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New sound card and speakers... Digital or analog?

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January 3, 2006 10:53:31 AM

I recently blew out my little Dell 2.1 speaker system (haha!) so I've been looking into buying a new speaker system and sound card (currently using onboard audio on an Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe.) I've narrowed my search down to 2 sound cards, and 2 speakers systems, but I have a few questions.

First off, the sound card candidates: Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Gamer LE and Sound Blaster X-fi XtremeMusic. I've read great reviews about both of these cards. I've read the Audigy 2 is a great card, and the Gamer edition comes with 5 games I don't have, which is always an added bonus (something to do on those days of boredom.) However, the X-fi is newer and has newer features plus I've read it can reproduce music such as mp3 files like no other with its 24-bit Crystalizer™.

Second, the computer speakers. I'm looking at the Logitech Z5300e or the 5500 Digital. Now my question concering the speakers is, if I get the 5500s, connecting them to my computer via the digital input, will game sounds play like they're supposed to? Or is that only possible using the 3 discrete channels (front, center/sub, rear.) If this is the case then I figure I'll go with the Z5300e because I don't need the digital otherwise (I'm only going to be connecting them to my computer.) I've got a Sony DVD Dream System for the other stuff.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated!
January 3, 2006 12:35:38 PM

Quote:
I recently blew out my little Dell 2.1 speaker system (haha!) so I've been looking into buying a new speaker system and sound card (currently using onboard audio on an Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe.) I've narrowed my search down to 2 sound cards, and 2 speakers systems, but I have a few questions.

First off, the sound card candidates: Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Gamer LE and Sound Blaster X-fi XtremeMusic. I've read great reviews about both of these cards. I've read the Audigy 2 is a great card, and the Gamer edition comes with 5 games I don't have, which is always an added bonus (something to do on those days of boredom.) However, the X-fi is newer and has newer features plus I've read it can reproduce music such as mp3 files like no other with its 24-bit Crystalizer™.

Second, the computer speakers. I'm looking at the Logitech Z5300e or the 5500 Digital. Now my question concering the speakers is, if I get the 5500s, connecting them to my computer via the digital input, will game sounds play like they're supposed to? Or is that only possible using the 3 discrete channels (front, center/sub, rear.) If this is the case then I figure I'll go with the Z5300e because I don't need the digital otherwise (I'm only going to be connecting them to my computer.) I've got a Sony DVD Dream System for the other stuff.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated!


I have the X-Fi & Inspire T7700 and it rocks!!!
January 4, 2006 6:58:18 PM

Ok.

Digital out = Speakers take on the decoding load

Analogue out = Soundcard does the work. With Audigy series this is the best choise. Just compare the boxes/stats and you will see why.
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January 4, 2006 10:29:30 PM

Quote:
Ok.

Digital out = Speakers take on the decoding load

Analogue out = Soundcard does the work. With Audigy series this is the best choise. Just compare the boxes/stats and you will see why.


In case he gets confused:

digital out = Logitechs have external decoders with their speakers. If you turn on SPDIF passthrough, the decoders will do the digital to analog conversion.

analog out = your soundcard does the digital to analog conversion.

DAC = digital to analog conversion. The lossy process which digital bits are converted to audio (more or less the purpose of your sound card).

Digital would result in a lower noise floor only if the external decoder has a better DAC than your soundcard (which wouldn't be the case with Logitech decoders). Also, the digital medium works on a single cable, so unless the decoder on the other end can unwrap an encoded signal (think of Dolby Digital as a ZIP file) then all you get is stereo on the other end. For gaming, if you passed-through digitally, you'd only get stereo unless your soundcard had a Dolby Digital real-time encoder.
January 5, 2006 5:33:55 AM

Ok that makes perfect sense now! I have one more question though.. I would like to connect my speakers digitally just to experience for myself if there is any difference and what not.

My question is in regards to Monster Standard® THX-Certified Digital Coaxial Cable connected to my computers sound card (Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic) using a Gold Series 1/8" Mono Plug to RCA Phono Jack

Now my question is.. will using a converter degrade the sound quality any? In other words, is it still beneficial to buy a high quality Monster THX certified digital coax cable when I'm gonna be using a converter (which I'm assuming might limit the quality?) Like will it sound just as if the cable were being connected directly to another RCA input? Or should I just go with some cheap digital coax cable with the converter? Any feedback is greatly appreciated!
January 5, 2006 6:56:58 AM

If a cable is properly built and shielded, no, you are just transfering the medium through a different final stage connector. Possibility of voltage-loss (pre-gain volume), yes, but I can't imagine distortion gains.

