Computer Audigy -> Audiophile 2496 really worth it?
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Corak

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I have seen there have been a couple of posts recently in the vein of SACD vs. soundcards. I'm sorry if I throw more fuel in this fire with this post.


I admit I'm a total newbie audiophile-wannabe user just hoping to improve his audio experience.

I have not much space in my room so I would much prefer a soundcard solution to a SACD. Not only that but with a better soundcard I have many advantages for not only CD-A but also DVDs and even high quality MP3s/APE files.

It would really help to hear from people who own both an Audiophile2496 type card and an Audigy. Or people who own both an Audiophile2496 (or similar) and a Rega Planet (or similar). :)

I'm using a Creative Audigy with Creek OBH-11 and Sennheiser HD600 cans currently. I have no other serious CD source available right now.

I have read some mixed reports on this switch (Audigy -> A2496). The negative reports however didn't seem to involve HI-FI cans like the HD600.

I hope the Audiophile 2496 will do as much to the PC-Audio experience as the recent Creek OBH-11 addition has.

I'm not looking for a subtle change but only big steps.

The M-Audio Audiophile 2496 is unfortunately pretty expensive here in Europe (~219$ is the cheapest I have found). I could get a Terratec EWX for much less ($160) but Terratec's driver support just sucks.

I need a card with the following requirements:

- good driver support, should work in Linux as well as in Windows (I guess this rules anything non M-Audio out)
- analogue RCA stereo out to connect card directly to the OBH-11
- no resampling, good on-board DAC
- game support irrelevant, I will keep the Audigy in the box for this purpose. Because of this the card should live well together with this gaming card in the same box
- option to add external DAC later would be nice
- should work great for all Audio tasks but games (e.g. CD-Audio, MP3, DVD, etc.)
- extremly low hiss, I guess a shielded DAC would help here. But unfortunately no M-Audio card has this AFAIK. Will the A2496 still have less hiss than my current Audigy? (hope so)
- might be nice if it had digital S/PDIF in so I can plug my Audigy into it to leverage the better DAC for games
- I don't care for MIDI, so this is not required (A2496 overkill here)
- I don't care for professional Music Tool support since I am in no way interested in making music myself (A2496 big overkill). Again I only need good reproduction.
- quality should close in to good SACDPers like Rega Planet as far as possible

If the upgrade from Audigy to a real 2496 is a night & day (no placebo effect) difference is there a better option than the A2496 for my purposes? Seems not so far.

I would be willing to invest more in the audio card if it's worth it for pure reproduction. I paid $800 for my current graphic card a while ago and if it's REALLY worth it I'm willing to invest more than $200 into an audio card.

I'm in special curious about balanced analogue outs. How big is the difference to non-balanced outs?

I'm hoping in improvments in detail, soundstage, musicality, general music-wow-factor.

I wonder if someone with a Rega Planet could bear to listen to an Audiophile2496? I have listened to a Rega Planet myself in a shop and I was really awed by it's quality. I'm not sure how close I can get to this with soundcards.

I have heard a Rega Planet SACD and I must admit it's really nice. Is there any hope to reach this quality at all with an Audiophile 2496 (or similar) or should I forget the soundcard route and only invest in some SACDP? I would have to research this from the ground up again. I have never used a SACDP or even a PCDP myself.

I'm not looking for the ultimate answer to an Audiophile system. I'm just hoping to achieve a decent quality so that any expert wouldn't vomit in disgust listening to my system.
 
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Audio-Me

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I use a soundcard as my main source, Terratec EWS88 MT, it features an external shielded DAC. Although I have not heard this setup, I think you should look into M-Audio DiO 2448 + ART DI/O. But if you have around $500 to spend, I think you should look into a stand alone redbook CD player, Arcam CD72 can be had for cheap @ audiogon.com I've heard the Rega Planet 2000 (it's not SACD, I have no idea where you got that from), and although it's pretty good, I thought that the Arcam sounded better, it's just a preference thing.
 
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dparrish

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I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but to my ears the 24/96 is a MARGINAL improvement at best over the Audigy.

I purchased the 24/96 to compare with my Audigy, just as you are considering. I wanted a better-sounding analog output to my headphone amp and phones (HD600s). I wanted to get better sound primarily for Dolby Headphone DVD playback with WinDVD.

