When it comes to sound cards, think Creative is the only game in town? Guess again. While Creative has name recognition cornered, there are other viable options. Take BlueGears HDA X-Mystique 7.1 Soundcard. This little gem can encode Dolby Digital 5.1 streams and has a slew of other impressive features, all for less than comperable Creative offerings. The guys at Penstarsys even list some advantages over the Creative line.
"The sound card market is a very strange one these days. When Creative released the Sound Blaster series computer sound really took off and there were quite a few solid competitors in the market at that time. The big chip firms were Ensoniq, Creative, Cirrus Logic, Aureal and others. Through the years though, due to market pressures, buyouts, and legal action we now have only three major manufacturers of standalone sound chips. I am not simply talking audio codecs and the integrated sound functionality on the chipset level, but true standalone sound chips that work independently of the CPU. Creative just released their X-Fi series of chip which brings some incredible DSP prowess to the table and continue to produce their Audigy 2 and SB Live! 24 chips. VIA has carefully nursed their Envy series of chips to be a solid product for a wide range of products from the average desktop to the recording studio. The last big audio chipmaker is C-Media."