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Good, cheap sound card ~$60-70 need answer fast

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February 5, 2007 2:13:05 AM

Hi, I'm looking for a good cheap sound card since the audio on my motherboard doesn't seem to work anymore so what should you recommend? I only have a cheap pair of harman/kardon speakers that came with my old HP system, but I would like to get good performance as I'm considering upgrading soon.

I was thinking of X-fi, but the only version that seems to be in my budget is a low profile card. Does this mean it will be crippled as most low profile video cards are crippled? I could also look at previous generation cards such as Audigy 4 etc...

thanks in advance!
February 5, 2007 2:19:46 AM

How will this do?

Edit: I play games a lot so if it is a performance boost and audio boost that would be great.
February 5, 2007 2:14:01 PM

Quote:
How will this do?

Edit: I play games a lot so if it is a performance boost and audio boost that would be great.


That is the same sound card that I was thinking about getting. I would like to get an upgrade to the imbedded AC97 sound system on my motherboard.

The reviews on Newegg and here seem good. Not excellent, just good.

I don't want to spend more than $60 or $70. To me, it is not worth $140 (100% price increase) just to achieve a 5% increase in sound quality over a $60 sound card.

I don't need a powerful sound card with all the bells and whistles for music encoding and playback work. I would like something good, not just sufficient, for online gaming like Call of Duty and for playing MP3s encoded at 320 kbs on a 5.1 speaker system. Having the new sound card take the sound processing load off my old Pentium 4 @ 3.06 GHz will be a good thing, if only from the improved gaming frame-per-second aspect.

There are so many choices around $60-$70 from which to choose. I hope that you (and I) receive some good advice here.
Related resources
February 5, 2007 3:36:32 PM

Quote:
I suggest going with this one instead:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E1682...

After $40 in immediate savings and a rebate, it costs the same as the card you suggest but this is the X-fi XtremeGamer.


Sounds OK, except that I am a little...concerned about mail-in rebates. Honestly, I don't trust companies to honor them. Then again, the only times you hear about mail-in rebates from customers is when they don't receive them as opposed to the majority of the time when the rebate does comes back.

I am also concerned about some of the Newegg reviews mentioning cracking and popping sounds during some gameplay, such as during Battlefield games. Maybe it is a driver issue, maybe hardware conflict, maybe speaker problems. I don't know.

Let me ask a question which may seem silly:

I noticed something in the photos of this sound card on Newegg. How do you get 5.1, 7.1, or anything more than three (3) sound channels from only three line-out jacks?

Does the sound card assume that you send all three line-out channels into an audio receiver which then decodes or splits the signals and resends out those signals to the appropriate 5 or 7 speakers plus the subwoofer?

Thanks.

UPDATE: After doing some more research on Creative's website, I discovered that the cracking/popping issues seemingly only occur on Nvidia's nForce 4 motherboards.

http://forums.creative.com/creativelabs/board/message?b...

Quote:
Further to the reported cases of crackling issues reported by owners of Sound Blaster X-Fi cards, we have extensively tested both Creative and non-Creative audio cards on motherboards where the issues were reported in an effort to isolate the root cause.

The findings indicate that circumstances causing these audio glitches only arise on Nvidias nForce 4 range of motherboards, with the exception of the newest n590 board which does not exhibit this issue.


Then again, many people in that forum are saying that ALL of these motherboards are susceptible:

Nforce 3
Nforce 4
Nforce 5
Radeon Xpress 3200
Intel I955
All VIA chipsets from the KT400 and up

LAST UPDATE:

It seems that the problems have been found. It looks like they go way beyond a simple motherboard/sound card conflict:

http://forums.nvidia.com/index.php?showtopic=10946&st=2...
February 5, 2007 3:50:11 PM

I also came up with another question after studying posts in this forum and Newegg reviews.

Does it matter which PCI slot that you use for the sound card?

I don't mean trying to physically or mechanically fit the sound card among the usual video cards taking up more than one slot. I read some comments where their sound card (and other PCI cards) just didn't seem to work well or work at all in one PCI slot but did in another.

