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Best sound card

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April 18, 2003 12:28:23 AM

For audio playback, mainly, and then for recording.

I don't care about games too much (i have a spare turtle beatch i can use for those), but i need the best possible audio quality for music playback (and i mean best), and also a good all around recording capability.

I'm willing to spend quite a lot (from 300$ to possibly 500$) to achive what i need, so suggest away.

For music, i generally use headphones, but i'm also considering speakers.

Now, i've had some experience with an Adiophile 2496 (in case your wondering, the card in not mine), and i must say the sound quality is extraordinary, but lacks clarity. The sound it's muffled, great for rock music but somewhat disappointing for classical.

Of course, i'm using the card directly without pre-amp, so the volume isn't too hot either (i even made a thread about it).

I'm using software amplification throught winamp plugins, but i'm quite unhappy with it, i generally prefer natural sound over DSP (sp?) effects and such, albiet the card handles it quite well.

I just need a professional audiocard that plays music professionally without the aid of home studio equipment, very simple.

Recording i will need but right now my playing is uggly enought i don't want to even remember it, let alone record it :) , so i can save the expense of a pre-amp and any other device for later...

More about : sound card

April 18, 2003 2:12:59 AM

I am hearing good stuff about the DMX 6fire. It has much better music/recording performance than the Audigy 2 Platinum. It also has shitty D3D performance :p 
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April 19, 2003 10:05:53 PM

U seem like someone who could do with the latest Creative Labs Audigy 2 Series. You can have the Standard Audigy 2 6.1 card which has Gold Connectors, and the card houses three analogue speaker connectors for connecting 6.1 speakers. There is a Mic and Line included as standard and you geta separate SPDIF out socket which can output digital sound in 5.1 mode. There is also a firewire socket on the card and on a separate bracket a Joystick connector.

Next up in the league is the Audigy 2 Platinum which has everything the standard has but includes a separate dirve bay with optical and coaxial SPDIF connectors, Remote control, another firewire port, 3 inch Mic and headphone sockets with Mic Level and Headphone Volume controls, A MIDI in a Out Connector and AUX in and out connectors. The Platinum EX is like the Platinum except the main sound card houses a connector for connecting the external drive bay which looks rather like the Extigy.

You're using a Turtle Beach Sound Card? Throw dat away and stick with the Audigy 2. Not only does it decrease processor load but it also has support for the latest standards of EAX and can upmix it to glorious 6.1 Sound.

I own the Auidgy 2 standard cos it was in a deal with the Creative Inspire 6700 6.1 Speakers although I am hoping to get the Drive bay because I want the remote control. The only problems I encountered were the fact it hogged a lot of IRQs and I had to say tally ho to my serial ports. Other than that its a great card.

Music is great on the card. Creative Labs have set an ASIO standard which ensures full quality recording and the MIDI Soundfont is also great. This sound card also carries genuine 24bit 96khz recording and Playback with a 106db SNR. This means Audigy 2 is ready for DVD Audio - It can decode DVD Audio in Stereo at 24bit 192khz or in 5.1 96khz.
The Card carries EAX Advanced HD which excels in games but can play a part in music. You can apply various effects and environments so that you can simulate your favourite artist playing in a Theatre or even in a Bathroom! Or u can make them sound like the Chipmunks or take a Puffs voice and deepn it. The effects are adjustable and you will have great fun adjusting and creating your own effects. Another feature is Smart Volume Mangement which evens out the volume in MP3s and audio files and Time Shift which allows you to speed up and slow down a song without adjusting the pitch. The Creative Applications are very entertaining and helpful in music creation. And if your sound is in stereo, turn on the CMSS option to upmix the source to 6.1.

If I were you make sure you get a good pair of 6.1 Speakers like the Inspire 6700 to make the most of this soundcard.
April 19, 2003 10:09:17 PM

Well, with your budget, the sky's the limit. I suggest something from, in order of preference:

RME - <A HREF="http://www.rme-audio.com" target="_new">http://www.rme-audio.com&lt;/A>
M-Audio - <A HREF="http://www.m-audio.com" target="_new">http://www.m-audio.com&lt;/A>
Terratec - <A HREF="http://www.terratec.com" target="_new">http://www.terratec.com&lt;/A>
EMagic - <A HREF="http://www.emagic.de" target="_new">http://www.emagic.de&lt;/A>
Audiotrak - <A HREF="http://www.audiotrak.net" target="_new">http://www.audiotrak.net&lt;/A>

and way, way right at the stinking bottom:

Creative - <A HREF="http://www.creative.com" target="_new">http://www.creative.com&lt;/A>

There are obviously lots of different cards from each manufacturer. I suggest you choose one that best suites your needs, as all are top quality audio cards. The RME's are my babies, but I don't have a digital input on my stereo, and I don't want to get the DAC adapter (it just ends up being too much money to justify it for me at least).

