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Essence ST+H6, Creative ZXR, or Essence STX ?

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

I am a semi-noob to the HTPC type setup and am trying to decide on a sound card for my new system. I am hoping those of you more experienced in this area can help.

I have been doing my homework for quite a few days now and think I am getting close to a decision, but need to confirm a few things before I pull the trigger. I will do my best to provide detailed info here.

 

A little background for you…

I am in the process of upgrading my computer to a Haswell-based (X87 chipset) system. I am pretty picky when it comes to sound quality and I have a decent audio system. It’s not nose-bleed hi-end, but it is definitely in the high-end realm. My music collection lives on my computer in the form of FLAC and maxed out VBR mp3’s. Since I live in China, proper blurays are not readily available so I download most of my movies. Yes, I know some of you may frown on this, but I don’t have much of an option here. The blurays that are sold here are pirated anyway, so it makes more sense for me to download. When I do download, I get the 1080p bluray rips which include the proper DD/DTS track (each movie runs 8-12 GB).

 

About my system/restrictions:

  • ·         I have been using a combination of onboard sound (movies) and external USB DAC (music) for the past few years, but I want to switch for convenience reasons (1 card to handle movies, music, and games). My USB DAC setup, while sonically good, only really works for 2-channel and my onboard sound for movies is not really satisfying (plus I am upgrading).
  • ·         I want to switch to a PC soundcard direct to amplifier solution, i.e. connect from computer to amp either via spdif or analog direct from the soundcard.
  • ·         I have an integrated amplifier with spdif inputs (coax & optical), analog 6.1 inputs, and it can decode up to 6.1 (DTS.ES & DD.EX) but not anything newer. No HDMI inputs. I do not want to switch my amp.
  • ·         PC running Win 8.1
  •       I have a strong preference for a PCI-e card as that is the way Intel is going in the future. The new X87 chipset(and future chipsets) don't even natively support the old PCI standard. Some lower grade X87 motherboards have a PCI slot, but that is only via a 3rd party chip. All high-end motherboards now don't have a PCI slot, it's all PCI-e. That being said if the only true option is a PCI card I will consider it.
  • ·         My usage as follows: Movies 60%, Music 35%, Games 5%

 

I have been looking at almost every card made within the past 4-5 years and narrowed it down to a few. Below are my general questions and also specific questions about the cards I have picked so far.

 

5.1 vs. 6.1

I have read it both ways (usually comparing 5.1 & 7.1), however it seems many people say that while the difference isn’t huge, if there is a cost effective way to implement 7.1 it is definitely a moderate improvement over 5.1. Having never heard anything but 5.1 I am hoping you can help shed some light on this. A little trickier is the fact that my rig can only do 6.1 so I am not sure if that changes things at all. If there is a link or sticky somewhere that can summarize this debate, by all means please do forward that as I don’t intend to make this thread a big debate about 5.1 vs. 7.1.

 

Impact of Playing Compressed Bluray files vs. actual discs

As I noted above, I don’t have access to bluray discs. I currently use MPC (with k-lite codec pack) to play movies. Honestly, I can’t yet get my head fully around the relationship between the source file, the player (MPC/VLC), the soundcard, and the final output to the card for both modes (spdif and analog out). This is one topic where if you have some good links that help describe how they work together, I would love to see them. I think I get the basics, but when it comes to the details and limitations I am at a loss, hence my questions below about the specific cards.

 

Asus ST + H6 (Essence ST Deluxe) - PCI

  • ·         No reason to use the spdif for this card, so I am assuming analog output all the way, right?
  • ·         What DD/DTS formats can it actually decode and deliver via analog output? They seem pretty limited when I look at the Asus site, but I may not be reading it right.
  • ·         Does it have a 6.1 mode? If not and only a 7.1 mode, what could be done from software side (MPC/VLC) or via connections to suit my amp’s 6.1 limitation? Would combining both rear surround outs into a single rca input to the amp’s singular rear input work?

 

Asus STX - PCI-e

·         It only truly supports 2.0 channel output, but it does have spdif out. Would it be sending a 5.1 or 6.1 signal via the spdif for the amp to decode? 6.1 is the theoretical max for spdif, but can this card carry the signal?

 

Creative ZXR - PCI-e

·         It only lists 5.1 support and only has 5.1 analog outs. Will the spdif out be limited to 5.1 or can it do 6.1(same question as for the STX)?

 

Other Cards

Auzentech – They have some really good cards, but it looks very, very much like they are going out of business or close to it, so I am not really willing to take a chance

HT Omega – don’t see any cards with a distinct advantage over Asus Essence series

Asus HDAV1.3 Deluxe + H6 – no longer in production and 2-channel quality not comparable to my top 3

 

External USB

I have done no research on multi-channel (5.1/7.1) external USB options, but if there is something that fits my situation feel free to recommend.

 

I think that’s about it. If there is a solution I haven’t thought about feel free to share it. My budget is flexible so I am not too concerned with the "value-based" comparisons, just which card best suits my needs.

 

Thanks a lot for your help and suggestions!

 

Jay


Edited by ChinaJay - 11/25/13 at 6:43am
post #2 of 13
Thread Starter 

24 hours, 26 reads, but no replies. Is my post too long? Help please!

post #3 of 13

Having had both the STX and ZxR, I can say that both are pretty similar sound-wise at stock. Since you don't seem to be using the headphone out anyway, why either of those two? I'm sure that there are cheaper cards that have SPDIF and do the DD/DTS encoding you actually want. 6.1 is not a common standard output, it's either 5.1 or 7.1. Seeing that most of your stuff is 5.1 anyway, why not go with that?

post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 

Hi Suopermanni, thanks for opening things up.

