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Help on choosing a sound card for gaming and music

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February 7, 2011 8:51:43 PM

Hello,

My old sound card no longer works, and I've been using onboard sound in the meantime, but I think I'm ready to shell out for a new sound card. I primarily use my computer for games, but I also listen to music, so it would be nice to get a card that's good for both of those. I'm running Windows 7 64-bit, and I currently use a Razer Mako 2.1 speaker set or headphones. So I don't have surround speakers, but I suppose it would be good to be able to use some in the future if I decide I want them.

So far, I'm considering a few cards:

1) Creative X-fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional.

This generally gets good reviews, and I can find one for about $100 which is a nice price. But I've heard that the drivers can be very buggy, especially for Win 7 64-bit, which is what I'm running. I've also heard they don't work well for 2.1 speaker systems, which would be a big problem for me. Anyone know if that's true?

2) HT Omega Claro

This also get good reviews, although it costs more than the Creative card. The only real concern I have with this card is whether it's as good for games as the Creative card. I know that Creative has a lot of proprietary stuff like EAX that might only work with one of their cards. Can anyone tell me how well this does for gaming?

3) HT Omega Claro Plus+

Also gets great reviews. Slightly more expensive than the Claro. Apparently the main difference is a higher quality op-amp. Anyone know how much difference this makes? Is it worth the (small) extra cost?

4) HT Omega eClaro

I don't know much about this one, except that it's PCI-E instead of PCI. Is there really an advantage to a PCI-E sound card? I feel like a standard PCI card would fit better on my motherboard, and wouldn't get too close to my graphics card, but if there's a reason to get this over the others, I'd like to know what it is.

5) Asus Xonar

I don't know much about this line of cards either. I've heard they sound good, but I've also heard that Asus hasn't been so great with driver support. Anyone want to chime in on these? If so, which model do you recommend?

Thanks in advance for any advice!


My PC specs in case anyone needs them:

Mobo: ASUS P7P55D-E Pro
Processor: Intel Core i5 760
PSU: XFX 750 Watt
Memory: 2x 2gb GSkill ECO
Graphics: XFX HD5870 1gb
February 8, 2011 12:36:45 AM

I have no problem with any of the listed cards except the Creative.
Run as far as you can from Creative cards.
The amount of i need help post on this forum pertaining to their products is like 10-1 versus the competition.
I abandoned Creative sound cards 2 generations ago because of their crappy drivers.
Currently i run Auzentech sound cards, some have Creative elements in them like X-FI the Forte and Bravura and others use C-media.
I have a Forte which uses the top of the line Creative chip but has upgraded electronics and stable drivers.
I won't comment on the cards you've listed because i''ve never used one.
What i do know is that an Auzentech Forte is better then any card made by Creative so much so Creative more or less copied Auzentech's approach for their new Titanium X-FI HD.
I also have an Auzentech X-Plosion(discontinued 2011) picked it up on sale for roughly $45 and it blows away the Audigy 2-ZS it replaced.
Auzentech's affordable card models are the Bravura(X-FI),Forte(X-FI),Meridian 2G(C-Media)
http://www.auzentech.com/site/products/cards.php
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February 8, 2011 12:50:14 AM

Thanks Davcon, I will take a look at Auzentech's cards as well. Also good to know that the Creative is a skip... it seemed like my research was pointing that way.

I'm still interested to see opinions from those who have used the HT Omega and Asus Xonar cards. I'd especially like some clarification on the differences between the HT Omega cards I mentioned... I'd like to be able to settle on a single card from HT Omega that I can compare against the other brands.
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February 8, 2011 2:51:39 AM

Waltorious said:
Thanks Davcon, I will take a look at Auzentech's cards as well. Also good to know that the Creative is a skip... it seemed like my research was pointing that way.

I'm still interested to see opinions from those who have used the HT Omega and Asus Xonar cards. I'd especially like some clarification on the differences between the HT Omega cards I mentioned... I'd like to be able to settle on a single card from HT Omega that I can compare against the other brands.

