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Really confused... Sound Blaster__?__ - whats the difference??

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

Ok, so I decided I want a Sound Blaster Card for my PC.  I still havent decided on which headphones to go with, either the q701 or the dt990 pros, but I have no clue on what sound card to get.  I was under the impression that the Titanium X-fi HD were the best, but I wasnt sure, its just what I thought after reading posts on this site.  Then I found out that the Fatal!ty series was the best, then I read that the Recon 3D was the best, then I just found out Zx was the best.

 

Soo... which one is it? Which Sound Blaster card is the best?

 

I'm looking for a card that can provide ampage and I'm also wanting the one with the best features.  After going to Newegg, Amazon, and Google I suprisingly found out the differences in these cards is not at all obvious.  I dont want to buy one card and find out its 10 years old, or has half the features of the other cards, etc. 

 

Thanks!

 

*edit* I dont know if it helps but I'm looking to spend $100-$150 (which is what almost all of these cards go for)

post #2 of 17

Depends what you're using it for.

 

X-Fi Titanium HD = Great for music, but not as good as ZxR or Recon3D for gaming.

Recon3D = Great for gaming, bad for music.

ZxR = Best of both worlds.

Fatal1ty = Meh for anything (but still better than Recon3D for music).

post #3 of 17
Thread Starter 
THANK YOU! So what's better:

1. A Zxr Card to a fiio e9 to headphones
Or
2. Mobo (p8z77) audio to fiio e9/ fiio e17 combo to headphones

Are they pretty much the same? Ones a sound card DAC and the other is an external DAC. That's where I'm kinda confused at the difference between option 1 and option 2
post #4 of 17

As far as gaming features go: Recon 3D has THX surround sound. Titanium HD has CMSS-3D. Z series has SBX.

 

I'm not sure if SBX is a rebranding of the THX effects. I haven't heard much of it. But a lot of people like CMSS-3D better than THX. Here's a comparison video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiVbq0P00As

post #5 of 17
Thread Starter 
Ok, I need help making a decision. What's better: a fiio e9 and excellent sound blaster card or fiio e9 and fiio e17 dac? Would they sound the same? What would be different? If I went with an external amp/ dac would I still get simulated surround sound audio like Dolby Headphone?
Edited by Sierra419 - 3/1/13 at 10:56am
post #6 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by chewy4 View Post

As far as gaming features go: Recon 3D has THX surround sound. Titanium HD has CMSS-3D. Z series has SBX.

I'm not sure if SBX is a rebranding of the THX effects. I haven't heard much of it. But a lot of people like CMSS-3D better than THX. Here's a comparison video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiVbq0P00As

The THX stuff on the Recon3D is a re-pack of a large portion of the Creative branded features on the X-Fi, and reminiscent of the Audigy's "THX Console" more than anything else. I'm unfamiliar with the new Z series hardware, but Recon3D is certainly fine for music (I'll put it this way, compared to the last three generations of Sound Blaster, it was not appreciably better or worse - but of course we'll all keep repeating that "Recon is bad for music" because "that's the way it is" - and in another thread keep repeating that "all DACs are the same it's all the same ABX OR DIE!" rolleyes.gif).

Recon dropped some of the overt h/w features that X-Fi had, but my understanding is that it has more to do with Microsoft's change of direction on Windows audio more than anything on Creative's part (Creative's claim is that the SoundCore is suitable in terms of processing power, but I don't think it's on-par with the original X-Fi for throughput (not that you uh, *need* that)).

I honestly wouldn't worry about the whole "which is the best" between the three, especially when the majority of the "options" are more or less the same card (Recon and Z are essentially the same thing with different hardware extras and depending on which specific models, potential changes to the board - but they're all SoundCore products; Fatal1ty is a marketing brand that exists for most of the X-Fi and SoundCore premium products, and you really won't get away from it - there is no "Sound Blaster Fatal1ty").

The X-Fi Titanium will have more obnoxious drivers (there, I said it), but is fine hardware in its own right. The SoundCore boards will have nicer drivers and equally competent performance, excepting overt h/w EAX support (but seriously, what *actually* uses EAX Advanced HD these days redface.gif).

Personally I'd get a SoundCore - if it's going to bother you that you can't be "hip" and have the Z (because the marketing woowoo tells us it's "superior"), get the Z, but the Recon3D is essentially the same board. I'd be critical of the current TOTL Recon3D (which costs ~$180 because it includes the worthless attempt at replicating the LiveDrive), and the current TOTL ZxR (because you should always be critical of the TOTL Sound Blaster, as they usually have more features than anyone needs, or needs to pay for).
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sierra419 View Post

Ok, I need help making a decision. What's better: a fiio e9 and excellent sound blaster card or fiio e9 and fiio e17 dac? Would they sound the same? What would be different? If I went with an external amp/ dac would I still get simulated surround sound audio like Dolby Headphone?

