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Looking for a new soundcard for my computer, tips/help?

post #1 of 47
Thread Starter 

Currently got a Creative X-FI Xtrememusic, had it a few years now, been working nicely, but am wondering about getting something else. Been looking at the Asus Xonar Essence STX and Creative X-FI Titanium HD, but am open for other suggestions as well.

Reason for the interest in the two above is because of the built in headphone amp. I use my computer for gaming, music and movies, would say i listen to music more than i game, but both are important really. Don't really care for EAX, which i know both the HD and my Xtrememusic have, but never used it, as long as the audio in the games works good and doesn't ruin performance in anyway am more than happy.

When it comes to music, am looking for a better experience, currently got a Sennheiser PC350 which probably is the biggest fault there, but i have plans on buying a set of new headphones with the new soundcard as well, though not decided on which yet. Also been looking into an standalone amp for headphones, but if am happy with the built-in ones in one of these card i'll probably hold that off, or else i could always just buy one an connect it to one of the cards i guess.

Another thing, does any of the cards above support 5.1 speaker setup? Don't have any atm, but would be nice if i were to buy something later, so i could connect it to my computer, either directly, or maybe through a receiver, would that work with any of the cards above? Or are they strictly stereo cards? So only 2.0/2.1 speakers/headphones will work?

That's it for now, might pop up more questions later, hopefully someone could help me out here, would really appreciate it =)

post #2 of 47

The Titanium HD only supports 5.1 through S/PDIF and Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect. Analog outputs are limited to stereo. If you need 5.1 or 7.1 through analog, consider an Auzentech X-Fi card instead (any of them EXCEPT the Bravura, which isn't a true X-Fi).

 

The Xonar Essence STX seems like a competent card for music listening (and perhaps some gaming for newer titles without EAX support), but I don't know too much about it. Most of my focus is on cards with gaming features, hopefully without detracting from a good music-listening experience.

 

In terms of dedicated headphone amps, the FiiO E9 is a popular entry-level choice hovering near the $100 mark, though I haven't used or heard one in action. Just remember that the amp isn't supposed to change the sound signature, but allow the utmost control over the drivers in your headphones.

 

As for new headphones, what are you looking for there? Better imaging in games (with or without binaural surround filters)? More engaging sound for music? Both, whenever possible?

post #3 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nitrius View Post

Currently got a Creative X-FI Xtrememusic, had it a few years now, been working nicely, but am wondering about getting something else. Been looking at the Asus Xonar Essence STX and Creative X-FI Titanium HD, but am open for other suggestions as well.

Reason for the interest in the two above is because of the built in headphone amp. I use my computer for gaming, music and movies, would say i listen to music more than i game, but both are important really. Don't really care for EAX, which i know both the HD and my Xtrememusic have, but never used it, as long as the audio in the games works good and doesn't ruin performance in anyway am more than happy.

When it comes to music, am looking for a better experience, currently got a Sennheiser PC350 which probably is the biggest fault there, but i have plans on buying a set of new headphones with the new soundcard as well, though not decided on which yet. Also been looking into an standalone amp for headphones, but if am happy with the built-in ones in one of these card i'll probably hold that off, or else i could always just buy one an connect it to one of the cards i guess.

Another thing, does any of the cards above support 5.1 speaker setup? Don't have any atm, but would be nice if i were to buy something later, so i could connect it to my computer, either directly, or maybe through a receiver, would that work with any of the cards above? Or are they strictly stereo cards? So only 2.0/2.1 speakers/headphones will work?

That's it for now, might pop up more questions later, hopefully someone could help me out here, would really appreciate it =)

Right now the Titanium HD is around $35-$40 less the the Essence STX.

I like the Asus over Creative Labs because I find the Asus software is simpler to use, install and driver repairs are easier.

You should be able to hook up 5.1 speakers, you would use the digital out from the sound card (which bypass the cards internal processing)

to speakers that have a digital input, usually these are the more expensive computer speakers, because they have to have the internals to process the 5.1  signal.

A cheap way to add a headphone amplifier is to get the Asus Xonar DG, is has a decent headphone amplifier (headphones up to 120-Ohms?)

It also supports analog 5.1 speaker (not sure how good the 5.1 speakers sound quality is, my guess.....decent?).
 

