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Positional audio for new guys.

post #1 of 134
Thread Starter 

   I've been digging around here on and off for a couple of years and I can't for the life of me find a thread that focuses exclusively on the value a DAC or sound card has for competitive gaming and that only. There is no thread I've seen for someone who doesn't care if the sound is immersive or if the sound is absolute trash for music but simply wants to hear the position of someone creeping around in CS:GO or whatever down to the very last degree. A few of the issues I've had:

 

1. Sound cards are largely ignored. I'm well aware that they're not the best solutions you can buy for music listening or movies, but I'd like to see a comparison of them anyway. For instance, would you recommend an Essence series sound card like the STX II, a Sound Core3D sound card like the ZxR, or an older X-Fi for pure gaming purposes? Not everyone can afford a high-end DAC and amplifier, and this also brings me to No. 2.

 

2a. I keep hearing people say to buy external DACs. Okay, that's fine. Why? It's never really made clear to me if these are better for sound quality overall or for positional audio specifically. Whenever there's a thread that seems to address this, the answer is muddled up under rather esoteric terminology which someone who isn't that familiar with high-end audio, such as myself, cannot properly decipher. As it's done without clarifying what the terminology means, it's also a barrier to actually learning this terminology on top of obscuring the answer to that specific question. 

 

2b. I know that the mainstream sound card brands like the ZxR have drivers -software- that makes them well-suited to gaming. But it's never been made clear to me if you can get better or comparable utility out of external DACs. For instance, I've toyed with sound cards using Dolby Headphone before, and can generally hear the position of something down to around 45 degrees in most shooters that properly implement audio positioning. I happen to be using AD700s. Now, will a well-arranged external DAC/amp setup provide comparable or greater precision?

 

3. This part of the post doesn't exactly belong here but I'd rather not start another thread just to get an answer on it, too, since it's related: Headphones. I have the same issue here, too. Oftentimes I hear "DT 880 Pro/Premium" or "Q701" or "ATH-AD700(X)" thrown around but it's never made clear what EXACTLY those headphones are good for. I know AD700s have the widest soundstage, but I've also heard that the DT 880 Pros are better for "gaming" because they have better imaging. But in practical terms, does that mean the 880s have better positional audio in the sense that you'll more accurately hear things around you, or do they just make explosions and gunshots or whatever sound prettier? The latter is a non-factor to someone who's content with less but wants more in the competitive department. I've heard more obscure headphones recommended before, but usually it's just "Use X" without any explanation as to why they're better/different.

 

4. Another annoying thing is oftentimes people say, "I've used these headphones/amps/DACs and they're great!" without providing any kind of comparison to the other options. We thank you for your subjective experience. It's also almost entirely useless information on its own, and takes up time and energy to sift through.

 

Example question: "Would you recommend a Sound Blaster ZxR, X-Fi Titanium HD, Essence STX II, or something else entirely with a pair of AD700s or DT 880s or something else for pure competitive gaming, or not?"

 

Example of a desirable answer: "I would advise getting X over Y because it has A, B, and C and this translates into being able to more accurately pick out footsteps in a shooter on X when compared to Y."

 

   Try looking around; you'll find it's surprisingly hard to get stuff like this. Give us rookies a hand, willya? Fewer people understand you guys than you think. I'm sorry if I'm coming off as an arrogant/ignorant prick. I'm really not trying to. These are just frustrating issues which have plagued me ever since I started trying to research this stuff years ago, so I feel I have to define every detail of the request to preclude answers that aren't really helpful.

post #2 of 134

I am also interested. It seems that people are passing off sound cards as inferior to DACs. Although the sound card's on-board DAC is not going to perform nearly as well as a dedicated external DAC, there is no virtual surround.

 

If DACs are really that great, why can't we use both a sound card and a ~$100 external DAC?  Anything above $50 for a DAC should be great compared to a sound card alone. Are there any cons to pairing a sound card with an amp and DAC?

post #3 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by cmander10 View Post
 

I am also interested. It seems that people are passing off sound cards as inferior to DACs.