To my ears, the 24/96 was more detailed and a bit better balanced than the Audigy (its frequency response curve is indeed more linear according to tests than the Audigy's). However, the more "detailed" nature of the card translates into "bright-sounding" as far as I'm concerned (not good). The high-frequency sounds in particular (strings for example) have a harshness that is not in line with good analog sound. In my opinion, the 24/96 suffers from a properly-shielded analog output

I cannot comment on the digital output of either card, but as to the analog output, I didn't feel the 24/96 was enough of an improvement to warrant its purchase, and I returned it to the dealer for a refund. I am now looking at some more expensive alternatives (unfortunately): DAL Cardeluxe, RMEdigi96/pro, etc.
I really haven't settled on one yet, and making such decisions is rather difficult since the cards aren't readily available locally.

Good luck, and please pass along anything you learn.
 
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dparrish

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I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but to my ears the 24/96 is a MARGINAL improvement at best over the Audigy.

I purchased the 24/96 to compare with my Audigy, just as you are considering. I wanted a better-sounding analog output to my headphone amp and phones (HD600s). I wanted to get better sound primarily for Dolby Headphone DVD playback with WinDVD.

To my ears, the 24/96 was more detailed and a bit better balanced than the Audigy (its frequency response curve is indeed more linear according to tests than the Audigy's). However, the more "detailed" nature of the card translates into "bright-sounding" as far as I'm concerned (not good). The high-frequency sounds in particular (strings for example) have a harshness that is not in line with good analog sound. In my opinion, the 24/96 suffers from a properly-shielded analog output

I cannot comment on the digital output of either card, but as to the analog output, I didn't feel the 24/96 was enough of an improvement to warrant its purchase, and I returned it to the dealer for a refund. I am now looking at some more expensive alternatives (unfortunately): DAL Cardeluxe, RMEdigi96/pro, etc.
I really haven't settled on one yet, and making such decisions is rather difficult since the cards aren't readily available locally.

Good luck, and please pass along anything you learn.
 
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markl

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1. In general, no soundcard can compete with a comparably priced stand-alone CDP/SACDP.

2. In general, no comparably priced CDP can compete with an SACDP due to the fact that the SACDP has DACs that are much more sophisticated and more powerful than the DACs in a standard CDP. These better DACs are needed to handle the SACD format. That means even if you have no particular use for SACD at the moment, you'll still get better Redbook CD performance off an SACDP. Yes, there are exceptions to this "rule". Do your homework.

markl

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Corak

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Thanks for the input Audio&Me and dparrish.

Audio&Me:
Oops I thought SACDP stood for "Stand Alone CD Player". I just assumed it's one because it's way too big to be considered portable.

It seems it's rather "Super Audio CD". Another thing I know nothing about. Oh well more research necessary.
Isn't the DIO 2448 much worse than the Audiophile 2496? I have read it has very little in common with the Delta series (DAC etc.) unlike the Audiophile 2496 and better. But then again you proposed an Art DAC to go with it.... I wonder how much these go for in Europe. How does the OBH-14 compare to the Art btw? The OBH-14 would match nicely to my OBH-11.

How does the EWS88 MT compare to the stand alone players like the Arcam you mentioned? I'm still very reluctant to buy anything Terratec but I would still like to hear more on it.
Let's say the Arcam has 10/10 how many points would you give to the EWS88 MT and to something like a Creative Audigy/Live!.

dparrish:
I will definately post my results here. And please do so yourself when you upgrade. We seem to have similar goals. :)
Unfortunately there are very few people who own both a good external CD player and a decent soundcard to learn from.
I see you also have the HD600 so this is really discouraging.
I will only buy the Audiophile 2496 at some place with a money back gurantee if at all.
I don't want to spend $220 for just a marginal difference!

The new SuperAudio CD format is another reason to go for a soundcard IMHO. It would be much cheaper to add a SACD compatible reader at a later time to the PC than to buy a complete new SACD external player.

I don't mind a little hiss at very high volumes, since I won't go that high anyway. In general I have very high quality computer componennts (power supply etc.) so I doubt there should be big problems here.

I would be happy to spend $800 or something for a soundcard if that's the end to all audio concerns for a couple of years. Again I only want great reproduction. All those big-ass soundcards are more geared towards music making / recording I have and will have zero interest in.
I'm mainly looking for a WIDE soundstage, details, airy feeling, not-sounding-like-recording.
Oh and it should be very neutral sounding. I don't want any coloration.
 
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Corak

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Quote:

Originally posted by markl
1. In general, no soundcard can compete with a comparably priced stand-alone CDP/SACDP.

