Sound Card Advice

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kishkumen123
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Im buying the Astro A40 as my headset, with the Amp that it comes with, and i wanted to get a sound card to complement the good headphones. I dont want to rely on my crappy on-board sound card. Im looking for a gaming sound card, something for around 100-120 dollars. Any suggestions?

Last thing, I need the sound card to support DDL? or Dolby? not entirely sure what that is but i think it produces 7.1 surround sound.

rafik

Razear
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Three reliable brands for sound cards are Auzentech, ASUS, and Creative. Can't go wrong with any of their products.

kbeam418
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What kind of on board audio do you have? On board audio is ok if you're not recording. Most on board dacs have s-n-r of about 90dB or better.

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kishkumen123
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VIA HD audio deck? idk i think thats what it is

kbeam418
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Those are pretty bad soundcards I thought you might've have a Realtek or something.

kishkumen123
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so i know that those 3 are good brands but what would you sudjest? something that supports 7.1 surround sound.

spawnkiller
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Do you have PCI-e and PCI or only one of the 2 ?? BTW here some:

Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-FI Xtreme Audio is 50-60$ do 7.1 but not the highest quality sound card (interference problems and some driver problems in win 7)

ASUS Xonar DSX is 60$ can do 7.1 but lacks the headphone amp for your headset...

AuzenTech Bravura is 80-100$ and have the headphone amp (i don't know much about this brand but on paper it's really good)

PS: In this price range the best card (in my opinion) is the ASUS Xonar DX but it lacks the true 7.1 for your needs (but can emulate it with 5.1 speakers)

Gaming PC: MSI Z77A-G45 ::: Intel Core I7 3770k @ 4.83Ghz ::: EVGA GTX680SC Signature ~1300mhz Boost/7122mhz ram ::: 16GB 4*4gb G.Skill 2240mhz CL10 ::: ASUS Xonar DX ::: Crucial M4 128gb (windows) + Intel 330 180gb (Steam games) + 1TB Caviar Black (storage) ::: Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold M1000 ::: Antec P280 ::: Noctua NHU12P SE2 ::: ASUS VE247H ::: Logitech G510 ::: Cooler Master Storm Sentinel II ::: Logitech X530 ::: Steelseries Siberia V-2 Black & gold edition

98% Of people under 25 surround their minds with rap music, if you're part of the 2% that stayed with rock, put this in your signature, ROCK IS BETTER!

Mordeux
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If your main concern is 3d positional audio for gaming, then you are just being silly. Honesetly, most premium sound cards that you consider will have decent positional audio, so don't worry too much about that. I would consider a few other things: Longevity, Customer Support and Features.

I would avoid the Creative X-Fi line now that Creative has the Z-Series line of cards rolling out. The X-Fi series was a disaster in terms of drivers and company support. If they treat the X-Fi like they did their older line of Sound Blaster Cards (Audigy, etc.), then they will post a final X-fi update for Windows Vista/7/8. The problem is that a final update leaves the user with a card that can potentially break; possibly be completely unsupported (software-wise) down the road. Why is this important to consider? Audio cards have this wacky lifespan that other electronic components can't seem to match. You may well find that the card you buy still works in 2021, so it is worth spending some money on something you not only like now, but something that can be upgraded in the future.

Others have mentioned the Auzentech cards. Currently they have a few offerings, the X-Fi and the 2 X cards with C-Media chips. It is worth noting that they do not offer any of their C-Media X cards in PCI Express form, yet. If you purchase an Auzentech card from their online store, they allow the option of upgrading the OPAMPs on their cards.

The C-Media chipset and the X-Fi are different breeds. I can only state that the C-Media wasn't designed with gaming as the main intent.

Okay... something that I think is a bit more future-proof than the X-Fi series:
Creative Z-Series
The few reviews on the Z-series have so far been quite positive. It might be worth waiting a bit to see what other cards spring out of the series before making a purchase as Creative will get feedback and hopefully attempt to improve the product.

I almost forgot:

FEATURES!

It is a godsend to have multiple audio connectors in the front of the PC (Not just the Stereo and Mic jacks). Look for a card that offers connectivity to a "Front Drive Bay" or positional hub.

