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Help With Sound Card Choice Please.

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#1
Hi guys i have an Auzentech X-Fi Forte right now with the logitech Z5500 5.1 speakers and Sennheiser PC360 headset.
95% of the time im using my headset for games and i want to know which is the best sound card out there under £200.
a little while ago i bought the Asus Xonar Essence STX and music sounded good but not too much better than my Forte but for games i had to spend ages trying to set it up to make it sound anywhere near as good as my Forte and at best im not sure it was as good, it just sounded like you were playing in a big empty room now if thats what some people like then thats ok for them but for me i think the x-fi sound is better.
Now my question is for gaming (but i dont want my music to sound crap) which of these sound cards would be better than what i have when using headset 95% of the time.

Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD

Creative Sound Blaster Recon3D Fatal1ty Professional Soundcard

Asus ROG Xonar Phoebus 7.1 PCI-E - Do you think this one will sound like the Asus Xonar Essence STX Sound Card
if it does then i dont think i wil like the sound of my Battlefield 3 in a big empty warehouse. (i did check all settings when i had the asus card to make sure i had the correct settings for what everyone said on the forums to get the best out of it for gaming).
i know some of you will say about creative drivers but imo all i care about is the sound and being able to play my game without it crashing so i dont care how big the drivers are.
ive read on some forums that people are having lots of trouble with the new asus ROG Xonar Phoebus and Battlefield 3.
any help would be great thx :respect:
 
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#2
Sell the logitech's, add on £200 and buy a cheap 5.1 receiver and some cheap bookself speakers. Even connected to onboard it would sound better.
 
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#3
I'm with Dent. The time of soundcards is OVER. They were very important 10+ years ago. Now it is all down to the amp and speakers. What differentiates a soundcard today is just the quality of the pre-amp section of the board. An external amp/decoder is far better than ANY PCI/PCIe soundcard until you go ProAudio. But really, that's a professional market for music production, and gamers dont need to venture into that space.
 
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#4
I can't speak to the other one, but I like the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD. It's a pain to get the drivers working. It's pulling teeth to get them to work with decent peripherals. It takes enormous patience to configure the levels to anything that doesn't cause pain when listened to.


After all those hurdles are crossed, the Titanium isn't a bad little card. Don't expect anything to be friendly or intuitive, but expect the final results to be very reasonable.



Edit:
For reference, I use uncompressed audio over hdmi for my sound system. The cost of a decent set of speakers, and the amp to drive them, is often several orders of magnitude greater than that of a sound card. If you want headphones I suggest you run something like the Corsair HS1 (or whatever replaced it), because the quality is generally as good as anything I've had from a standard sound card and mono-jack set of headphones, while being less than the cost of just the sound card.
 
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#5
I agree on receiver vs sound card. Before I built my current system a year and a half ago I had researched sound cards that would work well for TV, Internet, Games and Movies. It turned out the only one capable of taking PCM audio from a TV and outputting it to analog 5.1 was the HT Omega Claro models, and even that was via simulated vs decoded surround. I know that may sound trivial on a sys that is primarily used for games and movies, but if you have only one display and integrate your TV watching on the same sys like I do, that would literally mean watching ALL TV on the crap TV speakers, and there's no way I was willing to do that.

The Claro is a very digital sounding card with tiny caps and lacking a bit in lower frequencies, not to mention sound cards having hit and miss driver support, so I opted for a pass through with an entry level 5.1 receiver. I was able to connect all of my Creative Gigaworks S700 speakers to it no problem. The one I chose is the Yamaha RX-V371, mainly due to it having more features than some entry level receivers. It's low pass crossover option is nice, and the Enhance options are very useful for compressed music and those pesky Blu-rays done in Dolby TrueHD 7.1, which typically don't play dialog in the center channel on 5.1 systems. With 5.1 Enhance it does.
 

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#6
I think Certain cards- parts can be upgraded

I agree on receiver vs sound card. Before I built my current system a year and a half ago I had researched sound cards that would work well for TV, Internet, Games and Movies. It turned out the only one capable of taking PCM audio from a TV and outputting it to analog 5.1 was the HT Omega Claro models, and even that was via simulated vs decoded surround. I know that may sound trivial on a sys that is primarily used for games and movies, but if you have only one display and integrate your TV watching on the same sys like I do, that would literally mean watching ALL TV on the crap TV speakers, and there's no way I was willing to do that.

