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Help me decide once and for all - audio

Discussion in 'Audio, Video & Home Theater' started by james888, Jun 17, 2012.

  1. james888

    james888

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    I have a few threads about audio I have started, relating to different things. I am not happy with what I got now, and am looking to upgrade. This will pretty much be a speakers vs headphones thread. The purpose is to help me decide what I want/need, I honestly don't know. I have been reading a lot about audio this last week and I just feel lost. I would prefer to stay on a cheaper budget too.

    My current audio situation is onboard realtek alc892 from my msi p67 gd53. Going through some cheap speakers, either my tv (hdmi with 6950) or external (3.5mm jack). I am not an audiophile, but I mostly play games and occasional music.

    I have these 5.1 surround speakers without the dvd player sitting in my garage. http://www.overstock.com/Electronic...inment-System-Refurbished/887038/product.html
    I would need to get a 5.1 receiver for $100-$150 for this because the speakers connect by speaker wire..

    I have also been considering headphones too. I have these headphones http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16826193065. I got them for $7 with promo when my $5 pair broke. They sound good to me but I also don't know what good sounds like. They arn't that comfortable after an hour. I am thinking that a good set of comfy over ear headphones would be good. I like the idea of wireless headphones a lot.

    I have also considered getting a sound card. The reviews of the asus xonar dg + its $25 nearly convinced me to get one. I have been looking all the way up to an Auzentech X-Fi Edit:raider. I didn't because I don't have very good speakers anyway.

    What would provide the best experience, those speakers or headphones?
    If I chose headphones, what should I be looking at?
    Would I lose worthwhile quality if I chose wireless?
    Would it be worthwhile to get a soundcard?

    I have read some stuff like:
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2012
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  2. tribaljet New Member

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    Here is the thing, if you do intend on putting your 5.1 speakers to good use, having a soundcard with multichannel support is required, unless you get a receiver and connect it through S/PDIF.

    Now, I would assume that that speaker set is nothing to call home about, and if you are considerin headphones, I do think you get incredibly more value for your money, as you have to spend many times more money to achieve similar quality on speakers.

    Let's get one thing out of the way, wireless is never the way when it comes to sound, even if there are a couple wireless headphones that are above the mud scenario of wireless sound.

    Considering you haven't said if you play only recent games or all games, and what music genres you listen to, recommendations will have to be made in a broad sense.

    If gaming is a main consideration, you need to get a soundcard that has a X-Fi DSP chip, which can be a Creative X-Fi card (no, none of that recent Recon3D fluff!), an Auzentech model that uses the full version of the X-Fi DSP (there are gimped versions that have no hardware acceleration and only do up to EAX 4 in software, and those card often have lower quality components) or some audiophile specific cards that happen to also have a X-Fi DSP chip, since it's usefulness goes beyond gaming.

    Getting an Auzentech X-Fi Forte, an Auzentech X-Fi Prelude (older card but just as good) or a Creative X-Fi Titanium HD (currently the best consumer card money can buy) is a very good bet, as the sound quality of any of those cards (increasing from former to latter) is quite above what any onboard audio chip produces, be it in terms of fidelity, audio components used, PCB tracing, audio features, and even simply how loud it can go.

    There might be suggestions of getting an Asus Xonar (any, from DG to Essence STX) soundcard, but they basically lack all gaming audio features that are only present on full fledged X-Fi DSP powered cards, like hardware OpenAL, any EAX version above version 2, specific proprietary algorithms that improve positional audio in depth and height, etc. The current implementation of Asus emulation of Creative proprietary features is very buggy at best, and completely game breaking on many cases. Asus once did the ridiculous claim of supporting EAX 5 through emulation, for which it had a heavy lawsuit on their hands, since there was no licensing for that tech. Now, they are going down the voice count increase with no additional extensions of positional audio filters, which in terms of gaming, makes up for a rather poor audio experience.
    On overall, Asus Xonar cards have their money's worth on movies (and some on music) mainly.

    EDIT: About Creative drivers, most problems some users face are due to doing reckless driver installation, as Creative driver installation guidelines state that the base drivers that come with their newer cards must always be installed, and updates installed on top. The second part is related to instability that might happen if people do frantic DSP mode switching (something no regular uses does anyway), which can easily be avoided to installing the optional automatic mode switcher, and by adding specific programs to specific modes, those issues are circumvented all around.

