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Best PCI-e sound card for gaming/movies in 5.1

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April 26, 2011 5:30:05 AM

Hi guys, I am trying to get the best possible PCI-e based sound card. My main focus will be on gaming and watching movies. I currently have a 5.1 setup using onboard audio and can only output 2 channels :D 

I've been doing a lot of research on different cards and I've honestly gotten extremely confused. There's the X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty, X-Fi Titanium HD, ASUS Xonar, and many other cards I've looked into, but I don't really understand what would be best for my particular application. Price isn't really a concern, I just want to get what is best suited for my setup and what I aim to do with it. The main thing is I need to input optical and it has to be pci-e (because my video card covers both my pci slots, hah)

Reading through just those briefly mentioned cards I've seen things from creative blows, some only use virtual/software driven surround (?) some are meant for music vs more for games, ect ect ect...

Looking to see if someone can just help me find what is best for my goals. Thanks guys!

More about : pci sound card gaming movies

a b 4 Gaming
April 26, 2011 5:43:48 AM

The only good Creative card is the new HD imo.
Other then that i would look at Asus and Auzentech.
I use an Auzentech Forte.
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a b 4 Gaming
April 26, 2011 12:13:43 PM

Auzentech, ASUS, and HT Omega are the big three brands right now; its REALLY hard to recommend Creative due to various driver issues and the other companies using better cards [though the Titanium HD looks to be solid, I'm still hesitent to recommend it].

First and formost, what exactly is your audio setup? Headphones are speakers? Analog or Digital? Etc.

Certain brands and certain cards are more optimised for different tasks; the X-fi chipset [Auzentech and Creative] is more specifically tuned toward gaming, where the C-Media chipsets [ASUS, HT Omega, and to a lesser extent, Auzentech] are more geared toward movies/music. Some are geared toward multichannel analog output, some are geared more for headphone usage.

Post your audio setup, and we'll point you in the right direction.

[And yes, at some point, I WILL get my audio FAQ out to handle these types of questions...]
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April 26, 2011 12:24:30 PM

My audio setup is modest, it is a Logitech Z-5500 5.1 setup (newwegg link for details: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... )

It has a digital spdif connection from the control center to the pc (or whatever sound card I get).

I can use headphones through the control center of the speaker set, but that will only be late at night and such.

Like I said before, I am mostly a PC gamer and movie watcher, so I'm just trying to find what would be best suited for that purpose. Thanks again!
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April 26, 2011 12:39:31 PM

You can't go wrong with any one of the Asus Xonar cards. The Xonar DG is probably the cheapest - it supports 5.1 channel audio over it's onboard audio engine, taking the stress off your motherboard as well. It has an optical output, so it will work WONDERS with your Z5500 setup.

If you are looking for something with a bit more "oomph" and future-proofness, I'd recommend the more potent little card, the Asus Xonar D2/PM. This card is epic. Made for home theatre, it will truly show you what the Z5500's are capable of. It comes with an audio test CD included, so you are sure to discover just how incredible the HD audio engine on the card really is. It comes with an optical cable included, so it's less of a hassle to connect the Z5500 the way it's meant to be. It sports a funky 192KHz/24-Bit audio sampling capability, meaning you won't miss a single frequency, EVER. Epic choice, but a bit on the expensive side. Definitely worth the cash for the Z5500's though, and you won't be disappointed.

Protip: If you don't already have one, try to install a basstrap or two in your movie-room. It will decrease the violence of the bass, and give you a much more immersive experience in the sound. With a good setup and well-placed basstraps, you won't be able to notice where the low frequencies comes from, and that is how you want it. :) 
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April 26, 2011 4:57:22 PM

I think the Asus Xonar D2/PM looks pretty good to me! But the card I use needs to be pci-e :cry: 

Is this basically the same card here?