As far as gaming goes most publishers have stopped using EAX years ago.
Very few games are released with EAX5.0 these days.
http://www.creative.com/soundblaster/partners/Gaming.as...
Honestly it's no longer required most games use OpenAL,Direct 3D,and others like Miles Sound System.
Asus,HT omega,and Auzentech(non X-FI models) use EAX emulation and it's fine.
I have an EAX 5.0 card and only one game i own uses it.
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Best solution

February 8, 2011 11:23:21 AM

My recommendations:

Low End:
ASUS Xonar DG

Budget:
ASUS Xonar DS

Mid-ranger:
ASUS Xonar D1/DX
HT Omega Striker

High End:
Auzentech Prelude
ASUS Xonar D2/D2X

Highest End:
ASUS Essence ST/STX
Auzentech Forte
HT Omega Claro/Halo/XT/++

The HT Omega Striker compares a lot to the ASUS Xonar D1/DX model. The Striker has the advantage of DTS encoding over the optical output [the D1/DX is limited to Dolby], but looses software EAX 5.0 emulation [which all ASUS cards have now]. The Striker is the card I'm currently recommending to most users as a starting point.
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February 9, 2011 12:37:50 AM

gamerk316 said:
My recommendations:

Low End:
ASUS Xonar DG

Budget:
ASUS Xonar DS

Mid-ranger:
ASUS Xonar D1/DX
HT Omega Striker

High End:
Auzentech Prelude
ASUS Xonar D2/D2X

Highest End:
ASUS Essence ST/STX
Auzentech Forte
HT Omega Claro/Halo/XT/++

The HT Omega Striker compares a lot to the ASUS Xonar D1/DX model. The Striker has the advantage of DTS encoding over the optical output [the D1/DX is limited to Dolby], but looses software EAX 5.0 emulation [which all ASUS cards have now]. The Striker is the card I'm currently recommending to most users as a starting point.



Thanks for the recommendations. I saw the Striker but was gravitating toward the more expensive HT Omega cards because they have the CMI8788 chipset. That's the same chipset that I had on my Razer Barracuda card before it stopped working (due to driver issues I think, since Razer basically doesn't support it anymore... but I got a good deal on it so it's not too much of a tragedy). I didn't want a step down from the sound chip on that card with my new card. Then again, I don't know how much of a difference there is between the CMI8770 on the Striker and the CMI8788 on the Claro cards.

I notice that the entire Claro line is in your "Highest End" section. Do you know much about the differences between them? If I were to get a Claro it would probably be the standard Claro or the Claro Plus, as I don't have high-impedance headphones that seem to be the main selling point of the Halo/XT models. But I'm not really sure how much better the Plus is than the standard Claro, although it's only $15 more.

So I guess I'm leaning towards the higher-end cards on your list, but I'll give the Striker another look. I also still need to check on the Auzentech cards, as I haven't had a chance to do that yet.
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February 9, 2011 7:59:02 AM

The "AV200" on the Xonar D2/D2X is popularly rumored to just a re-badged CMI8788 if that makes any difference to you.
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February 9, 2011 11:08:22 AM

The Razer Barracuda is basically the same card as the ASUS Xonar D2 and higher end HT Omega models [Claro/Halo/XT]. The only difference is Razer was too lazy to bother with supporting the thing...[I had one, I know your pain].

I moved the entire Claro line to the "high end" section mainly due to the powered headphone amp, which is the defining feature of that group. Aside from that, the line has a VERY good analog output quality. [I do admit, I'm not as familliar with individual HT Omega cards after the Striker, so if theres any appricable difference between the Claro Halo/XT/++, I'd love to hear about it]

The Auzentech Forte is also VERY easy to recommend. Granted, you have the X-fi chipset and thus have to rely a bit on Creative, but I don't typically hear horrer stories in regards to drivers...
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February 10, 2011 12:52:39 AM

gamerk316 said:


I moved the entire Claro line to the "high end" section mainly due to the powered headphone amp, which is the defining feature of that group. Aside from that, the line has a VERY good analog output quality. [I do admit, I'm not as familliar with individual HT Omega cards after the Striker, so if theres any appricable difference between the Claro Halo/XT/++, I'd love to hear about it]





Actually, not all of the Claro cards have that headphone amp; only the Halo and Halo XT do. There's a comparison chart of the Claro models here:

http://www.htomega.com/faq18.html

As far as I can tell, the main difference between the standard Claro and the Claro Plus is that the Plus has a nicer opamp, and costs about $15 more. The halo adds another $25 in price but provides the headphone amp. The XT is a Halo with an additional daughter card offering 7.1 RCA outputs, and it's an extra $50 over the Halo.