 

It depends on which DAC and soundcard we're comparing. Onkyo for example released stereo soundcards that were basically the same circuits as on one of their CDPlayers, but no virtual surround there either. Any inherent problem of a soundcard vs a DAC is that it might pick up noise from inside the computer chassis, but USB DACs aren't exactly immune from issues like some motherboards not sending out enough current at absolutely all times (that's why some red motherboards explicitly advertise such as a feature on all or at least a pair of USB ports).


In some cases the problem might be that some soundcards have output stages that are designed to function as both a line output and a headphone driver output, so in that case it may have more compromises for that circuit than any other equipment that has dedicated outputs for such connections. Some soundcards have both, but I have no idea how much those are, and in such a case even with a dedicated headphone driver output when compared to a better amp the soundcard likely has lower capacitance in the power supply as well as not having its own power supply, which in case of a cheaper PSU, might be a problem.

 

Personally, the reason why I prefer DACs to soundcards isn't just because of the PSU (although I always use the better ones), but because I don't want one more thing inside my case that can affect airflow or add even a little bit more heat (given the climate over here), particularly on mATX builds (and of course impossible in a mITX build). For those who don't need virtual surround, a DAC's cost won't include a DSP chip (of course, some are grossly overpriced).

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cmander10 View Post
 

Although the sound card's on-board DAC is not going to perform nearly as well as a dedicated external DAC, there is no virtual surround.

 

If DACs are really that great, why can't we use both a sound card and a ~$100 external DAC?  Anything above $50 for a DAC should be great compared to a sound card alone.

 

First off, you can actually use an external DAC with a soundcard - but you need a DAC with an SPDIF input, and I am not sure how many of them can be had for under $100 save for what you can find on eBay made by some obscure builder in China by searching for a particular DAC chip (like, search "TDA1543" and "WM8740").

 

Second, the reason as to why this is the case is that going through USB means bypassing the audio circuit as a whole - and most importantly the DSP chip - whether it's on the motherboard or the soundcard. As for external soundcards like the Xonar U3, that's because it has the DSP chip in it. And yes, you can totally use a soundcard with a DAC - soundcards have SPDIF output, whether it's on a PCI slot or on a USB port, and can then feed a signal to a DAC. In some cases a DAC can output a fixed 2.0v signal that a USB soundcard might not, as well as have a proper output stage designed for a line output.

 

Note, however, that sometimes when people consider an external DAC as "superior" is sometimes precisely because the output stages are, technically and objectively speaking, potentially inferior. Some have output stages that deliberately color the sound and make it sound warmer for example, and in some cases some "audiophile" are tuned by ear and there are a number of problems that only true measuring equipment can detect (it may sound "nice enough" but there could be a hole where sibilance usually is for example, so it isn't really Hi-Fi in that sense, but sounds very pleasant to the ear).

 

 

 

post #4 of 134

If you are comparing a DAC and sound card in the same price range and they are both regarded as "good" devices for their price, most audiophiles will say the DAC will produce "better" sounds. From what you as well as others say, the sound card is coloring the sound either to make it sound more pleasant or to get the virtual surround. In this case, I would agree that you are better off with a DAC if the only concern is sound quality. However, to get better virtual surround, you need a sound card.

 

The Schiit Modi is a recommended DAC for $100 and it has an SPDIF version. If you hook that up to a sound card you could activate the sound card when you want the surround or bypass when you don't. From what I can gather from the OP, people are always concerned with the sound quality for music and the like but not talking about the gaming abilities, which is where the sound card shines. If you buy a decent DAC that is a comfortable price, then you could have the best of both worlds: superior digital-analog conversion and virtual surround. Essentially, you use the DAC at all times but use the DSP chip for gaming. 

 

Of course you will be spending money on a DAC that you will never use, but, unfortunately, I do not see a DSP chip that is sold by itself.

post #5 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by cmander10 View Post
 

If you are comparing a DAC and sound card in the same price range and they are both regarded as "good" devices for their price, most audiophiles will say the DAC will produce "better" sounds. From what you as well as others say, the sound card is coloring the sound either to make it sound more pleasant or to get the virtual surround. In this case, I would agree that you are better off with a DAC if the only concern is sound quality. However, to get better virtual surround, you need a sound card.