In terms of the cable itself, cables are made of copper wires with the ends twisted to connect to a standard of sorts (1/8" stereo, 1/4" phono, RCA, etc). Buying Monster Cable or some cheaper brand, if both are competently designed, should make 0 audible difference. We are talking about electronics here, and the basic laws they follow are Physics 101 RCL, and they are built using this theory. The Monster has nicer build quality (the externals) and made to look nice. This is generally true of all electronics (for example, on a $1000 receiver nearly 80% of the build cost is on the case, not any of the electronic parts).

To get a general understanding of this, all you need to do is look at the DIY (Do it yourself) market. Unbuilt (and caseless) kits, for speakers, subwoofers, amplifiers, generally cost around 20-30% of the same parts merely pre-assembled and put into a case. Most of your $$, will go into build quality, not measurable performance gain. You will find this to be true for almost everything in eletronics--speakers, subwoofers, amplifiers, computers.

So, to answer your question, the converter should make no audible changes. For you to hear audible changes based on minor voltage differences would be pretty surprising; at most it would be a minor volume loss. Buy Monster if the packaging is worth it to you. Don't buy it if you think you are going to gain sound quality based on cables. Inside your speakers and in the electronics paths are hundreds of yards of thin copper wires (something like 22 guage). If anything, that would hold you back, not the difference between same-thickness cables with slightly more and less shielding from different companies.

BTW, a digital coaxial cable is just a 75-ohm Video RCA cable. You get them with any video game console : P (they are pretty cheap to produce).

If you want to experience the difference between digital and analog, be my guest. The only thing I would say myself currently is, 1) you won't hear a difference and 2) you definitely won't hear a difference with the equipment you are using. If you are willing to spend money and aren't afraid of trying new things, entry level-hifi is far more satisfying that computer speakers.

The experience of me and my friends (who long went through this upgrade process, we started with cheap 4.1 sets like Altec Lansing ATP5, then Logitech Z-560, then Logitech Z-680, Klipsch 5.1 Ultra)...after buying and selling off these sets, years and years later (I'm 20), we all realized we mostly listened to stereo, and all these cute and shiny satellites weren't very useful, and (we're all pretty good gamers) were seeing how the marketting wasn't really getting to us. Personally we all felt we could game just as good with stereo headphones as a surround 5.1 set (I was always a strategy guy, but some of my friends were damn good CS players, even going to CPL). So we all made the natural progression (seeing as how our tiny speakers always sounded so bad compared to our parent's HT systems (thank god our parents bought real HT speakers instead of crappy HTIB satellites), we moved on to bookshelves and floorstanders. It was a real revelation. I'm still trying to convince people who haven't went through a flurry of crappy PC speakers to enjoy what real linearity, dispersion, distortion-free, and extension means, but I realize most people end up making the same mistakes and don't want to listen anyway.

I also realized now when I was growing up, I kept hearing people say "you should get real speakers, like bookshelves." They weren't very helpful and didn't explain what it was really about, but know I realize it was for the better. I eventually went out and read about "real" speakers. Basically what I'm saying is, everyone makes the same mistakes, although a few do (as I did) EVENTUALLY get the message. Some 50-year olds are still stuck thinking the 2" one-way speakers they have are the best thing ever built, which although doesn't mind me one bit, come onto forums like this and proclaim it as if it were fact. This does bother me. Either 1) they haven't been exposed to quality and don't believe it can get much better then how they have it or 2) they have buyer's remorse and are just trying to screw other people (see Bose owners). In that case, it REALLY bothers me to see this kind of misinformation.

Anyways, me and my friends just realized our tastes earlier. We listen to mp3s and watch stereo sources 99% of the time. So for the cost of a Klipsch 5.1 Ultra, we got damn good bookshelf stereo speakers and an amp. Works great for us, who knows, maybe someone else will read this and realize it is for them too.
January 5, 2006 7:09:34 AM

Thanks for the info. I understand the sound isn't going to be as good as a real receiver and some quality bookshelf speakers, especially if solely used for music. However, I'm looking for a low cost, decent quality 5.1 system mainly for gaming. I don't intend for the 5.1 system to increase my gaming ability (I don't care how good I am). Its for the experience.. taking advantage of all the cool sound effects and such the games possess.
January 5, 2006 10:46:26 PM

Not to mention that there is no low-end with just bookshelf speakers, even though I would go that route. DIY subwoofers are cheap and fun to do if you decide to save the money and get that.