I think you need to re-evaluate your expectations. How are you defining "better" - better for who? In what scenario? What about next month? etc.

As far as sounding "the same" or "different" - that's a can of worms. The "ABX or die" camp will probably argue that they would be the same, assuming all of the EQ/DSP on the Sound Blaster was disabled, and I'd be inclined to agree that they'll sound very similar or functionally identical (in other words, I doubt you'll miss one for the other, unless you do an intensive A/B). The Sound Blaster will have a lot more features, and give you more expansion down the road, which is important to consider (imho) - but if you're of the mind that paying more for less features (so you aren't "paying for features you aren't using") makes sense, I can accept that (I still don't understand it, but I've seen the argument made enough times (usually with at least *some* foam involved) that I can accept there's no arguing with it).

Going with something like the FiiO will mean no Dolby Headphone, no surround simulacrum, no surround processing, etc. Because you're neither buying a licence nor a compatible hardware component. Like I said, less features.

Personally I'd vote Sound Blaster + headphones, but that's me. You mentioned the DT990 and K701 in the opening post; I have no experience with the DT990, but will tell you that the Recon3D's built in headphone amplifier (and therefore by extension, very likely the Z's built in headphone amplifier) will drive them just fine by itself; the E9 is fine too, but there's no need to spend more money imho (and IME the E9 has a terrible pot, while the Recon (like all soundcards) has a flawless digital controller). Based on measurement data, I would assume the DT990 should be no problem either.

None of the boards you're looking at are approaching 10 years old, but I'll throw yet another wrench into the works and tell you that the Sound Blaster hardware that IS that old (Audigy family), would ALSO be just dandy for what you want, and the built-in headphone amplifiers they included (the true LiveDrive) will also drive the K701 (and a lot of other dynamic cans) just fine (and IME the pot is better than the E9 wink.gif).

So tl;dr:

There's not nearly as much difference or bother as you seem to be making this out to be (and I understand being overwhelmed, and I also get that there's a lot of woowoo and madness preached from the highest peaks of the Internet), and I'd personally go with one of the SoundCore cards and be finished with it - it'll do what you want it to do (all by itself), and the drivers are less of a pain than the X-Fi "multimode" crap. If you really want tactile control on the volume output, grab something like the Sennheiser HZR-62 and throw it on the headphone output of the card. cool.gif
post #7 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by BetaWolf View Post

Depends what you're using it for.

 

X-Fi Titanium HD = Great for music, but not as good as ZxR or Recon3D for gaming.

Recon3D = Great for gaming, bad for music.

ZxR = Best of both worlds.

Fatal1ty = Meh for anything (but still better than Recon3D for music).

 

What the? You sure you don't have that backwards?

 

X-Fi cards have a proper hardware OpenAL implementation, which generally means less issues with OpenAL games (Battlefield 2 and 2142 in X-Fi mode, most notably) and particularly with DirectSound3D games wrapped into ALchemy. (Thief 1 and 2 used to be major offenders 'til that newdark patch showed up and added native OpenAL.)

 

Then there's the matter of CMSS-3D Headphone vs. THX TruStudio/SBX Pro Surround, and as you all know, I'm quite outspoken in my preference for the former.

 

Also, if you're into older games from the DOS era like I am, having hardware MIDI SoundFont support is a nice way to spruce up old game music with better samples than were available at the time, and generally less likely to cause issues than BASSMIDI.

 

At least the Z-series cards apparently have ASIO support now. Anyone willing to confirm that?

post #8 of 17

Well, on foobar2000, I seem to get ASIO playback and it sounds as it should.

post #9 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by NamelessPFG View Post

 

What the? You sure you don't have that backwards?

 

X-Fi cards have a proper hardware OpenAL implementation, which generally means less issues with OpenAL games (Battlefield 2 and 2142 in X-Fi mode, most notably) and particularly with DirectSound3D games wrapped into ALchemy. (Thief 1 and 2 used to be major offenders 'til that newdark patch showed up and added native OpenAL.)

 

Then there's the matter of CMSS-3D Headphone vs. THX TruStudio/SBX Pro Surround, and as you all know, I'm quite outspoken in my preference for the former.