 

Actually what I said was that it's more likely to get a DAC  that  is deliberately colored (and such can even get great reviews!), whereas if there was any issue with a soundcard it would have more to do with adding different levels of impedances that it will have to deal with if it shares the line out with the headphone output. As such the wide variance in impedance from one headphone to another already means there are current or voltage designs optimized for low and high impedance respectively, and the comparison has less to do specifically with the DAC alone vs a soundcard but the amplification circuit as well.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cmander10 View Post

 

The Schiit Modi is a recommended DAC for $100 and it has an SPDIF version. If you hook that up to a sound card you could activate the sound card when you want the surround or bypass when you don't. From what I can gather from the OP, people are always concerned with the sound quality for music and the like but not talking about the gaming abilities, which is where the sound card shines. If you buy a decent DAC that is a comfortable price, then you could have the best of both worlds: superior digital-analog conversion and virtual surround. Essentially, you use the DAC at all times but use the DSP chip for gaming. 

 

That's what many who use USB and use laptops for their audio systems always ignore about what gamers might need them for. As well, neither am I convinced that one has to get a $1,000+ headphone to be effective in games, considering the soundstage isn't going to be $750 better than a decent hi-fi headphone with a large soundstage. In fact, I'd say that a 5.1 multimedia speaker set will do better with positional audio all the time, but of course virtual surround has its uses, like playing games when the neighbors are asleep.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cmander10 View Post
Of course you will be spending money on a DAC that you will never use, but, unfortunately, I do not see a DSP chip that is sold by itself.

 

No they don't sell a DSP chip by itself, but I don't see how the DAC won't be used - a cheap $39 external soundcard with SPDIF output from its DSP can utilize a DAC with a decent analog output stage that can feed a proper signal into an amplifier since its Digital Signal Processor will output a digital signal for the external Digital to Analogue Converter to turn into an analog waveform and pass it on to an amp using a specialized line output stage. As I've posted in a thread asking about usign a DAC for an Android, as with this one, half the benefits of a DAC would only really be necessary for using an amp, and if the latter is unnecessary, then likely so is the DAC - it's not so much better DAC-ing from its own DAC chip that makes one DAC better, but how well its analog output can maintain the integrity of the signal.

post #6 of 134

Sorry, I didn't clearly state what I meant. When I said the DAC won't be used I was referring to the sound card's DAC, not the external dedicated DAC.

 

If you aren't going to get an amp, then you probably don't care too much about one DAC versus another anyway, so you would be happy with the sound card's DAC.

post #7 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by cmander10 View Post
 

Sorry, I didn't clearly state what I meant. When I said the DAC won't be used I was referring to the sound card's DAC, not the external dedicated DAC.

 

Oh, got it.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by cmander10 View Post
 

If you aren't going to get an amp, then you probably don't care too much about one DAC versus another anyway, so you would be happy with the sound card's DAC.

 

Yep, that's basically how it should go with the decision-making process.

post #8 of 134
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post
 

 

Actually what I said was that it's more likely to get a DAC  that  is deliberately colored (and such can even get great reviews!), whereas if there was any issue with a soundcard it would have more to do with adding different levels of impedances that it will have to deal with if it shares the line out with the headphone output. As such the wide variance in impedance from one headphone to another already means there are current or voltage designs optimized for low and high impedance respectively, and the comparison has less to do specifically with the DAC alone vs a soundcard but the amplification circuit as well.

 

 

That's what many who use USB and use laptops for their audio systems always ignore about what gamers might need them for. As well, neither am I convinced that one has to get a $1,000+ headphone to be effective in games, considering the soundstage isn't going to be $750 better than a decent hi-fi headphone with a large soundstage. In fact, I'd say that a 5.1 multimedia speaker set will do better with positional audio all the time, but of course virtual surround has its uses, like playing games when the neighbors are asleep.