Happy listening 8)
January 6, 2006 1:22:09 AM

Depends on the bookshelf speaker. The new Ascend CBM-170SEs ($350/pair) are -10db at 35hz, and the Ascend CBM-340SEs ($550/pair) are -10db at 30hz.

Not to mention...60-20KHz +/-1.5db for both ; D
January 6, 2006 1:42:49 AM

What do you personally use Astrallite?
January 6, 2006 4:27:22 AM

Well...I HAD the Axiom M22ti bookshelf speakers ($400) paired with a Panasonic SA-XR55 equibit digital switching receiver as the amp.

http://axiomaudio.com/m22ti_main.html#


I sold the Axioms because of two main reasons.

1) one as you can see, the bass response is limited, the it's around -10db (or half the average volume) at 55hz. I'm one who prefers bass coming from the speakers. Bass that's mixed from all channels into the subwoofer results in bass that's out of phase (delayed bass because it's not coming from the same source as the speaker.) Some people use the concept of "stereo bass" by using two subs, one for by each speaker (this is sort of what movie theaters do), but the problem here is, it's a little complicated; you have to run mono for each subwoofer and a bunch of cable splitters are required to pull this off, it's not so simple as to simply splitting signal at the subwoofer level, because you'd still be running subs with mixed bass channels (albeit with 2 subs).

2) Also, I personally thought the speakers were slightly fatiguing, even though they were very detailed. I have above average hearing (about up to 19khz) and the resonance of metal drivers makes listening to music fatiguing over time (and I have music on 5-6 hours a day).

I'm gonna use the Ascend CBM-170SEs here ($344/pair).



Better bass response (-10db at 35hz), a little more tonally accurate, but the difference of going from a speaker with dual midranges to single midrange is going to be slightly more distortion at the same volume. Also, it uses a single 6.5" driver instead of dual 5.25"s, and smaller drivers handle higher frequencies below the tweeter better, with less distortion. Still, I hope (and believe) the gains outweigh the losses.

I know it seems like small reasons to change equipment (I'm going from a speaker that's +/- 2db 100-20KHz, to +/- 1.5db), but it costs me very little for this exchange (I sold the Axioms for the same price I am going to buy the Ascends, basically I've spent $50 for the upgrade--need new stands for smaller speakers). I guess I am like some of the guys who want to spend $400 soundcards with $50 speakers (in a way), since part of the reason I "upgraded" was hype over these new speakers, part of the reason was, they were built with SEAs tweeters (SEAs of Norway is considered the finest manufacturer of tweeters worldwide) and I wanted to experience the difference between some of the best silk tweeters compared to alumininum tweeters, which are considered detailed but "harsh" due to resonance in the 22KHz region (as you can see in the Axiom graph, dip at 19khz to 20khz, then it jumps up again at 22khz; slightly irritating high freq. energy)

The first time I upgraded to the Axioms, (had been using Logitech Z-680s before then, which don't even have a tweeter so the speaker has virtually sound above 10khz... and there are a LOT of harmonics from 10-20khz) I got teary-eyed listening to some of familiar songs, hearing detail I never noticed before. It was a real epiphany for me : P
January 6, 2006 5:15:19 AM

WOW! That is amazing for a bookshelf! Forget Axiom!!! 60hz for a for the lowpass on the subwoofer sounds great!

What are you going to/ or have done for the low end?
January 6, 2006 5:29:18 AM

Since this is for HTPC useage, and not for a large room, I'm thinking an 8-inch sub would work out fine. I'm not considered that much about lower end extension since the room is a little too small for some of the longer wavelengths. (I know a couple people who tried sticking in SVS PB12s in small 10x10 rooms in a corner and it just sounded boomy). As long as I get linear response to around 30hz I'm probably pretty happy.

Probably a HSU-STF1, Acoustech H-100, or Klipsch RW-8. I haven't figured it out yet. I might go with something cheap off of ebay too, I've been thinking about the Energy Encore 8 sub (laugh all you want : P)

I'm not sure if I've asked you this before, but what you are currently running clob?
January 6, 2006 12:18:01 PM

I have this from a friend running my Klipsch Ultra Sats. http://www.yamaha.com/yec/products/HTIB/HTR5850.htm

I am just waiting a while (new job and all) before I plunge into new bookshelf + subwoofer.