Apparently I DO have a pair of high-impedance headphones... an old pair of AKG 240M headphones that I got a long time ago, but I don't usually use them with my computer. When I have tried them in the past, I could tell that they were not getting enough power as the volume was really low, but I usually used speakers with my computer. Now I may be using headphones more often but I'm planning to get a headset with a microphone and the ones I'm looking at are much lower impedance (32 ohms instead of 600).

gamerk316 said:

The Auzentech Forte is also VERY easy to recommend. Granted, you have the X-fi chipset and thus have to rely a bit on Creative, but I don't typically hear horrer stories in regards to drivers...


Does a card using X-fi give any advantage in gaming over one with the CMI8788? I've been seeing reviews suggesting that Creative's cards can outperform in gaming because they can use EAX versions 3-5, but I don't want to get a Creative card due to poor driver support. Would an Auzentech with the X-fi chip be able to natively support these later EAX versions? Other than the proprietary stuff for games, it seems like the CMI8788 cards sound better than X-fi cards.

By the way, it seems like the ASUS Xonar cards are no longer stocked by Newegg or Amazon... the only one I can find is the Essence. At $200, and featuring it's own powered headphone amp, it seems to be a direct competitor to the Claro Halo. I'm not sure I want to splash out for a card with such a headphone amp as I probably won't use it much, but I'll think about that some more.

My very brief look at Auzentech so far reveals that they're not usually stocked by stores either but it appears that Auzentech sells the cards themselves. I still need to check on how they compare to the other brands though.



EDIT:

Did a little more research, and I've decided that I don't need the headphone amps, so right now it looks like things are between the Claro/Claro Plus and the new Auzentech X-Meridian 2G (the second-generation X-Meridian card). I looked into EAX versions 3-5, and it seems like that's not enough of a selling point to pick an X-fi card these days, especially in Windows 7.

So, the Claro and the X-meridian G2 are both CMI 8788, but the X-meridian G2 apparently allows swappable opamps. I don't really know anything about opamps, and I feel like upgrading them myself might be a little too hardcore... I'd rather just get a card that will sound great out of the box.

The Claro and X-meridian 2G are both $160, and the Claro Plus is $175, coming with a better opamp. Thing is, I can't find any reviews of the X-meridian 2G, just the first X-meridian card. Anyone used it? How is it? Is the stock opamp good enough?

Lastly, anyone with experience with Auzentech drivers and HT Omega drivers in general? Good driver support is very important to me, since my Razer Barracuda was ruined due to crappy driver support.

Sorry for the giant posts, and thanks in advance for everyone's advice!
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February 10, 2011 10:48:13 AM

^^ Yay for more info on the Claro line; I guess the Claro and Claro plus more compete against the Prelude/D2 then, where the Halo/XT compete against the Essence and Forte.

I haven't read much on the Meridian G2, so I really can't comment on it at this juncture.
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February 16, 2011 8:38:01 PM

After doing some more research, I ended up going with the HT Omega Claro Plus. I picked HT Omega because their cards consistently get high user reviews, and the company is especially noted for great drivers and support, which is very important to me.

I ended up sending an email to the company asking for advice on which Claro card to pick, and they recommended the Plus. They described the Halo as being completely redesigned with high-impedance headphones and 5.1 RCA output in mind, whereas the Plus is more all-around and comes with a nice op-amp.

Thanks to everyone for their advice! It was very helpful.
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February 16, 2011 9:37:13 PM

Best answer selected by Waltorious.
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