All of these are excellent solutions. They don't have any EAX or A3D or any other DSP effects. You'll find the power output disappointing on all of them, however. All sound cards are meant to be used in conjunction with an amp of one sort or another. They are meant for signal processing, not signal amplification. If you are disappointed with the power output, you will have to get some sort of amp. It's just the way it is. If you got some powerful Sennheiser's or Sony's, you need something to power the drivers in those beasts. You'll always be disappointed with these cards, if you were disappointed with the power in other cards (frankly, I've never had a problem, I always have to keep the volume at close to the lowest setting, otherwise it's too stinking loud).

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April 20, 2003 6:18:40 AM

Everything umheint0 said. I'll just add 'Echo' and 'Lynx' to the list. Lynx cards are probably THE best sound cards for music playback. Check their products page:

http://www.lynxstudio.com/products.html

The budget is so high that, as another option, you can get any of the decent 24/96 sound cards (with digital outputs) for much less cash and connect the digital output to an outboard DAC!
April 20, 2003 3:46:53 PM

Why is Creative so bad. It is a great all round card which excels in all areas. Unlike ATi All in Wonder graphcis cards where they have lots of features but they are rather poor quality and graphical power is lacking, the Creative Labs sound cards have lots of features and they have done a thorough job in excelling in all areas. May I add that the Audigy 2 is THX compliant - lets see umheint0's list top that. Plus if you have a limit of 500 smackers then invest in the Creative Megaworks 6.1 as these go really loud and are THX compliant - rather expensive but they will go hand in hand.

The Audigy 2 has plenty of support for all gaming standards and whats more it upmixes it to 6.1. Music is catered for perfectly with all the EAX environment effects for music, Smart Volume Mangement - if your MP3s are ripped at different volumes it will even the volume out. The Time shift will allow you to change the speed of the music without changing the pitch. The CMSS 3D upmixes all the sources to 6.1 sound, and last but not least the Clean up wizard will remove hiss, clicks and cracks from live recordings - you could plug in a walkman and clean up your playing tape on-the-fly without having to record it first.

The card supports 24bit/192khz recording and playback - better than any other card. THe software is also very easy to use and there is plenty to keep you busy for months and you will wonder how you ever did without it.

For more information go to

www.creative.com
www.soundblaster.com
April 20, 2003 4:01:29 PM

I just asked almost the same question a couple of weeks ago in <A HREF="http://forumz.tomshardware.com/hardware/modules.php?nam..." target="_new">this thread</A>. I ended up getting an Audigy 2 Platinum, but only because I had a $200 budget, and games are just as important as music to me. With your needs I'd get at least the Terratec DMX 6Fire (for around $230) or one of the other fine options listed above, but with your budget why not just go with Pro Tools?
April 20, 2003 4:12:09 PM

Quote:
The card supports 24bit/192khz recording and playback - better than any other card.

Sorry sir, that is incorrect. The best version of the Audigy 2, the Platinum EX, supports only 24/96 recording. The "24/192" all over the ads and press releases is only the DACs.
April 20, 2003 6:33:10 PM

Look, I'm known around here as a supporter of Creative Audigy and Audigy2 sound cards, because at the price you pay for them (and from the tests I've done on other solutions) they're great overall. At ~$100, if you need the best sound quality you go with a M-Audio Revolution 7.1 but if you need a more general sound card that is almost as good as the Revolution in sound quality you've got no choice but Audigy2. Even around $200-250, Creative are quite competitive with Platinum and Platinum eX. But higher than that? Don't forget that Creative cards are consumer oriented and they're not real pro solutions that are THE best at music playback. He has sky as his limit and as such, we recommend real pro solutions to him. Even Creative don't want to compete in this segment of the market.