    I do think you should consider trying to approach the headphone world, but not through outlandish purchases that might not satisfy you adequately (like flagship models $1000 upwards).
    Consider the following pricings that set (high quality, not overpriced "gaming" headset garbage) headphones to different tiers:
    0-20 USD = trash audio
    20-50 USD = entry audio
    50-150/200 = entry quality audio
    200-500 = mid-fi audio
    500-1000 = high quality audio
    1000-xxxx = flagship audio

    With that said, there are 3 headphones that are highly recommended by the audiophile community in terms of entry audio, namely:

    AKG K81DJ (or the rebadged K518DJ) - http://www.amazon.com/dp/B000BDD56W/?tag=tec06d-20

    Panasonic RP-HTF600-S - http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004MMEI8W/?tag=tec06d-20

    JVC HARX700 - http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0013OWPV4/?tag=tec06d-20

    About headphones (if you do decide they're a path you want to take), you should be aware that the higher quality (in broad terms) they are, the higher amplification needs will be, but fortunately the headphone amplifier market has been booming on the past few years, and you can get quite good headphone amps from 50 to 150 USD, that will allow you to power most headphones up to 500 USD without much trouble.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2012
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  3. james888

    james888

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    That is a heck of a helpful first post. Thank you. You said everything I think I need to know about headphones and sound cards.
    If I get headphones, I think I will get a sound card too. I am looking at the JVC HARX700 and JVC HA-RX900 by your recommendation.
    I will be trying to stick to a budget of $100. So between a souncard and headphones, which should I put more into? 50/50, 60/40?
    Music is broad. Gaming is mostly fps, racing, and some odd other games. All from with in the last 5 years.

    Those speakers are mid range 5.1 surround. I have never tried them before. Since I have untrained ears they probably would sound great to me. I would need to buy a basic 5.1 av receiver and probably would stick with onboard audio.

    After all that. It really comes down to what would be best for me, headphones or speakers?
     
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  4. tribaljet New Member

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    Well, make no mistakes as both headphones and speakers benefit from a higher quality source (soundcard/DAC).

    As long as you don't get the JVC HARX500 and below, you're all good, as the HARX700 are the minimum model to get, in both sound and build quality. They are also rather easy to drive headphones, which means you can just plug them straight to the headphone jack of a soundcard or from a *gasp* onboard audio chip.

    On the untrained/trained ears subject, people who spent most of their listening time as casual listeners usually have untrained ears, and won't immediately notice all the audio improvements from higher quality gear, as audio quality isn't as "in your face" as image quality. Still, most untrained ears that spend a couple of weeks with higher quality gear DO notice worse sound when going back to their prior audio gear.

    Considering your listening habits, gaming playing a big part and music as well, I do think you would do good in getting an Auzentech X-Fi Forte, which is a brand that took a near flagship Creative soundcard design from the first and second X-Fi hardware generations, upgraded many components, added an integrated headphone amplifier and did a custom software package. But if your budget allows you to, I would recommend you getting a Creative X-Fi Titanium HD, which has higher quality components when compared to the Auzentech X-Fi Forte and a newer DAC chip.
    Basically in terms of sound and build quality, things are like this: Creative X-Fi Titanium (non-HD) < Auzentech X-Fi Forte < Creative X-Fi Titanium HD

    There is a misconception that by connecting devices through S/PDIF, it no longer matters where a $1 onboard audio chip or a $150 soundcard is used, but PCB tracing and component implementation are quite important, and do affect the end result in a rather audible way.

    So, getting a receiver would facilitate you being able to connect the speakers to the computer, in which you can connect through S/PDIF and having a good quality set of headphones that's connected to the amped headphone jack.
    For instance, I find that gaming, especially competitive gaming, benefits much more from accurate headphones paired with a soundcard that has gaming as one of its main considerations rather than the same soundcard setup with speakers, again because of the much higher price requirement of speaker setups in order to even get nearly close to what's accessible through headphones. But, for music and movies, speakers might (not necessarily always) be a better option, as speakers have larger drivers that allow for a better tactile feel to audio, something that in headphones require specific headphone drivers that are tuned for specific audio usages or music genres, for instance.