 

 

No they don't sell a DSP chip by itself, but I don't see how the DAC won't be used - a cheap $39 external soundcard with SPDIF output from its DSP can utilize a DAC with a decent analog output stage that can feed a proper signal into an amplifier since its Digital Signal Processor will output a digital signal for the external Digital to Analogue Converter to turn into an analog waveform and pass it on to an amp using a specialized line output stage. As I've posted in a thread asking about usign a DAC for an Android, as with this one, half the benefits of a DAC would only really be necessary for using an amp, and if the latter is unnecessary, then likely so is the DAC - it's not so much better DAC-ing from its own DAC chip that makes one DAC better, but how well its analog output can maintain the integrity of the signal.

 

So in layman's terms, what does this mean? That you can use a sound card alongside a DAC? That you can use a DAC to enhance the output of a sound card? Does this mean external DACs have little use for positional audio? Etc. I know about Dolby and CMSS-3D and SBX on various sound cards but what I don't know is if there are better alternatives or not.

post #9 of 134

Don't quote me on this, or you can, but yes, you can use a DAC and sound card together. With a SPDIF output from SC, it would be an digital signal (bypassing the internal SC's DAC). The digital signal would then be converted by the external DAC to analog, which is of better quality than the SC's (unless its a $350 SC compared to a $50 DAC). Essentially, you will be using the SC's DSP for virtual surround and ignoring the SC's DAC. You would need an amp though if using a dedicated external DAC.

 

For the most part, if you want virtual sound you need a SC. A DAC does what its named for: converts digital to analog signal. Not much use for high end DAC's for virtual sound since they don't do that.

 

I don't think there are any alternatives to get a surround sound with headphones other than a good SC. You could get a multiple driver headphones. I had Turtle Beach's HPA-2 a few years back and they had exceptional positioning, but the sound quality was poor. The other option is speakers, but then you can't hear small details as well even though they will have better surround since they physically surround you.

post #10 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by 343 Grenadier View Post
 

 

So in layman's terms, what does this mean?

 

1. That you can use a sound card alongside a DAC?

 

2. That you can use a DAC to enhance the output of a sound card?

 

3. Does this mean external DACs have little use for positional audio? Etc. I know about Dolby and CMSS-3D and SBX on various sound cards but what I don't know is if there are better alternatives or not.

 

1. You can use a soundcard along with an external DAC - except instead of the entire soundcard it will only be its DSP chip working, then SPDIF signal goes out and goes into the external DAC, whose own DAC chip will convert the signal back into analogue and pass it on to an amp (separate or built into the DAC). 

 

2. Not necessarily - the only real advantage of an external DAC vs a soundcard is a dedicated fixed analog output, or in some cases if necessary (for example if you're using active monitors), it has a true preamp output. So it depends more on what your headphones (or the rest of your system) need: if it needs an amp and you'll also be using it for dedicated music listening, then you might benefit from a DAC. Those conditions are crucial because from my own experience despite how, from a technical standpoint, HT and gaming should demand more power and such more than music, the reality is that in practice you are dealing with a lot of other stimuli compared to just listening to music. So while you might benefit from more power, you'd be too preoccupied with fragging the opponents than you are with the very particular differences in how one system does explosions a lot better than another (unless one obviously can't get as loud, or is already clipping), plus you're trying to make sense of the positional cues that won't be anywhere near as exact as actual speakers (ex. that gunshot from 10m away will not sound like it is actually coming from 10m away). Note that for speakers and movies of course it's a lot easier to appreciate the added dynamic range.

 

As well there actually are soundcards that have dedicated line and headphone outputs, but last I checked you could probably get a decent external DAC; also nowadays you could just add $50 to your motherboard budget (unless you already have one, in which case it will necessitate buying a new OS, so you can spend that on an external soundcard) and you can get a decent DSP on it without installing one more PCI card that can add a bit more heat or get in the way of the airflow.

