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Best Soundcard, Confusion!

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July 29, 2009 10:03:19 AM

I'm currently looking for a top of the line sound card, price being no issue. I've done some research but I'm somewhat unfamiliar with the audiophile vocabulary and some of the terms are alien to me. So I reach out and hopefully I can get some good advice, perhaps mildly decrypted. A card that preferably doesn't just suit one niche of sound enhancement, e.g. stereo support and lacks in multichannel 5.1/7.1 options and gives games quality sound as well as other media. I'll give you a few cards that I believe are market leaders, tell me what you think/know any ideas or suggestions would be appreciated. Please don't your card, and tell me its the best simply because you have it, unless your well informed and it is actually so.

ASUS Xonar Essence STX - Sound output mode Stereo

Somewhat confused about the STX, and it's output mode, apparently it obviously output in other modes, as you would expect from top of the line sound card, but its Stereo main? I assume it emulates 5.1/7.1? Is this a audiophile card for playback/recording of tracks for the most perfect quality play of audio marvels? My main quarrel is the components from the capacitors to the chip's are all VERY VERY high quality on this card, all of the best components that the audio community rage on about in one card, it's even suggested that this card is superior to many professional studio set-ups. Obviously has optical/coax and other connection types. I'm very confused...


www.asus.com.au/products.aspx?l1=25&l2=150&l3=0&l4=0&mo...


ASUS Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe - 7.1 channel surround

This seems to be the select card any cinema rig, supporting everything audio has to offer. It seems like the safe bet to me for all round usage for gaming and media. The question is, could there be another card that much better for gaming that this is inferior? Both cards run the same main chip, other features I'm not so familiar with... yes I have seen benchmarks but my lack of audio knowledge doesn't assist me in analysing them.


www.asus.com.au/products.aspx?l1=25&l2=150&l3=0&l4=0&mo...


Yes, BOTH support latest EAX, no longer only under contract to Creative..


If it helps I will be using, Tritton AX Pro headphones, and already have Logitech z5500 5.1.

Core i7 920
ASUS P6T Deluxe

I play many games, FPS, MMO etc, I like to watch movies too, all kinds.

More about : soundcard confusion

July 29, 2009 12:46:32 PM

First off, EAX is only emulated on ASUS cards. While Creative/Auzentech cards use Alchemy to convert Directsound calls to OpenAL (which is still hardware accelerated) using Alchemy to get 100% accurate effects, ASUS cards simply covert the EAX calls to a call the card can understand. The main disadvantages are lack of 100% true EAX, and lack of hardware acceleration for the EAX calls. The main advantage is far more games will run with EAX, as Alchemy doesn't need to be updated seperatly. Unless you are strictly a gaming audiophile though, ASUS's implementation is good enough for 99.9% of us.

As for the cards themselves:

ASUS STX Essence:
The STX essence only supports stereo out via analog (RCA ports), but supports 5.1 output over its digital port using either Dolby Digital or DTS encoding. (Seperate decoder needed to play back the output). For those of us with 5.1 systems and a Dolby/DTS decoder, nothing beats the STX in playback quality, not even the Auzentech Forte...The main downside in my mind is lack of a digital input port...

Speaking of the Forte, its the best X-fi card avaliable. Supports 7.1 analog via the VGA-like connector, and 5.1 over digital via Dolby Digital and DTS encoding. I still give the STX the edge in overall quality, but with "true" EAX support for games, this is a serious contender. The main downside, again, is lack of a digital input port...

ASUS HDAV 1.3 Delux: The Home Theatre card. Supporting every Dolby/DTS encoder/decoder I know of, and HDMI in/out, this card does it all. Meant more for streaming in/out video then sound processing though, so not the best choice for gamers. Comes with a daughter card that supports 7.1 analog outputs (soon to be sold seperatly).

ASUS Xonar D2/D2X: For audio playback, this card falls between the Auzentech Prelude and Auzentech Forte. The D2 is PCI and D2X is PCI-E, but are otherwise 100% the same. Supports ASUS's EAX implementation, 7.1 over analog, and 5.1 in/out via digital port. No longer a top of the line card, but for those needed an optical INPUT (glares at card manufactures...) still a very, very good option. As an aside, the newer Xonar DX is essentially a D2X with more budget components, but otherwise behaves exactly the same.

I will not even list a Creative card, as there is no reason to buy one with their horrific driver support.