 

post #4 of 47
Thread Starter 
I don't really know to much about sound, i just know that right now, with my PC350 i feel they are a bit tame, want something with more punch and richer sound, if i can say that. They work fine for gaming, but don't like they so much when it comes to music. But don't really need to suggest any headphones in this thread, i'll probably make a thread about it in the appropriate sub-forum here. I just mentioned it so everyone know i have plans for changing.

Anyway don't really know if 'll be needing 5.1, and if its through analog or digital am not quiet sure about, just mentioned it, as it would be nice to know if any of the cards support it, right now am centered towards using headphones, but can't say for sure that don't want to buy a "good" speakers setup sometime in the future, and then it would be good to know that i don't have to upgrade my soundcard again because of it. And if i understand correctly, the HD i can connect say the speakers to a receiver which i then plug into the analog plugs on the soundcard, then i believe the receiver will handle the sound and the HD card will just pass it along from my computer? It's the same with the Xonar Essence STX i believe? But it support both analog and digital connection?

Still a bit unsure on the decision, both seems like great card, but a lot seems to hate on Creative because of poor driver support, but from the reviews i've read most of that seems to be fixed with the HD, as HD is the first card properly made for windows 7, same goes for the drivers, or so it said in the review from @hardocp. Else the STX from Asus seems to be loved by most people, though i hear someone say it sucks for gaming, don't mind it not being as good as the HD, because it has EAX, but i don't hope the card sucks either.

And price isn't a big issue, but i could ofc just stick with my Creative X-FI Xtrememusic and by a headphone amp instead, but i want something new, and hopefully better than my current card, also looking to get away from PCI card and over to a PCIe card instead, that's also one of the reason for picking the two cards above, as i got a bit of a space issue with my graphic card and my soundcard atm, but if i got a PCIe soundcard i would be able to move em a bit apart from each other.
post #5 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tacoboy View Post



Right now the Titanium HD is around $35-$40 less the the Essence STX.

I like the Asus over Creative Labs because I find the Asus software is simpler to use, install and driver repairs are easier.

You should be able to hook up 5.1 speakers, you would use the digital out from the sound card (which bypass the cards internal processing)

to speakers that have a digital input, usually these are the more expensive computer speakers, because they have to have the internals to process the 5.1  signal.

A cheap way to add a headphone amplifier is to get the Asus Xonar DG, is has a decent headphone amplifier (headphones up to 120-Ohms?)

It also supports analog 5.1 speaker (not sure how good the 5.1 speakers sound quality is, my guess.....decent?).
 

 



You have already been told on a previous thread that your notion of Creative drivers is incorrect, as they are as streamlined as they can be, there are no driver repair issues whatsoever and the ease of use is just there.

 

@Nitrius: From the moment you also plan on gaming, you do need a X-Fi powered soundcard, which doesn't need to be the X-Fi Titanium HD, if you're not willing to stretch your budget. Besides EAX support, which isn't that essential, hardware OpenAL acceleration and the X-Fi DSP really make the difference compared to other manufacturers' cards, such all Asus soundcards which have no gaming features, except a game mode which does limited software emulation that's quite less compatible with games than a X-Fi card.

A base Creative X-Fi Titanium will already be an upgrade to your XtremeMusic, an Auzentech X-Fi Forte improves on that through use of higher quality components, and the Creative X-Fi Titanium HD has a third generation X-Fi DSP chip along with high quality components and an improved DAC.

 

Still, if budget is a consideration and you only do light gaming, as in simple games, not requiring any gaming features, the Asus Xonar DG has a good price/performance ratio, along with it having an integrated headphone amplifier. Or if you want to somewhat futureproof your system, I'd advise you on getting the Auzentech X-Fi Forte or the Creative X-Fi Titanium HD and pairing it with a headphone amplifier of your choosing.

post #6 of 47
Thread Starter 
Price isn't a big issue, want the best i can get really, though no need to go over the top ofc which neither the STX or HD is i think. But atm am getting very fond of the built-in amp so choosing something that doesn't have this atm is probably unlikely for my part.

And i must say STX has been the card i've been eying the most, up until now, reading your reply @Roller, makes me think maybe i should go for the HD instead. Am not to well know about the gaming features really, beside EAX, which is of no importance to me, as i got it on my Xtrememusic but never used it. But you mention hardware OpenAL and X-FI DSP, care to explain what those do to my games? It isn't something like the X-FI Crystalizer or CMSS 3D? Which is something Xtrememusic have, but again, don't like those so they have been turned off.

As said, when it comes to gaming, i don't want it to sound crappy, as long as it sounds normal, if i can say that, am more than happy, and ofc performance, don't want a card that drags down performance to much, but i believe these days with the amount of processing power we have, that's not a problem anymore?