    With that said, how far can you stretch your budget? And what are your exact listening habits? If gaming, is it casual or competitive gaming? Do you prefer less "fun" but more accurate sound, or do you prefer more immersive (cinematic feel) audio?
     
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  5. james888

    james888

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    I really would like to stay south of a $100 budget, but maybe go up to $150 for a receiver.

    I try to be competitive sometimes but most of the time I am pretty casual. I don't know what I prefer in terms of sound. I would like to say accurate.
     
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  6. tribaljet New Member

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    Hum, that is a rather restrictive budget, especially if that budget is for the whole audio purchases. Just the receiver alone can easily bust your budget, depending on the specs and features it has.

    Keep in mind that if you have high quality gear, like speakers and headphones, connected to a low quality source, you will actually have a bad opinion of the speakers and haedphones because the sound you're listening to isn't what the gear is actually capable of.

    The ideal situation for you would be a Creative X-Fi Titanium HD (or an Auzentech X-Fi Forte, if the price difference is significant), along with a set of JVC HARX900 (basically a refined version of the HARX700) for gaming (and music, if you end up enjoying more the sound of those headphones rather than the speakers), and a receiver for connecting your 5.1 speakers that can then be used for everything, from games to music and movies, although they do look like they would perform better with movies and perhaps some music genres.

    Now, the issue with the above is that soundcard + headphones + receiver is likely to be closer to $200 than $100.
     
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  7. james888

    james888

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    Thank you for your input really. You have been a huge help. I know little about audio. Think of it this way. I am taking my baby steps into audio with this, not a marathon. I am going for gaming audio.

    From another thread I am reading.

    I think I will go with headphones and a soundcard because it is cheaper and easier to upgrade down the road.
    I am thinking JVC RX700 to JVC RX900 along with, I am thinking asus xonar dg to ds. Maybe even an azun x-raider.
    Baby steps.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2012
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  8. tribaljet New Member

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    Yes, despite the gaming audio features severely lacking, the Xonar DG is a good entry soundcard that's often paired with entry headphones for a budget "audiophile" setup. The quotes were there since audiophile setups often costs hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, but that doesn't take the Xonar DG plus x set of headphone any merit.

    If going with a Xonar DG, the upgrade path should never go through a Xonar DS, as it basically adds a single digital format decoding, loses another, has lower specs and no integrated headphone amp. From a Xonar DG, you should go to a Xonar D2X/Auzentech X-Fi Forte or a Creative X-Fi Titanium HD. The reason I keep bringing up the flagship Creative card is because it's that good, by far the best consumer soundcard currently available. Asus has a competing product in the form of a Xonar Essence STX, but IMHO its sound is rather dry and harsh due to the specific chinese made headphone amp that comes with it.

    And I don't really think the Auzentech X-Raider is that good of a soundcard. If you want to get a DAC that doesn't focus on gaming and movies but more on music itself, then you should consider getting external USB DACs, like a FiiO E17 (or a FiiO E10, if you're on a tighter budget at the time).

    Before buying audio hardware, you should know what you usually listen to (games, music, movies), and what kind sound you prefer (warmer, more cinematic, more analytic, etc), as that does mean certain products are prefered to others.

    While games won't sound as good on a Xonar DG as they would on a X-Fi based card, they will still sound good, and the price difference can be quite large. And if you don't do any pro audio work, the latency issues of Xonar drivers won't affect you much, be it from stock or modded drivers.

    Just remember, higher quality headphones will begin to be more demanding in terms of power delivered to them. A $500 set of headphones can actually sound terrible if poorly amped (either by insufficient power or bad quality amplification), so you will end up having to get a headphone amp. There are headphone amps costing $20, but they are nothing more than toys. Currently, there are 2 quality entry headphone amps that should be considered, the PA2V2 (http://www.electric-avenues.com/amplifiers.html) and the FiiO E11 (http://www.fiio.com.cn/product/index.aspx?ID=24&MenuID=020301). I personally prefer the PA2V2 in terms of both sound quality and battery runtime (100h+ on the PA2V2 vs ~15h on the E11). A portable headphone amp is an amplifier you can carry around and use with devices like mp3 players, phones, PMPs, etc.
     