The Claro is a very digital sounding card with tiny caps and lacking a bit in lower frequencies, not to mention sound cards having hit and miss driver support, so I opted for a pass through with an entry level 5.1 receiver. I was able to connect all of my Creative Gigaworks S700 speakers to it no problem. The one I chose is the Yamaha RX-V371, mainly due to it having more features than some entry level receivers. It's low pass crossover option is nice, and the Enhance options are very useful for compressed music and those pesky Blu-rays done in Dolby TrueHD 7.1, which typically don't play dialog in the center channel on 5.1 systems. With 5.1 Enhance it does.
 
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#7
I used to have the Creative Auzen X-fi Forte, probably the best sounding card I had owned as far as gaming but the issues I had with Creative's buggy dashboard was ongoing. In the end the driver issues although bearable forced me to sell it.

Also had an Auzentech Meridian, had not faults, perfect drivers wonderful. Only sold it because I wanted HDMI output.

Now I use my 5850's HDMI output and for uncompressed PCM which sounds amazing on my Onkyo receiver and KEF bookshelf speakers.

Also, Creative hasn't had proper EAX support from game developers in a decade, so there is little incentive to buy.
 
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#8
sorry for not replying earlier ive only just got back from work.
ok so 1st things 1st.
my pc is not in my front room with my tv its in a spare room so i can setup whatever i like in it.
for my movies and tv down stairs i have
Pioneer SC-LX81 Amp
Oppo 93 Blu-ray
Panasonic Viera TX-P42VT20B
Speakers Monitor Audio Silver RX6 AV12
so are you saying i should buy a home cinema amp like my pioneer but cheaper cos im not spending £1500 for another amp :) to plug my sennheiser PC360 headset into for all my pc sound and not bother buying a sound card ?
what would be the best way to connect the amp to the pc ?
my pc spec is...
Asus P8P67 PRO
ZOTAC GTX680
Auzentech X-Fi Forte

so what about the sound affects i get from my games through my sound card and the surround sound from the games would it all work as good or better through an amp ?

I see Dent you have the Onkyo - TXSR309 for ur sound so are you telling me if i buy that amp which i see for about £140 and plug my headset into that it would sound much better than any of the sound cards i wanted for gaming not music (im sure music would be better) but how would i connect this to my pc and where would my mic get connected ?
 
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#9
I think Certain cards- parts can be upgraded
Opamps yes, but they mainly tweak the treble and high midrange sound. It takes decent caps to produce good bass.
 
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#10
so are you saying i should buy a home cinema amp like my pioneer but cheaper cos im not spending £1500 for another amp :) to plug my sennheiser ?
Don't need to spend £1500.


so what about the sound affects i get from my games through my sound card and the surround sound from the games would it all work as good or better through an amp ?
What effects? Soundcards have been standardised since Vista so there is little advantages as far as effects. Games either use Direct Sound or Open AL. All sound cards have EAX 2.0 support. There is no support for anything above despite what creative might say.

an amp ?

I see Dent you have the Onkyo - TXSR309 for ur sound so are you telling me if i buy that amp which i see for about £140 and plug my headset into that it would sound much better than any of the sound cards i wanted for gaming not music (im sure music would be better) but how would i connect this to my pc and where would my mic get connected ?
The amps on most soundcards are equivalent to the ones on a receiver, so if you are running a headset you'd be better off connecting it directly to a soundcard. But yes, a pair of £40 Warfedale Diamond 9.0 bookshelf speakers connected to a mediocre £100+ receiver would sound better than the Logitech Z5500.
 
