The Nameless Guide To PC Gaming Audio (with binaural headphone surround sound)
Jan 28, 2012 at 6:04 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 4,136


Headphoneus Supremus
Jul 7, 2011
[size=10.0pt]I'm writing this guide because I find myself having to repeat a lot of the same points while advising people here and correct misguided advice from others, so I figure that I can clear up a lot of the misconceptions, misunderstandings, and general confusion regarding PC gaming audio. I was especially inspired to do this by this Creative forum thread, which highlights a lot of the differences and why PC gaming audio has actually regressed over the last decade.[/size]

[size=10.0pt] [/size]

[size=10.0pt]This guide focuses more on the sound APIs and binaural audio technologies in PC games. If you're looking for headphone advice:[/size]


-For a reasonably affordable all-rounder, there's the Sony MDR-MA900, which frequently sells for around US$150-155. Comfortable, doesn't require a dedicated amp, comfortable, has the positioning to be competitive, has the bass for a cinematic experience, and did I say comfortable?

-If you want a competitive advantage at a lower price point, there's the Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 at US$65-90, which is pretty much what everyone says it is. Huge soundstage, easy to drive, but practically no bass.

-If you like bass and treble in particular, the HiFiMan HE-400 at around US$350 is another good bet, and I actually didn't find them nearly as heavy as most people make them out to be. The midrange is recessed and has a strange texture over it, however.

-If you really want audiophile-class sound quality or just don't mind spending a lot of money on a headphone for gaming, any Stax Lambda system will do. Pricing for a Normal bias SR-Lambda (my personal favorite) with an SRD-6 or SRD-7 tends to hover around $300-330 on eBay these days, but keep in mind that you'll either need an SRD-series transformer box + speaker amp or an SRM-series dedicated amp for them to work at all, which means another $350-450 for an SRM-1/Mk2 Professional, maybe SRM-T1.

-For everything else, read Mad Lust Envy's Gaming Headphone Guide. He's sampled a lot more headphones than I have, most of them within a more reasonable price range, and some of which bassheads would find more appealing. Just keep in mind that he mentions the Astro Mixamp because he's a console-only gamer, and for PC gaming, a sound card will provide more features and better audio quality at less cost. Use the guide for headphone recommendations ONLY when looking for a PC gaming headphone.


Otherwise, please don't come looking to me for headphone and especially amp advice. I can tell you what's in popular use, but refuse to vouch for or against hardware I've never personally tried.


[size=10.0pt]That said, I am approaching this with headphone surround sound in mind, hence the mention of binaural technologies for headphones. However, some of the information within may be useful to those using speaker systems.[/size]


[size=10.0pt]Also note that I'm focusing largely on the Win9x-and-later period of PC games, when 3D audio was considered the next big thing and having a sound card to handle it was crucial for any gaming PC. For DOS games that rely heavily on sound card synthesis, you're best off doing research at the VOGONS forum, which specializes in retro PC gaming. There's a few threads there discussing what sound cards are best for DOS games.[/size]


[size=10.0pt]The major parts of the guide are now spoiler-tagged so that it's not such a long, wordy post at first glance and it's easy to get to the part you're looking for. (I wish I noticed that forum feature before...)[/size]



APIs and middleware found in PC games:


-DirectSound3D. It gives the sound card driver the 3D coordinates of in-game sounds and lets the sound card handle where and how to play them. Most games made in the timeframe when Windows 98 SE and Windows XP were the mainstream OSes use this API, but it was removed in Windows Vista. Fortunately, there are many workarounds for this, such as Creative ALchemy, GX2.5/Xear3D on C-Media cards, and Realtek 3DSoundBack.
Most games that use DirectSound3D use the Miles Sound System middleware (see below), but not all.

