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Buying z5500s or bookshelf speakers, need sound card advice

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January 11, 2006 5:29:57 PM

Okay, I would just like to know what sound card I should get with these speakers

I read somewhere that it is best if one uses coaxial or optical input on the speakers.

Anyway, what is the best soundcard (<$200) that I could get with these.

Is the x-fi xtrememusic okay?

Thanks.


Edit: Okay, I think I've changed my mind. I am now looking into getting a receiver / bookshelf speakers. Is the x-fi still a good choice?

Edit 2: I do have an old Audigy LS laying around somewhere as well.
January 12, 2006 5:18:45 AM

Interesting choice erbelair :) 

Glad you came to your senses. Part of the cost of a Z-5500 is in the decoder, which if you did spdif output with a onboard soundcard, would give you a relatively high quality DAC. Buy a $200 soundcard, and voila! That $100-value decoder is useless, and now maybe you should've bought a Creative Progamer set for sound quality instead :p 

Have you considered what receiver/bookshelf pair you are going with?

If you are going with a bookshelf PAIR then I don't see the point of getting a gaming card, you won't be taking advantage of what you are paying for. Some examples would be a) EAX (an algorithm that exaggerates reverb effects through equalization, but since you have better speakers you don't need the exaggerated effects to hear details clearly), and b) DACs with nice paper specs (but you are limited by your receiver DAC in analog mode anyway, since it reconverts the incoming analog signal into digital and back, so whatever the soundcard does is moot), and c) the Crystalizer (which you DEFINITELY don't need, since its an equalization algorithm for people who have very small speakers (to "fix" the physical limitations of small drivers), either because they have real space limitations, or because they thought getting a $400 sound card and tiny, crappy speakers was a brilliant idea).

If music and movies are your primary forte, get something like the $20 Chaintech AV-710, which can output music properly at 44.1KHz (something none of the Audigy's or X-Fis are capable of) and use the optical out available. That's just my advice.

Perhaps knowning more about your preferences I would be able to help more instead of shooting in the dark with my advice and purchase suggestion, unless I've already answered everything you want to know.
January 12, 2006 5:43:23 AM

So you trying to tell him that the speakers are crap and there is no sence in buying an expencive soundcard to just to bypass it straight into an external decoder?

Then I am with you! :tongue:
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January 12, 2006 10:23:12 AM

Short Answer: YES, X-Fi Xtreme Music is a safe choice.

Long Answer: YES, X-Fi Xtreme Music is a safe choice but I would not connect it digitally with Z5500, at least not for games as surround sound in games cannot be sent via SPDIF lead.

Frankly speaking if your speakers are " digital" it means they have some kind of decoder and digital to analog converter built-in. These components are typically crap in terms of quality nevertheless most ppl do not bother.

So you can either (1) buy such speakers and any cheap soundcard or
(2) get proper soundcard like X-Fi and good analog speaker set.
January 12, 2006 1:33:12 PM

First of all, thanks for the replies.

Okay, I am a moderate gamer, but I do not really NEED 5.1 speakers (I am a college student in a small dorm moving into an apartment next year). Yeah its cool to hear footsteps behind you, but I can imagine that I would simply take it for granted after awhile, and not be awed every time I hear them.

After thinking about it, I started leaning towards going to bookshelves (actually astrallite, I read some of your other posts and was looking at the CBM 170s), but don't know if I should get a sub, or what type of amp I should get..

Edit: I forgot to mention, I listen to music a lot, but don't really watch too many DVD's on my computer

I feel weary about getting the Chaintech too..
January 12, 2006 2:17:50 PM

Sub improves sound at decent cost. Without sub your average speakers are not powerfull enough to pump enough air to reproduce low frequencies.. I would opt for any small 2.1 klipsch, logitech, creative or altec-lansing speakers then. 5.1 sets are usually not much more expensive then 2.1. so give them a thought too

On the other hand: a dorm or an apt does not allow for high loudness level anyways, esp. bass..

My advise would be to get X-Fi Xtreme Music (great source, future-proof card) with some nice headphones. X-Fi is great with games and does output surround sound using regular headphones, it's sick but it works ;) 
January 12, 2006 10:15:57 PM

Most analog solid state receivers these days are very competently designed in the stereo section (as long as you avoid Sony). It's in the surround channels that gets fudgy as a lot of manufacturers do things like have really poor surround channels, or have power output drop by 2/3 during 5.1/7.1 modes (power per channel that is).

