that are included again in FFDShow (on another page) and also in the OpenAL libraries. So why can't we pipe our 5.1 streams from games that don't have a headphone option into that function to get the virtual headphone surround sound output?

Depends on the licensing terms. There are technologies that are free for non-commercial use, but are expensive if used in a commercial product. So maybe it is something like that, and a game company using it would have to pay a licensing fee. Or maybe they are just lazy.
 

undertheradar

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Okay, so perhaps I should narrow my query to get the answer I am looking for;

Of the Asus sound cards, which is the best one for gaming? Are there other sound cards I should consider?
 

Liver

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Okay, so perhaps I should narrow my query to get the answer I am looking for;

Of the Asus sound cards, which is the best one for gaming? Are there other sound cards I should consider?

I don't have a answer for your specific question. In fact I have the exact same question you have. Specifically, I am looking at the Asus cards as well.

I am slowly coming to the conclusion that an after market sound card is no longer necessary. I only game with headphones and I am realizing that not only is the sound card not necessary but might actually be hindering (with bad drivers and such).

I am looking at the nuForce products that were suggested, as well as DAC1 (USB - I might have the name messed up).

Only issue is that I also use Ventrilo quite often, and is the motherboard mic input just as easy to use as the dedicated sound card?
 

samduhman

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I am slowly coming to the conclusion that an after market sound card is no longer necessary. I only game with headphones and I am realizing that not only is the sound card not necessary

I would humbly disagree with that comment. A couple years ago I nearly fell into the "I don't need a sound card" thinking when I upgraded my system. I decided I'd leave out the sound card and see how it sounded. Well I wasn't happy at all with the on board sound coming from a Soundblaster X-FI. There was definite improvement when I put in the sound card.

Last year I did a lot of research on getting a different brand. I ended up getting the Auzentech Forte mainly for the headphone feature. If it weren't for that I would have went with one of the Asus but I can't recall which one is best for gaming now.

Once I put in the Auzentech and as I was playing a game I heard a noise behind me on the floor. It scared the heck out of me. I jumped out of my seat and looked around...turned out it was the game. :D

Its not just the card you need a good set of 5.1 or more speakers and/or headphones.
 

Snufykat

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If you are running "computer" speakers there really is no need for a sound card these days.
Once you step out of the multimedia-logitech relm there are benefits to a sound card but they are mostly output options and drivers.
 

SirMaster

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I did some more looking about the Dolby Digital audio encoding from game outputs without having to get sound card and I came across this:

http://www.hardwareheaven.com/gener...ocnexk-released-realtime-5-1-ac3-encoder.html

Looks like it attempts to do what I was describing in an earlier post. He says it uses avcodec library to do the AC3 (DD) encoding and is released under the LGPL license which is included in the download. This code is from ffmpeg.

Looks like he says it is lekely to BSOD on sound fom OpenAL games and he doesn't know why. It's a shame, but it looks like my original idea for a simple software solution to encode sound into DD for transmission form motherboard S/PDIF is definitely possible.

Just need more interested and good developers I guess :)
 

RanceJustice

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Lots of people that have posted provided good advice. That said, let me add my 2 cents based on my experience since you are asking about Asus cards. There may be situations where a sound card is not the best use of your money, but for me it is the best solution available at the time because..

1. I have "general" sound needs that include games, movies and music
2. I need BOTH headphone/headset and speaker compatibility. Speakers are my primary platform, an old set of Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 Ultras. These are analog. I also need digital compatibility for my headset, which is amped on an AstroGaming MixAmp and used both in tandem with my sound card, and as a discrete device.
3. Though I appreciate good sound quality, I'm not willing to spend four figures to get it at the moment, invest in a whole new platform with new home theater or better speakers, an AV receiver, high end headphones, discrete headphone amp etc...
4. Linux compatibility is important to me.

Thus, for me a sound card is the way to go. A couple of years ago I put my venerable Audigy 2 ZS to rest, looking for something better. Drivers/Linux compatibility, sound quality, versatility are all important to me. Auzentech's offerings were overpriced and lacked compatibility, due to using the X-Fi chip which was a no-go for me. HTOmega was better, but was stuck on the old PCI standard and for the money had a more narrow feature set compared to Asus.