-OpenAL. Functions similarly to DirectSound3D, but is independent of the OS and thus does not need ALchemy or so forth to work (in fact, OpenAL continuing to work is why those programs work in the first place). Some games use OpenAL natively, such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Battlefield 2, Battlefield 2142, and anything that uses UnrealEngine2 (UT 2004).


In addition, some OpenAL games (notably Codemasters racing titles) come bundled with Rapture3D, which does surround processing in software, including binaural headphone mixing (more on that in the "Binaural audio technologies" section). There are also payware versions (User and Advanced editions) that can be used with any OpenAL game.


Games that use OpenAL generally have an OpenAL32.dll in their directories (which may interfere with the one in your Windows system directory in rare cases) or similarly-named files.


* Special note for Amnesia: The Dark Descent; you need to do a bit of .ini file editing in order to use non-Generic Software OpenAL devices.


-EAX is an extension to the two aforementioned APIs that allow for in-game reverb, chorus, and occlusion effects. If the sound device doesn't support them, then the effects are lost, resulting in something that sounds far more artificial, but most audio devices that aren't USB audio interfaces support at least EAX 2, being part of DirectSound3D itself. Only Creative hardware does EAX 3/4/5 natively, however; C-Media cards emulate them, to varying degrees of effectiveness.


It's very important to note that any EAX presets in the sound card driver with room names that add tons of reverb to every sound played, in-game or out, are NOT what I am talking about here, and those are best left off. The game will decide what settings to use automatically. For X-Fi users, leave EAX enabled and at 0.0db in Game Mode.


-Aureal A3D. It's the API that preceded DirectSound3D and kickstarted the 3D audio revolution in the first place. It was a big competitor to Creative's DS3D + EAX approach back in the Win98 days and allowed for binaural HRTF mixing over stereo speakers and headphones. Almost every audio device supports A3D 1.0 in the same way they do EAX 1/2, but A3D 2.0 and 3.0 with wavetracing and other added features remain the sole domain of sound cards based on Aureal's Vortex chipsets (see below). However, it's been dead for over a decade, and practically every game that supports A3D also supports DS3D + EAX.


So why does A3D exist alongside DirectSound3D? Long story short, the DirectX 3 implementation of DirectSound3D didn't allow for third-party 3D processing by passing the 3D audio coordinates to the sound device. This was thankfully rectified in DirectX 5 onward, making DS3D work like I mentioned above.


* Okay, only recently did I notice that A3D was more of an API on its own and less of a DirectSound3D extension like EAX. It's easy to confuse the two because most games that support A3D also support DS3D. I really need to familiarize myself more with what A3D actually is and what it can do, but it doesn't help that Aureal used "A3D" to refer to multiple technologies, up to and including a full-blown audio middleware for game engines in the A3D 3.0 days, nor does it help that they were buried a long time ago after Creative bought them out.


-XAudio2 + X3DAudio. It pre-mixes sounds based on the Windows speaker setting before it even hits the sound card driver, and is one of the more common APIs used in newer games. While this does make all sound devices perform on a more even field, being entirely software-driven, it keeps Creative hardware from working at its best.


-FMOD. A very prevalent sound middleware system in modern games, with several major revisions. Older revisions may have allowed an OpenAL passthrough, but the latest iteration (FMOD Ex) does not appear to and instead mixes everything in software like XAudio2, likewise reading the Windows speaker setting to decide how to mix it. I wouldn't be surprised if it actually handled the output with XAudio2.


Games that have FMOD Ex generally have a fmodex.dll in their directories.


-Miles Sound System. Another fairly popular middleware system, but not as common as FMOD in modern games. Mostly used in titles based on Valve's Source engine, but also featured in GTA III/Vice City/San Andreas and a few other games. The version used in Source engine games defaults to software mixing unless you set snd_legacy_surround 1 in the console to enable DirectSound3D mode, but older versions generally have a DirectSound3D passthrough, both with and without EAX and A3D extensions.


Windows games that use MSS generally have a Mss32.dll in their directories.

