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Sound Card Search

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October 7, 2009 3:51:12 PM

Recently my Logitech headset broke after two solid years of service. When I went looking for a new headset, I decided to upgrade from stereo to a 7.1 headset (I'm a bit of a gamer). Unfortunately, I realized only after ordering the headset that onboard sound doesn't really support 7.1 all too well. So, on to the meat of the subject.

While I consider myself to be somewhat hardware savvy, I've always taken sound for granted, and thus am not at all educated on sound cards. So I was wondering: is there a major difference between $30 and $50 sound cards? And if so, what? Also, are there any cards for under $50 you would recommend to me given that I'm looking for something that supports 7.1?

Finally: I also use 5.1 surround sound speakers for listening to music and watching movies on my computer. If I get a 7.1 sound card, would that negatively affect the speakers' performance? Would it be better for me to look for a 5.1 sound card and just not use those 2 speakers on my headset?

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October 7, 2009 3:54:43 PM

My Advice: keep it digital. If you use the S/PDIF optical output of your computer, you don't need a separate sound card; most motherboards have this onboard. Its digital so the quality is always 100% until the point where the digital signal has to be converted to analog.

But that's best done in the speakers themselves, AC3 compressed sound signals can support 5.1 or 7.1 through S/PDIF.

If S/PDIF is no option, i recommend using an USB-based sound card instead. It keeps it value and has benefits over sound cards inside the PC casing (which lots of EMI interferrence going on). The Create X-MOD is a nice product, and pretty good sound quality. But it doesn't feature other than stereo output.
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October 7, 2009 5:01:27 PM

Stop! I assume you're 7.1 headset is USB? (Logitech G35 or Razer Megalodon) If so, you're soundcard (or lack therof) doesn't matter, as USB devices have their own independent drivers.

As for digital (SPDIF), unless you have a reciever to decode a dolby signal, the only signal you can transmit is 2.0 (which is a waste on 5.1 headphones).

Best options for soundcards near that price range would be HT Omega Striker (~$50) and ASUS Xonar DX (~70)
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October 7, 2009 7:33:52 PM

My headset is USB, yes.

So what you're saying is that if it's USB that the driver will take care of sending the 7.1 signal from my computer to my headset? (Sorry for the incorrect terminology, as I've said, I'm basically audio-technology illiterate.)

And as a somewhat tangential question: my 5.1 SPEAKERS (headset is 7.1, speakers are 5.1, I may not have been clear about that earlier) are neither USB nor SPDIF. They use the little color-coded 3.5 mm jacks. So for those, would it be beneficial to get a sound card anyhow? Seeing as I currently have to enable the "Matrix" option on those to get them to function as surround sound (which doesn't seem to work the best right now).

Also, seeing that I do like to game semi-competitively, would you think that a sound card would be beneficial for that as well? Or do you think that onboard with the 7.1 headset should be sufficient?

Sorry for all of the questions, I'm just trying to figure out the extent of my lack of knowledge. Thank you for the helpful replies already, though!
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October 7, 2009 9:44:51 PM

Gunnar said:
So what you're saying is that if it's USB that the driver will take care of sending the 7.1 signal from my computer to my headset? (Sorry for the incorrect terminology, as I've said, I'm basically audio-technology illiterate.)

Basically, yes.
The USB powered headphones will do all their own audio processing, the system sound card never gets involved.
Gunnar said:
And as a somewhat tangential question: my 5.1 SPEAKERS (headset is 7.1, speakers are 5.1, I may not have been clear about that earlier) are neither USB nor SPDIF. They use the little color-coded 3.5 mm jacks. So for those, would it be beneficial to get a sound card anyhow? Seeing as I currently have to enable the "Matrix" option on those to get them to function as surround sound (which doesn't seem to work the best right now).

Also, seeing that I do like to game semi-competitively, would you think that a sound card would be beneficial for that as well? Or do you think that onboard with the 7.1 headset should be sufficient?

If you care about sound quality, you will see MASSIVE improvements with a discrete sound card.
Although I can not really recommend any sound cards in the $50 range (although they most defiantly would sound better than onboard sound....) I would highly recommend either the ASUS Xonar DX (PCIe) or Xonar D1 (PCI), either for just under $90.
They offer excellent sound quality and are priced to win.

From the Creative side you could get a X-Fi Xtreme Gamer (PCI, $92) or X-Fi Titanium (PCIe, $100) but I would recommend against them.
Having myself upgraded from a Creative X-Fi based card to the Xonar DX, I can tell you the Xonar sounds much cleaner, crisper and does not have any of Creative's driver issues (and Creative has quite a few of these...).
With the ASUS card you are also not supporting a company that disables features through their drivers to force customers to upgrade (Google Daniel K for more info).

With a properly set up 5.1 system you should defiantly not have to enable Logitech's matrix sound option.
Perhaps you should check in the Windows sound panel to be sure you have 5.1 audio channels selected.
Be aware that not all sources will output to all channels.

If you are competing using your USB headphones, the sound card will have no impact on your gaming.
Do not upgrade to improve your gaming performance/experience.
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October 8, 2009 2:40:02 AM

Thank you everybody, I greatly appreciate the help! I think I'll hold off on the sound card then if my competition headset is not affected by it's presence, or lack thereof. And thank you also for all of the basic audio information, I really appreciate your hanging in there through my ignorance.
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October 8, 2009 7:47:31 AM

No problems, we where all clueless once also :D 
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October 8, 2009 11:48:22 AM

^^ Like my being a reciever to try to decode DD, then transfer the decoded signal over SPDIF :D 

Trust me, we all were clueless at one point or another.
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October 10, 2009 6:37:35 PM

My apologies for restarting something in this thread, but I didn't really want to clutter up the forums by starting an entirely new thread.

So I got and installed my headset today, and it functions marvelously on its own, so thank you guys for helping me avoid a further expenditure. However, now that I do have my headset, I have another audio question, which relates more to computer settings and software than hardware.

I had heard from an old gaming buddy that one can, with a USB headset, route certain sounds to the headset (say, ventrilo and game noises) and then route other sounds to one's speakers (iTunes music for instance). I suppose that my first question would be: is this actually possible? And as a follow-up: if so, how would I go about accomplishing that?

Currently my headset is plugged in to a USB port, is set as my default sound device. My 5.1 surround sound speakers are plugged into the 3.5mm jacks, and my OS is Windows Vista Ultimate. If you need any further information, please just let me know and I'll attempt to accommodate. Thank you again for you help!
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October 12, 2009 12:04:25 AM

Ah, thanks a bunch! You've been most helpful Out, I really appreciate it!
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October 12, 2009 8:56:30 AM

No problem.
If you run into any other issues, drop another post.
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