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Mid-High End Sound Card

Last response: in Components
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September 8, 2011 11:48:45 AM

G'day guys. I'm in the market for a sound card, and I wouldn't mind some help narrowing down my choices further. Basically, I have a set budget of about $200 Australian. Within this, I have selected the following three cards that are available from my favoured parts supplier:

Asus Xonar Essence STX - $189

Asus Xonar DX - $95

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium - $205

The primary use of the card will be music, gaming and movies. I am a heavy gamer, but also a musician who expects reasonably high quality audio. I'm running Logitech Z623 2.1 speakers, though I'm also considering adding a pair of Swan D1080MKII monitors to the mix to make up for what I consider to be a shortfall of the Logitech's; they're phenomenal for gaming and movies, but they could be better for music and I believe a nice set of standalone speakers like the D1080MKII's will work reasonably well.

Additionally, I have a pair of Sennheiser PC 350's en route.

My basic rig consists of an i5-2500K/MSI P67A-GD65/8GB DDR3 1600MHz CL8/Gigabyte HD5850/Crucial M4 128GB SSD/3x 1TB HDD.

I'm not super concerned about cost, but I do wonder just how much I'd be getting for my extra hundred bucks over the DX if I was to opt for one of the other two. So far my research suggests that the STX is excellent for music and reasonable for movies, but basically does not naturally support gaming (obviously, it's not designed for that as such) but does have the advantage of a headphone amp. The X-Fi Titanium HD is much the opposite, designed for gaming and reasonable at movies and music. Hard to pick a winner with these two.

I also want to chuck the Auzentech X-Fi Bravura 7.1 into the ring, just based upon it being slightly cheaper than the Asus STX or Creative Sound Titanium at $149. I'll be honest, I'm almost ready to back this thing with my money due to a convenient assortment of inputs/outputs, having a headphone amplifier at a more attractive price than the STX, and generally, being consistently good across my three main areas of use rather than just excelling in one while still maintaining high quality audio with good components.

What are your thoughts, guys? I'll accept personal testament, rumor and hearsay if they can help distinguish between what is a very tight competition. It's hard to make a choice because of a lack of good reviews providing direct comparisons to the main choices and a lot of them saying the same thing, so some real world commentary would be greatly appreciated.
September 8, 2011 12:03:45 PM

These days, soundcards can be grouped into two rougth categories:

1: Focuses on multichannel-analog output [ASUS Xonar DX, HT Omega Striker, Auzentech Meridian 2G, etc]

2: Focusus on headphone output [usually with a powered amp] and high quality stereo speakers [ASUS Xonar STX, Creative Titanium HD, HT Omega Claro XT, etc]

Sounds like you are leaning toward the second category; PC350's DEFINATLY need a powered amp to really be driven properly, so that basically rules out the DX as a viable option.

The main contenders are:
1: ASUS Xonar ST/STX
2: ASUS Xonar Xense
3: HT Omega Claro+
4: Creative Titanium HD
5: Auzentech Bravura
and as a really cheap option
6: ASUS Xonar DG

If you hadn't already purchased the PC350's, the best cost effective option would have been the Xense + PC350 package, which goes for about $300. The card itself costs about $179. And the Xense is more optimized for gaming then the DX is, while being a bit cheaper then the ST/STX.
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September 8, 2011 3:11:33 PM

Unfortunately I'd ordered the PC350's a few days before I was fully convinced a sound card was necessary. Nonetheless, I've been reading a lot than the Auzentech Forte is superior to the Bravura but it doesn't appeal with it's selection of input/output options and I keep seeing suggestions that it has noise/shielding issues.

I can get a Creative Titanium HD from Amazon.com for $150.62AUS, which is a good price and it's very tempting. Does it have a headphone output though? It seems it would make it possible to have my Sennheiser's in the 3.5mm slots, my Z623's connected by either 3.5mm > RCA and then a pair of Swan D1080MKII's in the last pair of RCA slots. That'd be optimum. I wonder if we have a winner. What do you guys think? Any rumor about issues with the Titanium HD?
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September 8, 2011 3:55:55 PM

The PC350's REALLY need a powered amp to be driven properly. You might be able to get away with it, but I'd imagine their maximum volume will be greatly decreased running off of normal 3.5mm outputs.

Best option may be the Xense, simply for both the headphone amp and the seperate 3.5mm outputs. You can also do the Titanium HD or Essence ST/STX and use the headphone amp + RCA outputs.

As far as drivers for the Titanium HD goes, I haven't heard as many horrer stories as I have heard with other Creative drivers. Still hesitent to recommend though.
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September 9, 2011 12:35:42 AM

You seem to have a fair idea mate, what are you running? What would you recommend from personal experience and why?

The Xense is not really a possibility, because I can't get it for under $330 it seems and even then it's as a part of the package. It seems that the Titanium HD does not have a headphone amp, but it's impossible to get a clear answer.

EDIT:

Alright, I had a good look at the STX again and I'm pretty doubtful it'll leave me with any expansion options once I occupy the headphone/mic in with my PC350 and the RCA slots with my Z623's. No space for potential D1080MkII's in the future. That said, as far as providing top end audio and a headphone amp for the PC350's it's a clear winner. Problem is, I'll really only use them for gaming, which probably only occupies 30% of the computer's use (with music and movies as the rest).

Once I factor in shipping the Auzentech Bravura (which is really running second, just by having favourable input/output options and a headphone amp) is more expensive than the Titanium HD but it would get here much faster as it's coming from my city and not the US. The Titanium HD being cheaper than it, however, is another selling point for the Titanium.
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September 9, 2011 12:53:03 PM

I'm actually running Xense + PC350 myself, and loving it.

Also, no idea why the Xense without the PC350 models have vanished; know they were around last week...alone, the card costs about $179 or so...

My only main argument against the Titanium HD is based on Creatives historically bad driver support, so I am very hesitent to recommend it, even though only the Essence ST/STX are better cards.

The Baruva is a good card itself, just remember that its analog outputs are a bit less quality then most of the other cards on the market.
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September 11, 2011 8:00:46 AM

Okay, I'm gunna get a ripper of a payday next week so I'm gunna say that everything except the Xense (just because of cost) is on the table for consideration, including the HT Omega Claro+ as the manufacturer will sell me one directly for about $185 shipped.

gamerk316, you've been a tremendous help and I hope you can continue to be, because I'm sitting here with no idea how to distinguish between such a tight pack. What were your considerations when buying a sound card, and what factors lead you to the Xense?

I'm looking into the Claro+, the Bravura puts me off slightly just because of the difference in component quality and the fact that postage pushes it to the price of the Titanium HD and the Claro+.
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