As for the subwoofer, I am realy considering Dayton Titanic MKIII 12" or 15" just because of thier very low price and great reviews! Not to mention some reserve power incase I decide to upgrade to a larger room and larger mains.

I am considering a newer/better reciever. But I dont know if I will get much more out of a ($600 ish) more expencive reciever.


You said small rooms sound boomy? Could a little EQ tone that down a bit? I think it would be better to have a little extra power on hand and just turn it down then take the risk of buying somthing that is too small/powerfull. I know, at least for me, that soemtimes I just like to play with all the settings and bass up the neighbors when they start to get on my nerves 8). Shoot, sometimes it is just fun to krank it up when no one is around too 8)
January 6, 2006 2:47:24 PM

Not to Hijack this thread, but if you are thinkinking about getting a small sub I would recommend you check out definitivetech subwoofers. They may be a little more than you want to spend. I personally took home a Klipsch RW-12 and a Def Tech Super Cube 1 and tested them back to back. If all I wanted was earth moving bass for movies I would have chosen the Klipsch. The sound from the Def Tech was by far much better for music and I only had to give up a little volume for movies. I have heard good things about the Hsu subs, but never had one to test out. As for the SVS subs, I did look into them, but it seems like the people who enjoy them most are movie buffs not music buffs. So being mail order I did not want the expense of trying it out and having to pay to ship it back.

Astral you said you are just using an amp to power your book shelves correct? What are you using for a sound card, and how did you hook up the amp? Are you just using a line out and plugging directly into your RCA inputs on your amp? I have an old Adcom amp lying around that I am not using, and thought I might to the same if my Klipsch 5.1 Ultra dies or gets put up on Ebay. I never even hooked up the rear channels because I hardly ever play any games.
January 6, 2006 9:22:29 PM

To answer both clob and anotherid2lose, check out this 2300+ post thread (with hundreds of thousands of views): http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=530504

At AVS forum quite a few people have gone from high end NAD, or high end Denon's and some have even found this new ($229!) receiver just as good. Consider the real (tested) power output at 0.03% THD, the Panasonic SA-XR55 matches the Denon 3805 (Panny=93x2, Denon=92x2), and for multichannel output its almost as good (80x7 vs 85x7). It's also quite popular with the Planar (4 ohm) crowd, as in 4 ohms it provides 169Wx2, or only 9% current loss compared to 8 ohms (169/93x2).



Anyway, THAT's what I'm using for an amp. It's a digital amplifier that switches at 98MHz, which is inaudible (as digital subwoofer amps usually have high levels distortion, because they switch/oscillate at a lower frequency). The nice thing about these digital amps is that they remain in the digital domain up until the final output stage, and even various forms of processing can be added with minimal jitter/distortion added compared to an all-analog receiver like the Denon 3805 for example. In two-channel mode not only can you bi-amp with the Panny, but the receiver automatically uses 2-amps per channel (so effectively you can bi-amp AND dual-amp), and this increases dynamic range quite a bit (simply by more available current for transient peaks).

This is all relatively new technology that Panasonic liscened from Equibit (Texas Instruments). There are various other digital technologies out there now, Class-D, Class-T (Tripath T-amp), UcD. Companies like Samsung and HK are joining the fray to make a name for themselves, both are coming out with 250x7 (8 ohms) flagship receivers soon (and given the reputation of rated vs tested power, I wouldn't be surprised if those amps surpassed this spec. Analog receivers, even $5000 flagship ones, rarely meet 80% of their claimed specs). Of course people will still buy Denon and seperates because of the name, but some of the most conscious will look to digital, not only because of massive power and current provided (which obsoletes seperates), but also the lower noise floor of going all-digital.

anotherid2lose, I'm currently connecting this using a digital cable to keep everything in the digital domain before amplification, so I can apply processing without ADC/DAC errors (with a nice $20 Radioshack Gold cable, not $$$$ Monster cable obviously : P) to my HTPC source, using the Chaintech AV-710 sound card. It's cheap ($20) and can output in various frequencies (44.1, 48, 96, 192) whereas you'd have to get a ZS ($60-70?) from Creative for the same option, and even so, Creative doesn't have a very intuitive control panel whereas with the Chaintech you can switch output frequencies on the fly. I do listen to mostly mp3s, but I'd say 95% of them are 192-320, with at least half of them 320, using LAME of course. I listen to alot of anime music (:p ) and most anime music is either Japanese or Eastern European Symphony scores, so I like to keep a higher bitrate for that, compared to say, rock or pop music.

