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What sound card to pick?

Last response: in Components
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January 13, 2010 12:17:41 PM

Hi all!

I was wondering whether you guys could help me out with the choice of a new sound card. I have been working with an old onboard Realtek ALC888 for a while now, and while it does produce sound the quality is far from great. That's why I'm looking for an upgrade.

I am a gamer, though I use my computer to listen to music a lot too. I also watch movies every once in a while, but not that often.

My headphones are a pair of Creative Aurvana X-Fi ones, fed through my JVC amplifier. I like the sound the Crystallizer gives me on most songs, though I do not mind barely processed sound either.

My speaker setup is powered by a Denon PMA-520a (4x70w, 8 ohm, connected over RCA) with a JVC A-X3 (2x75w I think, 4ohm) daisy-chained to it through the Denon's headphone jack, granting me a total of 6 speakers and 2 dedicated tweeters all pumping out a stereo signal. The Denon drives 4 Philips 22AH489 speakers, whereas the JVC drives 2 Philips 22AH482 speakers and 2 Hepta Tweety tweeters over the same output.

I will be needing a PCIe or USB sound card, with a preference for USB. I will be upgrading my entire computer soon, so an USB sound card would be the safest way to go considering I am going to be using 3 dual-slot video cards (and perhaps an added single-slot card) together.

I mostly use my speakers on my computer, though my headphones do see some good use at the darker hours of the day, as well as when I just feel like listening to them. Good speaker sound quality is the most important to me though.

I am from the Netherlands, so I might not be able to get every product that's mentioned. Auzentech, Creative and Asus cards are surely available though. My budget is about 150 euros max (about $220), though if need be I'll pay more. I'd rather pay much less though, if it gives me good quality as well.

And finally, I do not want a Creative product. I have an old X-Fi XtremeMusic laying around here, which doesn't even work on my current motherboard, though I never liked the quality much anyways back when it was in use. I also got the infamous screech of death quite a few times, and the drivers never wanted to work properly. Creative's customer "support" was just as bad as the card. No offense intended to the people out there who are perfectly happy with their Creative cards, but considering my past experiences I'm not going to risk buying from them again myself.

I've heard Auzentech actually makes good X-Fi based products, and EAX5 would be nice, but I can't shake off the thoughts I'd just be getting another bad card with it. On the other hand Asus' Xonar series appeals to me for the supposed great audio quality, and they also have an USB-based product with good reviews (U1), which I have been interested in. However the lack of proper EAX support might not be great for when I play games, and the U1's specs look a bit on the low side...

So yeah... Sorry for the long post, I just really hope to finally get a proper answer to this question. What should I go with?

Thanks in advance!

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January 13, 2010 4:22:08 PM

"I will be needing a PCIe or USB sound card, with a preference for USB. I will be upgrading my entire computer soon, so an USB sound card would be the safest way to go considering I am going to be using 3 dual-slot video cards (and perhaps an added single-slot card) together."

A PCI card sadly won't work, as I do not have the space to use it. As for the USB solution, I just checked to see whether it's available in the Netherlands, but I can't find it anywhere.


En ja, ik spreek ook Nederlands. :p 
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January 13, 2010 4:49:04 PM

How's the quality of this card? And how are the drivers? Any experiences with it?
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January 13, 2010 4:55:29 PM

I have not actually heard this particular card, but I have head their cards before. They sound great, I can't imagine them making a bad product.

As for drivers, I can't comment, but in research this card for myself, I have read over and over that their owners were very impressed and had a good experience.

I'm with you on audio card skepticism after being a creative customer previously. Read up on the Xonar that was suggested above, it is also a good choice (and is pcie)
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January 13, 2010 8:08:54 PM

Alright, so, for anybody who knows... How's the quality of the Auzentech X-Fi Forte? And how are the drivers? Does it work well under Windows 7 Ultimate x64? And would it fit the needs I outlined in the first post? I have read odd things about it, about how it is a mix of odd design choices which make the final sound quality less, so...

From how I see it now, the Xonar D2X, Xonar Essence STX and Auzentech X-Fi Forte all look like good cards. The price on the D2X and the Forte seems right, too, with the Forte being the cheapest one while seemingly offering decent sound and the best game support. Looks like a good offer to me, even though I still have those X-Fi "traumas"...

Oh, and for a bit of a harder question: How do these 3 cards sound to you? As in, how much bass, mids, highs and distortion is heard? I personally like a nice pounding bass, as well as proper mids and highs - I don't like it when the highs are too shrill or when they even approach that. What card would fit my style the most?

I know I'm asking a lot, but I really do want to get this over with properly - I want to pick the card that'll give me the best overall experience, without having to doubt whether I made the right choice afterwards.

Once again, thanks in advance.
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