As you use Z5500's, your best solution would be 5.1 using either Dolby Digital or DTS coming from the cards optical output. In this case, the STX Essence would be the "Best" choice for overall playback quality, with the Forte a very, very close second. Your headphones can also be hooked up via optical (supports only Dolby Digital and not DTS), so the lack of 3.5mm jacks on the Essence is not a major concern.

On an aside, I've been looking for a new headset to replace the Razer Barracuda HP-1's and my generic Sony ones. The Tritton AX Pro's are the first I've seen that uses a mic over the optical port and works for the 360/PS3...I might have to get a pair myself...
July 29, 2009 10:18:05 PM

Cheers for the response Gamerk, I have a few questions about your response if your keen to answer.



You say EAX is only emulated on ASUS cards, my question is how much worse does this make them for gaming? Is it that much of a sound difference and do enough games actually support EAX or will support it that I should seriously disregard ASUS?

Why is the STX desirable if it's main purpose is stereo, isn't 5.1/7.1 the future and most advanced sound technology?

If I was to connect my speakers to the STX via optical would it would not work because I don't have a separate decoder? An AMP or something? How would this setup work (if you don't mind explaining to the audio uneducated, and much thanks in advance).

The Forte doesn't have digital input? I read on their specifications 'One S/PDIF combo input connector in rear panel for receiving either coaxial or optical digital'. Optical/Coax is the best audio connection right? Is there a situation where another connection type would be better?

You say HDAV is the Home Cinema card, perhaps I've wrongly been led to believe that it has that great functionality on top of the great platform for gaming also? Is this not a two in one 'best of both worlds' card? Is it really more based on video in/out...

You say the lack of 3.5mm jacks on the STX isn't a concern, are they even necessary? Isn't optical/coax the best choice for everything? Or DTS only supported through analog connection?

Also if this helps, my time spent is approximately

60-80% Gaming
40-20% Other Media


Much thanks to anyone who can assist, these are the kind of things you find out once and then know forever..

Related resources
July 30, 2009 2:08:54 AM

The forte is one hell of a soundcard. The stx is pretty amazing also but the forte is less $ and IMO, a much better sounding card for games. Music on the other hand, the stx has the forte beat. But the 2 cards are good at what they are geared for.
July 30, 2009 3:32:01 AM

How does it sound better for games? Very few games use EAX, and the HDAV does support the latest even if it isn't 'true' does this mean its that much worse?
July 30, 2009 11:59:43 AM

Basically, only EAX 1, 2, and 5 are officially supported an ASUS cards (very few games used 3 or 4 anyways). What ASUS did was interpret the EAX calls driver level via its GX engine. Works very well, but some effects will be a bit off.

For instance, in "true" EAX 5 Bioshock, if you go from a large room to a small room, you'll get the gradual change in environmental sounds as you pass through the rooms, where on an ASUS card, you'll go from "Large room" to a "small room" environment instantaneously once you pass into the smaller room. Granted, this can still be improved in drivers, but its worth noting.

As for you're specific questions (in no particular order):

1: The STX gets 5.1 via its optical jack using DD/DTS encoding (otherwise it just outputs 2.0), and 2.0 via RCA. Basically, rather then focus on analog, they made the only card I know of (minus the HDAV) that truly focuses on digital output. The main issue is, unless you can decode an incoming DD/DTS signal, the best you'll be able to output over spdif is 2.0 (DD/DTS signals are compressed, which is why they can be transfered; a uncompressed 5.1 signal is too large for Spdif to carry).

The main problem in this area is only HDMI has the capacity to output a digital 7.1 signal, which is why every 7.1 speaker setup I know of still uses analog connections for each individual speaker pair. Hence, why the HDAV supports digital 7.1 outputs and all Dolby/DTS formats, and other cards do not.

2: The HDAV focus as a media card, although its daughter card is nothing to laugh at either. That being said, its around as good playback wise as the Auzentech Prelude, maybe a tiny bit better. If you plan to use a HDMI connection to a reciever that supports high end 7.1 Dolby/DTS formats, then this is the card for you. If not, then you're probably best served looking elsewhere.

3: I believe the forte has a general input port which can be used for a Spdif/Toslink input.

Basically, if you don't have a way to decode a DD/DTS signal, then the HDAV and STX are probably not the way you want to go, as thats the only way to get above 2.0 over a digital connection. In that case, the older Xonar D2(X) (or the newer DX) and the Auzentech Forte become the two cards to look at in my mind.