Binaural audio technologies:


-CMSS-3D Headphone, only found on Creative X-Fi cards. When faced with a DirectSound3D or OpenAL game, it is aware of the exact position in each sound and presents a true binaural sound with a sense of height and distance, as well as seamlessness when sounds rotate around the listener. With games that use one of the software audio APIs/middlewares, however, it is limited to virtual 7.1 at the most. It's also important to set the Windows speaker setting to 5.1 or 7.1 and the X-Fi control panel to Headphones, as Creative themselves instruct. (Why the drivers don't do this automatically is beyond me.)

Do not confuse it with CMSS-3D Virtual (a similar technology, but for stereo speakers in front of the listener) or CMSS-3D Surround (a stereo upmix feature to make two-channel sources output over the surround speakers).


-Dolby Headphone, found on practically everything else. It is limited to virtual 7.1 in all cases, even DS3D and OAL games that sound binaural with CMSS-3D, but still provides a reasonably good sense of surround sound.


* Because these technologies are based on generic/average HRTFs, which are inherently unique for every listener, your mileage WILL vary. Some prefer one, others prefer the other, and still others don't like either and only play in stereo (left/right panning only).


-Rapture3D. A software OpenAL driver from Blue Ripple Sound, and as such it only works on OpenAL games. It's listed here because it offers binaural mixing regardless of your hardware, with no less than six different HRTFs to choose from! Unfortunately, for Vista/Win7, enabling this option over headphones requires setting Windows' speaker setting to stereo so that Rapture3D's speaker layout control panel can switch to "Headphone Stereo (Compat.)"; otherwise, it just outright refuses to switch. HRTF options can be found under the Decoder tab.


It also supports OpenAL-native EFX effects for reverb/chorus/occlusion/etc., but not EAX.


-MyEars. Claims to be personalized, and being a software solution, it works with any audio device. I haven't tested this yet, but I have my doubts that it can be used with hardware-accelerated EAX since it requires a "virtual audio cable" to be set as the default audio device. There's also the potential issue of the subscription-based business model, needing to pay $20 year after year.


To understand how such technologies work out in practice, download these recorded videos and listen to them. (Thanks, Ilya-s!) While most of it is in Russian, there's enough in English to understand which games were recorded with what hardware and settings; "X-Fi" always uses CMSS-3D Headphone, while "Xonar" is plain stereo and "Xonar DH" uses Dolby Headphone, as you'd expect.

Sound card chipsets:


-Creative X-Fi EMU20k1 (PCI)/EMU20k2 (PCI-Express). Boasts EAX 5 (Game Mode), CMSS-3D Headphone, ASIO (Audio Creation Mode, needed for bit-matched playback), and in some cases, Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect (either already included or as a purchase from Creative). Unfortunately, there are cards like the XtremeAudio line, the Auzentech X-Fi Bravura, and Audiotrak Prodigy 7.1 that do not have the true X-Fi DSP and replicate all functionality in software; this can be proven by their lack of Game Mode and Audio Creation Mode. Otherwise, most other X-Fi branded products have the DSP, and even a select few motherboards in Gigabyte's G1-series lineup.
-Creative Sound Core3D, used in the Recon3D, the upcoming Z-series cards, and newer Gigabyte G1-series motherboards. They're actually codec-based devices that handle all audio processing in software, just like X-Fi MB-based products, the XtremeAudio cards, etc., and have actually LOST functionality compared to proper X-Fi cards as a whole. I'd suggest steering clear of these, unless you want the Recon3D USB due to its support for consoles with Dolby Digital output while having some PC gaming support.

-C-Media Oxygen HD. Frequently boasts Dolby Headphone, Dolby Digital Live, DTS Connect, and/or ASIO. The entire Asus Xonar line uses them, along with HT Omega and Auzentech (for those that aren't X-Fi products in the latter case). EAX emulation and DirectSound3D-to-OpenAL wrapping is provided by DS3DGX (Xonar), or possibly Xear3D on non-Xonar cards; they may very well be the same thing, just rebranded (like how the CMI8788 Oxygen HD chipset itself is rebranded the Asus AV200). If Xonar users want to try drivers more in line with other C-Media cards, there are modified driver packages available.