The Asus Xonar line is built on high quality components, supports many features from digital output to EAX emulation and is surprisingly affordable. At the time, I bought the DX as a "stop gap" measure - it was much better quality than onboard or the Creative cards at the time, is Linux compatible, and was inexpensive. I was hoping for a more integrated solution, but the Xonar line is filled with specialists and makes compromises. For instance, the D2X lacks front panel audio connection that the DX has, but has better digital output and other uses. The HDAV Deluxe is expensive and is centered around HDMI audio passthrough which I wasn't going to use. The STX uses the highest audio quality components and retains many of the benefits of the D2 and D2X, but is nearly entirely focused on using high-end headphones. The ST remedies this to an extent by offering a daughter board for analog audio, but is PCI.

The Hardware Canucks review is pretty sound and due to this I'm thinking of purchasing the Xense because it seems to be the best attempt I've seen to date for a high end soundcard that makes minimal compromises and delivers for headphone use, analog speakers, digital output, music quality, HDTV/Movie audio support and technologies like Dolby Digital Live, and gaming. Much like the Canucks, I wish the Xense was available as a stand alone card - I don't expect the PC350 (why didn't they use the PC360?) to be a miracle,but I expect it to be a decent headset for VOIP and watching/listening/playing media now and again when speakers are undesirable. Still, as I already have several headsets ranging from cheap logitech pack-ins to Astro A40s, I really don't need yet another and thus would like to pick up the Xense cheaper alone. However, considering the STX is around $200 by itself and the Senn 350/360s sell for $100+ last I checked, the package "deal" doesn't seem too bad.

If you need a sound card today and you have a broad use in mind for it, I think the Xense is the best available. If you have narrow, niche listening there may be other cards that will do what you wish cheaper an/or better, but I don't see anything else that approaches this level of quality and versatility.
 
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spike99

Weaksauce
Joined
Aug 29, 2007
Messages
112
FYI,

From my experience, MOBO sound sucks. I also wondered whether I would need a sound card with my MOBO... considering I have a good MOBO. When I compared X-Fi with MOBO... ufff, no comparison. Sound sucked when using MOBO. That said, I recently upgraded from X-Fi Fatality from about 3 years old to HT | OMEGA Claro Halo. Another... uffff.... Pretty much day & night difference. Mic, headset & speakers all improved majorly.

I initially was checking ASUS XONAR but because I wanted sound from headset and speakers at the same time, I chose Omega Claro... ASUS is unable to produce sound simultaneously to headset & speaker. I definitely made a great choice.... I've never tried ASUS, but Omega Claro is really really good and anyone wanting to have the best sound card, should seriously consider HT Omega.
 

SirMaster

2[H]4U
Joined
Nov 8, 2010
Messages
2,122
FYI,

From my experience, MOBO sound sucks. I also wondered whether I would need a sound card with my MOBO... considering I have a good MOBO. When I compared X-Fi with MOBO... ufff, no comparison. Sound sucked when using MOBO. That said, I recently upgraded from X-Fi Fatality from about 3 years old to HT | OMEGA Claro Halo. Another... uffff.... Pretty much day & night difference. Mic, headset & speakers all improved majorly.

I initially was checking ASUS XONAR but because I wanted sound from headset and speakers at the same time, I chose Omega Claro... ASUS is unable to produce sound simultaneously to headset & speaker. I definitely made a great choice.... I've never tried ASUS, but Omega Claro is really really good and anyone wanting to have the best sound card, should seriously consider HT Omega.

Yes, analog sound from the Mobo sucks. But if you are using only 2 channel for music or audio already encoded into DD or DTS like a movie, then the S/PDIF on the Mobo is identical to the S/PDIF on any sound card.
 

NaRu

n00b
Joined
Jan 2, 2007
Messages
26
Sound cards are becoming pointless and a waste of money. If you want to get good sound you need a good receiver with a good pair of speakers.
 

spike99

Weaksauce
Joined
Aug 29, 2007
Messages
112
Yes, analog sound from the Mobo sucks. But if you are using only 2 channel for music or audio already encoded into DD or DTS like a movie, then the S/PDIF on the Mobo is identical to the S/PDIF on any sound card.

OK.... I have never tried the S/PDIF either from MOBO or sound card. I use the analog sound. In order to use S/PDIF, I suppose u need a receiver... and probably would be nice to have a receiver, but I have no space for this and I assume that most people don't have a receiver connected to their PC.

What about MIC ? would you use MOBO's MIC ?
 

spike99

Weaksauce
Joined
Aug 29, 2007
Messages
112
Sound cards are becoming pointless and a waste of money. If you want to get good sound you need a good receiver with a good pair of speakers.