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Coolermaster CM Storm || SeaSonic SS-660XP || ASUS P8Z77-V PREMIUM || Intel Core i7-3770K || 16 Gigabytes Corsair-Veng. || eVGA GTX 560ti || Audigy 2 ZS Platinum || 240GB Intel 520/ 2TB Samsung HDD || Liteon Blu-ray || Logitech G700 || Microsoft SIDEWINDER X4 || 20.1" NEC WMGX^2 || Onkyo TX-SR702 Receiver (with Bowers & Wilkins Speakers) || Sennheiser HD600 Headphones

kishkumen123
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I am not very familiar with sound cards, that is why i ask. My main concern is that its built in the thought of gaming. support 7.1 surround sound, and supports amps. yes drivers, customers service and features are very important, but if it was not made for gaming, does not support 7.1, and does not support any kind of camp, or dolby, then i dont want it.

Mordeux
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Do you have a 7.1 analog A/V receiver or speaker set?

Explanation:
Most speaker systems only accept one stereo jack or digital connection. This means they take the 2 channel signal and separate the sound. Sound cards can take digital signals and convert the signals via a DAC (Digital to Analog Converter). There may be some 7.1 analog PC sets still around like the Gigaworks S750 or Inspire P7800.

Even my system only has a digital or stereo-in port. I wouldn't be able to plug separate stereo inputs for each speaker pairing (Front/Rear/Side/Center). My receiver has its own DAC (which I need to replace at some point). It has full control over the separation of sound. This is primarily why I haven't bothered upgrading my sound card.

If you are set on using a sound card DAC, you could purhase separate PC speakers for each channel. It would be a mess of wires. An easier option is to purchase a pair of 7.1 headphones. You have very limited options in this realm that allow you to make use of a sound card's DAC:

  • Razer Tiamat
  • Tritton Warhead

I have no idea how well they work or if they even provide a decent surround experience.

Okay. Let's recap. You want a 7.1 DAC and a chip designed for gaming and entertainment.

The Cards:

  • Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 2g
  • Auzentech X-Fi (HomeTheater HD, Forte 7.1, Bravura)
  • Auzentech X-Raider 7.1
  • HT Omega Claro II
  • HT Omega Claro(+, Halo, Halo XT)
  • HT Omega Striker 7.1
  • HT Omega eClaro
  • ASUS Xonar Series

My pick would be the X-Meridian. It has both Dolby and DTS. To top it off, it also has decent OPAMPs.

What are OPAMPs? I'm so glad you asked. An OPAMP takes an analog signal and amplifies it, but with purpose. Think of it like a news column editor. It takes in a mess of signal and only allows the good to come out (if it is doing its job correctly). Some OPAMPs are made for music. Some are made specifically for movies. OPAMPs are generally 2-channel. A card with 7.1 audio needs four of them.
In the picture you can see the 8-pin OPAMPs just below each pair of green capacitors.

My adivce would be to look for a good external digital system for 7.1 entertainment(possibly a receiver) and get a solid gaming card like the Sound Blaster Z.

kishkumen123
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So let me see if i understand you correctly. Some headsets have 4 wires, as in (front,rear,side,center) that need a sound card that supports 4 plugs.
and other headsets have only 1 wire that once plugged in, the sound card then handles the separation of the sound itself?

If my understanding is correct then let me be more specific.

I bought the Astro A40 7.1 Headset, which has a single audio jack, and of course a microphone jack, they also come with an Amp.
It does require Dolby.

If that is the case, what sound card do you recommend that i buy, in a price range of $100-$150.
I did read about the sound blaster Z, and i am considering getting it, but from what i can tell, it has the full (front,rear,side,center) thing going on, and im not sure if a single jack 7.1 headset would work with that. If it does work with it, let me know and let me know if it would be a good purchase. otherwise maybe you could recommend something else for me that might be better.

PS: Thanks a lot of the response.

Mordeux
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A sound card always handles the separation of sound if you use one of the analog stereo jacks. Your single wire headset can only support 2 channels of sound: Left and Right. This means that your sound card will not be using the other 6 channels. You can still get a sound card with a single OPAMP to deliver amazing analog sound to your headset.