It's like comparing a good solid amplifier from e.g. Denon to an excellent (excellent doesn't cut it) dual-mono design from Linn. The first one will sound very good at maybe 1/10 the price of the second one. The difference is, the second one will BLOW YOU AWAY, as simple as that...
April 20, 2003 9:59:05 PM

I'm writing from England and I dont know whether you guys in da USA have 7.1 PC Speakers as yet but the reason I would go for the Auidgy 2 is not because of the sheer features in the card but also because there are speakers to go with the card. Over here in England companies like Hercules have made the Digifire 7.1 and Fortissmo III despite the fact that there are no 7.1 speakers. What is most weird is the fact that there are two standards of Dolby Digital EX - one is 6.1 with a rear centre speaker and the another without the rear centre but middle left and middle right. How come the 7.1 Cards support 5.1 and 7.1 but not 6.1? So I steer clear from those cards.

Its not always about the soundcard for volume. You could have a top studio card but if you are measuring its loudness through two tinny stereo speakers then the result could be really understated despite the fact its capable of so much more. It's like testing the speed of a new Ford Mustang GT in a London Alley - you could never reach its top speed not to mention it would be on the wrong side!

If you have Creative's Megaworks 6.1 Speakers you can be guaranteed two producst that go hand in hand because the soundcard has THX standards and so do the speakers support THX. However since this Audiophile is willing to spend plenty of money then I would recommend the Audigy 2 Platinum EX along with Creative Megworks 6.1. However the Sound Card has a Digital Output option so he could connect a home theatre decoder hooked up to very advanced speakers.

Creative do have more professional speakers for you USA guys. In fact Cambridge Soundworks are now in the Entertainment market.
April 21, 2003 2:48:00 AM

Quote:
<b>By marshahu</b>
How come the 7.1 Cards support 5.1 and 7.1 but not 6.1? So I steer clear from those cards.

Because 6.1 is almost exactly the same thing as 7.1, when playing 6.1 sound on 7.1, it merely splits the rear channel into the two channels present in a 7.1 set up.

<P ID="edit"><FONT SIZE=-1><EM>Edited by Azgard on 04/20/03 10:51 PM.</EM></FONT></P>
April 21, 2003 6:05:25 AM

1. I don't live in the US. Far, far from it actually ;) 

2. This is NOT about the number of speakers. Many of the real high end sound cards are stereo only and for good reason too. HiFi and music (in general) are still about stereo. People record their albums and songs in stereo, mix them in stereo, master them for stereo use, listen to them in stereo, the best HiFi devices are still in stereo (show me two identically priced amplifiers/receivers, one stereo and one multi-channel, where the multi-channel has a better sound; believe me you won't find any that's even coming close). We're not debating about the number of speakers that a card is capable of driving but utmost quality recording and playback. For a home studio guy, the most important things are the capability to record multiple sources in real time and mixing and mastering all of them in the highest quality possible (read: 24-bit all the way) plus being able to play them back and judge them on a good quality setup.

3. Not only that, if anyone's going to buy a $500 sound card, he wants to avoid ANY computer speakers around and go for either: studio monitor active loudspeakers or a mostly neutral Amplifier (integrated or pre/power combo) + 'real' loudspeakers. He wants to do surround? Add an AV reeiver and some more speakers. I would spend the better part of (at the very least) $2500 for a good amp+stereo monitor speakers alone if I were to spend $500 on my sound card.

The bottom line is, if someone really needs the best, you should recommend him the best, not just the 'good' or the 'better'. I always thought the English were very picky about their sound, or else, how on earth could brands like Linn, Musical Fidelity, Naim, B&W, Kef, etc. come into being and be so damn good ;) 
April 21, 2003 6:43:56 AM

Megaworks series are good speakers I must say. They are even better than Klipsch Promedia series up to some point but if you want professional sound card Creative is not the best choice. M-Audio, Terratec, RME, and amny other pro audio card manufacturers have moved into consumer market with professional card. Audigy2 is good but Revo 7.1 or other is better. Since he has sky high budget why limit him to a 2nd class? And he had said he don't care about gaming but only professional music so we should suggest a real professional sound card. Answer the question straight to the point is what people want to get from this forum, isn't it?

