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Buying Creative Sound Blaster Z for optical out use only

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by poisonheadcrab, Sep 15, 2014.
  1. PoisonHeadcrab
    I wanted to upgrade my computer audio and have already decided on the Philips Fidelio X1 headphone - with it I want to get a good DAC and amp, like the Schiit Modi and Magni. However, I do mostly gaming and watch movies, which is why features like virtual surround sound and stuff like EAX support are important to me, and why I also want a sound card.
    I currently use the Corsair Vengeance 2000 headset with its Dolby Pro Logic IIx virtual surround sound, and I would certainly miss that feature.
    Now the Creative Sound Blaster Z seems easily the best card out there when it comes to DSP features and especially surround sound, so I thought why not buy the sound card and hook it up via optical out to the Schiit Modi and Magni.
    But is it actually a good idea to shell out 100$ for features that I might just as easily get using software solutions? Are there any advantages to using a dedicated chip for that and does the Sound Blaster Z provide any DSP features that my onboard (ASUS Sabertooth Z77) audio and software cannot achieve? I also heard of some delay problems using the optical out from the SB Z, is that only limited to Dolby Live/DTS usage?
    And lastly, while the Schiit Modi and Magni would give me better sound quality, especially because the output impedance would fit the X1's better, I began to wonder if it's really worth it spending 250$ on better sound quality (okay, also a handy volume knob, and equipment that will probably last me through several whatever other upgrades I might go through) if I'm not a die-hard music fan. Not like I don't listen to music often, but gaming is at least as important to me, and movies even more. What's your opinion?

    Would it be worth it (especially long term) to buy both sound card and the Schiit stack or should I just get one instead of another?
    I may consider the ASUS Xonar Essence STX if only buying a sound card.
  2. genclaymore
    Like you said you want the DSP features of the sound blaster Z, if it have something that you want that you wanna use in games there no reason not to do it.  But if you are then I suggest you try to get a deal on one instead, maybe see if you can find it used for 40-60, i don't know if you are in the usa or not but ebay and amazon usually have deals on the Z used.  Also the Z has a function in the advance tab for sending stereo Thru Optical, which you would use to send the virtual Headphone functions of the Z to your optical modi or which ever external dac optical.
    You would basically set it up as windows control panel to 5.1 and game's while the Z control panel to headphones and enable SBX surround headphones. When you using that option i mention it will send all of that thru spdif into your dac. This is very common for those who want the DSP features of a sound card and the performance of their external dac. There are options for not using a sound card like using Razer surround software but it might not be perfect for you and might cause issues like it have for me.  Asus Xonar cards would give you dolby headphone and the Asus Xonar DGX can be had very cheap and you would set it up the same way.
  3. mindbomb
    The feature you are interested in is called Dolby Headphone. Dolby prologic is something different. I don't know if the magni would pair well with the fidelio as much as an o2 amp, since it has much lower noise and those are pretty sensitive headphones. Razer surround is a free alternative to dolby headphone, you could try that. I'm not familiar with the delay issue, but I imagine that is something that only happens when you go overboard with all the possible features simultaneously. Eax isn't that relevant in modern gaming (though it is a shame, since it's superior to current methods).
    The xonar dg and dgx have dolby headphone and optical and are really cheap. You can get refurbed soundblaster z for a little more also.
  4. THeFastCat
    This thread is similar to my own question:
    My stack is Realtek® ALC892 8-Channel (192kHz/ 24-bit) -> Schiit Modi (optical) -> Asgard 2 -> AKG 702 Annies to drive my gaming audio because I didn't want to pollute my OS with crappy drivers and crashy software that people complains aabout from Creative and Asus sound cards. The one thing that I am already missing (even though I haven't even built the computer yet) is the surround processing since I will be relying on my Realtec motherboard chip.
    Someone mentioned the benefit of adding a Sound Blaster Omni external USB processor:
    For now I am going to pass.
    For me having an external card processor is not really a convenience but an annoyance - more cords, two amps with that the overhead of an additional software dependency and hardware clutter.
    What I actually am wishing for is that Schiit puts together an external surround processor aimed at gamers that plays well with their AMP  :p
    would be awesome!
    In the meantime I would have played around with Razer Surround though I have heard that it doesn't work with Windows 8.1 (and hasn't been updated since it's 2.0 release).
    insights and recommendations appreciated!
  5. PoisonHeadcrab
    What I heard and was concerned about with the Magni, is that there is some channel imbalance and other issues at the lower range of the volume knob, which could be an issue especially with headphones like the X1. I plan on getting a pair of 12 or 20 dB attenuators to put between the DAC and Amp so that I get a more usable volume range. But I wonder, could those possibly have negative side effects of their own?
    Also, what exactly do you mean by "lower noise"?
    Generally, if money was of little object I think this setup could be just about perfect when it comes to computer audio(Of course apart from buying just more expensive amp, headphones and whatnot). The sound gets processed the way you want it on a dedicated card in your computer then it goes out digitally and gets converted to and handled in analogue form outside of the computer case.
    But spending that much money hurts my wallet, so I want to make sure that it's a good investment concerning computer audio. Except for the few compatibility doubts mentioned above, the Fidelio X1 and Schiit Modi + Magni seem like solid and rather future-proof purchases that are well worth the money.
    The sound card is where I'm not so sure, especially after seeing this. Basically a software-only solution that seems to have most of the DSP features the Creative SBZ drivers have, so what advantages could a dedicated chip have?
    In this case my fear would be that even though the Modi and the Omni are reported to sound similar, it's not said which amp, or if one was at all used in making those observations. As far as I've heard the Modi works especially well in combination with the Magni, and in turn the latter may not work as well if paired with another DAC like the Omni, especially if already getting an amped output.
    Again, these assumptions are merely my best guesses from what knowledge I've gathered so far, however without any experience with any of the gear.
    You might look at the software I linked above, though I'm not sure myself what to make of it...
  6. mindbomb
    Noise, as in signal to noise ratio, or how clean the signal is. You're using sensitive headphones, so it's a bigger concern than power output. The benefits of hardware I would say is lower cpu usage and arguably convenience. If you were to reformat or install a new OS, with the hardware solution, you just have to install drivers. Idk what you would do in the case of the software solution. A xonar dg is actually cheaper than that software I think too.
  7. THeFastCat
    Hey Guys I stumbled across the Claro II - it seems like it might fit well into my Schiit stack since it doesn't have a headphone amp and adds the surround processing I have been wanting as well as anti-pop protection:
    Dolby Digital Live
    Pro Logic IIx
    Dolby Headphone
    DTS NEO:p
    Claro II product specs
    So this would switch me from a pretty good onboard chip:
    Claro II -> Optical Modi -> Asgard 2
    The downside is that since I'm going Optical out it's only 5.1 channels to the Modi - but I guess there isn't any way of solving that anyway!
    Anyway I'd appreciate feedback since it looks good on paper - avoiding double headphone amping, adding surround processing and also stopping static pops 
  8. genclaymore