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  9. james888

    james888

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  10. tribaljet New Member

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    NO! Yes, capital letters! I forgot to add that there are two Creative cards you must avoid at all cost, namely the SE/LS variants of Audigy cards (and on overall, all Audigy soundcards since their compatibility lies mainly on legacy Windows XP, and they have a troublesome resampler engine) and the XtremeAudio variants of the X-Fi line up (since it's basically a rebranded Audigy SE, lacking the important hardware DSP and most features).
    The base Creative card to get is the regular X-Fi Titanium. I'm just saying that below that model, none are worth getting (not talking about previous PCI cards, for which there are a couple amazing ones, only of X-Fi models).

    The Asus Xonar DG wins mainly on price. It's really amazingly cheap for what it does, but it's still the lowest soundcard worth getting.
     
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  11. james888

    james888

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    I think thats that.
    I am going to see if I can find a better soundcard than the dg for a good price(used), if not get the asus dg. Then get one of those jvc headphones.
     
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  12. tribaljet New Member

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    You won't be disappointed with the setup. Just don't raise expectations too much, as untrained ears + entry level gear don't translate into mindblown aural experiences (at least in the first listening sessions).
     
  13. james888

    james888

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  14. tribaljet New Member

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    This (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0041OUA38/?tag=tec06d-20) is the card I recommend. The regular X-Fi Titanium is just the base model that only shares the name, as the innards are quite different from the Titanium HD.

    If you're on a tight budget, get the Xonar DG for now and when you have some money put on the side, get a Titanium HD and you won't need to think of upgrading for many, many years to come, something that definitely can't be said for GPUs.
     
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  15. Frederik S Staff

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    The ASUS cards sound way better with headphones, the analogue circuitry on Creative cards are wastly inferior even on their high-end cards. And as someone already said Creative only has a few added DSPs which as far as I can tell do absolutely nothing to improve positional audio, all they seem to do is distort the frequency response more or less. Some might like the EQ that some of the Creative features add, some might not it is a preference thing.

    For music playback the ASUS cards are just plain better, gaming wise it is a toss up between the two.

    Currently the best entry level PC based headphone setup is a ASUS card with a proper line-out hooked up to a O2 amplifier, even ASUS STX with upgraded op-amps cannot compete with a totally stock O2 in terms of sound quality and power.

    For a $100 try and get a used ASUS card and a set of HARX-700s.
     
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  16. tribaljet New Member

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    Unfortunately, the only Asus soundcard that is close to the Creative X-Fi Titanium HD is the Asus Xonar Essence STX. And when I say close to, I mean near the same level, most definitely not superior at all, especially with its stock dry and harsh sound.

    You might be thinking of regular X-Fi Titanium cards, and with that I can agree, but the Titanium HD is a different card altogether.

    Apparently, you have little to no experience with Creative cards (Audigy and X-Fi series), or you would know how improved positional cues are. I'm not talking about surround virtualization techs at all, mind you, as both Asus and Creative solutions are awful in that regard, but it's an acquired taste.

    For music playback, both the Xonar Essence STX and the Titanium HD are exactly on the same level, with the Essence STX being drier sounding and the Titanium HD being warmer sounding. It's not a personal opinion, it's widespread reviewing.

    In terms of gaming, the Essence STX has as much capabilities as a $1 onboard audio chip, so it is laughable that it is compared to the Titanium HD. Even the lower quality X-Fi Titanium slaughters the Essence STX, nevermind the version with a newer DAC, higher quality opamps, and the same full gaming audio feature set support. For gaming, the Essence STX (and all Asus cards for that matter) is a joke.

    EDIT: The O2 is indeed an amp worth getting, but adding it to an Essence STX would even make its sound less pleasant, as it's on the bright side of neutral, while adding it to a Titanium HD wouldn't hurt the signature at all. But if you followed the OP's posts, you would know that part of the chain is something to be obtained further down the line.

    EDIT2: I forgot to mention that Asus soundcards are incapable of passing through sound processing through line-out, while that's available on the Titanium HD if desired.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2012
  17. cadaveca

    cadaveca My name is Dave

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    That's funny, I use my Xonar D2X(circa 2008) to real-time encode anything I want into DTS or Dolby(24-bit/96 kHz), and use optical or coaxial to get it to my receiver just fine?