*Note, I tend to use Spdif/Toslink interchangably. ASUS cards use Toslink by default, but ship with Spdif converters. Coaxial is a different form of digital connection, and only works if theres a dedicated port.
August 1, 2009 1:43:48 AM

Hey, thanks for the reply. I chose the Xonar HDAV 1.3 Deluxe, I'm pretty happy with it, but have a big problem now.

I have:

ASUS 26" HDMI LCD (ASUS VK266H 2ms Full HD DVI)

VGA Port(s) 1
DVI Port(s) 1
Video Input Component
Audio Input 3.5mm/RCA
Headphone Jack 1
HDMI 1

Nvidia GTX 285

DVI Port(s) 2
7-pin analog HDTV-out mini-din, and S-video connector, or YPrPb (component) or composite outputs.


ASUS Xonar HDAV 1.3 Deluxe

RCA jack *8
Analog Input Jack
Line-In/Mic-In 3.50mm mini jack *1
Other line-level analog input (for CD-IN/TV Tuner)
CD-In, Aux-In (4-pin header on the card)
Digital S/PDIF Output
Coaxial and High-bandwidth Optical Combo Connector
Supports 192KHz/24bit
Digital S/PDIF Input:
Coaxial and High-bandwidth Optical Combo Connector
Supports 192KHz/24bit (Shared with Line/Mic In)
HDMI Input/Outut:
HDMI1.3 - In/Out Type A *1



z5500 speakers... if that helps


My question is, how on earth should I go about connecting this all up? HDMI replaces DVI I'm guessing? But then how is my GPU connected to the screen? Anyways much appreciate any help... at the moment i just have my speakers connected via optical and analog to the Xonar, and switch depending on game/media. I'm a tad lost whats next..


Anonymous
August 16, 2009 8:33:26 PM

Your monitor plugs into your geforce through dvi... maybe hdmi although i haven't seen the newest geforces yet but they still likely have dvi

YOur speakers connect to your sound card through analog or optical or maybe hdmi i haven't seen the newer sound cards but i doubt the speakers will connect through hdmi anyway... so most likely analog.



it should be pretty straight forward just hookup matching connector with the cables they gave you.... or just read the manuals that come in your shiny new boxes lol


you never have to change cables between video/audio as they should not be hooked up to the same card




i.e. video card for video
and sound card for sound.
August 17, 2009 12:17:38 PM

If you had a reciever, you would hook up the HDAV and your GPU together, and output everything from the HDAV's HDMI output. As you are not using one, just use the optical output on the HDAV for sound, and the DVI output of your GPU for Video.
March 13, 2010 2:42:09 PM

Apologies for reviving an old thread!

I'm just curious as to what people believe to be the best card around nowadays for digital-in of the various surround formats created by DD & DTS... (they're responsible for 99% of SS encoded content right?)

Initially it'd only be for taking encoded content from my Xbox360 & Wi, but later it'd also be for a PS3 slim which for BD content I believe uses newer DD & DTS formats, namely: TrueHD, & HD-MA.

Ideally it'd be happy to take any DTS/DD content thrown at it, & pass it to the appropriate (licensed) software for decoding. (or hardware if it's a card that can do this)
Mostly I'd like to decode and run it through a stereo surround simulation scheme like; DH, CMSS, or DTS-SS.
But occasionally I'll decode/convert & do multi-channel analogue-out via my Essence ST + H6 (7.1 daughter-board).

I was investigating X-Fi cards but they seem to have regressed in this area in recent years (I hope its not a general trend).
Any recommendations for the ideal card for the intended application is greatly appreciated!

gamerk316 said:
First off, EAX is only emulated on ASUS cards. While Creative/Auzentech cards use Alchemy to convert Directsound calls to OpenAL (which is still hardware accelerated) using Alchemy to get 100% accurate effects, ASUS cards simply covert the EAX calls to a call the card can understand. The main disadvantages are lack of 100% true EAX, and lack of hardware acceleration for the EAX calls. The main advantage is far more games will run with EAX, as Alchemy doesn't need to be updated seperatly. Unless you are strictly a gaming audiophile though, ASUS's implementation is good enough for 99.9% of us.

As for the cards themselves:

ASUS STX Essence:
The STX essence only supports stereo out via analog (RCA ports), but supports 5.1 output over its digital port using either Dolby Digital or DTS encoding. (Seperate decoder needed to play back the output). For those of us with 5.1 systems and a Dolby/DTS decoder, nothing beats the STX in playback quality, not even the Auzentech Forte...The main downside in my mind is lack of a digital input port...

