Should I bother with a new soundcard?

Syribo

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My Creative X-Fi Xtreme PCI-Express sound card that came with my MSI P7N Diamond motherboard back when I put my old build together back in 2008 just bit the dust finally. I was using the optical input on it, but I've since been using the on-board audio with my new build (MSI Gaming 5 motherboard with Audio Boost 2) for now, but using analog since there's no digital input.

My question is.. I wanted to replace it with a new on-board sound card, so I bought a Sound Blaster Z (Didn't receive the package yet though).. Just wondering if it will actually be an upgrade in any way or form to the on-board audio I'm using now, since my X-Fi one died?

I don't have anything fancy as far as audio stuff goes.. I'm still using my Z-5500's I also bought back in 2007/8. I switch a lot between using the speakers, and using a headset (I have a pair of A40's for when I need the mic, and a pair of Sennheiser HD555's for when I don't). I do listen to quite a bit of music, but I also am playing video games pretty consistently while on my PC. Also watch a fair bit of movies, anime, TV shows, etc... pretty much do everything on here.

Even if I get just a little bit of improvement in my sound, the $99 on the Sound Blaster Z would be worth it to me.. I just can't afford to go for something in a higher price range, unfortunately. I'm not THAT picky though.. I used a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 for about 7 years until I upgraded that system, then used the X-Fi Xtreme for the last 8 years, even put it into my new build.. until the card finally died. But I do like decent sound all-around.

I'm not even sure, honestly, if I should be using the TOSLINK.. or if I should just be using analog, for best sound? I use an optical switcher to go to both my TV and my computer from the Z-5500's... I never really thought about it though, I wonder how much that might degrade my sound.. Would you say a switcher would degrade the sound a noticeable amount?

Should I stick with the on-board sound? Or will the Sound Blaster Z give me even just a bit of difference to my setup?
 

cyclone3d

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Unless you are losing data, then no, you are not going to be degrading the sound in any way by using the optical switcher.

The 0s will stay as 0s, and the 1s will stay as 1s.

Whatever setup has the best DAC is going to give you the best sound, and the onboard analogue out is not going to be it.
 

Syribo

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Unless you are losing data, then no, you are not going to be degrading the sound in any way by using the optical switcher.

The 0s will stay as 0s, and the 1s will stay as 1s.

Whatever setup has the best DAC is going to give you the best sound, and the onboard analogue out is not going to be it.

So then continuing to use the optical cables with the Sound Blaster Z should then be better quality than the on-board.. I hope the SB Z is at least on par or better than my X-Fi Xtreme PCI-E card was.
 

DeathFromBelow

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So then continuing to use the optical cables with the Sound Blaster Z should then be better quality than the on-board.. I hope the SB Z is at least on par or better than my X-Fi Xtreme PCI-E card was.

Why wouldn't it be on par? If you've been using optical you've been using your amp to do the digital-analog conversion anyway. You wont be able to tell the difference in terms of audio playback quality. All you're getting from your sound card are the DSP/gaming features.
 
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osirus35

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So then continuing to use the optical cables with the Sound Blaster Z should then be better quality than the on-board.. I hope the SB Z is at least on par or better than my X-Fi Xtreme PCI-E card was.

I consider the Z series the official successor to the X-fi series and coming from an X-fi Extreme to a Z I did notice a difference in sound quality. With that being said, since you are using optical DeathFromBelow is correct in that I do not think you would hear any difference in sound quality.

I cannot confirm but if the DSP features do get passed through the optical cable then it can change how the audio sounds (especially if you are using the virtual surround and crystalizer)
 

Syribo

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Okay that makes a lot of sense then :) As long as it's still beneficial to me over my on-board, then I'm happy. I did use the features that came with the X-Fi card a ton. I also did use the CMSS 3D when using a headset, but I don't think the Z has that? Or does it have something similar?

I'm also interested in just how bright the red lights on it are, considering I saw an incredible amount of people complaining about that. My case is full of a ton of red lights anyway, so I can't imagine just how bad it might be.
 

spaceman

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It has a better virtual surround than cmss. The z series does gaming sound better than the previous models. It does not sound better. It just has better directional sound.
 

Syribo

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Okay so, these may be some stupid questions perhaps.. So I have a digital cable going from the Z to my Z-5500's. So uh... Two things show up in the Playback control panel in Windows... Speakers Sound Blaster Z and SPDIF-Out Sound Blaster Z. Which of these should be default..? Also, in the Sound Blaster software, should I be enabling Dolby Digital Live or something? Because it seems like if I don't, none of the effects or anything in the Sound Blaster control panel will work.

The weird thing is, with that enabled, I have sound.. but I can't adjust the volume in the Windows volume control, only on the control pod for the Z-5500's, is that normal? I don't recall ever having that happen with my X-Fi sound card before. I know I must have something set up wrong most likely.
 

Syribo

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So I downloaded the SBZ Switcher program.. and now I can control the master volume through the volume control panel in Windows, yay. Weird that once you enable Dolby Digital Live, the volume gets controlled via What U Hear.

Most people don't actually use Crystalizer, do they? I've tried it for music so many times.. but it makes it sound so off to me.
 

spaceman

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No the crystallizer is not a good idea. No effects are for music. Unless you prefer it.

I just go stereo for music and might use the sbz surround for gaming or not. Depending on the game.

I use the analogue outs on the sbz though.
 

OrAnGe

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Okay so, these may be some stupid questions perhaps.. So I have a digital cable going from the Z to my Z-5500's. So uh... Two things show up in the Playback control panel in Windows... Speakers Sound Blaster Z and SPDIF-Out Sound Blaster Z. Which of these should be default..? Also, in the Sound Blaster software, should I be enabling Dolby Digital Live or something? Because it seems like if I don't, none of the effects or anything in the Sound Blaster control panel will work.

The weird thing is, with that enabled, I have sound.. but I can't adjust the volume in the Windows volume control, only on the control pod for the Z-5500's, is that normal? I don't recall ever having that happen with my X-Fi sound card before. I know I must have something set up wrong most likely.

I believe the Z-5500's have their own DAC's. So when you use your optical cable to the Z-5500's you are not getting the features of your Z card. You might as well output Optical from an onboard solution and get the same out of the Z-5500's. That's why there are two options in the play back control panel. Use the Sound Blaster Z or use the Z-5500's DAC's.

That's why you were only controlling the volume on the control pod of the z-5500's.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong. Beyond that I'm not sure.
 
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