    I moved to this Xonar card because it was the only "consumer" card that would do so, and Creative cards would not. The Titanium HD was not even on the market at that time, so maybe that's new for Creative, but there are definitely cards on the ASUS side that can real-time encode...and they were doing it YEARS before Creative cards were.

    http://www.asus.com.au/Multimedia/Audio_Cards/Xonar_D2X/
     
  18. tribaljet New Member

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    The Xonar D2X is a capable card and has a stock signature that's quite more pleasant than the Essence STX.

    And I'm not talking about encoding but about being able to alter the original sound chain, be for gear flaw correction (which every single device has) or for entertainment purposes.

    At the time, there weren't available the cards that are at the time of writing, so I do agree that for its release date, the Xonar D2X is a great card that still holds its own up to this very same day.

    EDIT: Seems like you're forgetting about the PCI X-Fi cards that already did it by default, with the exception of the aforementioned XtremeAudio models. Oddly enough, many of the PCIe X-Fi versions have been gimped in terms of additional functionality, being made available separately as an addon purchase, not a smart move from Creative, but flagship cards of all 3 generations are unaffected.
     
  19. cadaveca

    cadaveca My name is Dave

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    Yes, I fully understand, and I fail to see the problem? I've been using this card for nearly 5 years now, works great, no problems, the only kicker here is that the DS3D GX isn't that great, but I never use it anyway, since I use the card in a DAW WIth Propellerhead's Reason(DAW = Digital Audio Workstation).

    No, actually ,the X-Fi cards, by my testing were far inferior by comparison. They could not real-time encode audio to another format(DTS to dolby, and vice versa), nor record @ 192 KHz(max 96 KHz, even playback was restricted to 96 KHz on X-Fi unless stereo, Xonar does 192 Khz, 5.1 no problem). The only thing that the X-Fi card excelled in was ASIO Latency(less than 4 ms vs 8 ms in Xonar).
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2012
  20. tribaljet New Member

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    For DAW usage, it's of no consequence if post processing can be sent through the line-out, as its usefulness lies mainly on the consumer market.

    I agree that DS3D GX isn't really worth using, at least with the implementations available, still being too buggy. But it would certainly be good to see it perfected, as that would push Creative to improve their own solution, that while being more compatible and putting the hardware to better use, would end up benefiting gamers owning cards from both brands.
     
  21. cadaveca

    cadaveca My name is Dave

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    DS3D GX is flawed due to DX10/DX11. Works great in XP.
     
  22. Millennium

    Millennium

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    For 5.1 I get on fine with my Xonar DX/XD and Logitech X-540. The sound card certainly improved analogue out from my previous onboard P67 era realtec.

    For higher quality 5.1 you will need digital out, probably real time DTS/Dolby Digital Live, and a decent amp and speaker set (with a sub). It's a lot of outlay but the benefits are large. My sub should be coming tomorrow to complete my setup (XLS200-DF).
     
  23. tribaljet New Member

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    DS3D GX doesn't really activate itself on XP since that OS has HAL, therefore the card doesn't need to do workarounds in order to access advanced features. It's on Vista/7 that the challenge lies, and it's not related to DirectX, rather the lack of direct hardware acceleration.
     
  24. cadaveca

    cadaveca My name is Dave

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    Thanks, have a great day. DS3D GX is EAX replacement, and kinda of the equivalent to ALchemy from Creative for Vista. DX10/DX11 changed the audio stack, broke EAX, and these were software technologies that provided the same type of processing when the HAL(hardware abstraction Layer) was removed in Vista.

    It it ENTIRELY related to DirectX Audio.


    DS in DS3D = DirectSound.

    [​IMG]

    Enjoy your day! ;)
     

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  25. tribaljet New Member

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    Fair enough, the way you said it sounded like you were talking more about D3D and less about DS3D (R.I.P.) :)

    DS3D GX is not an EAX replacement, only a software emulation (emphasis on software), having full EAX 2.0 compliance and an increased voice count, but lacking any features above EAX 2.0, which is what all manufacturers can (and most do) provice, due to it being proprietary.

    I do hope to enjoy my day, and I hope you do as well :)
     

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