Thanks.
February 6, 2007 1:47:27 AM

I've had my sound cards in every PCI slot... doesn't matter as long as it can get the right amount of air flow for cooling. All depends on your case.

The X-FI card probably sounds better... I have a Fatal1ty card and love that. Its worth spending the money on good sound... now if you have a sound system that can handle the output...?
February 6, 2007 5:15:06 AM

I'll be getting the X-fi XtremeGamer (the non fatal1ty version, I don't think X-RAM and an LED is worth the extra 60 or so dollars :) )
February 6, 2007 5:34:22 AM

Its only worth it if you want all the features of the other cards... for music, audio editing, and gaming. The X-ram seems to only make a different for audio editing for me...
February 6, 2007 5:36:58 AM

Yeah, I won't be audio editing anytime soon and since there are very few games supporting X-RAM as of now, it just doesn't seem too much of an issue to get the cheaper card. I'm sure I'll be happy with it. In fact I know I will because I don't even have sound now (going on a few weeks now).
February 6, 2007 1:17:02 PM

ha... what a contrast to silence! Do you have a fairly good speaker set? Seems like the X-FI is too good for any speakers I've seen... I have a set of Cambridge 5.1 Megaworks... set the speaker volume to 50% otherwise it feels like I could blow them out (especially the sub... I have that set low 38% and it still shakes the room). Also, have a set of really good headphones... phenomenal sound. What an improvement over the Audigy 2.
February 6, 2007 10:59:51 PM

Nope I have a pair of cheap Harman/Kardon's that came with the system, not bad but not exactly mind blowing either. I'm thinking of getting a good quality headset here none too soon though. Any you would recommend? I'm looking for sound quality first durability second. Noise canceling would be cool but I don't think I have the budget for that :)  .
February 7, 2007 12:08:35 AM

$60-70 is not cheap, it's overkill.

- Your speakers are by far the largest limitation to good sound with any modest sound card, including something you could pick up for about $8 at a surplus parts 'site. All you really need is to get away from onboard sound, and avoid the crude and barren cheap modern cards. $10 for a new generation card < $8 for many older generation cards.

An old $8 card with good speakers will sound far better than the cards linked here with average speakers.

- Forget gaming FPS increases, that is for EAX and related environmental audio processing with more than two speakers. Even if it weren't, the extra $ spent could easily allow you to upgrade a little more next time, offsetting the hypothetical gain because frankly, the video card is usually the bottleneck to playable framerates, not the CPU. Yes you will see some benchmark where one is higher but not much unless the framerate was so high that it was playable either way.

- Do not assume more $ equals better sound in general. Creative Labs doesn't even sell good sounding audio cards under their Creative Labs label which is for low end and gaming cards. That's why they have another label to specifically differentiate them. Their CL cards mutilate sound then they lie about digitally manipulating it so it supposedly sounds more like it was supposed to (before the card mutilated it, which is kinda ironic). All a sound card is supposed to do is accurately pass a digital stream or convert to analog, requiring a fairly good DAC (if you had better speakers, or headamp+cans so you could distinguish the difference).


The crackling popping is because Creative mistakenly assumes their card should have more bus time, as if you wouldn't have a well endowed PC but then splurge on this one card to put in a bare system. A driver can conceivably fix it, or PCI latency changes can too (sometimes), but it's not limited to nForce4 nor present on all nForce4 systems. It's present when the maldesigned Creative product needs more than it's share of the bus and the system wasn't gutted to give it more than it's share.

This is a recurring problem with Creative products, a design philosophy problem really, not just one card or a certain driver.
February 7, 2007 2:50:28 AM

What are you willing to spend?

On the high end of computer speakers... Creative Labs and Logitech are the best you can get without getting a professional setup. Both have their advantages / disadvantages.... I lean Creative Labs because they are essentially a Cambridge Sound works system, which is pretty good.

Creative Labs (Cambridge) 5.1, 7.1 (take your pick) runs $330 brand new... probably $150-250 on eBay.

