I just recently got my Logitech Z-680s, and I would like a new sound card for music and gaming. Since I'd like to use the Logitechs for PS2 gaming as well, I am thinking of buying a set of optical cables. Since I've racked up some Best Buy store credit, my options are sort of limited to the products that I will list.
I have a few questions about optical cable quality. Is there a difference between a $30 set of gold-plated Acoustic Research or say, $80 Lightspeed 200 Monster Cables? (also what kind of difference exists between lightspeed 100s to 200s?)
For PC Gaming, if I am to use the optical cable for PC use as well, is there any sound quality improvement for optical cables versus standard analogs playing say, 192kbps+ mp3s? (assume on an Audigy 2 Platinum)
Also, I am kind of annoyed that the audigy 2 platinum has the optical in/outs jutting out of the front of the comp in an expansion bay, this makes the optical cable in plain view and kind of obtrusive. I wonder 1) What kind of difference in quality exists between an Extigy and an Audigy 2 Platinum in mp3 playback (assume 192kbps+) and 2) If I were to stick to a regular Audigy 2, are there any optical-to-coax converters and if I were to use one, what how much, if any sound quality would i lose?
And is it true that an optical cable would give you roughly, say 2x the quality audio playback from a dvd movie versus analogs?
I know this is a long post, and thank you all who have bore with me and I thank you ahead of time even if you can answer a fraction of my questions
The effect of cables and interconnects on sound quality is a very controversial issue. You'll find too many so-called Audiophiles that think upgrading to a $100 per meter speaker cable will make a huge difference in sound but the fact is, in blind tests, no one will be able to distinguish the difference (when one expects something to be real and tries too hard to hear that illusional reality, one believes his own twisted version of reality). You might keep in mind that some so-called high-end interconnect and speaker cables are made so that they aren't really neutral to the signal and change it a bit. That's why you hear comments like 'these cables give bass a good boost' etc. In short, don't expect cables to have any major impact on sound quality.
What's more, the whole argument above was for analog. Digital cables (again, if not designed and built inherently wrong) have no impact on the quality of sound. If a digital cable is defective, you either get bad jitter (and thus unusable sound) or no sound at all (the receiving end cannot lock on the signal).
Gold plated connectors don't improve sound; But gold doesn't easily react with other elements so these connectors last much longer than ordinary metal ones and the sound quality will degrade less in the long run.
As for the differnce between digital and analog interconnects, you must first know that every sound card, digital format player (e.g. CD, MD and DVD players) or processor, after actually processing the digital signal, sends it to an output. If it's a digital output, the receiving device (e.g. an outboard DAC, the DAC on the AV receiver, etc.) is the one that finally converts the digital signal to analog (i.e. sound we can hear) by a chip that's called Digital to Analog converter. On the other hand, if you connect via analog interconnects, the onboard DAC of the sound card, CD player, etc. will be used. Now, what does this mean? If the DAC onboard your source device (sound card) is better than the one inside your receiving device (in your case, the speakers), you'd be better off with analog. If however the DAC inside the receiving component is better, a digital connection will give you better quality. The DAC onboard the Audigy2 is a high-end Crystal chip with 24-bit/192KHz resolution and I 'guess' (I don't know about the DAC used in the Logitechs, so this is just my guess) it'd be the better one. Not only that, but because of Digital Rights Management laws (DRM), Creative cards shut off their digital output if any DRM protected material (copyrighted MP3 or WMA files, DVD-Audio, etc.) is played back. This means you're limited to analog playback in these situations.
There are coaxial-to-optical (and vice-versa) converters but I don't know anything about them.
Extigy is based on Audigy technology (16-bit/48KHz sound processor, a 24-bit/96KHz Philips DAC) so it's worse sonically than any Audigy2 variant (there's no Extigy2 out yet) because Audigy2 is a 24-bit/96KHz sound processor with a higher-end cleaner sounding Crystal 24-bit/192KHz DAC.