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#11
tbh im not really bothered about speakers as i hardly ever use them i just want the best i can get from my sennheiser pc360 for sound and to be able to use my mic. so it sounds like i have to stick with a sound card which is fine but i still would like to know which is the best sound card to get.
also does anyone know of any better headsets than the sennheiser pc360 ? not that there is anything wrong with them i just wanna make sure im not missing out on anything.
i dont think u can beat them for comfort as they dont press on hard and they fit around ur ears and have a soft cloth material. ive used the sennheiser pc350's and they press on to hard and have material ... well im not sure what it is but its like either plastic or leather feel to it and they make ur ears sweat.has anyone used those new razer tiamat 7.1 surround that they say are much better than any other surround headset as the surround headsets ive used in the past are rubbish.

just been looking at some headset reviews of the razer tiamat 7.1 and i watched a video of a guy using them and complaining about how bad they sound and after he played a mic test the mic sounds so bad and he said the bass is not good it makes everything sound muffled and others say that the Atro A40 have better sound but still not great so it looks like to me the best sound quality still comes from normal stereo headsets (i know headphones are better but no mic). hasd anyone out there used the sennheiser pc360's and the Razer Carcharias cos ive heard good things about the Carcharias ???
PLEASE GUYS STILL NEED MORE HELP WITH SOUND CARDS
 
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#12
I've had no issues with integrated audio at 192khz for the last 4 years. I don't think there is a need unless your onboard really sucks. You say you still need help but I'm hearing a constant theme here. :)
 
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#13
PLEASE GUYS STILL NEED MORE HELP WITH SOUND CARDS
The Auzentech X-Fi forte as good as soundcards get. Buggy yes, broken maybe. But as far as the quality you get from connecting it analogue to your headset you won't find anything significantly better regardless of how much money you throw at it.

The only way to improve the audio is to upgrade the speakers.
 
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#14
the Sennheiser PC360 is one of the best headsets on the market. I wouldn't part with it.

plug the Sennheiser PC360 into the Pioneer SC-LX81 and see how it sounds. headphone support is usually a low priority on receivers so don't expect to be blown away.

odd because people really enjoy Battlefield 3 with the Essence STX mainly the Dolby Headphone support.
 
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#15
Im no audiophile but I can tell you one thing onboard sound is crap 99.999% of the time.
Putting aside all the dsp, EAX, hardware acceleration crap there is still a huge boost in sound quality due to the upgraded amp circuitry.

Whatever you get don't get anything Creative based unless you enjoy crappy software,
As far as the z5500's they sound great on a good soundcard especially via the 3.5mm connections opposed to the digital which sounds weak for whatever reason.
You cant do better for 5.1 @$250.

Case in point:
Until recently i have been using my headset on my onboard and my 5.1 on my X-Fi.
I had been bitching bout how crap the my headset mic and speakers where but just chalked that up to them being 40$.
I just recently plugged them into the sound X-Fi now they have full range deep bass and sound much clearer and the sound packs a punch, all enhancements disabled besides +20dB mic boost same as onboard.
The mic also works much better with open mic in ventrilo and don't cut me off mid sentence.
 
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#16
Im no audiophile but I can tell you one thing onboard sound is crap 99.999% of the time.
Putting aside all the dsp, EAX, hardware acceleration crap there is still a huge boost in sound quality due to the upgraded amp circuitry.

Whatever you get don't get anything Creative based unless you enjoy crappy software,
as far as the z5500's they sound great on a good soundcard especially via the 3.5mm connections opposed to the digital you cant do better for 5.1 @$250.

Case in point:
Until recently i have been using my headset on my onboard and my 5.1 on my X-Fi.
I had been bitching bout how crap the my headset mic and speakers where but just chalked that up to them being 40$.
I just recently plugged them into the sound X-Fi now they have full range deep bass and sound much clearer and the sound packs a punch, all enhancements disabled besides +20dB mic boost same as onboard.
The mic also works much better with open mic in ventrilo and don't cut me off mid sentence.
Maybe your onboard just sucks, but personally I have some monitor headphones by Sennheiser and you honestly can't tell the difference on a good onboard codec. I have Realtek ALC898 and it works fantastically.
 
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#17
I have a Realtek ALC889 had various other boards beforehand that had same issue.
My friend who had z680's which where the old model of the z5500 otherwise identical,
had the same issue with his old rampage board even with with the Supreme FX pcie 1x card. Your board may be one of the .001% that actually have decent amp circuitry, its not so much that modern onboard lacks quality it just lacks good amplification.

As a side note that same friend with the z680's wound up having the control pod go up, Bought a new receiver and sub and re used the sats from the 680's and they sound even better.
 