Logitech only makes 5.1 from what I've seen:
Z 5450 with wireless rear speakers
Z 5550
5300 -- Probably the cheapest at $135

If you want a 2.1 system... I found these Altec Lancing speakers run for $69. Bought them for a friend of mine, they don't sound bad with the Audigy 2 I installed. Still not as good at my 5.1... But a 2.1 will probably sound just as good as a nice pair of headphones. I use a pair of high quality Sony DJ headphones. The 500s are $50, the 700s are $95. You can buy them at Best Buy...
February 7, 2007 4:05:51 AM

Chill,

-The FPS gain is a BONUS not what makes this purchase.

-I got the cheapest X-fi.

-I don't have the card yet so how would I know if I get crackling/popping?

As for the sound problem my motherboard's sound out just stopped working after I put it into my new case. I tried everything reinstalling drivers, reinstall, you name it. I don't think this is a bad buy so please don't instill doubts in my mind.
February 7, 2007 4:09:33 AM

Quote:
What are you willing to spend?

On the high end of computer speakers... Creative Labs and Logitech are the best you can get without getting a professional setup. Both have their advantages / disadvantages.... I lean Creative Labs because they are essentially a Cambridge Sound works system, which is pretty good.

Creative Labs (Cambridge) 5.1, 7.1 (take your pick) runs $330 brand new... probably $150-250 on eBay.

Logitech only makes 5.1 from what I've seen:
Z 5450 with wireless rear speakers
Z 5550
5300 -- Probably the cheapest at $135

If you want a 2.1 system... I found these Altec Lancing speakers run for $69. Bought them for a friend of mine, they don't sound bad with the Audigy 2 I installed. Still not as good at my 5.1... But a 2.1 will probably sound just as good as a nice pair of headphones. I use a pair of high quality Sony DJ headphones. The 500s are $50, the 700s are $95. You can buy them at Best Buy...


Well that sounds nice but I'll be buying speakers after I build my new rig. I need to pour all my funds into a new C2D system for upcoming games. I think I could stand to get a new pair of good headphones though :) 

Thanks for the help!
February 7, 2007 7:23:10 PM

Quote:


-The FPS gain is a BONUS not what makes this purchase.


It's not a bonus per se, you're paying multiple times as much to get it, money that could be put towards better video card, CPU, etc.

In other words, it doesn't sound better than cards costing a fraction as much, it just uses the hardware environmental processing IF you had the speakers, at higher cost to do so.

Quote:
As for the sound problem my motherboard's sound out just stopped working after I put it into my new case. I tried everything reinstalling drivers, reinstall, you name it. I don't think this is a bad buy so please don't instill doubts in my mind.


What? We shouldn't consider all the information, just what suggests you should buy this card? Ok then, buy it.

As for the onboard sound not working, windows is a large variable but if we assume nothing OS related had changed, the most common problems with onboard sound is either that you have hooked up a case front panel audio socket(S) that arent wired compatibly, or that your case had a motherboard standoff where there shouldn't be one, usually that's the 3rd one down on the left hand side of the board, which is used by some boards but not by others and often it's location is roughly where a codec or other sound related circuitry is on the board.
February 7, 2007 10:33:57 PM

Once the sound system is bought... there shouldn't be any reason to pour more money into it for a good long time if you bought a good one.

I don't agree with 'I' unless if the sound isn't coming from the sound card but via an optical out to an amplifier and receiver. Using good speakers and good headphones, there is a major contrast. However, I'm always curious what the sound difference is when the optical out is used on a higher end sound card.
February 8, 2007 12:38:00 AM

I did not hook up ANY front audio wires. It has simply stopped working and now I'm throwing money at the problem.

I've read a lot of reviews about this and I don't think there is anything wrong with it. Plus I am only paying half for it.