But in the long run, music sound/quality is the most important part for me, but i don't want to gimp my games because of it or movies either really, i want something that makes everything "great" but i doubt that's possible, so i probably have to find myself okay with some compromises
post #7 of 47

The thing about getting one of those that can be considered the best consumer soundcards on the market is the fact that you will have a setup that will last you quite a long time, since any of those cards have already enough quality to allow you for crystal clear audio, with only the remaining devices on your setup being the limiting factor.

 

About getting something with an integrated amp, I don't really like that since the user cannot select every device on his audio chain, being forced to use that which comes with the card.

 

There are a few things you should keep in mind regarding the Titanium HD and the Essence STX. First, the Titanium HD doesn't have the same analog I/O, but you can run it through a receiver and skip that, while the Essence STX has a wider analog I/O. Second, the Essence STX barely has any gaming features at all since they were indeed an afterthought and what's even there is poorly built into the card and yields lower results than a standard $50 Creative X-Fi Titanium, nevermind the Titanium HD. Third, the Titanium HD and the Essence STX are basically on the same level of SQ, with both being customizable through opamp swapping. Still, by default, the Titanium HD has a smoother sound signature while the Essence STX has a harsher sound signature, which I relate to its integrated headphone amp. There is also the lower price difference on the Titanium HD, but you've already said that it's not a main concern.

 

Hardware OpenAL is only available on Creative soundcards since Audigy 2 series up to the Titanium HD, and allows for both higher quality in-game sounds as well as actually providing additional sounds that aren't available on software OpenAL or cards that don't even support OpenAL. Your XtremeMusic already has both hardware OpenAL support and a X-Fi DSP, like all X-Fi cards except XtremeAudio, which isn't a true X-Fi card. The X-Fi DSP allows for better sound accuracy, applying filtering that enables you to pinpoint a sound source despite its distance from you and height values outputted to you. A newer DSP chip improves things a bit over previous versions, but it's not a night and day difference.

 

Overall, you should consider that the Titanium HD has the same SQ as the Essence STX (people who like a warmer sound will easily pick the Titanium HD), the complete gaming feature set and is less expensive than the Essence STX. So, being a well rounded card (meaning proper music and movie capabilities) with full gaming support makes the Titanium HD a no brainer. If for some reason an integrated amp is an absolute necessity, despite it blocking you from choosing what kind of amp you want, then the Auzentech X-Fi Forte is the option to go.

 

Another thing to consider is keeping your current XtremeMusic, if you're not having any issues with it, and just get a nice headphone amplifier like the Fiio E9, which has enough power to drive just about any headphones you might plug to it, except orthos. This could actually be your best option since it will enable you to buy headphones without worrying about proper amping. Again, this option is only to be considered if your current soundcard is working properly. But of course, your ideal option would be to get the Creative X-Fi Titanium HD and Fiio E9, and you wouldn't have to change anything in your setup for years, except headphones :)

post #8 of 47
Thread Starter 
Thanks again for a good response =)

Didn't know about the Auzentech, but you say it blocks me from using a standalone amp, and i don't really want to be forced into not being able to switch, i like having options. and i guess with the HD and STX, even though they have built-in amps i can still purchase my own amp and "disable" the one on the cards? But this isn't possible with the Auzentech?

Well my currently Creative X-FI Xtrememusic card isn't having any problems at all really, the only reason i want to change is because i want something new, even though it might be a bit waste, and yes holding onto the card and just buying a amp and new headphones instead will probably save me some money, but am really interested in these "high end" soundcards, mainly the HD and STX.

The plan is/was buying a new soundcard with built-in amp and a new pair of good headphones, test it out, and see if i like it or not, if not i would probably buy a standalone amp as well.

Anyway the mention of hardware OpenAL got me a bit curious, as my Xtrememusic have this, if buying the STX then, i would lose this, maybe it will be kinda be a downgrade when it comes to gaming sound from my current setup? And am not sure if i like that idea, the thing is, i don't really know how much this hardware OpenAL thingy does, as i haven't listened to a card recently that don't have this, so i only know how it sounds with hardware OpenAL, and then if i buy a card without this, maybe i'll notice a big difference right away and get a bit disappointed, which i don't really want to be with a new and expensive soundcard. Do all newer games use this hardware OpenAL? Or is it only a few?
post #9 of 47

Auzentech makes high quality soundcards with various chipsets, but what's really of interest are their newer cards that have licensed for use the second generation X-Fi DSP. They are very good performers, and their Auzentech X-Fi Forte card is quite good, having an integrated amp as well, and it's the card to get if you're not getting a Titanium HD or an Essence STX. But yes, you can bypass the internal amp.