I feel like I've upset you. Hopefully, I've clarified the relative boundaries of computer audio.

kishkumen123
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no no you have not upset me, im just trying to understand all of this new terminology :P. So would you say that i should get the creative sound blaster Z? or another one?

Also when you say 2 channels, that does not mean that it doesnt procedure 7.1 surround sound right? it just means that it connects only to two channels on a sound card.

Vitalius
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Personally, I would not get Creative Sound Cards.

They are notorious for not updating their drivers and forcing people to buy their new cards to continue being supported.

Lately, they've been acting like they are doing lots of changing, specifically in the hardware area, so they might have changed their stance on the whole driver thing as well, but that's yet to be seen.

Up to you if you want to risk it.

Mordeux
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Correct.
A single channel is one line of audio. In a 7.1 setup, you have 8 lines of audio:

  • Front Left
  • Front Right
  • Back Left
  • Back Right
  • Side Left
  • Side Right
  • Center
  • Subwoofer

Your headphones are:

  • Left
  • Right

However:

The Audio Card can virtualize surround sound to a STEREO headphone. In terms of movies, you will probably find that you prefer Dolby/DTS Headphone mode over virtualization of surround sound.

This video effectively demonstrates that two channels can produce awesome surround effects without needing 7.1 virtualization. It is literally just stereo.

Virtualization makes it sound like you are in a BIG room. This always seems strange to me as the source of audio is right next to your ear.

This is another one:

Make sure your lady is not in the same room while watching this one:

ASMR Videos are interesting, no?

kishkumen123
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ok, so my headphones are 7.1 dolby surround sound. It is a single jack that simulates a 7.1 surround sound experience.
so to sum it all up, which sound card should i get.
the creative sound blaster Z? or are there better ones the work better for virtual 7.1 surround sound.

Mordeux
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The A40s are just biaural headphones. The videos linked are simple 2 channel audio. Your headphones did nothing and definitely are not 7.1.

I feel I have been misleading so I will try and clarify a few more things:

The current Dolby standard is Dolby TrueHD. This is a mode you would use if you had a full 7.1 system. It can probably be virtualized, but TrueHD is not the same as Dolby Headphone.

Dolby Headphone virtualizes 5.1 surround.

Also, as standards Dolby isn't just a simple audio splitter, it cleans up the audio source and trumpets it back out at you in glorious Dolby-sounding bliss.

DTS!

DTS HD is much the same as Dolby TrueHD, but the way it cleans up the audio is different.
DTS Headphone is actually called DTS Surround Sensation and it is also 5.1 virtualized sound.

CMSS 3D Headphone is also limited to a 5.1 virtualization. If you listen to the Youtube comparison between CMSS 3d and Dolby Headphone, the Dolby seems iike it is more towards the front. Dolby Headphone wasn't designed for gaming. CMSS clearly has a leg up for games.

You'll really notice it when he gets to the radio and moves ahead of it. It still sounds like it is almost in front of you even though it is clearly behind you. The CMSS did a much better job with the positional audio in the game.

I think they have replaced CMSS with SBX on their Z series. I don't know anything about it other than it is supposed to improve clarity in games vs a more natural sound.

So ANYHOW...

You can't get 7.1 in your cans. You don't need 7.1 in your cans. Positional Audio doesn't require 15 or even 100 speakers (though that would be sort of awesome). Bose proves again and again that all you need is a really good algorithm and a well-designed pair of speakers to produce amazing surround.

I think you will be perfectly happy with the Sound Blaster Z, but I would wait for the ZxR to come out just so you can take advantage of the additional goodies like the audio module.

kishkumen123
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ok, so i i guess ill finally get the sound blaster Z, but sorry there is one more thing i am a little confused about.

I understand that the astro a40 does not have multiple speakers in each ear cup to produce a 7.1 surround sound, but on their website, when i select the a40 and go to features, it says Dolby Digital 7.1. so from what i understand they are lying about the 7.1? or they are claiming that they support or produce a virtual surround sound but not real surround real.

Or maybe its the mix amp that they have that does the 7.1? because it says use it for 7.1?