If you are going solid state receiver, popular "economy" brands are Pioneer, HK, and Yamaha, as they tend to have pretty solid surround channels.

The other (popular) alternative is going with a digitally powered receiver. Perhaps you've read my posts before on this receiver. Go to AVSforum.com in the audio area (speakers) where you'll find a 8,000 post thread of various high end analog owners (Denon 3805, NAD seperates, etc) that switched to the Panasonic SA-XR55 series (ridiculously cheap at $229!) and felt like they weren't losing anything audiowise (thanks to the low noise floor of new Class-D/Class-T digital amps), and for some, it was an upgrade stereo-wise. The reason is right here:

Picture of Receiver


Dual-amp (regular stereo)


Triple-amp (bi-wire)


In stereo mode (only) each speaker gets wired with two amps (93W@8ohms, 170W@4ohms per amp), which gives you a ton of power reserves for transient peaks. Connect digitally to the receiver and the noise floor is non-existant (most analog solid state amps create some tweeter noise; it's almost non-existent with the Panny SA-XR55).

If you think a receiver is not for you just yet, (or you don't think you'll be expanding the speakers into a 5.1 setup...like ever), the other option is buying just a simple seperate amp. Once again I would suggest a Class-T digital amp (very low noise levels). For $30 online you can pick up the Sonic-T amp (check it out on ebay). It's a digital stand-alone (stereo) amplifier that gives you about 10W of power @8ohms. You aren't gonna turn your little dorm room into a giant party, but its adequate, portable (just make sure to goto Radioshack and buy a power adaptor for the thing, the only weakness is it doesn't come with one. There is a larger T-amp with the same amp but a larger case, binding posts, but that costs $140! Receiver territory there...)

Heh, any reason you feel weary about the Chaintech? It uses the Envy24HT chipset, the same present in the $100 M-Audio Revolution. Just not the same recording functionality, frills, software, etc. Analog-wise it is slightly a weaker card than the Revo, but if you get a receiver, you should just do digital passthrough and avoid any soundcard processing. I can offer more "expensive" solutions, but when you do bitperfect digital passthrough, it means the soundcard has no functionality in sound stream besides just "passing it on" :p 

Uncle_ben, I think you are trying too hard to convince erbelair to "downgrade." While its a good suggestion to for convenience, it seems counterintuitive when a guy is actually trying to improve his sound quality through knowledgeable purchases. I mean, it's like trying to convince a guy whose building his own comp to buy a Dell...he's already thinking about how to build it, so obviously he isn't the type who wants to pay a premium for "convenience" alone, he wants the good stuff.

Most of the audible and "punchy" bass is in the 60-80hz area, where most bookshelves have some spunk in. Most computer subwoofers are also tuned in the upper 50-80hz areas anyway, so you wouldn't be getting better bass, just greater SPL of what many audio enthusiats would call "fake bass" or "bass humps to make you think there is more bass than there is."

A good sub is expensive no doubt, much more than quality bookshelf speakers. You would be talking $500 for a sub thats +/- 25hz, and closer to $1000 for a sub that reaches below 20hz. There are a lot of manufacturers that give you false hope by making grand +/- numbers, but what they don't tell you is that it's measured at very low volumes. A good sub (that keeps up with quality bookshelves in SPL), and is linear, is EXPENSIVE. Some of those computer subs (and consumer subs in the $100-200 territory) you are talking about are around -30 to -40db at 30hz (at regular listening levels of 80-90db) and have a huge hump at 50-60hz creating a false impression of bass (and which is why it sounds bloated and loose).

Anyway, for music subs aren't usually optimal. Bass is played out of phase (it's delayed) compared to the material coming out of the two channels and can muddy up the sound. Movie theaters and some audio enthusiats wire a subwoofer to each speaker channel so the bass is coming at the right time rather than just providing background noise. If you say, got the Ascend CBM340SEs at $550, you'd be at -10db (about 81db of bass at 1W of power input, at 1m listening distance) at 30hz (and about -10db at 35hz for the $350 170SEs). That's a lot more linearity and output than any of those computer subs can put out. Save up for a good sub I would say, instead of buying something cheap that just gives the impression of bass, or merely adds "noise" but isn't sychronized with the music.
January 13, 2006 12:41:41 AM

Wow thanks. I appreciate it.

