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The Nameless Guide To PC Gaming Audio (with binaural headphone surround sound) - Page 35

post #511 of 3122
Quote:
Originally Posted by crzycuyler View Post

I am very curious as to the quality of the headphone amplifiers built into the sound cards as well. I was told that the cards with CMSS-3D don't have the best of amplifiers. Is this correct? Are there any known work arounds with external amplifiers or other devices? I have considered starting with a set of Beyerdynamic DT770 PRO (250 ohm) headphones. I don't want to have to question whether I am driving them well enough.


That's something I wish I knew more about, the output impedance of various headphone outs in particular.
I know the Titanium HD is around 36 ohm, and the Xonar STX around 10 ohm.  I think most Xonar cards are 100 ohm.
One card I'd like to know the output impedance of is the Auzentech Forte.

post #512 of 3122
Thread Starter 

The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, huh?

 

Arena and Daggerfall are DOS games, so they wouldn't benefit. Morrowind uses DirectSound3D; no mentions of EAX, but you should get the positional audio advantage. Oblivion has an ALchemy entry, suggesting it uses DirectSound3D, but I can't say for sure or not if that actually is the case. Skyrim has purely software-driven audio.

 

Fallout 1 and 2 are isometric-perspective games that wouldn't benefit anyway. I'm not sure about Fallout 3 and New Vegas; even though I do own them, I haven't even played either one yet simply because I keep putting Fallout 2 off for some reason. Still, I could fire them up and test them out a bit to make sure, since I have a knack for this sort of thing. (It's incredibly obvious to my ears whether CMSS-3D Headphone is getting proper 3DPA data or 7.1 channels.)

 

I do have to warn you that all these binaural surround technologies will probably result in a slight hit to sound quality in exchange for the positional benefits. Whether you'll find that acceptable or not is something only you can decide. The only one that might negate any sound quality hit is the Smyth Realiser, given the hype-filled reactions and that $3,000+ price tag, and that ultimately will depend on what speaker system and room you can make a recording in.

 

If it's really slamming/impactful bass you want for those explosions, though, I don't think any headphone will really deliver compared to a full-range speaker or a subwoofer. I've thought about adding a subwoofer to my headphone setup precisely to get around this, but I just don't have the money for it right now. (Good subwoofers that can go all the way down to 20 Hz and not sound like "one-note bass" probably aren't cheap by any means.)

 

For a home theater surround sound system with an external receiver, the sound card is just a DSP at that point because the DAC that's actually doing the work is in the receiver. Do note that for S/PDIF, you'll need to enable Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect to actually get the surround channels to the receiver. Only a select few sound cards have HDMI, those being the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD and Asus Xonar HDAV, all of which I recall being stuck on the slightly outdated HDMI 1.3 standard (we're on HDMI 1.4 now). You could let the graphics card handle HDMI audio...if you don't mind losing hardware-accelerated DirectSound3D and OpenAL support (along with EAX) in the process.

 

As for X-Fi drivers, Creative does not have the best track record, to say the least. I must be lucky, because over the past few years, my cards (X-Fi Prelude, X-Fi Forte, X-Fi HomeTheater HD) have worked in Windows 7 64-bit generally without complaint. The Titanium HD in particular has a very solid driver base, with less quirks in the time I've had it compared to the Auzentech cards (which still use Creative's drivers).

 

However, I should point out that it's not like other brands of sound devices don't have issues. I've read complaints about Xonar cards (specifically sudden loud ear-popping noises). I've read complaints about Realtek integrated audio codecs. Seems like anyone who owns a sound device is going to have problems with it somewhere along the line due to drivers, no matter the brand. About the only one I haven't heard complaints about is HT Omega, and that's just because nobody seems to buy or talk about their cards. Any time someone goes shopping for a C-Media chipset card, it's always Asus and not HT Omega for some reason, perhaps because HT Omega offers almost no PCI-Express cards while Asus has several. (The entire Claro Halo line is PCI-only, and slightly more expensive than the Essence ST(X).)

 

For Windows 8 support, it looks like Creative's released some "beta" drivers that might install and work. I haven't tested them myself simply because I really don't like the UI direction Microsoft is taking with Windows 8. Still, I wouldn't worry too much about Windows 8 driver support once it releases, since it's not like there's a major sound stack change like the XP-to-Vista transition and it looks like Creative will properly support their hardware under the new OS.

 

X-Fi cards are not known for having proper headphone amplifiers built-in. With something like a Xonar Essence STX or the HT Omega Claro Halo, it's like having a FiiO E9 built-in at less extra cost than buying the Titanium HD and an E9. Since most people opt for more demanding dynamic/ortho headphones when starting out their Head-Fi journey and aren't as insistent on gaming DSP features as I am, they find the C-Media cards the more cost-effective buy.