Mordeux
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Your external audio processor is a Dolby Virtualizer with a few other things. Dolby Headphone takes pre-processed Dolby Pro Logic II(5.1) or IIz(7.1) and recombines it into two channels for your headphones using the positional cues given to it by the preprocessing. It isn't really 5.1 or 7.1 or 9.1 or quadraphonic or any combination of speakers.

Dolby Headphone is simply the virtualization (or simulation) of multiple-sources into 2 channels.

Advertising the set as Dolby 7.1 is marketing. Dolby just calls it Dolby Headphone. If they advertised it as "Simulated Dolby 7.1" people wouldn't be as excited about it. To Be fair, they don't actually call them 7.1 Headphones. They simply suggest that you can immerse yourself in 7.1 Dolby content (which is a clever spin).

There are some barriers you have to get around for 7.1 Virtualization. You will have to have a digital source to virtualize 7.1 and 5.1. This means you need a TOSLINK connection. You also need content that has 7.1/5.1 positional cues. I will parrot what I said earlier... You can't get 7.1 in your cans. You can, however, get virtualized 7.1; You just need the damned TOSLINK cable and appropriate content.

The good news is that you have a nifty little external Dolby Headphone Processor.

I was surprised to see that you have to purchase the TOSLINK cable separately. That's sort of a bummer.

If you LAN quite often, the ability to hook Mixamps together for communication seems really cool.

So... If you are watching a movie, you get to pick between audio card virtualization, software virtualization (depending on the Movie Player you are using) or Mixamp Dolby Virtualization.

If you haven't already, get a TOSLINK cable:

kishkumen123
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Im am almost 100% sure that the headphones come with that cable. i have seen many unboxing videos and they showed that cable being present with the package.

Although i am not too sure where i need to plug that into. does it get plugged into the sound card?

Mordeux
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As it turns out, the 2013 edition does list it.

When I was looking at the Mixamp User Manual it states that it does not include the TOSLINK. I found it odd because neither does the headset by itself.

Page 19 TOSLINK Optical Digital (Not Included)
http://qa.astrogaming.com/manuals/MixAmp_manual.pdf

The TOSLINK cable that you can purchase on their website is standard TOSLINK to TOSLINK Optical Cable while the TOSLINK that comes with the 2013 A40 Package is miniTOSLINK to TOSLINK. The Manual does not say it is a miniTOSLINK port. This leads me to believe the TOSLINK cable that comes with the packet has an adapter on one end if you have a system that USES the "Through RCA Optical Port." Anyhow...

Stick one TOSLINK in your Mixamp.

Stick the TOSLINK on the other side of the Optical Cable into the Optical Port PC, XBOX, PS3...
PC:

XBOX:

PS3

I rarely worry about surround with my headphones. If I ever have the money for it, I will throw down for this:

It works with a "Head Tracker" so that as you move your head to the position of the screen, the actual surround environment maintains its relative static position. For instance: In a full system, the position of your speakers will be static.

Let's say you have a speaker mounted on a wall behind where you sit. If you turn your head, that speaker is still in that position. With headphones, the position of the speakers are tethered to the position of your head. If you turn your head 90 degrees, you've shifted the position of all speakers 90 degrees. This is the major complaint you hear about from virtualization critics. This typically isn't a problem in gaming as you normally have your neck muscles flexed and your eyes straight forward while you piss and moan about the 10 year old that is owning your ass. LOL. I'm usually the 10 year old.

kishkumen123
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Thanks a lot for putting up with me lack of understanding XD, you have really helped me a lot.
I think i will go for either one of the sound blaster Z Zx or ZxR, depending on how much i can spend.

Although i did read that the sound blaster z is only 5.1? will that limit the sound quality of the virtual of my astro's with the TOSLINK or does it not matter.

Mordeux
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When you use the TOSLINK, the virtualization is being done by the Mixamp, not the card. I'm not fully competent as to what extent the cards role is while gaming if you decide to use TOSLINK. I believe it may render digital audio that is sent out to the Mixamp. I would try gaming with the Mixamp using the TOSLINK with the Onboard Optical Out just to see how it sounds. The Sound Blaster Z should do an excellent job virtualizing sound out of a single analog jack, so if you decide to purchase it, definitely play around and see what works best.

nellis51
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Running a Creative Z-Series; no complaints yet!