-Creative EMU10k1 (Live!) and EMU10k2 (Audigy). Boasts EAX 2 (Live!) or EAX 4 (Audigy) and an earlier form of CMSS that only seems to function like CMSS-3D Surround does now, so it's not of much use to headphone users. Particularly notable in that they can use the third-party kX Project drivers and gain binaural surround if you know how to configure the Surrounder plugin, but they do enforce hardware resampling to 48 KHz whenever the DSP is used. Also, in my experience with a Live! card and kX testing out EAX under RightMark 3DSound's positioning accuracy test, the EAX effects were nonfunctional and not present in spite of the system thinking it could support up to EAX 3.0. Unless you really, really like the kX Project drivers, you're better off with one of the newer cards.


-Aureal Vortex (2). Very noteworthy line of cards from the Win9x era that are the only ones to offer A3D 2.0 and 3.0 support along with limited EAX 1 support, but Creative basically bought Aureal out to bury a competitor. Not recommended for WinXP or later due to their abandonment after said acquisition.


-Realtek codecs. There's bound to be one on your desktop motherboard right now-they're just that prolific. Guaranteed to support EAX 2 and 3DSoundBack for DirectSound3D-to-OpenAL wrapping, but anything beyond that largely depends on your motherboard drivers. Some of these may include the X-Fi MB driver packages, which works a lot like the XtremeAudio cards in that it handles EAX and CMSS-3D Headphone in software and only has Entertainment Mode, along with Creative ALchemy as the DirectSound3D wrapper of choice over 3DSoundBack.


-NVIDIA SoundStorm, generally found on old nForce2-based motherboards from the Athlon XP days. It combines a DSP in the motherboard chipset with a typical motherboard audio codec for analog output (usually a Realtek ALC650) and generally offers 5.1 analog output along with coaxial S/PDIF. The kicker? It processes EAX 1/2 in hardware AND has guaranteed Dolby Digital Live (often renamed Dolby Digital ICE or anything along those lines)! But since NVIDIA discontinued it with nForce3 onward, it's not really relevant these days.

Method for using sound card as DSP to output to any audio device, including USB ones, in Windows 7 (thanks, SniperCzar!):


Note that this only works in Windows 7. Vista and prior don't have the required feature.

1. Right click on your volume tray in Windows 7 and select "Recording devices"
2. Select "What U Hear" and click "Properties" (cringe inducing grammar there Creative)
[Note - you do NOT have to set this as the default recording device]
3. Select the "Listen" tab and check the box marked "Listen to this device"
4. Under the drop down marked "Playback through this device:" select your desired DAC
5. Make sure "Continue running when on battery power" is selected as a software passthrough should have no effect whatsoever on your battery life
6. Select the "Levels" tab and set it to something comfortable, as the volume control for the Creative card's standard output will have no effect on the volume of the software recording device.
7. Enjoy listening to CMSS-3D, freed from the noisy and inferior hardware confines of your internal soundcard!

Useful software utilities:


-RightMark 3DSound. The positioning accuracy test in particular is very useful to check EAX functionality up to 4, as well as the accuracy of positional audio in general, but it does use DirectSound3D and require a wrapper. The CPU utilization test can be used to check DirectSound3D and OpenAL capability flags as well.

Common misconceptions:


-Myth: EAX and hardware-accelerated audio are completely dead in Vista onward.
-Fact: This is why ALchemy, GX2.5/Xear3D, 3DSoundBack, etc. exist; to restore games that utilize it via DirectSound3D by wrapping the calls to the still-functional OpenAL API. Note that games that use EAX via OpenAL, such as Battlefield 2, do not need these applications. Even if the game doesn't explicitly mention EAX but uses DirectSound3D, it will still benefit because without them, DirectSound3D games only output in stereo, with no surround support for use with the aforementioned binaural technologies.


