The difference between a $200 sound card and a $200 sound card? About $180.
The basics will be practically the same, sometimes they even use some of the same chips. Wave performance is CD quality at least, has been for years on practically ever sound card made.
The differences will be in features... on cheaper cards you won't get hardware Midi or MP3 and you may end up with a lot of the effects and encoding/decoding offloaded to the main CPU. The better quality ones (which aren't always more expensive) will do as much in hardware as they can.
Audibly, there will be some difference... but not $180 worth. The real differences will be in features and cpu usage.
i use my pc mainly for gaming, how much performance differnce would it make? i have a Athlon XP2000+, 768 (512 + 256) ddr ram, GeForce4 Ti4200 128Mb, etc etc. i'd never use it for recording, but just playing games, listening to music and WATCHING SIMPSONS AND FAMILY GUY!!! will a lower end (i.e creative soundblaster live 5.1) work for me? what kind of sound card would you recomend? im from new zealand and its only possible to find a limited range because they dont import so many! thanks!
Are you using a set of desktop speakers which are decent enough that you'll be able to hear the benefit of a better sound card? If yes, there's an audible difference in sound quality between the SB Live! series of cards and the SB Audigy2 series. Especially for games.
However, there are lower cost solutions than the audigy that will provide you with similar sound quality (and probably less bloatware/unneeded extras). There were a few Creative vs. the world threads on these boards not long ago, there were quite a few good sound cards mentioned in there.
I'd say save yourself a bit of money and look for something basic, like the Audigy or Live cards.
My personal rig has a CT5880 chip on the motherboard and I have it hooked up to my main stereo in the livingroom (100wrms/channel, 12" woofers, 5" midranges, 1" horn tweeters, custom enclosures). The CT5880 chip is the one used on the Sound Blaster 16 PCI and I'm using it with the SB128 drivers... the sound is positively amazing. You can get sbpci128 cards for under $20.00 right now... But, it is only stereo... if you want 4.1 or 5.1 you need to spend a little more, but certainly not $200.00.
To be honest, the smarter money might be to invest in a mid-price card and put the extra money into top of the line speakers. All other things being equal, it's gonna be the amps and speakers that make the most noticeable difference in what you hear.
Turtle Beach Santa Cruz, around $80.00, will do whatever you need it to do, MP3 and Audio Playback, Games, DVD, Internet Media, it has Virtual 5.1 capabilities, so even if what you're listening to is not formatted in the 5.1 surround, the Virtual 5.1 will allow you to utilize all your 5.1 speaker setup, its the best soundcard I've used yet, after I bought the first one, I was so pleased with it, I bought a second one for my wifes machine, even though she was running a Creative Audigy, (Which by the way was a waste of money), I've never regretted once, my TBSC purchases.
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