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Auzentech X-Fi Prelude vs ASUS Xonar Essence STX vs HT OMEGA Claro +

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Which sound card?

Total: 65 votes (51 blank votes)

  • Auzentech X-Fi Prelude
  • 19 %
  • ASUS Xonar Essence STX
  • 32 %
  • HT OMEGA Claro Plus
  • 38 %
  • Other
  • 13 %
February 7, 2010 11:15:28 PM

Before I post this, I apologize to the members of Tom's Hardware, I had posted a similar question on this forum earlier but it was too general, so I didn't get any answers at all. I do not have any idea how to close a question or how to edit a question as I am still pretty new to this forum, so I have no choice but to start a new thread. Once again, sorry!

My situation is as follows:

I am trying to decide on a sound card to buy, and I require assistance on which one to pick. I've seen many threads and read many reviews on each of these sound cards, however, I am still indecisive.

In playing music, it seems that the ASUS Xonar Essence STX is the best card. However, I have heard that the sound crackles on boot up of Windows 7, and the same crackle occurs when swapping between outputs. Also, the sound crackles on Battlefield 2, System Shock 2, and Bioshock, and perhaps other games.

On the other hand, the Auzentech X-Fi Prelude seems to be the absolute BEST card for gaming, but it falls short of the ASUS Xonar Essence STX in musical quality.

I am hoping that perhaps, the HT OMEGA Claro Plus is able to find a good balance between the perks of the Xonar Essence STX and the X-Fi Prelude.

I do a fair amount of gaming, playing music, movie watching, and audio creation. I am using a set of Klipsch Promedia 2.1 speakers on Windows 7 64-bit, and I play music through Foobar with the Noise Sharpening DSP and WASAPI output, and I compose music using Cakewalk SONAR.

Would anyone be able to assist me in choosing a sound card? I’m looking for the best sound card in the <$200 range. Is there anyone who has owned all three sound cards and is able to compare them for me? Or is there a fourth option that I've overlooked?

Thanks in advance to all who reply!
February 8, 2010 7:37:50 AM

First off, all three are excellent cards.
Which ever you end up getting, you will have a top notch sound solution.

Of the three you list, the Essence is the absolute best for stereo.
It has the best DAC and supporting circuitry of the three in order to output the cleanest stereo sound of any consumer sound card.
Just be sure to use the line out when connecting to your speakers.
The 6.3mm TRS output is connected to an amplifier in order to drive headphones.
Connecting speakers there has the potential to cause speaker damage and, due to the amplification, lowers the measured SNR from 124dB (line out) to 117dB (this is because you are amplifying the noise along with the rest of the signal....).

The 'crackle' you are hearing about is actually relays on the sound card itself switching on/off.
There shouldn't be any crackle coming through the speakers, just a clicking from the card it self.
This is perfectly normal for all Xonar cards and is done to stop that 'thump' noise when powering on or changing some other settings.
It also serves to isolate the card from the line in, mic or other possible signal leaks when they are not being used.

That being said, there are definite advantages to the other two cards.
While the Essence is dedicated to stereo output, both the Prelude and Claro + have 7.1 analogue outputs.
If you ever wished to connect a set of 5.1 computer speakers, the Prelude or Claro + would be the better option.
In exchange, neither of these cards have a dedicated headphone amplifier and slightly reduced sound quality.
The Essence is limited to DDL (Dolby Digital Live) Encoding through TOSLINK for it's multi-channel output.

The reason the Prelude is trumped up as 'the ultimate gaming card' is because it uses a Creative X-Fi chip.
The Essence and Claro + in comparison use C-Media CMI8788 'Oxygen HD' chips.
What this means in practical terms is the Prelude can process through EAX 5 in hardware.
The CMI8788 is limited to EAX 2 in hardware.
The Essence, however, is also able to emulate EAX 5.

Take the EAX features with a grain of salt.
EAX is dead (Vista/Win 7's new audio stack as assured this) and not used in any newer games.
If you are using Vista or Win 7 and playing older EAX enabled games, the Essence is actually quite a bit easier to use.
This is due to the Prelude requiring the use of Creative's PITA ALchemy wrapper to enable EAX in games where the Xonar drivers enable it with the click of a single button.
I personally am using an Essence STX for gaming and have had no issues at all.

For pure stereo, I would say go with the Essence.
If you would like the option for full 7.1 analogue output in the future, it is more of a toss up between the Prelude, Claro + and Xonar D2(X).
February 9, 2010 2:55:33 AM

So outlw6669, if I were to use a 7.1 headset on the ASUS Xonar Essence STX, it would still sound better than the other two cards?
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February 9, 2010 10:55:48 AM

Kinglin999 said:
So outlw6669, if I were to use a 7.1 headset on the ASUS Xonar Essence STX, it would still sound better than the other two cards?


Warning: USB headsets ignore the soundcard [USB has its own audio stack], and the only two 7.1 headsets I know of are both USB [Razer Megolodon and Logitech G35].

I co-sign everything outlaw said though; he hit most every point there is to make.
February 9, 2010 10:57:31 AM

You would not be able to use a 7.1 headset with the Essence.
Either the headset will require four analogue connections (same as a 7.1 surround setup) or it will be a USB device and bypass the sound card completely.

I would recommend avoiding a 'surround gaming headset'.
All that I have seen reviewed are said to be lacking in sound quality, surround sound accuracy or both and are more gimmicky than anything.

Getting a set of Quality Headphones and using the Dolby Headphone when gaming or watching surround sound movies would be your best option.
In my experience Dolby Headphone on an Essence with quality cans rivals a dedicated 5.1 surround setup.

Just be sure to stick with 6 channel sound and the medium size room.
Using 8 channels and the 'Xear 3D Virtual Speaker Shifter' leaves the virtual sound stage somewhat lacking (it all kinda blends together).
5.1 and Dolby is friggen awesome though!

And thanks for the vote of confidence gamerk ;) 
February 11, 2010 12:48:34 AM

Thank you very much, gamerk316 and outlw6669! ^.^

Okay, so forget the 7.1 thing. But are there any good sounding non-USB HEADSETS (that is, headphones with a microphone built on) that can use the Dobly Headphone settings? I would like to use it primarily as a recording studio headset, but it would be perfect if it can also be used for gaming.

Oh, also, can I have a confirmation from anyone who owns the card that the ASUS Xonar Essence STX doesn't have problems playing ANY games, including Battlefield 2, System Shock 2, and Bioshock?

Thanks, once again!
February 11, 2010 11:17:30 AM

Nope, STX doesn't have any significant issues I know of; worst case, you need to turn off GSDX (The Directsound wrapper) off for some older games for compatability, but other then that, I haven't seen anything which doesn't work.

Any non-USB headset is usable with dolby headphone; the work is done on the sound card. All Dolby Headphone does is take a 5.1 field, and maps the sound onto a 2.1 space. Its virtualized, but it does a very good job. I disagree on 5.1 headsets though, as some of them are actually pretty decent (Tritton is very good in this regard, Astro has the best gaming headsets on the planet, etc). Just avoid USB implementations.
March 2, 2010 8:25:48 AM

gamerk316 said:
Any non-USB headset is usable with dolby headphone; the work is done on the sound card. All Dolby Headphone does is take a 5.1 field, and maps the sound onto a 2.1 space. Its virtualized, but it does a very good job. I disagree on 5.1 headsets though, as some of them are actually pretty decent (Tritton is very good in this regard, Astro has the best gaming headsets on the planet, etc). Just avoid USB implementations.


what about Roccat Kave?
!