 

3. Yep. You can always just use an easier to drive headphone for example. I mean, why use an LCD-2 when you can use the AT AD700? In any case you'll be listening to explosions and SFX - just how much accuracy does one need for that? Note though that in my case I also don't use my desktop or even my laptop for my dedicated audio listening, so I really don't need to integrate my HD600 into my gaming rig. Others though either like being distracted by their web browser while listening, or don't mind running a 500watt++ PSU, a monitor, several fans, a CPU and GPU, and so on and so forth, instead of a more focused device, mostly because of storage space.

post #11 of 134

There's plenty of threads about this, you just haven't looked very well.

 

Here's the bottom line:

 

1. Soundcards are useless, avoid them like the plague. If you need virtual surround, you can download Razer Surround for free.

 

2. If you have a fairly new motherboard (last 5 years or so), the DAC chip on your onboard audio will be just as good as any budget DAC out there and I doubt you'd be able to notice the difference.

 

3. If your headphones are sensitive and/or have a low impedance, you don't need an amp so again, your onboard audio should be perfectly fine.

 

TL;DR: In 99% of cases, you don't need anything else than your onboard audio and your headphones.

 

Of course some headphones performs better than others when it comes to positional audio. You want low bass and balanced mids and trebles.

 

Some good examples: Sennheiser's HD 518, 558 or 598, AKG Q701 and Audio-Technica ATH-AD700x.

post #12 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by 343 Grenadier View Post
 

   I've been digging around here on and off for a couple of years and I can't for the life of me find a thread that focuses exclusively on the value a DAC or sound card has for competitive gaming and that only. There is no thread I've seen for someone who doesn't care if the sound is immersive or if the sound is absolute trash for music but simply wants to hear the position of someone creeping around in CS:GO or whatever down to the very last degree. A few of the issues I've had:

 

1. Sound cards are largely ignored. I'm well aware that they're not the best solutions you can buy for music listening or movies, but I'd like to see a comparison of them anyway. For instance, would you recommend an Essence series sound card like the STX II, a Sound Core3D sound card like the ZxR, or an older X-Fi for pure gaming purposes? Not everyone can afford a high-end DAC and amplifier, and this also brings me to No. 2.

 

2a. I keep hearing people say to buy external DACs. Okay, that's fine. Why? It's never really made clear to me if these are better for sound quality overall or for positional audio specifically. Whenever there's a thread that seems to address this, the answer is muddled up under rather esoteric terminology which someone who isn't that familiar with high-end audio, such as myself, cannot properly decipher. As it's done without clarifying what the terminology means, it's also a barrier to actually learning this terminology on top of obscuring the answer to that specific question. 

 

2b. I know that the mainstream sound card brands like the ZxR have drivers -software- that makes them well-suited to gaming. But it's never been made clear to me if you can get better or comparable utility out of external DACs. For instance, I've toyed with sound cards using Dolby Headphone before, and can generally hear the position of something down to around 45 degrees in most shooters that properly implement audio positioning. I happen to be using AD700s. Now, will a well-arranged external DAC/amp setup provide comparable or greater precision?

 

3. This part of the post doesn't exactly belong here but I'd rather not start another thread just to get an answer on it, too, since it's related: Headphones. I have the same issue here, too. Oftentimes I hear "DT 880 Pro/Premium" or "Q701" or "ATH-AD700(X)" thrown around but it's never made clear what EXACTLY those headphones are good for. I know AD700s have the widest soundstage, but I've also heard that the DT 880 Pros are better for "gaming" because they have better imaging. But in practical terms, does that mean the 880s have better positional audio in the sense that you'll more accurately hear things around you, or do they just make explosions and gunshots or whatever sound prettier? The latter is a non-factor to someone who's content with less but wants more in the competitive department. I've heard more obscure headphones recommended before, but usually it's just "Use X" without any explanation as to why they're better/different.

 

4. Another annoying thing is oftentimes people say, "I've used these headphones/amps/DACs and they're great!" without providing any kind of comparison to the other options. We thank you for your subjective experience. It's also almost entirely useless information on its own, and takes up time and energy to sift through.

 

Example question: "Would you recommend a Sound Blaster ZxR, X-Fi Titanium HD, Essence STX II, or something else entirely with a pair of AD700s or DT 880s or something else for pure competitive gaming, or not?"