Speaking of the Forte, its the best X-fi card avaliable. Supports 7.1 analog via the VGA-like connector, and 5.1 over digital via Dolby Digital and DTS encoding. I still give the STX the edge in overall quality, but with "true" EAX support for games, this is a serious contender. The main downside, again, is lack of a digital input port...

ASUS HDAV 1.3 Delux: The Home Theatre card. Supporting every Dolby/DTS encoder/decoder I know of, and HDMI in/out, this card does it all. Meant more for streaming in/out video then sound processing though, so not the best choice for gamers. Comes with a daughter card that supports 7.1 analog outputs (soon to be sold seperatly).

ASUS Xonar D2/D2X: For audio playback, this card falls between the Auzentech Prelude and Auzentech Forte. The D2 is PCI and D2X is PCI-E, but are otherwise 100% the same. Supports ASUS's EAX implementation, 7.1 over analog, and 5.1 in/out via digital port. No longer a top of the line card, but for those needed an optical INPUT (glares at card manufactures...) still a very, very good option. As an aside, the newer Xonar DX is essentially a D2X with more budget components, but otherwise behaves exactly the same.

I will not even list a Creative card, as there is no reason to buy one with their horrific driver support.

As you use Z5500's, your best solution would be 5.1 using either Dolby Digital or DTS coming from the cards optical output. In this case, the STX Essence would be the "Best" choice for overall playback quality, with the Forte a very, very close second. Your headphones can also be hooked up via optical (supports only Dolby Digital and not DTS), so the lack of 3.5mm jacks on the Essence is not a major concern.

On an aside, I've been looking for a new headset to replace the Razer Barracuda HP-1's and my generic Sony ones. The Tritton AX Pro's are the first I've seen that uses a mic over the optical port and works for the 360/PS3...I might have to get a pair myself...
March 15, 2010 2:45:46 AM

jalyst said:
Apologies for reviving an old thread!

I'm just curious as to what people believe to be the best card around nowadays for digital-in of the various surround formats created by DD & DTS... (they're responsible for 99% of SS encoded content right?)

Initially it'd only be for taking encoded content from my Xbox360 & Wi, but later it'd also be for a PS3 slim which for BD content I believe uses newer DD & DTS formats, namely: TrueHD, & HD-MA.

Ideally it'd be happy to take any DTS/DD content thrown at it, & pass it to the appropriate (licensed) software for decoding. (or hardware if it's a card that can do this)
Mostly I'd like to decode and run it through a stereo surround simulation scheme like; DH, CMSS, or DTS-SS.
But occasionally I'll decode/convert & do multi-channel analogue-out via my Essence ST + H6 (7.1 daughter-board).

I was investigating X-Fi cards but they seem to have regressed in this area in recent years (I hope its not a general trend).
Any recommendations for the ideal card for the intended application is greatly appreciated!


anyone? thank-you.
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?p=1830831...
March 15, 2010 3:09:36 AM

Well, if you want to hook up a PS3 and are interested in 7.1 compressed formats, your only real options are the ASUS HDAV 1.3 and the Auzentech Hometheatre HD, due to their HDMI inputs/outputs.
March 15, 2010 3:15:29 AM

Oh so both have "HDMI-in" (not S/PDIF) and so can receive bit-streamed (i.e. compressed), or multi-ch PCM HD Dolby or DTS formats?!?
March 15, 2010 4:23:58 AM

@gamerk316 you get my last post, I hope it's not too late where you are?

Thank-you.
March 15, 2010 10:48:02 AM

jalyst said:
Oh so both have "HDMI-in" (not S/PDIF) and so can receive bit-streamed (i.e. compressed), or multi-ch PCM HD Dolby or DTS formats?!?


Correct. Since you mentioned the PS3 and the 7.1 formats, those two cards are probably the best option. [The consensous is the Auzentech HomeTheatre HD is the better of the two at this moment, FYI].
March 15, 2010 3:44:04 PM

http://www.guru3d.com/article/auzentech-xfi-home-theate...

Specifically:

http://www.guru3d.com/article/auzentech-xfi-home-theate...

Quote:

A main feature of the HTHD 7.1 is offering HDMI 1.3a I/O to the end user which allows full resolution, high definition audio with no down sampling. A very interesting feature of the HTHD 7.1 is the use of an external receiver is NOT required to have support for these high definition standards.

While the use of an external receiver is an option, the card allows any speaker system connected to the card to output Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD and DTS-HDMA in full resolution.




March 16, 2010 5:46:33 AM

Yeah but it's not clear from that whether HD audio can be be received via HDMI (bit-stream or multi-PCM), & then processed on the PC.