 

About using an Essence STX for gaming, it's a downgrade, but for audio in general it's an upgrade indeed. Still, you can just get the Titanium HD for less money, improve gaming performance over your current XtremeMusic and have the same (or better, depending on your signature preferences) audio performance.

 

Unfortunately, there isn't a standard audio renderer for games, which is unfortunate and is also a bit related to the whole gaming console market bane on computer gaming. Still, OpenAL is the best audio renderer available out there. Here is a rather small and out of date list of OpenAL games: http://connect.creativelabs.com/openal/OpenAL%20Wiki/Games.aspx

It should be noted that there are lots of games missing from that list, like DiRT series, Bioshock 2, Penumbra series, Unreal Engine 2 and 3 games (which by itself is a quite large number of games), GRID, America's Army, Battlefield series, Gears of War, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, Kane & Lynch 1 and 2, Killing Floor, Mass Effect 1 and 2, Mirror's Edge, among many others. Like I said, that's a rather small list.

 

Hey, I'm glad to help :)

post #10 of 47

I wouldn't say that dedicated soundcards are very important for gaming any more. Motherboard audio has advanced considerably - I just finished building a £1000 gaming PC for a friend and it doesn't even have a sound card, let alone a Creative one. Modern games don't tend to take advantage of discrete soundcards, and when they do the difference is rarely night and day, whilst the performance of modern computers means that there is no real performance drop from using onboard sound whilst gaming - you're certainly not going to notice a big framerate boost.

 

Just because it uses the OpenAL library (which is a great library, admittedly) doesn't mean an X-Fi based card is either required or even worthwhile. For example, Unreal Tournament 3's implementation of OpenAL is completely broken (well documented and fast-occuring system freeze when enabled), whilst Bioshock 1 suffers from various intermittent issues when using the X-Fi to get extra audio features (EAX 5 ect) when I try to use it with my X-Fi card. Many other games that use the library still confer absolutely no real advantages to sound card owners and those that do are generally rather old.

 

 


Edited by Willakan - 9/1/11 at 6:21am
post #11 of 47
Quote:
Originally Posted by Willakan View Post

I wouldn't say that dedicated soundcards are very important for gaming any more. Motherboard audio has advanced considerably - I just finished building a £1000 gaming PC for a friend and it doesn't even have a sound card, let alone a Creative one. Modern games don't tend to take advantage of discrete soundcards, and when they do the difference is rarely night and day, whilst the performance of modern computers means that there is no real performance drop from using onboard sound whilst gaming - you're certainly not going to notice a big framerate boost.

 

Just because it uses the OpenAL library (which is a great library, admittedly) doesn't mean an X-Fi based card is either required or even worthwhile. For example, Unreal Tournament 3's implementation of OpenAL is completely broken (well documented and fast-occuring system freeze when enabled), whilst Bioshock 1 suffers from various intermittent issues when using the X-Fi to get extra audio features (EAX 5 ect) when I try to use it with my X-Fi card. Many other games that use the library still confer absolutely no real advantages to sound card owners and those that do are generally rather old.

 

 


 

No one said anything about performance, but it's good you bring that up because that's yet another advantage, although minor with the current tech state.

 

Onboard audio chips? Even an Asus Xonar Essence STX, which is the best competing soundcard in the market, has no chance whatsoever to compete with a vanilla X-Fi Titanium, nevermind any and all onboard audio chips.

 

You might want to check your system settings and update Bioshock, because it runs flawlessly on non XtremeAudio X-Fi cards. Unreal Tournament 3 does indeed have issues with OpenAL, although there are workarounds for that.

 

Now, unlike what might be perceived, software OpenAL (which is what Asus cards and onboard audio chips support) doesn't have the same SQ as hardware OpenAL, and some games actually unlock extra sound banks when hardware OpenAL is present. And where do you get that OpenAL enabled titles don't provide higher quality sound to OpenAL supported soundcards? The difference is noticeable, and while it's not a night and day difference, it's clear enough to distinguish through blind testing.

 

Seriously, trying to convince someone who has a dedicated soundcard to use an onboard audio chip has to be a joke, right?