 

Example of a desirable answer: "I would advise getting X over Y because it has A, B, and C and this translates into being able to more accurately pick out footsteps in a shooter on X when compared to Y."

 

   Try looking around; you'll find it's surprisingly hard to get stuff like this. Give us rookies a hand, willya? Fewer people understand you guys than you think. I'm sorry if I'm coming off as an arrogant/ignorant prick. I'm really not trying to. These are just frustrating issues which have plagued me ever since I started trying to research this stuff years ago, so I feel I have to define every detail of the request to preclude answers that aren't really helpful.

 

For gaming headsets, the ASUS Cerberus may be worth checking out. It's less than $100, yet the drivers are larger than the $1,500 Sennheiser HD 800!

 

This is reassuring as well:

 

Quote:
When gaming you’ll hear every gunshot and know enemies are nearby from their footsteps alone.

 

I'm nowhere near as picky about gaming audio as I am with music. DACs convert the digital signal to an analog sound wave, and amplifiers amplify that. Sure, some of them can enlarge the soundstage and improve imaging (potentially increasing positioning precision), but personally, I would only invest in high-end gear for music, not gaming. (Then again, I could always use it for gaming after the fact.)

 

I agree with the quote below, with a few exceptions.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by djodars View Post
 

There's plenty of threads about this, you just haven't looked very well.

 

Here's the bottom line:

 

1. Soundcards are useless, avoid them like the plague. If you need virtual surround, you can download Razer Surround for free.

 

2. If you have a fairly new motherboard (last 5 years or so), the DAC chip on your onboard audio will be just as good as any budget DAC out there and I doubt you'd be able to notice the difference.

 

3. If your headphones are sensitive and/or have a low impedance, you don't need an amp so again, your onboard audio should be perfectly fine.

 

TL;DR: In 99% of cases, you don't need anything else than your onboard audio and your headphones.

 

Of course some headphones performs better than others when it comes to positional audio. You want low bass and balanced mids and trebles.

 

Some good examples: Sennheiser's HD 518, 558 or 598, AKG Q701 and Audio-Technica ATH-AD700x.

 

Good advice, but I hope it's just for gaming. When it comes to music, the sound quality can increase dramatically by using equipment other than a computer alone.

 

I have an Alienware gaming laptop with good specs...but from its headphone jack, music sounds so boring I can't even listen. Pretty much any DAP is much more engaging in comparison, and it's only up from there with better components added to the chain, be it a portable system or full-size desktop setup with a dedicated music server and so on.


Edited by Music Alchemist - 8/22/14 at 12:19pm
post #13 of 134
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by djodars View Post
 

There's plenty of threads about this, you just haven't looked very well.

 

Here's the bottom line:

 

1. Soundcards are useless, avoid them like the plague. If you need virtual surround, you can download Razer Surround for free.

 

2. If you have a fairly new motherboard (last 5 years or so), the DAC chip on your onboard audio will be just as good as any budget DAC out there and I doubt you'd be able to notice the difference.

 

3. If your headphones are sensitive and/or have a low impedance, you don't need an amp so again, your onboard audio should be perfectly fine.

 

TL;DR: In 99% of cases, you don't need anything else than your onboard audio and your headphones.

 

Of course some headphones performs better than others when it comes to positional audio. You want low bass and balanced mids and trebles.

 

Some good examples: Sennheiser's HD 518, 558 or 598, AKG Q701 and Audio-Technica ATH-AD700x.

 

If I can't find it after two years of Google and Head-Fi searches specifically asking things like "sound cards vs. DACs/amps" or "AD700 vs. DT 880 vs. Q701 for positional audio," then apparently your community is meant for telepaths or living computers. And believe me, the number of results drops like a rock when I add "for gaming" to the end of any of those queries. The threads that DO address these things are incomplete in their coverage of the subject. It's always about what headphones or audio arrangement provides the most well-rounded experience. There's never a thread specifically for gaming that covers everything. For instance, I just can't find threads comparing SBX, CMSS-3D, and Dolby with each other that have anything but crudely-formed opinions like "X is better because I used it" or "X is better." Without explanation. What I would LOVE is for someone who has heard all three to step up and provide his own input on how good it is for positional audio and that only. 