-Myth: EAX handles 3D positional audio in old games.

-Fact: As mentioned above, EAX solely adds reverb/chorus/occlusion processing to sound effects. The actual task of positioning sounds in 3D space is left to either the DirectSound3D or OpenAL API, whichever the game uses.


And even though EAX is accessed through those two APIs, don't automatically assume that every game with EAX support is going to have 3D positional audio. I found this out the hard way with Serious Sam: The First Encounter and The Second Encounter (original releases, not the HD remakes), which do support EAX, but have NO support for 3D positional audio whatsoever. It still sounds like software-mixed stereo, just with some added reverb and chorus effects depending on what environment you're in.


-Myth: Sound card DSP effects for gaming do not carry through S/PDIF.

-Fact: They do go through S/PDIF. I've tested it myself with RightMark 3DSound's positional audio test (uses DirectSound3D, so be sure to point ALchemy or other wrappers to the installation directory). This makes the combination of a sound card as a DSP and an external DAC with S/PDIF input a plausible upgrade option, as the sound card's lesser analog circuitry is still bypassed.


However, arbitrary driver decisions may prevent some DSP features from working over S/PDIF anyway, such as Dolby Headphone on Xonar cards. Migi06 has confirmed that Dolby Headphone passes through S/PDIF on Asus Xonar cards.


-Myth: S/PDIF (coaxial/optical digital audio) cannot do surround sound!

-Fact: I believe this misconception also made people believe in the above one about DSP effects not working. The problem is actually that PC games output all their surround channels in uncompressed PCM format (with few exceptions), and S/PDIF only has enough bandwidth for two channels of PCM. To fit more in, you need a codec like Dolby Digital or DTS.


The problem is, most games do not encode Dolby Digital or DTS on-the-fly, so the sound output device needs to support Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect for it to sound as intended. Once that's done, external A/V receivers and headphone DSPs like the Astro Mixamp, Turtle Beach Ear Force DSS, and JVC/Victor SU-DH1 will actually have some surround information to work with.

Important links:


-OpenAL configuration guide

-Daniel_K X-Fi Support Pack 2.5

-X-Fi Titanium HD drivers

-Xonar Unified Drivers

-Mad Lust Envy's Headphone Gaming Guide

-Ilya-S's stereo/binaural game video comparison


That's the end of the guide for now. I'll update it as time goes on and new features and technologies are discovered and deprecated and so forth. I hope it helps people looking for advice on gaming audio, much as the aforementioned Mad Lust Envy thread has.


Also, I would appreciate feedback if you find this guide a bit hard-to-read and can think of ways to make it more understandable for the average person.


I'd also appreciate some more knowledge wherever Aureal A3D is concerned. It's only just now that I'm realizing how mistaken I might have been in a few key areas, like thinking it was a DS3D extension ala EAX instead of being its own API that just happens to be implemented frequently along with DS3D + EAX in most older games.

Jan 28, 2012 at 6:19 PM Post #2 of 4,136
Though I'm not a PC gamer, I'm still very interested in this thread. I know it should help greatly to those non-console gamers.

BTW, I edited my first post on my thread to link people here. :wink:
Jan 28, 2012 at 6:49 PM Post #3 of 4,136
Nice!   This gets much more in depth on the PC tech side of things. 
Great job!
Jan 28, 2012 at 6:57 PM Post #4 of 4,136
Like Chico said on my thread, you should add keywords like surround sound, headphones, gaming to your post, so search engines can link you. :wink:

I google stuff for gaming, and my damn thread shows up everywhere. Both a pro and con. XD

I'm not a pro at all, so it's a bit overwhelming, lol. I hope people understand that it's a hobby and I'm sure there are plenty of others who could walk all over me with their knowledge on the same things (like MLG Steggy, KBI, etc).
Jan 28, 2012 at 7:20 PM Post #5 of 4,136
I hope people warm up to Nameless quickly, because guides like this can really influence a large group of people. I didn't realize how important my guide would be on here. It's a relatively small thing on AVS, but on here... it's big... O_O
Jan 28, 2012 at 7:24 PM Post #6 of 4,136
Like Chico said on my thread, you should add keywords like surround sound, headphones, gaming to your post, so search engines can link you.