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Also these are the cards that are somehow software driven emulation with them or something like that? If anyone could clarify I'd appreciate it.
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a b 4 Gaming
April 26, 2011 5:44:51 PM

Yes Asus cards are software based emulation which isn't a bad thing.
This card isn't and is much cheaper and usually on sale.
AuzenTech Forte Low Profile PCI-E 7.1 Sound Card PCI-E Dolby Digital Live Headphone AMP
http://www.ncixus.com/products/35596/AZTXFF7105551/Auze...
http://www.guru3d.com/article/auzentech-xfi-forte-71-so...
AuzenTech Bravura PCI-E 7.1 Sound
http://www.ncixus.com/products/49090/AZT-BRAVURA/AuzenT...
http://www.guru3d.com/article/auzen-bravura-review/
That being said Asus cards are really high-end with excellent components and the DX2 and up are excellent.
You really can't go wrong with an Asus or Auzentech.
Auzentech's are more moderately priced for the mainstream user.
Guru3D has a comprehensive list of soundcard reviews.
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a b 4 Gaming
April 26, 2011 6:19:43 PM

If you have a Z-5500, you should connect via analog, as most soundcards DAC is higher quality then the DAC on the Z-5500.

The ASUS D2X is basically a D2 with a PCI->PCI-E bridge, but its overpriced [good, but overpriced...] and also needs a floppy power connector. I recommend the Auzentech Meridian 2G over the ASUS D2/D2X in this case.

Essentially, hardware acceleration of the DIRECTSOUND API was removed as of windows Vista. As Directsound was the primary API used at that time, most games and extended effects [EAX for instance] lost support. The only way to restore those effects is to either support them at the driver level [like ASUS does] or wrap them to another API's calls that can be hardware accelerated [Creative's method].

It should be noted: Hardware accelerated sound still exists, just not through the Directsound API. It should also be noted, only the X-fi series of soundcards [Creative and some Auzentech models] were hardware accelerated to begin with.
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April 26, 2011 7:26:16 PM

Connect via Analog huh? I had no idea.

However I'd like to also be able to connect to my xbox 360/ps3/fios box as well.

Right now my setup is I have all those things connected to my HDTV via HDMI, then I have an optical cable connection from the tv to the speaker controller. I was just swapping the optical cable between the pc and the tv when switching between using my pc or playing an xbox game.

Perhaps I can have both set up. Analog to my PC but optical to my tv for my games.

Also I had no idea about the hardware vs software stuff, I really appreciate the explanation as I am obviously new to this

any other tips or recommendations?
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a b 4 Gaming
April 27, 2011 12:14:13 PM

Quote:
Right now my setup is I have all those things connected to my HDTV via HDMI, then I have an optical cable connection from the tv to the speaker controller. I was just swapping the optical cable between the pc and the tv when switching between using my pc or playing an xbox game.

Perhaps I can have both set up. Analog to my PC but optical to my tv for my games.


Ok, that makes some more sense then. And yes, you can have the PC setup to use the analog connections, and the TV using the optical connection, which would save you the wire swapping. [The Z5500's do allow both to be hooked up at once, I believe...]

Quote:
Also I had no idea about the hardware vs software stuff, I really appreciate the explanation as I am obviously new to this


These days, Software v Hardware is mostly irrelevent, as CPU's are fast enough to handle the processing without any impact on FPS. In some situations [like some audio analyser programs] there can be a measurable difference, but for everyday use, its a non-issue.

Based on your setup, I'm leaning toward the Auzentech Meridian 2G. If you want to go a little bit cheaper, the HT Omega Striker and ASUS Xonar D1/DX is another attractive option without much loss of quality.
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April 28, 2011 12:15:40 AM

I do have another question now though. If a card has optical in and optical out, can I connect my xbox directly to the sound card, then output to the control deck via analog? Would that be better quality that way? Just curious what would be the best use of my equipment.
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a b 4 Gaming
April 28, 2011 11:52:38 AM

Quote:
If a card has optical in and optical out, can I connect my xbox directly to the sound card, then output to the control deck via analog


Yes, with a caviat: Sound cards have the necessary hardware for ENCODING to Dolby/DTS, but lack the hardware to DECODE that same signal. So, you typically can't go directly from optical to analog for Dolby streams [due to lack of built-in decoding], so you'd be limited to just 2.0 PCM using that method. [Some cards may be an exception however. As a rule, assme soundcards can't decode Dolby/DTS signals]

That being said, it is possible for other programs external to the sound card [Windows Media Player, for instance] to take the incoming Dolby stream, decode it in software, then output via analog. This typically adds significant lag to the signal however...
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December 30, 2011 12:40:23 AM

Best answer selected by Kooper.
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