Funny story - I bought the z5500s earlier today because it seemed convenient, but then your post just convinced me to cancel my order -- I am going to hold out a while longer now. I realize I am being indecisive.

But I do have a question - would I notice a significant difference in sound quality using the Sonic T amp rather than the Panasonic?

Also, when can I expect the new CMB170 se's to be available (and are they worth it)?
January 13, 2006 5:20:22 AM

Wow after all that talk about a redundant decoder you were still gonna order a Z5500? : P

Seriously, I think Logitech and Apple make a great pairing, you pay for the decor, but they both lag a bit in the performance area (of course Logitech isn't overpriced like Apple products).

Well it's not my place to decide for you what you think is important. Decor IS an important consideration for some people, while others might have DIY speaker boxes with $1000 of components that look like a monkey put it together : P

I don't feel like I'm qualified to answer the sound quality question. It's kind of like saying what's a higher "quality" of wine :p 

No, seriously, the three primarily types of amplifiers, solid state, digital (pulse width modulation), and tube should all sound the same given the same load (a moderate one, say a speaker with impedence of 6-8 ohms from 1-20KHz). The reason they sound different is when the impedence load isn't even throughout the the frequency band (as it often isn't) and the amplifier (regardless of which of the 3 types) overloads (because you've turned the volume up to a point where, say impedence dips to 2ohms at 100-200hz on said speaker, and the amplifier can't provide the current needed, which is 4 times more than a nominal 8 ohm load) . When a tube amp overloads, it produces a "warm" or "bassy" distortion that's pleasant to hear, also known as even order distortion. When a solid state amp overloads, it produces a "shrill" or "bright" sound that's not so pleasant, known as odd order distortion. "Digital" amps are also solid state amps, thus prone to the same shrill odd order distortion, except the signal remains digital until the final output stage, instead of the classic "analog" solid state receivers which go through multiple DAC/ADC processes which adds audible noise.

The Panny receiver and the Sonic T-amp are two forms of "digital" pulse width modulation amplifiers; one being called Class-D, and the other Class-T. Like I said, I'm not going to make idle speculation on "sound quality"--because even if I tested both side by side whose to say the testing conditions aren't perfect--but just say what I know I can say without sounding like a subjectivist. Under light loads, and normal listening levels, they should sound the same. But the T-amp has less headroom than the Panasonic receiver--10W to the mathematical equivalent of 200 or 300W per channel (not quite, its actually twice or three times the current, but you get the idea of the power disparity). You are much less likely to see distortion or noise if you listen to music on higher than moderate listening levels. Music with a lot of peaks (like classical music, or action movies, as it goes from very quiet to very loud), will sometimes peak the audio wave with the equivalent of maybe 50W of power, and if the Sonic T-amp isn't up to task of providing it (as it isn't) you will get a ton of distortion and clipping during those peaks. Obviously if all you do is listen to heavy metal and pop (which is doesn't have the wide dynamic range, of classical music or movies, which means a very up and down signal that might require 1W for several minutes and then 100W for a second or two, and thus rarely has "peaks" in the signal, and instead is a constant 5-6W or whatever), you might never ever face clipping issues, especially in a small room. The Panasonic also has nice binding posts, a slew of processing modes, an 80hz subwoofer crossover, and DTS/DD5.1/ProLogic 2 processing. You pay for what you get for, the Panny is about 6 times more expensive.

The new CBM170SEs are a very accurate speaker (+/- 1.5db from 70-20KHz) but the older 170s aren't much worse, it's closer to (+/- 2db in the same range). So for some, the difference isn't that big, and if you check Audiogon, you can find used 170s for as low as $240 shipped. Just an idea. The 170SEs might not be commercially available until mid-February; the pre-orders are still backlogged and slowly being shipped out.

Also, some people, either through hearing differences (or deficiencies), or simply different preferences, prefer a spunkier rather than a more accurate speaker.

Some ideas in the > $400 price range (in terms of speakers with flat midrange but differening in either upper bass or treble boost)

Brighter (more treble, uppermidrange heavy) speakers: B&W DM601 ($400) or DM303 ($300), Energy RC-10 ($400), Epos ELS3 ($300), Athena AS-B2 ($150)

More accurate: NHT Absolute Zero ($400), Energy C-3 ($250)

More upperbass-heavy: Paradigm Titan ($220)...