@Spet3r this will be the last purchase for this machine. Unless something else goes horribly wrong... 8)
February 8, 2007 2:53:52 PM

You can get a refurbished Audigy2 ZS direct from Creative for around $40-$50 on Ebay. I have that card and it's excellent. THX certified with DTS and EAX. I paired it with a set of Logitech X540's and I love it.
February 10, 2007 5:39:07 AM

Just got my card today and I can say it blows me away. Huge improvement over onboard. Now I need some good speakers... 8)
February 12, 2007 9:29:27 PM

Told you so... Now get yourself some good speakers, as I was saying :) 
February 13, 2007 6:08:52 AM

I dont have room for 5.1 :cry: 

so its either 2.1 or headphones... Probably headphones :) .

I'm looking at the Sony V600's or the Sennheiser RD550 (those are ~$90 right?) those would be some dream headphones.

Is there a pretty good pair of headphones (either around the head or on top of the head, not in the ear please) for about $50? if so I would buy them after I get my Mobo :) 

thanks for all the help so far by the way :D 
February 13, 2007 1:01:47 PM

Hello. I just received a Creative I-Trigue 3300 for free, a major upgrade from my standard pair of Harmon Kardon's. I'm currently running an onboard AC97 sound card, and am considering changing it for something better. Would this card work and be worth the upgrade? Or should I go for a regular Audigy for about $40.
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16829102006
February 13, 2007 2:18:09 PM

AuzenTech XPlosion 7.1 7.1 Channels 24-bit 96KHz PCI Interface Sound Card
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E1682...

That card is easily worth your money if you dont want to go X-Fi. Its the best you can get for the money.

HT OMEGA STRIKER 7.1 Channels 24-bit 96KHz PCI Interface Sound Card
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E1682...

This card has the same chipset and is equally badass. If you go with Windows Vista one of those cards actually doesnt have drivers for it yet but I forget which one. Those cards are highly recommended by audiophiles.
February 13, 2007 3:03:55 PM

Although I love my X-Fi dearly, it does have one glaring flaw... no Linux drivers. None. Nada. Zip. At the time I bought it I hadn't really considered running Linux on my desktop... I do now and I had to revert to my onboard sound. I'll probably re-use it in my next build, but for now with no Linux support it's just taking up a slot.
February 13, 2007 4:07:26 PM

Thanks for the information, I hadn't thought of that. Creative says they will support it later this year. "May 18, 2006 -- Creative plans to make proprietary (closed source) drivers available for the X-Fi series of sound cards in the second quarter of 2007. These drivers will have full support for ALSA (playback, recording, mixer, MIDI, synthesis) and OpenAL 1.1 (with EAX effects)." from http://opensource.creative.com/. Fortunately, it appears that Audigy 4 is supported (http://opensource.creative.com/soundcard.html), and I think EAX 4.0 is probably good enough for me. It looks like there are some minor problems with the Audigy 4, but nothing I use. http://www.alsa-project.org/alsa-doc/doc-php/template.p...

Quote:
Although I love my X-Fi dearly, it does have one glaring flaw... no Linux drivers. None. Nada. Zip. At the time I bought it I hadn't really considered running Linux on my desktop... I do now and I had to revert to my onboard sound. I'll probably re-use it in my next build, but for now with no Linux support it's just taking up a slot.
February 13, 2007 11:16:49 PM

$50 pair of headphones? Just follow the links I sent you before. I'd get a set of speakers on top of the headphones... there just isn't any comparison to having speakers. Headphones get uncomfortable after a while... plus people can sneak up on you
February 14, 2007 3:39:58 AM

I got mine from newegg for $50 after rebate.

@Spet3r Heh I must have been tired I forgot about your post on headphones :oops:  It would be better for me to have headphones because I'm in the same room as people that are watching TV. I'm pretty used to headphones so I don't think they'll be too uncomfortable.

I'll go for the 500s of 600s maybe. Is there a good pair of sennheiser for ~$50?
February 15, 2007 2:09:37 AM

I found these HD205s for $50. Not familiar with Sennheiser, only Sony. I'm curious how much different they'd sound? The specs are similiar... the Sony's don't have a protective pouch.
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