I google stuff for gaming, and my damn thread shows up everywhere. Both a pro and con. XD

Duly noted, but it doesn't seem like I can tag the thread or anything at this point.
At the very least, I added a paragraph mentioning its perspective from someone who favors binaural surround sound through headphones, while keeping in mind that speaker users may still benefit from it. I just hope the search engines catch on.
Jan 28, 2012 at 7:39 PM Post #7 of 4,136
Jan 28, 2012 at 7:40 PM Post #8 of 4,136
A while back I figured out a funny thing about creative's drivers: the CMSS test you can do in game mode is a premixed audio file. Open the console with  a different device set as the default output and it still plays same as ever. I need to retest to refresh my memory. 
Also for me the creative console and my windows sound settings stay in sync, if I set 7.1 in the control panel it changes in the console. No idea why, this is the opposite of what creative claims should happen. 
One thing I've been curious about is if the Nvidia cards with HDMI ports and built in audio devices are able to encode 5.1.  
Im not sure if you should add Rapture3D or not, for games that support it it's very good. 
Jan 28, 2012 at 7:40 PM Post #9 of 4,136


Duly noted, but it doesn't seem like I can tag the thread or anything at this point.
At the very least, I added a paragraph mentioning its perspective from someone who favors binaural surround sound through headphones, while keeping in mind that speaker users may still benefit from it. I just hope the search engines catch on.

Just edit the thread title and add the words, so google gets them.
Jan 28, 2012 at 7:42 PM Post #10 of 4,136
Chico: Nothing really, just interest in the newer gaming headsets, something we both don't really care for anymore with stuff like the antlion modmic around.
Jan 28, 2012 at 8:07 PM Post #11 of 4,136

Chico: Nothing really, just interest in the newer gaming headsets, something we both don't really care for anymore with stuff like the antlion modmic around.

They're still waiting on the vaporware Tritton Warheads probably...
Jan 28, 2012 at 9:28 PM Post #12 of 4,136
A while back I figured out a funny thing about creative's drivers: the CMSS test you can do in game mode is a premixed audio file. Open the console with  a different device set as the default output and it still plays same as ever. I need to retest to refresh my memory. 
Also for me the creative console and my windows sound settings stay in sync, if I set 7.1 in the control panel it changes in the console. No idea why, this is the opposite of what creative claims should happen. 
One thing I've been curious about is if the Nvidia cards with HDMI ports and built in audio devices are able to encode 5.1.  
Im not sure if you should add Rapture3D or not, for games that support it it's very good. 

Huh, I'll have to test that out for myself...but note that my preferred mode of positional testing is with RightMark 3DSound's positioning accuracy test.
I should probably add Rapture3D at some point, though I can't use it with any OpenAL title that isn't DiRT 2 without paying money. Even then, I have issues with setting it to Headphones so I can put its binaural audio mode to the test; it must have been made with Windows XP's speaker settings in mind, whereas Vista and Win7 offer no "headphones" option, just stereo.
Also awaiting an entry to the guide is MyEars, but I haven't gotten around to testing it and something unnerves me about the subscription-based business model. Unlike most binaural surround technologies, it does allow for some degree of customization to better fit the user's HRTF, but works by using a "virtual audio cable" as the default audio device. Not good if it means I lose EAX in those older titles outright.
Just edit the thread title and add the words, so google gets them.