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#18
Maybe your onboard just sucks, but personally I have some monitor headphones by Sennheiser and you honestly can't tell the difference on a good onboard codec. I have Realtek ALC898 and it works fantastically.
Onboard and a very good soundcard sounds totally different. I have even compared mine to top end outboard DAC, DAC1 and Larvy and the sound is very similar. If you can't tell the difference it might well be your source files or simply your headphones and your ears.
 

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#19
Onboard and a very good soundcard sounds totally different. I have even compared mine to top end outboard DAC, DAC1 and Larvy and the sound is very similar. If you can't tell the difference it might well be your source files or simply your headphones and your ears.
I'm not disputing that is sounds differently, I'm disputing the following quote because on board audio isn't as bad as it used to be and the difference between the two exists, but it isn't night and day.

Im no audiophile but I can tell you one thing onboard sound is crap 99.999% of the time.
 
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#20
As you know already. "Day and night", "crap and decent" is very dependent on the listener's perception, gear and files. Sadly someone's day and night difference can also means unnoticeable to someone else. Even proper measurements cannot pinpoint if it is noticeable for an individual or not.

My advice to the OP is to upgrade the speakers and headphones first. Most of the time, if not always they are the limiting factor.
 

Aquinus

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#21
My advice to the OP is to upgrade the speakers and headphones first. Most of the time, if not always they are the limiting factor.
I agree, the amp on my 5.1 surround is pretty poor in comparison (high frequencies get dulled out,) and you can hear the difference plugging the headphones from the 5.1 amp versus directly to the audio jacks but listening on the speakers it would sound fine (seemingly fine, I'm sure.) I'm sure it's not too far off from individual sounds being more distinct and recognizable at higher sampling rates versus lower rates on a good pair of headphones.

Audio is very particular person to person, just likes displays. Some people don't mind tearing with v-sync off or micro-stutter with CFX or SLI but some do. Not everyone will agree on this topic. It's just how the cookie crumbles. :p
 
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#22
I'm not disputing that is sounds differently, I'm disputing the following quote because on board audio isn't as bad as it used to be and the difference between the two exists, but it isn't night and day.
All of the measurements of on-board sound cards I have seen lately are straight up horrible. Most well designed mid-end sound cards are alright.

My guess is that a properly configured ASUS Xonar or Forte for that matter is a more than adequate source for any active PC based surround sound system.
 
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#23
yes with sound it does depend on what u like as i said ...
the asus essesnce stx for me i didnt like in game sound on it but others love it. i prefer my auzentech X-fi for gaming that is why i think my only other option could be the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD or just maybe the Asus ROG Xonar Phoebus 7.1 if it doesnt sound like the asus essence stx.
 
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#24
I'm with Dent. The time of soundcards is OVER. They were very important 10+ years ago. Now it is all down to the amp and speakers. What differentiates a soundcard today is just the quality of the pre-amp section of the board. An external amp/decoder is far better than ANY PCI/PCIe soundcard until you go ProAudio. But really, that's a professional market for music production, and gamers dont need to venture into that space.
If you are using any analogue output the sound card is still very important. If you are using digital via toslink or coax it still might be relevant due to all the crappy jitter prone implementations on motherboards.

Also the implementation on all parts on the sound card matter a lot. A $10 DAC can sound fantastic if implemented correctly and a $100 can sound horrible. And there are boatloads of entry level external DAC/Amps that perform horribly, both in listening tests and measurements, but there are also a few great ones around.

It is true that some mid end sound cards are really good value, like the Xonar series from ASUS, but it is far from the same as saying that all sound cards sound good. Most Creative X-Fi Music and so on sound horrible.
 
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#25
yes with sound it does depend on what u like as i said ...
the asus essesnce stx for me i didnt like in game sound on it but others love it. i prefer my auzentech X-fi for gaming that is why i think my only other option could be the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD or just maybe the Asus ROG Xonar Phoebus 7.1 if it doesnt sound like the asus essence stx.
It is probably that the Creative DSP settings do not match those of ASUS (software configuration issue). The only way is to tinker around with the DSP features in the ASUS software I have no idea how to get it to match all the oddities that the Creative drivers include.

Upgrading to a Titanium is a waste of money and the Xonar Phoebus is just a revised Xonar card.