As you can see, bright speakers are found in doves, because many listeners perceive brightness=detail. While it's not really true (just like tubes dont sound better than solid state, they just have a pleasant "overload" sound, but if you never overload them, you'll never experience this phenomenon...). On the flip side, I'm not saying don't buy based on your listening tastes. Some people specifically buy high impedence speakers in order to overload low-power tube amps. Some people like bright speakers. Don't forget what you like over what other people tells you is better. The only thing I can do is draw a line on the sand, and say, get something that's accurate, with good dispersion, and is a good deal in its price class. The ideosyncracies are up to you. Like the speakers (and the amp/receiver I recommended), I recommended them because I thought they were the BEST deals in this price range, based on things "I" value, such as tonal accuracy, dispersion, in other words what is classically thought of as "loudspeaker ideals." I don't think you can do better than Ascend for the money, they are basically NHT but better (in terms of tonal accuracy, but not the nice piano black finish).

In truth you might not value accuracy as you might brightness, or dispersion as you do volume (speaker sensitivity), or value decor over performance (like with the Logitechs). Everyone's got different circumstances and preferences, and each person's value judgement on these individual things add up to the final price of a product, to see if it's "worth it" to them. Look around in some other forums, and see if you end up agreeing or disagreeing based on my recommendations. Don't just buy it because I said so--which is probably the best advice I can offer.
January 13, 2006 2:11:07 PM

Hey, thanks for the input.

Any suggestions on where to buy some of these online?
January 13, 2006 6:22:45 PM

The Sonic T-amp you can get pretty much anywhere, ecost, ebay, froogle, pricewatch, etc.

The Panasonic SA-XR55 can be bought through Amazon (also J&R Music World), and various other online locations.

For speakers, I personally, if used, buy from Audiogon (or eBay if I can get a REALLY good deal, which isn't often on eBay as its generally overpriced for used). New, if its internet direct (such as axiomaudio.com, ascendacoustics.com) generally I buy from the source, since it isn't gonna get any cheaper than direct from the manufacturer. If you want a retail brand like NHT or Energy, I would consider going to a Dealer or a place that sells high end AV like Good Guys. You will get much better than retail prices there usually.

Don't forget to buy speaker cable too. For convenience I usually go to Radioshack or Bestbuy, $30 can buy you a 100-foot spool of say clear 14-16 guage cable and banana plugs included. Some people like to do it themselves and buy 12-gauge lamp cord from Home Depot.

If you want to consider quality subwoofers for a very low (internet direct price), consider SVS or Hsu. I know from a computer user, its hard to fathom something as simple as a subwoofer costing at least $300 and going on to $1k, but the performance these subs produce are pretty phenomenal. In terms of output and linearity, there is only one manufacturer I would even consider in the same league as these guys subwise (Axiom audio) and even they charge much higher prices for their subs (about 50% more). These subs are very linear, actually +/- 3db down to 16-20hz or so for the $500 and up models at volume levels as high as 100db. Consider a $500-1000 sub from NHT, B&W, Energy, Mirage, Paradigm, Velodyne (well Velos don't even extend down to 25 generally in this price range), you'd be lucky to see -10db numbers at 25hz, and probably closer to to -20db at 20hz. And these are "quality" subs with "real" extension, not your mass market or car subs tuned at 40hz.

So if you want a good sub to keep up with your bookshelves, either save your money for something really good, or buy something now and accept somewhat muddy bass. :p 
January 13, 2006 7:55:09 PM

Thanks, I really appreciate it.

I am going to do some more research, probably won't make a purchase for a little while - I have decided to cancel the logitech order (newegg shipped them about 12 hours after I placed my order and I didn't cancel in time, so I have to eat the 40 dollar shipping charge -- I will get the list price refunded) and go for a nice home stereo setup.

-eric
January 13, 2006 8:41:07 PM

What about Dayton?!?
January 13, 2006 9:29:48 PM

In terms of price/performance, the higher end Dayton offerings aren't superior to SVS or Hsu's offerings.

If you are talking about their budget subs, they are good for the money (Dayton Sub-120 $150) but we are talking about small margins in the budget subwoofer area (aka, it's probably better than some offerings in the $200 area, but beyond that you are getting into entry-Hsu territory.



