Need help finding the perfect sound card.

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Jajuka Posted: Wed, Sep 21 2011 6:50 PM

I'm still using my old Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card. It still sounds pretty decent, but I'd like to upgrade.

I'm not a big fan of Creative's cards mainly due to their drivers. But I also don't really like the sound that the X-Fi chip puts out. It sounds so....  electronic? artificial? ... I'm not sure how to put it. I find the sound it reproduces to be cold and mechanical, rather than having a warm, lively sound (this mainly refers to music). Anyone know if there are still companies that are making NEW sound cards?

I can't seem to find the perfect card that does everything I want; which includes using PCI-E, allowing 5.1 analog to connect my Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 Ultra speakers and if possible, including a headphone amp for my Audio-Technica ATH A700 headphones.

The HT Omega Claro Halo does most of what I want (5.1 analog, headphone amp, replaceable op amps), but it's PCI, which means that if I upgrade to a new motherboard I may not even be able to use it.

The Asus Essence allows for 5.1 analog with an add-on and has a headphone amp, but is also on PCI.

The Asus Essence STX is PCI-E and has a nice heaphone amp, but doesn't support 5.1 analog.

Are there no top-end cards out there that are on PCI-E and support the things I'm looking for?  ...other than X-Fi powered cards...

 

PS- I've tried the Auzentech Forte, but didn't like the sound very much because of the X-Fi chip. Also, it had some weird issues that were hardware-related that would not be fixed with drivers (confirmed by their support after I contacted them). One of the issues was the fact that all your outputs would output sound simultaneously when playing anything. You can't mute certain connections you weren't using at the moment. This meant if I had connections plugged into headphones, 5.1 analog, and SPDIF (I actually DID use all these), they'd all output at the same time, and some would lag behind others. This also means that I'd have to unplug my headphones whenever I didn't want to use them, otherwise I'd hear sound coming out of them all the time.

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realneil replied on Wed, Sep 21 2011 7:43 PM

Dogs are great judges of character, and if your dog doesn't like somebody being around, you shouldn't trust them.

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Jajuka replied on Wed, Sep 21 2011 7:57 PM

I appreciate your response, but I was kind of hoping for more of a discussion about high end sound cards and their features.

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realneil replied on Wed, Sep 21 2011 8:02 PM

Jajuka:
I appreciate your response, but I was kind of hoping for more of a discussion about high end sound cards and their features.

I can't help you with that. I'm perfectly happy with on board sound that's built-into my mainboards. I worked on Aircraft Flight-lines for many years and those un-muffled military jet engines did my hearing a number. So I can't hear the difference in ~really~ high end gear.

 

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Jajuka replied on Thu, Sep 22 2011 2:27 AM

Not much activity in the PC Audio forums...

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AKwyn replied on Thu, Sep 22 2011 8:27 AM

Jajuka:
I'm not a big fan of Creative's cards mainly due to their drivers. But I also don't really like the sound that the X-Fi chip puts out. It sounds so....  electronic? artificial? ... I'm not sure how to put it. I find the sound it reproduces to be cold and mechanical, rather than having a warm, lively sound (this mainly refers to music).

Somewhat disagree. I think it produces vivid lively music.; and this is from a user of a Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic from 2006. Yup, I had this card for 5 years.

Anyways, if you're not a fan of the X-Fi chip then you might want to check out Turtle Beach; they're well known for their headphones now but back then they were known for the sound cards (and they still make them, they've just taken somewhat of a backseat.) You might want to check them out, I've read that their sound cards are usually of high quality.

Also Auzentech does make some non X-Fi cards, some of their recent cards don't have the X-Fi chipset in them so if you're willing to give them a try and see if they produce the sound you want then go ahead, Auzentech does produce good cards with really high-quality components; and higher-quality components does equal up to better sound reproduction or so I heard. (Some of the reason Creative gets flak for their sound cards is because of the lower quality they use.

I may not understand sound entirely but I do understand that sound is conductive and is made up of various frequencies and if these chips aren't up to the task of handling these various tasks then it usually leaves a somewhat less then desired sound (lack of dynamic and visible sounds) I mean why do you think they use gold and the highest quality chips known to man. They're trying to get the purest sound possible out of these cards, and alot of these factors come in play when it comes to pure sounds; stuff like distortion, interference and noise; Creative has been putting in some effort recently but Auzentech has been doing it from the beginning; I'm assuming ASUS and Turtle Beach did the same as well...

Again, do not know much about noise but I think the X-Fi sound is good for my needs (even though it is a bit hyped.) I'm sorry if you don't like it but I hope that you find the card that's right for you.

 

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realneil replied on Thu, Sep 22 2011 10:12 AM

TaylorKarras:
if you're not a fan of the X-Fi chip then you might want to check out Turtle Beach; they're well known for their headphones now but back then they were known for the sound cards (and they still make them, they've just taken somewhat of a backseat.) You might want to check them out, I've read that their sound cards are usually of high quality.

They (Turtle Beach) were one of the very best, back in the day. I also thought of them to recommend, but I checked yesterday and even though they're still making sound cards, they do not make them in the PCI-E format, just PCI. The OP is set on PCI-E.

As for the sound quality, these new sound cards process sound digitally and not analog as we used to do. The quality of the sound you end up with has a whole lot to do with two things. How well it was recorded, and how well you reproduce that sound. Back in the day, (old fart terminology) the speakers that you use were the most important element because of their capability (or not) for true sound reproduction. (this assuming you spent enough money on clean Tuner/Amplifiers of quality) I used Marantz Tuners and Amps and Klipsch speakers. I still have a Marantz stack in my shed.

With digital sound, most of the guesswork is taken out of the mix. The sound is what is it is, and though you can modify it to suit your individual tastes with equalizers and digital processors, if you play it back without tweaking it, (tweaking it is a sin to some audiophiles) it sounds only as good as your speakers do.

Many modern motherboards still offer at least one PCI slot to accommodate legacy hardware. The OP should take a closer look at one of them.

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eunoia replied on Wed, Jan 11 2012 5:53 PM

.

...pending.

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