 

I do use headphones, but my main reason for choosing these cards is their sound quality. As I noted, I do have a decent system and sound quality for music is VERY important. These three cards seem to have some of the best reviews around the net for specifically their ability to produce quality sound on a quality system. I am currently using a pretty decent external USB DAC for 2-channel so I don't want to lose having a good source for playing music.

 

My reason for going beyond 5.1 is that my amplifier does support 6.1. They say the extra rear channel makes a noticeable difference over 5.1, so if I can get a card that does 6.1 or 7.1, has excellent sound quality for 2-channel music, AND is PCIe, then I am golden. If the Essence ST were PCIe my choice would be simple. Unfortunately it is not future proof, so I am testing the possibilities with the STX and the ZxR to see if they can meet all of my needs. If either of them can do 6.1 or 7.1 then either of those would be the winner.

 

The twist of not using actual discs but files instead adds another question mark in the mix for me, as I don't know if what I am striving for can even be achieved when using files instead of original Bluray discs.

post #5 of 13

Seeing as you are hoping to output with SPDIF, there is absolutely no reason to get any of those expensive cards. A cheap Xonar or Sound Blaster will output exactly the same signal if used optically and have exactly the same software features as the STX or ZxR, as this method bypasses the soundcard (although you can still EQ it and add various DSP's/effects).

 

As for 6.1 I'm not sure. I'm pretty sure the Xonars can do a virtualised 7.1 (speaker shifter?), but then isn't that DTS anyway? Not sure about the Sound Blasters. Hopefully somebody can answer this.

post #6 of 13

Xonar DX or D2X? Says it can do 6.1 via a drop down menu - assume you can do this via optical and analogue??

 

http://techreport.com/review/14500/asus-xonar-dx-sound-card 


Edited by SaLX - 11/27/13 at 1:11pm
post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 

Hi Gun21, I only want to use spdif if it is with a card that can actually transmit a 6.1 signal to the amp. What I am seeking confirmation for is if either the Essenct STX or the ZxR have this capability. 6.1 is the theoretical maximum of spdif, but it's not clear if these two cards are taking advantage of 6.1 or if they are by design limited to 5.1.

 

I am not just looking for movie playback of mkv files (and hence just spdif), but I also want a card that has top notch 2-channel sound quality for music. I am sorry if that wasn't clear in my post.

 

This is what is making my decision somewhat challenging...I want a card that has great 2-channel audio, transmits 6.1 via spdif, and is PCIe.

 

The questions I am asking is meant to help narrow down my choices by clarifying the capabilities of these three cards in particular - especially in the context of playing mkv files as opposed to actual blurays.

 

That being said, if there is another card or solution I haven't thought of I am definitely all ears!

post #8 of 13
Thread Starter 

SalX, interesting. I assume the Xonar and Essence use the same software bundle, so IF the card supports 6.1 I am assuming it would be listed as option in the software. Can anyone confirm?

post #9 of 13

CJ - maybe cross post here: http://www.overclock.net/t/1445149/official-asus-xonar-and-essence-sound-card-club. Keep it succinct and to the point though:smile: !!!

 

I don't have a Xonar, however I'm pretty sure that the digital out would have exactly the same options, although very probably virtualised speaker shifter 7.1 or 6.1: ie the card expands/stretches the 5.1 signal to 7.1 (or 6.1).

 

Other thing > the DAC in the DX or D2X (analogue 7.1) may well be better than the DAC in your integrated amp - if so you'd probably be best using analogue out to it and just use it as an external and powerful amp minus it's DAC. The STX has a better DAC than the DX/D2X but only handles 2 channels via analogue. The ZxR is the same quality as the STX but can do 5.1 analogue out. It has the option to do DTS but there are many variants.. some 5.1 some 7.1 - I really don't know which the ZxR uses.

 

I can understand your desire to have a live back channel, but 6.1 is a rare breed and died a Betamax death. Maybe just stick to 5.1 and be happy with that? Probably your best bet is the Xonar STX at this point (if you require 2 channel analogue/headphone out too), but keep researching though.


Edited by SaLX - 11/27/13 at 5:35pm
post #10 of 13
Thread Starter 

SaLX - I am tempted to drop my 6.1 requirement, but I have heard people say even 6.1 is better than 5.1 and it's definitely noticeable. My amp has "no bling" and was 2,000 bucks so I am assuming it has a decent processor (yes, I know it's not good to assume!) hence I am somewhat confident going that route. At worst I would say it should be in the same league with the processor on the cards I have listed here.

 

Do you know if by experience or fact if either the STX or ZxR can do 6.1 through their spdif?

 

Another point, can anyone please comment on the use of using mkv files vs. actual discs and if that would effect my ability to achieve anything above 5.1?

 

Thanks!

post #11 of 13

MKV is just the container format. If said container for a bluray rip (Which is where you'd typically see this file format) contains a 7.1/8 channel DDP or DTSHD audio stream then yes you'll get more then 5.1.

post #12 of 13
Thread Starter 

Hi mchart, does the ability to decode DDP or DTSHD when playing via MPC or VLC depend on the specific sound card, or will any 7.1 capable card be able to decode either of them properly and in their full glory?


Edited by ChinaJay - 11/28/13 at 9:45am
post #13 of 13

Sometimes questions drop off the page here without being answered. I can't definitively answer your questions I'm afraid. If you don't get your answer here then try posting in these megathreads as a lot of people are subscribed:

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/623079/creative-sound-blaster-new-s-rie-z/1395

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/421890/the-xonar-essence-stx-q-a-tweaking-impressions-thread/4725

 

Seeing as you can't select more than 5.1 in the Creative CP then I guess that's a dead end.


Edited by SaLX - 11/28/13 at 5:43pm
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