 

However, if you're going to buy an external amp anyway, suddenly the Titanium HD becomes the more cost-effective card since you're not paying for headphone amp circuitry you're not using. This works out pretty well for me since my Stax SR-Lambda, like all electrostatics, cannot be driven by conventional amplifiers directly, and all of my dynamic headphones are sensitive enough to work out of anything unamped. It also makes matching the amp to the headphones that much easier, whereas people with good amps in their sound cards might instead try to match the headphones to their amp and limit their options.

 

As for a final sound card recommendation, because you want to set up a surround speaker system, I can only recommend the Titanium HD or any other two-analog-channel card if you're planning to connect the surround speaker system via S/PDIF to a receiver and switching between it and headphones by turning Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect on or off. (The X-Fi control panel will automatically switch to 5.1 when you turn it on, and back to the last speaker mode when you turn it off, making it easy.

 

Hope this helps, even if it's a lot of text to read.

post #513 of 3122

Do games have to have DirectSound 3D and OpenAL to benefit from the CMSS-3D technology, or when they do have these are they especially synergetic? I don't really understand what software-driven audio concludes. Does the sound card play a role, or would any standard headphone outlet have the surround sound headphone experience because of the software-driven audio?

 

I don't think I like the fact that using CMSS-3D lowers the audio quality. 


Edited by crzycuyler - 7/7/12 at 4:22pm
post #514 of 3122
Thread Starter 

It's more like "good with XAudio2 and FMOD Ex, way better with DirectSound3D and OpenAL". It's not completely useless with 5.1/7.1 sources and works about as well as Dolby Headphone does, but the binaural mixing it provides from proper 3DPA sources is just better beyond comparison.

 

The sound quality hit, as I said, also comes into play with Dolby Headphone or any other generic HRTF-based binaural mixing technology. It's going to sound a bit weird compared to plain stereo mode no matter what you use. If it really bugs you, the only real solution short of losing all semblance of front and rear positioning (in other words, playing in plain one-dimensional stereo) is the Smyth Realiser. People say it's so good that they couldn't actually tell their speakers weren't on until they took off the headphones. But with that $3,000+ price tag...sorry about your wallet.

 

My solution is to simply turn it on for gaming and turn it off when listening to music. For me, the sound quality hit isn't distracting when gaming, and the positional audio cues are far more beneficial.

 

I suggest just trying CMSS-3D Headphone for a bit and then deciding whether or not you can live with it for headphone use, or if it annoys you to the point where you can only comfortably game with a surround speaker system, or plain stereo with headphones. You can read all the text impressions on a forum that you want, but only your ears and preferences can make the final decision.

post #515 of 3122

Well, I am not playing a single competitive game that needs surround sound queues. Would you say that the hit to sound quality is evident to the point that you will always notice it, or it is there when you look for it? I am only looking for immersion. My desire to have directional queues is not for more successful game play but for feeling the environment for sake of immersion.

What headphone/headset might you suggest to demo this technology? Can this "Creative - Sound Blaster X-Fi Go! Pro External USB Sound Card" give me a proper idea of how this technology will sound to me, or is it lacking substantially?


Edited by crzycuyler - 7/8/12 at 2:34am
post #516 of 3122
Quote:
Originally Posted by NamelessPFG View Post

the binaural mixing it provides from proper 3DPA sources is just better beyond comparison.

I'm wondering what percentage of games have proper 3DPA sources. I googled '3dpa games' and didn't come up with anything.

post #517 of 3122
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by crzycuyler View Post

Well, I am not playing a single competitive game that needs surround sound queues. Would you say that the hit to sound quality is evident to the point that you will always notice it, or it is there when you look for it? I am only looking for immersion. My desire to have directional queues is not for more successful game play but for feeling the environment for sake of immersion.

What headphone/headset might you suggest to demo this technology? Can this "Creative - Sound Blaster X-Fi Go! Pro External USB Sound Card" give me a proper idea of how this technology will sound to me, or is it lacking substantially?

 

I don't think it's so evident that I always notice it, not at all. It's something you can notice if you're actively listening for it, but chances are you're not really listening to gaming audio the same way you listen to music.

 

I do find that having the directional cues helps a lot with immersion, in that it feels more like I'm being surrounded by sounds instead of simply being flanked by them.

 

Unfortunately, all the "X-Fi" USB devices lack the CA20k1/20k2 DSP that the internal sound cards bear, and thus I don't trust their implementation of CMSS-3D Headphone all that much. I suggest finding an XtremeMusic, XtremeGamer, or Titanium for $40 or less; eBay helps a lot.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by 0sync0 View Post

I'm wondering what percentage of games have proper 3DPA sources. I googled '3dpa games' and didn't come up with anything.