You never know how stupid you are until you have done something stupid enough for you to realize it.
<A HREF="http://www.anandtech.com/mysystemrig.html?id=22996" target="_new">My System Rig</A>
April 21, 2003 8:02:38 PM

What are you talking about ATI being second class video cards? They're the top of the pack now. Do some research before you post stuff.

And, as for your other info, just as r2k said, you can get mainstream performance, say from a Honda, or you can get the top of the pack, from say Porsche, Ferrari, etc. You can't compare the quality of any Honda, no matter how nice it is, to the sheer brute power and beauty of a Porsche 911 Carerra.

The man said he doesn't play games, so why do you bring them up at all? I would have given him a different answer, but for the fact that he wants pure music quality, no DAC garbage that Creative throws into all of their cards.

And your recording/playback quote. No comparison between an RME Digi96/8 for recording and playback and any Creative solution out there.

I suggest you check out some reviews before you talk about stuff of this calibre. We're talking the big leagues here, not small town street racing.

By the way, r2k, you forgot to mention Sunfire amps. They're phat stuff. I have one in my subwoofer and it pounds pretty nicely.

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Soundstorm
April 22, 2003 5:51:55 AM

BTW anyone that wants to know just how absolutely perfect Lynx sound cards are might want to look at the Rightmark graphs for the card here:

The main results page:
http://audio.rightmark.org/results.html

Lynx TWO B (results at 24/96):
http://audio.rightmark.org/test/lynx-two-b-2496.html

/me just wants to DROP DEAD after seeing the 24-bit/96KHz performance of the LynxTWO. For comparison's sake, check Audiotrak's new Prodigy192 scores (this card is a very good one too, but just compare the two at 24-bit/96KHz to know what is the difference between 'very good' and 'f***ing perfect').

Audiotrak Prodigy192 (results at 24/96):
http://audio.rightmark.org/test/audiotrak-prodigy192-24...
April 22, 2003 4:16:46 PM

Impressive. I wish I could find a review with the RME Digi96/8 and one of the M-Audio Deltas. Then we'd have a comparison.

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Soundstorm
April 22, 2003 4:20:27 PM

Also, don't forget that only one card that Lynx manufactures is within the man's budget, and it only has XLR and MIDI outputs. No good. I'm not saying it isn't an amazing card, it's just not compatible.

XP 2500+ Barton @ 198x11.5@1.85v
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Soundstorm
April 22, 2003 6:50:04 PM

That's true (Lynx cards are very expensive). The point about XLR isn't valid though because there are convertors for XLR-to-RCA (or vice-versa) and actually Lynx provides both male and female XLR to RCA cables with any of their cards.

BTW, if you have access to the RME, why not try it yourself? Using a loopback cable (line-out to line-in), you can run all the tests and generate reports. Then of course, you'll come here and provide us with results to drool over ;) 
April 22, 2003 8:34:41 PM

The problem is, I don't. If I did, I might. I'm just too lazy ;-) I like reiterating the work of others. It's easier to do.

Though I gotta say, that is an amazing response curve for the Lynx cards. Basically perfect reproduction. I wish I had the $1,400 to get one (that includes adapters and all that jazz, though it'll probably come to more).

XP 2500+ Barton @ 198x11.5@1.85v
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Soundstorm
April 27, 2003 7:05:53 AM

So what exactly is the best sound card on the market?
Is there any ranking from best to worst?
April 27, 2003 1:09:43 PM

Depends on what you want. I can recommend $100,000+ sound system solutions, but they aren't practical. Do some research on your own for ones that meet your needs, and see what others out there say.

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April 27, 2003 2:59:59 PM

wtf? i have the ATI AIW 9700 pro. what are you talking about? it is very good quality and the remote is the best remote i've ever used. It's a fantastic video card. and wtf does that have to do with sound?

Life is irrelivent and irrational.

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April 27, 2003 10:15:09 PM

Well I'm really looking for two cards. One for my PC and the other would be for my HTPC. I don't plan on having a seperate receiver on my PC but definately will on my HTPC.
Don't want to spend anything over $500 I guess because like you said it's not practical. I've read some reviews on the Audigy 2 Platinum and Revolution 7.1 and they all gave high ratings. Well what cards would be considered better than the Audigy 2 Platinum?
April 28, 2003 3:25:25 AM

Read up above. We listed a bunch.