 

1. I've heard Razer Surround compared with other, premium virtualization software and it's really not that good, at least to my ears. Especially of note is the fact that it has really crappy rear audio cues, which is kind of important in games where, oh, I dunno, someone can sneak up behind you and stab you in the back? It's not BAD, not for something free you can use on any arrangement, but I'd take something like CMSS-3D over it any day. I CAN pull up forum posts from here where people will second that.

 

2. If the Realtek or Conextant or VIA or whatever audio chip onboard doesn't have said effects, then their utility to a gamer is reduced. Read my question more thoroughly: This is not about sound quality at all, it's about positional audio cues at any cost.

 

3. Leaving out the fact that some of the recommended headphones aside from the AD700(X) DO in fact require amping, you still have to address the issue of positional audio.

 

In all three points, you're basically ignoring the reason I set up this thread in the first place. If I wanna listen to music, I have a perfectly fine FiiO X5 I can wire up to this rig at any time. All I can think of for that is something using Creative drivers, or something capable of Dolby Headphone if you prefer that. I personally think Dolby is somewhat more realistic but not as well-suited to competitive gaming with regards to positional cues as CMSS-3D or SBX, based on the comparisons I've heard. Unfortunately the only way to get that is...a Creative sound card, or at least chip. Now, I recognize that my ears are not everyone's ears, and this is for everyone's benefit, so I encourage anyone reading this thread to pay a visit to Youtube and look up some comparisons for themselves, with all of their own positional audio software shut off, of course.

 

Regarding your headphone examples, my own research suggests that the Q701s and Sennheiser pairs are not so effective for positional audio relative to the AD700s and DT 880s, which so far are leading the pack just based on sheer number of recommendations and whatever studies I can pick up from looking around here, such as "The Holy Grail of Gaming Audio," a very well-conducted study, but sadly limited in scope in that it doesn't cover new solutions and is limited to a single set of ears which may be different from other peoples'. AD700s have the widest soundstage, DT 880s have better imaging. This much isn't contested. What's unclear to me is which is more important for gaming: Knowing direction, or knowing distance? I haven't had the pleasure of trying the 880s myself, so I couldn't say. And if there are better alternatives to these headphones, I don't know about them yet. People here are welcome to offer suggestions but I'd like a thorough, yet understandable explanation as to why, with an emphasis on the practical use they have over the others. I.E.: Will this make me a better player?

 

Quote:
 For gaming headsets, the ASUS Cerberus may be worth checking out. It's less than $100, yet the drivers are larger than the $1,500 Sennheiser HD 800!

 

Thank you, Music Alchemist. That is interesting. But the sparse reviews I can find on the Cerberus suggest it's heavy on bass and so more focused on immersion than positional cues. Nobody seems to be focusing on the positional cues themselves. It's worth pointing out, by the way, that I had a 7H before I had my AD700s. 7H has 50 millimeter drivers, AD700s have 53. Not really a huge difference in width. And yet, my experience with the AD700s is that they simply blow the 7H out of the water in every area, even in bass. A slight widening of the drivers couldn't possibly account for the tremendous difference in positional audio I could hear all on its own. It has to be the way the drivers are built, housed, and positioned. So I guess what I'm asking specifically is if anyone knows if the Cerberus has better or worse positional audio thanks to those massive drivers or not, because it doesn't seem to necessarily make a huge difference. I hear the Megalodon from Razer has slightly better positional audio compared to the 7H despite using 40mm drivers, for instance. Conversely, the Sennheiser PC350, which I'm given to understand uses the HD 595's drivers, has very BAD positional audio compared to the contemporary Razer and Steelseries alternatives. It could simply be that the USB DACs the 7H and Megalodon ship with are the cause for the difference between the headsets, but what about the fact that the AD700s had better positional off of something like an iPod or onboard audio versus the 7H with its DAC?

post #14 of 134
Quote:
Originally Posted by 343 Grenadier View Post

 

 

Wow...