 

 

"3DPA" is just shorthand for "3D positional audio", which any game that uses the DirectSound3D or OpenAL APIs will deliver.

 

(I've gotta ease up on the jargon here.)


Edited by NamelessPFG - 7/8/12 at 10:49am
post #518 of 3122

"3DPA" already has a meaning, so it doesn't seem like a good word for it. 

post #519 of 3122
Thread Starter 

Can't say I've heard of any other meanings until now. Only encountered that particular acronym in the usual threads from lith in the Creative forums.

 

Regardless, I think I've made myself clear that if you play anything that uses DirectSound3D or OpenAL, you'll only get the maximum benefit of their 3D positional audio approach with an X-Fi card. (Unless it's one of the few really old Win9x-era DS3D games that used Aureal A3D 2.0/3.0, in which case you'll have to set yourself up an old Win9x-era computer with an Aureal Vortex2 card to hear them properly with the wavetracing and everything.)

post #520 of 3122

I don't quite understand software-driven audio. Can Skyrim give the surround sound headphone affect without a dedicated soundcard or additional software and drivers?

post #521 of 3122
Quote:
Originally Posted by crzycuyler View Post

I don't quite understand software-driven audio. Can Skyrim give the surround sound headphone affect without a dedicated soundcard or additional software and drivers?


No, the headphone surround isn't in the game. You need a separate DSP to get headphone surround.

post #522 of 3122
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by crzycuyler View Post

I don't quite understand software-driven audio. Can Skyrim give the surround sound headphone affect without a dedicated soundcard or additional software and drivers?

 

Unfortunately, no, and that's why the trend toward software-mixed audio (as done by XAudio2 or FMOD Ex, not by something like Rapture3D) in the gaming industry irritates me so much. They don't care about headphone users seeking 3D binaural sound like they've had since Aureal burst out onto the scene over a decade ago (yes, a big part of A3D was HRTF-based binaural audio over headphones or stereo speakers) because they think everyone just uses 5.1/7.1 speakers for gaming, or so it seems.

 

It's also why console gamers like Mad Lust Envy buy things like Astro Mixamps. If common middleware solutions like FMOD Ex had binaural mixing to begin with, I'm sure that it would work with both PCs and consoles with no additional hardware DSP devices, which sure would make our lives much easier when it comes down to picking the right sound hardware for gaming.

post #523 of 3122

It has been suggested to me that the CMSS-3D has the best positioning capabilities but with a greater hit in sound quality compared to Dolby Headphone. Is this the case? If so, I would like to consider the technology that gives the best of both worlds. I am very analytical about my audio. I am selling B&W 685s (not quite to my liking) and will possibly be purchasing Sonus Faber Toy Towers down the road (if you know of either of these).


Edited by crzycuyler - 7/9/12 at 7:17pm
post #524 of 3122
Thread Starter 

Having tested both (connecting my JVC/Victor SU-DH1 Dolby Headphone DAC/DSP to my X-Fi Titanium HD, and then configuring things on the X-Fi side for CMSS-3D Headphone or Dolby Digital Live -> Dolby Headphone on the SU-DH1), I don't think one has a greater hit in sound quality than the other so much as they have opposite tonal shifts.

 

CMSS-3D Headphone pronounces treble and tones down the bass a bit. Dolby Headphone favors bass and tones down the treble slightly. Most people don't think of using the EQ to get around this, and when they want bass...you see where this is going.

 

The sound quality hit is mostly in that to get the sound out from direct left/right, both technologies have to process it in a way that it sounds slightly muffled compared to pure stereo, for lack of a better description.

 

At least with an X-Fi card, you have options. CMSS-3D Headphone is in there, and if you don't like it, send a Dolby Digital Live stream to an A/V receiver with Dolby Headphone support (like the Harmon-Kardon AVR 254 or AVR 354, for example) and try that. If that's still not enough, send the stream to a Smyth Realiser once you've used it to record the characteristics of a surround speaker system you really like.

 

I can't say I'm too familiar with loudspeakers; they're just way out of my budget to get some good ones, especially factoring in the room treatment. But if I could afford them and find a place for them in my house, I'd try out some Quad ESL-57s or ESL-63s to find out if they can deliver what I love about my Stax SR-Lambda in loudspeaker form.

post #525 of 3122

An ESL fan? I have also considered the Martin Logan ElectroMotion. It seems a bit too bright to me though.

 

Would pairing a bassy headphone with a X-Fi card without changing EQ make a good match?

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