Easier said than done when I can't figure out a way to edit the thread title by editing the first post!
...Wait a minute. There's an "Edit Thread" button. Damn you, muscle memory! (Or interface memory, as it were; most forums give you the thread title field by editing the first post.)
Jan 29, 2012 at 12:12 AM Post #13 of 4,136
Nice write-up. Some things I noticed:
- You may want to explain that Asus boards are C-Media based; I didn't catch that (and that's the biggie for EAX emulation)
- Thank god someone else "gets" EAX and the real limitations of S/PDIF
No idea if you're planning to list hardware/software that supports DDL/DTS:C (DDL being far more common due to licencing), but a quickie list:
Creative SB Audigy 1 - 4 
Creative SB X-Fi 
Turtle Beach Montego DDL
Asus Xonar 
I also want to say that the Auzen X-Raider, X-Plosion, and X-Merdians (both) have DDL
And some of the more obscure C-Media stuff, like the Sondigo, and HT Omega boards as well
No idea about the Onkyo boards; I've never heard of them getting very far outside of Japan for that matter. Apparently the new one has an X-Fi chipset, but it's supposed to be right around $500. 
Generally the exclusions will be USB audio controllers (they are *not* "USB DACs"), I believe that includes Extigy (unfortunately), and integrated/onboard solutions. It's mostly a licence issue from what I've gathered; which is partly why DTS-Connect is relatively rare for WindowsXP systems. So this situation may change with time, although more likely is that HDMI and MPCM will just over-take S/PDIF for this application. 'course there's also always analog mch, but who does that?
Again, super-nice write-up!
Jan 29, 2012 at 12:33 AM Post #14 of 4,136
I appreciate the suggestions and will be adding to the guide over time. I just wanted to knock some of the basic stuff down first and expand from there, eventually delving into sound cards and chipsets (of which there are several I will cover, most of which you mentioned) and other features like DDL and DTS:C.
I just say "USB DAC" because it's common parlance around here and other audiophile forums, though "USB audio controller" does make more sense.
Also, the mention of Onkyo boards reminds me of that SE-300PCIE card. I'd love to get my hands on one of those, but the cost and general non-availability outside of Japan makes it highly impractical. Other cards might also be notable, but not X-Fi based (and my love of older games really complicates things as far as that's concerned).
And finally, I realized that I need to add a list of useful utilities for checking things like positional accuracy and DirectSound3D or OpenAL capability flags...
Jan 29, 2012 at 1:13 AM Post #15 of 4,136
The biggest roadblock to the Onkyo cards that I'm aware of is the Japanese-language drivers, which can cause trouble with non-Japanese implementations (in other words, it may not even run correctly on English versions of Windows, and it's somewhat hard to make adjustments if you don't speak the language). This is based on the SE200 though, no idea if this situation is different for the SE300. The older Onkyo boards are VIA based; the only other current production VIA based boards are from M-Audio (the Delta series). As far as I know none of them do DDL, but again, the Onkyo may (I would expect at least the SE300 to have these features, since it's X-Fi based). 
There's not many other chipsets worth mentioning, at least for gaming (at least that I can think of), aside from the last decade of Sound Blaster, and C-Media; VIA is too obscure anymore (honestly, when was the last time you had someone ask about an M-Audio Revolution or Chaintech AV710?); M-Audio aside (and the Delta boards are very long in the tooth, and very user un-friendly compared to Asus and Creative offerings). Would love to see a (well organized) list put together that elucidates all of the internal variations of Sound Blaster though; most people are convinced they've got a true Audigy or X-Fi and instead are looking at something...quite different. Might also want to talk about SRC (and why it isn't the boogey-man that most detractors make it out to be unless you've managed to track down a first-gen, pureblood Audigy 1).
The USB thing is a cause I gave up on years ago, but it seems that the "new era" here is a bit more receptive to the voice of reason. 

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