And if it can...

Can it only be decoded & converted by the Hometheatre HD + sware, or can the DAC be palmed-off to my Essence ST?

I'm guessing no because the Essence isn't PAP compliant :( 
March 16, 2010 7:48:29 AM

Even if it can support Dolby TrueHD/DTS-Master, how would you get about working it? Is there even a blu ray media player out there that has the option to output it?

jalyst said:
Yeah but it's not clear from that whether HD audio can be be received via HDMI (bit-stream or multi-PCM), & then processed on the PC.


I seriously doubt that, the industry is extremely tight about digital content protection.
March 16, 2010 7:56:42 AM

astrallite said:
Even if it can support Dolby TrueHD/DTS-Master, how would you get about working it? Is there even a blu ray media player out there that has the option to output it?


Are you asking if there's a BD player that outputs HD Audio?
Most certainly, the PS3 Slim is one example, it bit-streams via HDMI.

I seriously doubt that, the industry is extremely tight about digital content protection. said:
I seriously doubt that, the industry is extremely tight about digital content protection.


This is what I need to know for sure.
March 16, 2010 8:54:31 AM

jalyst said:
Are you asking if there's a BD player that outputs HD Audio?
Most certainly, the PS3 Slim is one example, it bit-streams via HDMI.



No, MEDIA player. Like CyberDVD, WinDVD, etc. Most higher end blu ray players can bitstream and send LPCM these days. Can the PS3 slim really bitstream? The original did not. (I have both, but haven't tried; I've always used LPCM as it requires less faffing about with your receiver).

On the PC side I haven't seen any media player with HD audio output capabilities, even though there are hdmi sound cards. People have resorted to ripping their movies to mkv with multichannel FLAC. Now FLAC is limited to 705.5kbps per channel, which would make it about 4mbps through 6 channels, good enough for most movies. It won't work if the LPCM with movies start having more bandwidth though, unless you want to do 1-to-3 decompression of 6 channels in real time.
March 16, 2010 10:46:09 AM

Yes PS3 Slim can BS...

The only advantage is that some meta-data is retained & you have the pleasure of certain lights lighting-up on your AVR, & some argue it's less susceptible to interference but that's debateable.
There may be few others, but I can't recall them right now....
From what I've read there's absolutely no difference in terms of SQ though...

There's most def. media players w/HD audio abilities, they're only for certain PAP compliant cards like the HDAV1.3 or Hometheatre HD...
March 16, 2010 10:50:35 AM

@gamerk316 *bump*
And where have you heard that the HomeTheatre is better than the HDAV1.3?
Thank-you.

jalyst said:
Yeah but it's not clear from that whether HD audio can be be received via HDMI (bit-stream or multi-PCM), & then processed on the PC.

And if it can...

Can it only be decoded & converted by the Hometheatre HD + sware, or can the DAC be palmed-off to my Essence ST?

I'm guessing no because the Essence isn't PAP compliant :( 
March 16, 2010 11:10:08 AM

There was a giant comparison thread on the Guru3d forums [mostly by Rob, the local audio expert], and the HDAV had a bunch of driver issues at the time. They may be resolved now though...Both are great buys, but everything I've looked at (as of about 3 months ago) showed the HT HD was the better card.

More reviews:
http://www.anandtech.com/video/showdoc.aspx?i=3632
http://www.xsreviews.co.uk/reviews/audio-cards/auzentec...

HDAV reviews:
http://www.elitebastards.com/index.php?option=com_conte...
http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/2009/08/22/asus-xonar-...

I do admit these two cards are a bit out of my element; I know Robsix on the Guru3d forums would know the answers to your questions off the top of his head...
March 16, 2010 4:29:09 PM

Thanks, can't find this massive thread you speak of so far

Of the hdav reviews listed, one is from sept 08' and the other is for the "slim" (no analogue-out) version.

I will look for more recent reviews/comparisons.
Yeah Rob is always a good sound post, I will try him, thanks.
March 17, 2010 4:58:44 AM

jalyst said:
Yeah but it's not clear from that whether HD audio can be be received via HDMI (bit-stream or multi-PCM), & then processed on the PC.

And if it can...


gamerk316 turns out your were mistaken, apparently it can't, how freakin lame.
HD audio (typically used in DRM'd content like BD) can only be processed if it originates on the PC.
Sending Audio or A/V from a PS3 or BD player via HDMI, will only ever be allowed to pass-through.

The natives are getting restless/rude :) 
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?p=1831477...
But in amongst it some good explanations are made
!