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Guillemot Game Theatre XP
April 28, 2003 7:20:26 AM

For your PC (I gather you want to play enough games), I recommend a Hercules Fortissimo3 or an Audigy. They're quite enough for gaming, have relatively good sound for the price, [by now] solid drivers, etc. You can pay a bit more and get an Audigy2.

For the HTPC, START from decent sound cards around $100 (Creative Audigy2, M-Audio Revolution 7.1, Terratec Aureon 5.1 Sky). Just remember that (till something happens in new drivers which IMHO is unlikely, this seems to be a design choice/hardware problem) the Revolution cannot be matched well with TV tuner cards (e.g. ATI AIW series) if you want to do PVR stuff. Putting aside the fact that it doesn't have any input jack other than an analog one at the back of the card, I have read in many forums that this card cannot work well with PVR hardware (like the All-in-Wonder or other TV tuner cards) because it cannot do real-time monitoring on its [only] line-in jack (line in jack apparently has no pass through to output meaning it can't be monitored in real time. From what I've heard, you can open the control panel and check the "enable monitoring" box, but that introduces significant delay i.e. your audio will be out of sync). This (apparently hardware) problem has frustrated quite a few HTPC owners that bought the Revo for its nice analog sound quality and thought it was just like every other card in input monitoring (e.g. at the same price point the vanilla Audigy2 doesn't suffer from the same problem and it has multiple analog and digital connectors onboard, those used for CD inputs for example). If however, PVR isn't your cup of tea, it has the best analog output quality of the bunch.

BTW, if you're connecting the HTPC via digital cables to the receiver, you don't have to worry too much about the sound card. Just make sure it has a digital output port. You can start from $20 in this case and might also want to look at nForce2 SoundStorm mainboards.
June 3, 2004 10:30:54 PM

I would look at the m-audio line or the aardvark line. I have and love my aardvark. They have a new one with a rackmount 10 input/output breakout box with headphones and good preamps for around 599 I think. Look on ebay for aardvark or M-audio. The m audio also has some fantastic stuff. I use a tube preamp into the aardvark using cubase and wavelab. Do you plan to record multiple things at once or piecemeal? Ie guitar , vocals, bass, drum machine? Or add track by track. Stay away from audigy 2 . I have my computer digital out going to my high end amp. My 2 cents.

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June 7, 2004 3:21:48 PM

Ok... I am assuming that you want the music you listen to to sound the best it can be - not as 'realistic' as possible - (there is a difference). What sources are you using for your music? (CD's? MP3's? etc.) - the reason I ask is because it's important...

I have a DAW, with an Edirol DA2496, and on-board audio, with a pair of Byerdynamic DT100's and an NAD C320BEE amp w/ Acoustic Energy Aegis One speakers. For as accurate reproduction of the sound as possible, I use the DT100's plugged straight into the headphone socket on the DA2496's rackmount... However, the quality with MP3's etc. suffers, since it's compression is too obvious... But, then, it's it's job, to reproduce the sound as accurately as possible... If I want it to sound a best as possible, I use the C320 and the on-board audio... I'd love an M-audio Revolution, but can't afford it... - if you want your music to sound as good as possible, it's what I recomend... If you want to record stuff, (aswell as listen to music) - I suggest you do what I've done and use 2 sound cards... (the DA2496 isn't even useable in windows, due to the latency involved...).

Darren Tomlyn, tunewriter and fiddle-player.

www.ic-musicmedia.com/darrentomlyn

'Stupidity is an often fatal disease' - R. A. Heinlein
June 14, 2004 1:14:31 AM

Creative E-MU 1212M or E-MU 1820M get you very close to Protool HD convertor quality! and E-MU 1212M is only 200USD, M-audio Audiophilip 2496 with only unbalanced input wont even stand a chance to compare!
well, thats what i heard... so ask around more!
i use Motu896 myself, it's decent!
but i might later get another recording system that can use with Benchmark DAC-1


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June 26, 2004 2:20:15 AM

This thread was started over a year ago, d00d. If he hasn't found his answer yet he's beyond help.

He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it, hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart. -C.S. Lewis
June 26, 2004 2:48:30 AM

this is not funny, lol

..this is very useful and helpful place for information...
!