Just eyeballing it; peak 106db at 60hz, -4db at 40hz, -10db at around 35hz, -20db at 30hz, and -26db at 25hz. This is a pretty common curve you'd see in NHT SW2 (a $650 subwoofer).



-5db 45hz
-10db 35hz
-15db 28hz

As you can see, the NHT SW2 severely fails the listed specs of +/- 3db 21hz, when its more accurate at the 40db point. There is a lot of manufacturer fudging going on in specs. Don't trust it until a reputable official source like Canadian government's NRC facility measures it.



Hsu STF-1 ($299) response curve claims +/- 3db to 30hz. In actuallity it's +/-3db to 25hz (as the -6db point is in the mid 20s). That's called manufactuer UNDERSTATEMENT instead of what most retail companies do.
January 13, 2006 10:03:35 PM

Ok... So HSU and SVS are linear and support what they claim. But what about the actual speed. Some say SVS is slow when it comes to music... When comparing Dayton, they are in seald boxes (in the kits) and the others are in ported designs. I dont know, but this sounds almost like apples and oranges. What do you think. Is it possible to get linear extension, speed, and the low notes without spending gobs of money on a sub?
January 13, 2006 10:14:03 PM

Are you talking about group delay? There's nothing you co do about that with ported subs. Better build subs (like the higher end SVSs) the group delay is all 15hz and under. I'm not here to judge people on their experiences or subjective opinions but the delay occurs almost exlusively on inaudible frequencies. And sealed or acoustic suspension isn't free of group delay either, in terms of delay graphs, they are better but not as much better as you might think.

I'm not a sub expert anyway, just make sure you speak to someone who actually knows what he is talking about, instead of some closet audiophile speaking in metaphors like "speed" or "warmth"; since these are all subjective descriptors and the definition of subjectiveness is relative differences given LIMITED sampling points (Objectivity is relative differences with MANY sampling points).

Acoustic suspension subs don't tend to have very good extension, as you might have noticed. And no, you can't have extension AND low group delay, you need well over $2000 for that kind of sub. At $1000-1500 you have the Axiom EP600 and the SVS PB12 Ultra, both of which are flat to sub-20hz subs. Both have group delay that begins to spike at around 10hz. (Of course, there's not much material to speak of there).Why do you need speed for sub-20hz frequencies anyway? You know most music albums are mixed with no concern below 40z? Below that (sub-30hz) most CDs have a lot of recording noise that isn't part of the recording anyway, as most of the album recordings don't approach the quality that the movie industry applies to music mixing (isn't that funny?--at least when we're talking about the bass frequencies. Movies do have a lot of subsonic material after all).
January 13, 2006 10:40:57 PM

Have no fear lol, I am not going to take what everyone says and just go buy a sub. Everyone seems to have different opinions so I just try to understand what I can.

What I was trying to ask is if ported subs can keep up with very fast double-kick drums and stuff like that. The last thing I want is somthing that is going to miss every other beat.

As of right now, the PCi line from SVS is looking realy good.
January 14, 2006 12:33:40 AM

A quality sub, no its not a problem for the bass to keep up compared to acoustic suspension : )

PB12 Ultra group delay (note, this IS a $900 subwoofer)


As you can see the group delay is very acceptable until around 20hz (where it goes beyond 40ms, going into inaudible territory). You think this is bad, you know bright speakers like B&W, Thiel, etc that use metal drivers have decay plots that keep ringing until 70ms or more (across the entire the midrange!) I wouldn't worry at all about "speed" from quality sub makers like SVS, Hsu, Velodyne, Axiom, etc, since they use large, heavy drivers and very powerful magnets. If anything, the sluggishness is a result of overworked and tiny drivers (not in radiating area, but in volume and mass).
January 14, 2006 1:17:01 AM

I think I am going to wait it out for the Sub.

I emailed ascend about b stock 170 availability.
January 14, 2006 3:03:20 AM

Nice... I am realy thinking of going with the Ascend + SVS. Now to just get the $$...

I did read a review of SVS 5.1 system... Was pretty good and only for $900 to get all of the speakers + sub. But the bookshelf speakers are pretty new...
January 14, 2006 3:08:51 AM

I can barely remember the Battleing Gimps and Dimbulbs and the thread it was in ROFL!
!