clob--good luck with your Dayton Titanic! I'm not as considered for my low end (probably because my new bookshelf will reach down itself so low) so I'm more in the $200 price bracket for a subwoofer. Also since this is going to be music, I want a fast sub that can keep up with the bookshelves. Subs with larger drivers (that are as well-designed as a smaller sub) are exponentially more expensive because of the rising costs of 1) enclosure size 2) dampening needed 3) bracing needed 4) spider/coil strength or else your are just making a bigger sub with more output, maybe some more extension, but it won't keep up with the slower sub (more audible group delay). So, I'm sticking to 8" subs for now, for cost-conscious-ness.
January 6, 2006 9:38:53 PM

Thanks for the info.

I spent quite a few hours over at AVS when I was looking at upgrading my audio system. I ended up with a Rotel amp and separate Rotel processor for my home theater system. That left me with the 100W Adcom left collecting dust. I like your idea of getting a good set of bookshelves with an amp for the computer. Since I have the amp just collecting dust, I think I might start researching some bookshelves.
January 6, 2006 9:52:51 PM

If you are going to buy over online advice, make sure you can see the tonal characteristics of the speaker you are going to buy (preferably with measurements) so if you can't audition, at least you'll know if its the kind of sound you like (or doesn't bother you).

Since I'm a college student, the PC is like the center of my study world (especially in California, classroom sizes are so crwoded I end up watching videos than going to class). It's nice having good speakers to relax to; I spend most of my time here anyway :p 
January 7, 2006 2:01:53 AM

Quote:
clob--good luck with your Dayton Titanic! I'm not as considered for my low end (probably because my new bookshelf will reach down itself so low) so I'm more in the $200 price bracket for a subwoofer. Also since this is going to be music, I want a fast sub that can keep up with the bookshelves. Subs with larger drivers (that are as well-designed as a smaller sub) are exponentially more expensive because of the rising costs of 1) enclosure size 2) dampening needed 3) bracing needed 4) spider/coil strength or else your are just making a bigger sub with more output, maybe some more extension, but it won't keep up with the slower sub (more audible group delay). So, I'm sticking to 8" subs for now, for cost-conscious-ness.


I was thinking the exact same thing because of the music I listen to has double kick-peddals, but every review that I read (on the 10" and 15") that they where all very fast attacking speakers. They do come, in the kits, with sealed boxed design so there should be no muddy ported sound. As a matter of a fact, I do remember two of them saying that the subs are very musical. Just do a google search if you need proof lol.

Since you use your bookshelf speakers down to 50hz or so, then maybe a small sub will not be enough? Those Ascends have such good responce, I would figure you would compliment them with a subwoofer with the same characteristics. Have somthing that can hit those gut-wrenching notes and leave everything above 60hz up to your mains. Honestly that sounds like the ideal set-up. But that is just me lol. I also like some songs with a good "thump" every once in a while too, hence the larger speaker.

edit: That reciever you posted looks pretty nice, but does it have analouge-in jacks and subwoofer-out? I do use EAX from my Audigy for games.
January 7, 2006 3:27:08 AM

clob --

Yeah the Panny has 6-channel direct (analog). Distortion was tested to be 0.04% at 1W input. It's about ten times higher at clipping.

I am in a small room with ackward corners. I'm not only cheap (hehe) but also am considering the distortion from inadequate space for the lower wavelengths to stretch out before first reflection (not sure if this is even a real physics problem, but small rooms tend to have pretty nasty in-room response).

Also, I'm a college student. I share a wall with someone, so it wouldn't be polite to be banging bass up his head all the time : P

I've had a few "bass exchanges" where we kept one-uping each other volume-wise last quarter, but I think we are both a bit more civilized now.
January 7, 2006 5:38:19 AM

Ahh! A student! All you had to say!!! I am in a 10x10x15 (triangle roof) and I dont have any problem with 30hz tones from my Klipsch sub before I ditched it. You probably have a hard floor. That has to realy suck!

Thanks for making that clear about the reciever. The back panel has those alien symbols on it!

Thanks for the heads-up on the bookshelf speakers though! They look HOT!!!

A friend of mine was telling me a story of his buddy in a dorm that took 3 Solo-X subs and wired em in his doorm room and drived (no pun intended!) everyone fricking krazy! I dont know any more details, but that had to be awesome!!!!

Edit: Want to scare the shit out of someone when they are sleep. Put a bass-shaker in between their matress and boxspring or right under their pillow. Let it ripp!
!