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Topic: Want to buy a new soundcard... (Read 31209 times) previous topic - next topic
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Want to buy a new soundcard...


my Audigy 1 stopped working today - the system doesn't recognize it anymore at all... so a new soundcard has to be bought.

Now the question: what soundcards in the above mentioned price region can you recommend? I think Creative isn't the first choice (anymore?) because of their bad drivers.

Thanks in advance.

Regards, fileman.

Edit: grammar... ouh my English is rusty

Want to buy a new soundcard...

Reply #1
You could always try KXproject drivers.  They just might work with your audigy1.

Want to buy a new soundcard...

Reply #2
OK, here we go. A while ago I told Pio2001 that I might take a shot at a soundcard FAQ, and I'll try to get close to that here. What follows comes mostly from memory, so you'll have to check yourself if this is at all complete.

As most HA-users ask mainly for high-quality analog output of music, that will be the main virtue of all cards named here. Also, I'll stay near your price point of $100. That's just fine, since it will buy you some very fine cards, only to be bettered at many times the price.

To kick off with, the controversial Creative Soundblaster Audigy 2. Bashed upon by many, Creative have actually got quite a good offering here. It's cheap!
Unlike the Audigy 1, which was advertised as a 96kHz capable card but was internally only capable of 48kHz processing, it offers true 24bit 192kHz playback. One may question the use of it, since at present there seems to be no measurable difference in 96 and 192kHz converters. Anyway, it does mean DVD-A is supported up to its full 192kHz maximum spec.
One of the things this card is criticized for, is that it has no native 44.1kHz support (CD-audio, and thus most MP3s too). This was a problem with the Live and Audigy 1 cards before it, which according to many have very bad quality conversion to 48kHz. The Audigy 2 converts 44.1 streams to 48kHz as well, but I haven't anywhere seen claims yet of someone actually being annoyed by the sound of it. It seems then, Creative have improved their upsampling process.
The other criticism relates to Creative making rather bulky drivers, consuming a lot of system resources. There's a fix for this in the kXproject drivers - but using those goes at the expense of the cards excellent gaming support, among some more problems.
For more info, see a review here. As you can see from measurements, with regards to playback quality it isn't interesting at all to consider the outboard versions of the audigy 2 - the internal version performs as well. You may however favour them for their front connection options.
In short, the Audigy 2 is up there with the best on 48/96kHz material, and arguably on 44.1kHz stuff too. It is readily available at many shops at fair prices. At the moment, I also think it is the only interesting and state-of-the-art Creative product.

The next manufacturer that comes to mind is Terratec. They actually offer a range of interesting soundcards, of which the Terratec Aureon Sky (5.1) and Space (7.1) are most appropriate for playback applications. These cards, having VIAs Envy24HT chip onboard, offer 192kHz support, but also do 44.1kHz without sample rate conversion. From measurements (see review here) it shows that the Aureon is a fine performer, especially outperforming the Audigy2 in 44/48kHz modes (at least measurably... audibly?).
On the downside, Terratec don't have the best reputation where it comes to driver support. Owning another Terratec offering (DMX 6fire) myself, I can't confirm this, being perfectly happy with its drivers. Also, do note that Creative have quite an advantage where it comes to gaming features. In short: this is an excellent offering for music listening.
A warning: don't be confused by the firms bad card naming: the cheap Aureon Fun has a very simple C-Media CMI8738 chip and isn't playing anywhere in the same league as the Sky/Space. It is however quite a bargain for an optical digital in/out board. At this price, there are hardly any other cards that can output true 44.1kHz on spdif out. I'm suspending this last statement till I've done decisive tests of it myself. For now, I can say the Aureon Fun digital out works well here with M-Audio DIO2448 drivers, but I haven't yet done a bit comparison.

Terratec also have a couple of other cards at a slightly higher price, like the Terratec DMX 6fire 24/96, LT, EWX 24/96. These are build around VIAs Envy24 (not HT), which lacks 192kHz support but is otherwise of similar quality. They have the same high playback quality as the Aureons, but are better equipped for recording in 24bit 96kHz. The EWX has only two channels, but gives you some high quality cinch connectors, which may last longer than conventional 3,5" jacks.

Similar to the EWX is a German card that I have owned for a while, the Marian Marc 2 (in America they use Sek'd as a trademark). I shouldn't mention it since it's twice the price of an Aureon/Audigy2 and has rather mediocre drivers, but it's an interesting card if you like the "pro feel". Also, mentioning it helps me in the smooth transition to...

...the M-Audio Audiophile 2496. This is the dinosaur of high-quality affordable soundcard land. It's very much like the EWX/Marian in many aspects, but adds full MIDI connectivity. Like the EWX, it is based on the Envy24 chip (although back then it had another name - VIA didn't buy the company yet).
It is an excellent card for two channel playback, but if you're only looking for a listening solution it's too expensive now that the likes of Terratecs Aureon have dawned upon us. Should you see it second hand, don't hesitate - it is every bit as clean as the newcomers in sound reproduction (but has only two channels and no 192kHz - should be fine for many people). Also, it is backed by solid driver support from M-Audio.

Ofcourse, M-Audio needed their own Aureon equivalent. Enter the M-Audio Revolution 7.1. Using the same Envy24HT, and similar DA-chips, it is actually in many ways the same card. Find a review here. Like the Aureon, this is a solid performer in playback of music. An extra plus might be the good reputation of M-Audio driver support. Around the HA-forums, this is probably the most often recommended soundcard as of late.

M-Audio actually have a full range of semi-pro cards if you're moving more upmarket. The extra money spent however will mainly buy you better recording features, and little (if any) playback quality boost. Many manufacturers are at play in this market segment, among which are ESI, Echo Audio, RME, and Terratec with its Phase line, while the upper 'limit' to date is represented by the Lynx Two.
General opinion at HA says that buying such cards for listening only would only be advised in a cost-no-object scenario. Also, if the rest of your playback system supports balanced connections, it may be interesting to look at some semi-pro offerings.

Want to buy a new soundcard...

Reply #3
Thank you very much, Patsoe, for this great post! I'll have a look at Terratec's cards, but perhaps I'll buy the Audigy 2... It's because I also play games from time to time, and the developers all seem to be "Creative-oriented". I'll research about driver and upsampling (44,1 -> 48 KHz) issues...

I already tried KX-drivers - but the card is not in the device manager - the installation of any drivers doesn't have any effect...

Regards, fileman.

Want to buy a new soundcard...

Reply #4
If you have the time, would you please comment on nforce² Soundstorm and on the Audiotrak Prodigy 7.1?
Deekin: "And the sound of doom was nigh! Doom! Doom doom doom! DOOM!!!"

Want to buy a new soundcard...

Reply #5
The Prodigy 7.1 hardware is just as good as the Aureon or Revo, while at the same time has much greater value thanks to its feature-rich drivers. DirectWIRE 3.0 and GSIF support are the most outstanding features.

Want to buy a new soundcard...

Reply #6
Yes, the prodigy board layout is even almost indistinguishable from the aureon.

NForce2 Soundstorm: there's nothing wrong with the chip, it has some nice advanced features like DD-encoding. But analogue quality depends a lot on the brand of motherboard. It is combined with different codec's (most often ALC650, which is not bad, but still cheap), and other components will vary in quality too.

If you want onboard audio anyway, Soundstorm is a great choice. If you want DD-out (e.g. for a HTPC), it's perfect. For music, you'll have to see which nforce2 motherboards do best.

Want to buy a new soundcard...

Reply #7
What of the Videologic SonicXplosion? I'm in the market for a replacement for my crummy old SB Live Value, and I've had it recommended to me a couple of times..