    Spending all of that money on claro II is pointless when you are using optical, it also isn't the only card that has Dolby headphone. The Asus Xonar DG/DGX are both cheap usually 20-30 dollars and they also have Dolby headphone. Rather a card has a hp amp or not it doesn't matter when you are running optical. Also you would config the panel and windows to 5.1 and then config the output as headphone to enable dolby headphone also make sure to check the box to enable PCM 48 so it will send the signal into your optical modi.
  9. Povell42
    I know this Thread has been dead for 4 years... but I Saw this video... ... and thought about using my sound blaster Z soundcard as my optical out to an optical splitter and then feeding that signal to all my fiber optical input DACs (Like he did in the video). It seem like that my be a good way to do it. Any thoughts?
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2018
  10. BrightCandle
    I used the optical out into a DAC/Amp for quite a while with the soundblaster Z, that way I could bypass its comparatively poor DAC and headphone amp output and still have virtualised surround sound in games. Worked really well. I moved on to the Sennheiser GSX1000 because the surround sound implementation is better but I had no real issues with the soundblaster setup and it was pretty easy to make it work, just need a tick box clicking to get SBX pro to play with the optical out.
    Povell42 likes this.
  11. mindbomb
    Does the soundblaster z support windows at 7.1 like this, or does it set windows to 5.1?
  12. BrightCandle
    Just 5.1, the Soundblaster Z can not do 7.1 at all. For the purpose of surround sound I was outputing stereo over the optical link to the DAC and AMP and the 5.1 was set in Window and SBX pro was dealing with projecting that into stereo.
    mindbomb likes this.

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