Is it 100% confirmed that TruStudio and SBX are the same thing? I've heard a lot of uncertainty, which is something I'd like to know before buying a new sound card. I don't know... I've used CMSS-3D for over two years, and it's good, but I haven't really heard a game with elevation filtering. Everything sounds the same regardless of altitude. I've heard that elevation is better on TruStudio and SBX. I haven't used it personally, so if I'm wrong, I retract my statement on the newer implementations being better for gaming.

post #10 of 17
I'll +1 not having heard anything but techdemos with the elevation filter or the other "advanced EAX" features - there's a relatively small group of games that will be influenced by the loss of that hardware (2142 is the only example that came to mind for me). I'll add that honestly, I haven't noticed a lot of differences (in games) from going X-Fi to SoundCore; I think it's a fantastic example of a molehill into a mountain. redface.gif
post #11 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by BetaWolf View Post
Is it 100% confirmed that TruStudio and SBX are the same thing? I've heard a lot of uncertainty, which is something I'd like to know before buying a new sound card. I don't know... I've used CMSS-3D for over two years, and it's good, but I haven't really heard a game with elevation filtering. Everything sounds the same regardless of altitude. I've heard that elevation is better on TruStudio and SBX. I haven't used it personally, so if I'm wrong, I retract my statement on the newer implementations being better for gaming.

 

I cannot 100% confirm it unless someone's willing to lend me a Z-series card for review, but it is an inference based on my knowledge of Creative's habits.

 

In my personal experience, I find that CMSS-3D Headphone just has better overall positioning, elevation included. Only Aureal A3D and Rapture3D really compare for me; the former's unviable on systems running anything newer than Windows 98 SE, and the latter ONLY works with OpenAL games.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by obobskivich View Post
I'll +1 not having heard anything but techdemos with the elevation filter or the other "advanced EAX" features - there's a relatively small group of games that will be influenced by the loss of that hardware (2142 is the only example that came to mind for me). I'll add that honestly, I haven't noticed a lot of differences (in games) from going X-Fi to SoundCore; I think it's a fantastic example of a molehill into a mountain. redface.gif

 

Creative's software OpenAL implementation does work fine with many of the games out there, but there are still a few around that have quirks that they wouldn't on a hardware OpenAL implementation, for whatever reason. I just happen to be fond of really obscure or long-forgotten games, and also quite perfectionistic about extracting the best possible graphics and sound detail-even if that means buying really specialized hardware. *points to the retrogaming setup with THREE sound cards in it*

 

As for the Elevation Filter's effectiveness, I do notice it in most DS3D and OAL titles, particularly Unreal Tournament and early Battlefield titles (my usual go-to sound tests). I can quite distinctly hear planes flying OVER my head along with the direction they're flying in while inside a building, sheltered from their bombs and unable to see them directly. The over/under distinction is also quite useful during dogfights, since DICE insisted on not supporting TrackIR and not letting me pan the view at all without giving up all pitch and roll authority.

 

It does have to be set to On, though; Auto might as well be equivalent to Off. I'm not quite sure why that is.

 

EAX, on the other hand, tends to not get utilized as much, but it is just a pile of reverb, chorus, and occlusion effects.

post #12 of 17
From what I remember reading about X-Fi Elevation and "Auto" - the game would have to explicitly have a "flag" to enable it, which is probably a poorly implemented (or not implemented) feature in code. redface.gif
post #13 of 17

Okay, I found my problem with my X-Fi card. I've had it set to "Headphone" for the past 2 years. Just set it to 2.0/2.1 and now the positional cues are quite good on Crysis 2. Just got a 22 Kill / 9 Death game on Team Deathmatch. I even put Elevation Filter on, and now I can actually tell when people are above me.

 

I remember the positional cues being a bit better with my old Creative gaming headset with it set to "Headphone", so perhaps that setting is made with the soundstage of Creative headsets in mind. I guess I can hold off on my new sound card then.

post #14 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by BetaWolf View Post

Okay, I found my problem with my X-Fi card. I've had it set to "Headphone" for the past 2 years. Just set it to 2.0/2.1 and now the positional cues are quite good on Crysis 2. Just got a 22 Kill / 9 Death game on Team Deathmatch. I even put Elevation Filter on, and now I can actually tell when people are above me.

 

I remember the positional cues being a bit better with my old Creative gaming headset with it set to "Headphone", so perhaps that setting is made with the soundstage of Creative headsets in mind. I guess I can hold off on my new sound card then.

blink.gif

post #15 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by BetaWolf View Post

Okay, I found my problem with my X-Fi card. I've had it set to "Headphone" for the past 2 years. Just set it to 2.0/2.1 and now the positional cues are quite good on Crysis 2. Just got a 22 Kill / 9 Death game on Team Deathmatch. I even put Elevation Filter on, and now I can actually tell when people are above me.

I remember the positional cues being a bit better with my old Creative gaming headset with it set to "Headphone", so perhaps that setting is made with the soundstage of Creative headsets in mind. I guess I can hold off on my new sound card then.
Elevation Filter does nothing in Crysis 2 (you can't get height position data from software only games). That and MacroFX for what ever the other setting was is only useful in OpenAL and DS3D (i.e. old games with Alchemy) games. As far as I can tell, both are on and can't be turned off with Z series. You get the same messed up sound in Oblivion as in with X-Fi with Elevation Filter and MacroFX force enabled.
Edited by Anarion - 3/5/13 at 5:46am
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