2. In general, no comparably priced CDP can compete with an SACDP due to the fact that the SACDP has DACs that are much more sophisticated and more powerful than the DACs in a standard CDP. These better DACs are needed to handle the SACD format. That means even if you have no particular use for SACD at the moment, you'll still get better Redbook CD performance off an SACDP. Yes, there are exceptions to this "rule". Do your homework.

markl


You are right I will need to research SACDP much more. :)

I still wonder why there is no soundcard out there with a decent ciruitry which can compare to a decent stand alone CDP. All those stand alone players need a media reader, some fancy casing, power supply, remote control ability and the ciruitry to process the audio wheras a soundcard would basically only need equal quality circuitry to process the audio data.

I wish there was some place where I could rent a Rega Planet, some decent SACD, an Audiophile 2496 and a LynxTWO for a couple of days and then decide for one solution and returning the rest.
 
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Audio-Me

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mark, I think those rules are stupid.


Corak, my mistake, I didn't read the P at the end, I thought you were referring to "Super Audio CD". I don't think you will be satisfied with just an expensive sound card. You might want to snoop around for an Arcam dealer near your area to audition the CD72.
 
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sunshine

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Here are 2 links at the avsforum where they talk about soundcards that might interest you guys

link1

link2
 
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Corak

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Quote:

Originally posted by Audio&Me
mark, I think those rules are stupid.


Corak, my mistake, I didn't read the P at the end, I thought you were referring to "Super Audio CD". I don't think you will be satisfied with just an expensive sound card. You might want to snoop around for an Arcam dealer near your area to audition the CD72.


www.audiogon.com is unfortunately no option for me since I have not found one guy who wants to send to Europe. I have found no device on ebay here (Germany) right now. Or rather I have found one defect Alpha 7 Arcam player.

I will try to audition one of these Arcam players locally with my HD600 and OBH-11.

How do you rate your Terratec in comparison to such an Arcam player?
Again I'm not looking for the ultimate solution right now. I will certainly buy some HI-FI standalone system later on when the money really flows. If I can get a soundcard which will not bring experts into vomiting state it would be fine for the time being (decent system).

Say an Arcam 72 would be 10/10 and my Audigy a 2/10. If I can get a 7-8/10 with some soundcard I would be pretty happy for now.
 
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Corak

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Quote:

Originally posted by sunshine
Here are 2 links at the avsforum where they talk about soundcards that might interest you guys

link1

link2


Thanks a lot for the pointer. I always wondered about the AVSForum. *Lots* of interesting reading material. A third forum to check out regularly until my audio upgraditis comes to an end.

HTPC (Home Theater PC) is actually also something I'm aiming at. I have read there the last 2 hours or so and the results are again pretty mixed.
The A2496 seems to be a very good choice as the defacto HTPC reference standard. I think I will try it with money-back-guarantee somewhere and if I don't like it I will just return it.

Most of the guys on the forum seem to use external decoders for DTS / DD but I plan to use WinDVD software decoding for this. I do have CPU to burn anyway. :)
The OBH-11 only accepts analogue inputs and the A2496 analogue outs get rave reviews everywhere.
 
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dparrish

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Corak,

Where have you seen praise for the 24/96 analog outs? From what I have seen/read, the praise is mostly general praise, and on the AVS forums, 99.99% of the folks seem to be using digital outs only (I have yet to read of anyone using the analog outs and saying that they were outstanding).

I'm certainly not trying to disuade you from trying the 24/96. As I said earlier, I DO think it is marginally better than the Audigy. It just wasn't nearly as good as I was hoping it to be, and the Audigy isn't really as BAD as almost everyone (mostly those who don't own it) says it is.

Speaking of AVS, something I read there that I just tried and I would suggest you try as well: remove the audio cables (the small, thin-wired connects to "CD", "Aux", "Digital", etc.) connecting your DVD/CD player to the Audigy. One of the guys there suggested this as a way to lower the amount of jitter.

After trying it, I noticed an immediate improvement in sound. The highs seem less harsh now.
 
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Quote:

hat means even if you have no particular use for SACD at the moment, you'll still get better Redbook CD performance off an SACDP.


Sorry but this is utter hogwash. In my own experience I've found dedicated CD players to sound significantly better on Redbook than similarly priced SACD players.
 
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Ken

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I have in the last 6 months gone from sound blaster live to audigy and then to a 24/96 sound card

sound blaster live 4.5 /10
audigy 8/10
24/96 sound card 9.5/10


I do have very good components running off my computer so I can hear the improvements. The big winner each time I purchased a new sound card was detailed bass. The 24/96 card for me at last puts me in real hi fi sound . The audigy had problems in loosing its way and needed reinstall.
I now use the optical out to record to my mindisc.
 
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Quote:

Originally posted by SumB
Sorry but this is utter hogwash. In my own experience I've found dedicated CD players to sound significantly better on Redbook than similarly priced SACD players.


My sentiments exactly...
 
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