Yes, I have no doubt that having a receiver would be better... but again, I will assume that most people don't have receivers and use analog sound. For those people including myself who use analog sound, sound cards is the way to go.
 

spaceman

[H]F Junkie
Joined
Jan 7, 2005
Messages
14,866
Or, like me, you can use a sound card and a receiver.

I use a X-Fi titanium as a digital transport. It outputs DTS: Neo PC to my receiver. Result is very good. With my humble Nova Stax and modded SRD-7, the sound is dynamic and well defined. I hear directional sound so precisely that I am actually having trouble figuring where people are. It is new to me and the sound is so distinct that you will hear a person in the upper right corner of the headphones but be confused as to how far away they are b/c the volume varies greatly with distance. So while I can tell what direction they are coming from, I am still learning how far away they are by the volume of the sound. It is that delicate.

For music? Wow. Neo PC Music is simply crazy good.

Of course, this is expensive. Even with all of my gear bought at GREAT prices, it still was $800. Most of it going to the receiver at $450 which is an awesome deal b/c new it was $3000.
 

Neb

2[H]4U
Joined
Mar 13, 2000
Messages
3,320
Yes, analog sound from the Mobo sucks. But if you are using only 2 channel for music or audio already encoded into DD or DTS like a movie, then the S/PDIF on the Mobo is identical to the S/PDIF on any sound card.

If you want to get really specific, it's possible that the SPDIF transceiver on the sound card may be of a better quality than the one on the motherboard.

Additionally, the DAC in a soundcard requires an output stage (the opamp, generally) because the makers do not know what sort of load will be hooked up to the soundcard. Using the line out directly from the DAC without a buffer of any kind can result in terrible sound, depending on the load.
 

spaceman

[H]F Junkie
Joined
Jan 7, 2005
Messages
14,866
If you want to get really specific, it's possible that the SPDIF transceiver on the sound card may be of a better quality than the one on the motherboard.

Additionally, the DAC in a soundcard requires an output stage (the opamp, generally) because the makers do not know what sort of load will be hooked up to the soundcard. Using the line out directly from the DAC without a buffer of any kind can result in terrible sound, depending on the load.

Yeah yeah. Good point. In simpler terms some headphones will sound better with specific sound cards. Aka have better synergy.
 

Neb

2[H]4U
Joined
Mar 13, 2000
Messages
3,320
Well it's not even just about headphones, plugging in an amplifier that has a low input impedance to a line out of a soundcard without a buffer will result in bad sound as well. That is why it's "forced".

I never did try stax on the computer when I had my set, guess I should've given it a try. What receiver are you using to drive the transformer box?
 

Liver

Supreme [H]ardness
Joined
Oct 24, 2005
Messages
5,142
I would humbly disagree with that comment. A couple years ago I nearly fell into the "I don't need a sound card" thinking when I upgraded my system. I decided I'd leave out the sound card and see how it sounded. Well I wasn't happy at all with the on board sound coming from a Soundblaster X-FI. There was definite improvement when I put in the sound card.

Last year I did a lot of research on getting a different brand. I ended up getting the Auzentech Forte mainly for the headphone feature. If it weren't for that I would have went with one of the Asus but I can't recall which one is best for gaming now.

Once I put in the Auzentech and as I was playing a game I heard a noise behind me on the floor. It scared the heck out of me. I jumped out of my seat and looked around...turned out it was the game. :D

Its not just the card you need a good set of 5.1 or more speakers and/or headphones.


If I can clarify my point. I think the sound card may not be necessary.

I would not replace the dedicated sound card with the motherboard option, but rather a USB solution.

In effect I'd still have a "sound card" but it would be a USB DAC / headphone AMP combination. Yes, that is a more expensive solution, but it seems like it also may be a better one.

Why?

1. I bought sound cards in the day to reduce CPU strain. Clearly that is still present, but so insignificant (to me) that I do not think it is a valid concern anymore.

2. Shoddy driver can kill a system much much faster than NO drivers. Don't see any down side to NOT installing drivers for something you don't need (meh, to many negatives). You get the idea I hope.

3. A quality headphone DAC / AMP will be like a nice computer case. Ability to move from build to build. I suppose you can do that with a sound card, but I'm moving from PCI to PCIx, so it seems logical to switch now.

4. Someone correct me on this one. Less case (electrical) noise with an external / USB DAC. It would seem logical, but I don't know if it is enough to make a difference.

So I guess I'm looking for an external DAC / headphone AMP combination to replace a sound card. It seems wrong to me, but I think that is because I've always had a sound card, and still think that I will always have one. Meh.
 
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