 

Are you a troll or something?

 

There will never be a full coverage of all these things because they can be explained in a single post of like 2 lines.

 

1. If you want virtual surround, get a sound card. SBX > CMSS-3D > Dolby Headphones. More expensive = better sound quality and better DAC/AMP. Knowing this, Creative ZXR = best. End of line 1.

 

2. Best headphones for positional audio at a "normal" price range: ATH-AD700 > Sennheiser HD 555/558 > AKG Q701. End of line 2.

 

If you really need to know if this headphone or this soundcard will make you a better player, the answer is no. Will it give you a better indication of where is the enemy and give you a slight advantage, maybe. This isn't rocket science, sound is sound.

post #15 of 134
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post
 

 

1. You can use a soundcard along with an external DAC - except instead of the entire soundcard it will only be its DSP chip working, then SPDIF signal goes out and goes into the external DAC, whose own DAC chip will convert the signal back into analogue and pass it on to an amp (separate or built into the DAC). 

 

2. Not necessarily - the only real advantage of an external DAC vs a soundcard is a dedicated fixed analog output, or in some cases if necessary (for example if you're using active monitors), it has a true preamp output. So it depends more on what your headphones (or the rest of your system) need: if it needs an amp and you'll also be using it for dedicated music listening, then you might benefit from a DAC. Those conditions are crucial because from my own experience despite how, from a technical standpoint, HT and gaming should demand more power and such more than music, the reality is that in practice you are dealing with a lot of other stimuli compared to just listening to music. So while you might benefit from more power, you'd be too preoccupied with fragging the opponents than you are with the very particular differences in how one system does explosions a lot better than another (unless one obviously can't get as loud, or is already clipping), plus you're trying to make sense of the positional cues that won't be anywhere near as exact as actual speakers (ex. that gunshot from 10m away will not sound like it is actually coming from 10m away). Note that for speakers and movies of course it's a lot easier to appreciate the added dynamic range.

 

As well there actually are soundcards that have dedicated line and headphone outputs, but last I checked you could probably get a decent external DAC; also nowadays you could just add $50 to your motherboard budget (unless you already have one, in which case it will necessitate buying a new OS, so you can spend that on an external soundcard) and you can get a decent DSP on it without installing one more PCI card that can add a bit more heat or get in the way of the airflow.

 

3. Yep. You can always just use an easier to drive headphone for example. I mean, why use an LCD-2 when you can use the AT AD700? In any case you'll be listening to explosions and SFX - just how much accuracy does one need for that? Note though that in my case I also don't use my desktop or even my laptop for my dedicated audio listening, so I really don't need to integrate my HD600 into my gaming rig. Others though either like being distracted by their web browser while listening, or don't mind running a 500watt++ PSU, a monitor, several fans, a CPU and GPU, and so on and so forth, instead of a more focused device, mostly because of storage space.

 

1. Thank you. I wasn't even sure what SPDIF connections were even FOR until now. Now I have a better idea.

 

2. So for instance, someone building a mid to high end PC today might consider the AsRock Fatal1ty Z97 Professional with its Sound Core3D onboard and an external DAC over something like a Sound Blaster Z series card with an external DAC to save cash as there's not much benefit to buying, say, a ZxR instead if you can just use an external DAC for music while getting the same or near the same practical effect in games using the onboard? (I should note the onboard audio isn't complete and utter trash, spec-wise, either.)

 

3. So then it IS a choice between various sound cards or at least onboard solutions. So that brings us to what virtualization software is the best, meaning Razer Surround vs. Turtle Beach Surround vs. CMSS-3D vs. THX TruStudio vs. SBX ProStudio vs. Dolby Headphone vs. Dolby Home Theater vs Dolby Digital Live. Y'know, someone should record a variety of tests comparing all of these side by side in the exact same scenario, and post them on YT. A few try, but the ones I've seen are usually on games like Battlefield 3, which I'm given to understand are less than ideal environments to showcase this software.

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