 

BTW, what X-Fi card do you have and with which drivers installed?


Edited by Roller - 9/1/11 at 6:40am
post #12 of 47

I use XtremeGamer, latest drivers. It's a weird OEM version which means it has a few extra outputs, but it does use the X-Fi chip, unlike the XtremeAudio.

I use the latest version of Bioshock, my settings are fine (I actually consulted a Creative article on setting up Bioshock for optimal audio with their cards at the time). Perhaps it's an uncommon issue but I vaguely remember reading of others encountering problems. As for UT3, the only workarounds I've seen involve using an OpenAL .dll that forces doing it entirely in software.

 

As to sound quality differences, I suppose if you're using lots of fancy reverb and environmental effects which require the hardware there would be a big difference in quality, but most games don't (EAX is hardly popular). 

I'm not saying you should get rid of all your gaming-orientated sound cards, but they're certainly not a big deal from the gaming perspective.

post #13 of 47

Hum, I think I know the card you're running. If I'm remembering it right, I think it has a different PCB, and you're a bit driver locked since regular drivers aren't supposed to work on that card. I'm not sure, but I think your card doesn't have the same feature set of a regular XtremeGamer, but don't quote me on that.

 

Bioshock is a game that does work without any flaws on regular X-Fi cards, excluding the non X-Fi XtremeAudio and OEM versions that are slightly changed, which is why I find it quite odd you're facing issues with it, despite you running an OEM card.

UT3 on the other hand, never really got a definite solution, be it through that .dll you mention or an alternate solution that reduces video filtering optimizations that apparently fix OpenAL issues to an extent.

 

SQ differences? People still think EAX is a renderer, when in fact it (currently) just adds environmental effects to the audio renderer selected. And since X-Fi cards are the only hardware on the market that has a X-Fi DSP chip that also processes improved positional cues, that is something that no software so far has been able to emulate. BTW, environmental effects still exist and there is no sign of them disappearing through EAX's successor, becoming more and more widespread, hopefully might overthrow that mess of software engines (like XAudio) we are being plagued with.

 

Well, I get what you're saying about the impact of a dedicated soundcard not being the same as it used to be, but that's mainly the software developer's fault for being lazy, focusing on shiny photorealistic textures that have led many companies to bankrupcy, instead of focusing on a cohesive experience, meaning both audio, video and gameplay. Luckily, there are developers who realize that audio is an integral part of proper immersion, and we keep on seeing blockbuster titles being released with proper renderers, such as OpenAL.


Edited by Roller - 9/1/11 at 8:40am
post #14 of 47

This reminds me of a discussion I had with one of my Steam friends. He thinks it's a case of optimization.

 

Specifically, audio in the past used to be optimized for high-end equipment. In music terms, that meant you'd be getting even more out of audiophile-grade gear with better SNR and other such properties. In gaming terms, it meant developers were eager to support A3D and EAX and other technologies to make their games sound as immersive as they looked.

 

Nowadays, audio tends to be optimized for the lowest common denominator. In music terms, that would be portable media players and integrated audio codecs in computers. In gaming terms, it means developers don't want to bother with putting much work into their sound engines, especially with the notion that gamers will spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the visual side of things, while audio's limited to cheap 5.1 speakers or headsets, if even that. (I can't exactly blame them, either; one of my friends thinks a $150 GTX 480's a better value than $250 for a set of Stax Lambdas with an SRD-7SB, and he recently spent $1400 on dual watercooled GTX 580s, but he's not an audiophile by his own admission and just uses some cheap Creative 7.1 speaker set. Another acquaintance would also use that $250 on a graphics card while spending $90 for some Logitech G930s.)

 

Some developers seem to think that OpenAL is much harder to work with than XAudio2 or FMOD, hence the wider adoption of the latter two, but I don't see how.

post #15 of 47

I know that EAX just adds effects, rather than being a complete audio renderer. As for my card, it has all the features/modes of the normal card and runs the regular drivers, direct from Creative.

As to better positional audio, I wouldn't really know, as I've never found 2 channel audio to ever really offer convincing positioning. Admittedly this is through a cheap gaming headset (need to have a mic for most online gaming) but with supposedly good positioning. Aside from that though what other major differences do you refer to in quality (reverb and other environmental effects aside)?

 

EDIT:@Above poster: Even for a gaming audiophile I will take graphics over astoundingly realistic reproduction of reloading noises.


Edited by Willakan - 9/1/11 at 10:08am
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