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Soundcard: help me decide
PoisonDan
post Apr 29 2002, 09:58
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Right now I have a SBLive! card in my system, and I'm not really satisfied with the sound quality.

After doing quite a bit of research, I want to do one of these two things:
- Rip out my SBLive! and buy a Hercules Game Theater instead
- Keep my SBLive! for gaming and buy a Stereo-Link 1200 for music
(as you can probably notice, gaming compatibility is important for me)

I can't really decide between those two options. The problem is I don't really know how the audio quality of the GTXP compares to the 1200.

If the difference between those two is very small (as in: hardly noticable), I would prefer the GTXP.

If anybody of you has listened to both these audio systems, I would appreciate some feedback. How do they compare when listening to music ?
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CiTay
post Apr 29 2002, 13:32
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Well, i can only speak for the Hercules GameTheater XP, which i currently use, i haven't tried the StereoLink yet.

I bought the GTXP for the same reason, to replace my SB Live. I must say, the sound quality is outstanding, keeping in mind that this is only an AC'97 card... if you listen a lot with headphones (like i do), you'll surely appreciate this card. Without exaggeration, it's miles better than the Live in this respect.

About speaker output.. hard to tell. I'm currently using quite crappy speakers, looking to upgrade soon. But the sheer versatility with the external box is great. I can hook my stereo up and can keep the normal speakers plugged in at the same time. It does 6.1 in hardware (now if i only had such a setup).

The drivers of the GTXP are quite good, again a lot better than the SB Live's. CPU load is minimal in all situations. Game support is good; EAX, A3D, it's all supported. EAX effects are not always 100% on par with the Live, but i can live with that. This is the only point where a Live/Audigy is unbeaten: game f/x.
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Trelane
post Apr 29 2002, 13:52
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The Stereo-Link SL1200 gets two thumbs up from me.
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gdougherty
post Apr 29 2002, 16:43
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QUOTE
Originally posted by PoisonDan
Right now I have a SBLive! card in my system, and I'm not really satisfied with the sound quality.

After doing quite a bit of research, I want to do one of these two things:
- Rip out my SBLive! and buy a Hercules Game Theater instead
- Keep my SBLive! for gaming and buy a Stereo-Link 1200 for music
(as you can probably notice, gaming compatibility is important for me)

I can't really decide between those two options. The problem is I don't really know how the audio quality of the GTXP compares to the 1200.

If the difference between those two is very small (as in: hardly noticable), I would prefer the GTXP.

If anybody of you has listened to both these audio systems, I would appreciate some feedback. How do they compare when listening to music ?


I'd consider an Audigy as your internal card also. If you're okay with the gaming capabilities and the sound quality in games from your Live card, then the st1200 really is an excellent device for audio. I've used an Extigy also, which also doesn't work for gaming, but does an excellent job in terms of audio quality and provides a boat-load of features. It doesn't have RCA outputs, opting instead for 1/8" mini-stereo connections, but it does provide both optical in and out as well as a number of other features. I've seen it online for about $135.

I suspect that the ST1200 is slightly better than an Extigy in terms of audio quality, given the price and fewer features which would indicate better components for what it does do. The Gametheater will probably not be a huge upgrade in sound quality over the Live! card, and depending on how you use things now and the stereo you're plugging into, the external boxes might not make that audible of a difference either.
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Trelane
post Apr 29 2002, 19:38
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Your best bet for gaming and good sound would be from a GameTheater XP or a Santa Cruz. The Audigy has too many flaws to even consider. If you're not happy with the sound produced from your Live! you won't be happy with an Audigy.

As for external USB devices, SL1200 wins hands down. It doesn't have recording capability but the audio playback quality is extremely good.
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fewtch
post Apr 30 2002, 10:29
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After a bad experience with the TB Santa Cruz (constant blue screens & system crashes), I'd advise Win9x users to stay away from it. There are known compatibility issues with newer version of DirectX, and TB hasn't updated the VxD drivers since January of '01. Irresponsible, considering the large installed base of Win9x systems.

I'm thinking about an M-Audio Audiophile 24/96, after reading reviews comparing it to the Terratec EWX, it comes out superior. $159 retail is a good price for this card.

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PatchWorKs
post Apr 30 2002, 12:54
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Audio Video Guide


Creative Labs suck... ohmy.gif
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Odin
post Apr 30 2002, 12:54
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I guess it all comes down to what you want your card to do and how much you are willing to pay for it.

I left creative labs products about 1 year ago and have never been happier. I use active studio monitors that are directly connected to my soundcard and the sound is crystal!

My soundcard of choice is the EchoAudio MIA which is an excellent card if you are looking for the perfect studio sound. Driver support is also excellent and always work. This card is a TRUE 24/96 card and you also get ASIO and GIGA support as well as 8 virtual channels. What you do not get is surround, 5+1 and environmental audio effects.

If you, like me, want a perfect sound 1st and a great stereo sound in games, look no further. This is a great card and I can only so warmly recommend it.

More info on www.echoaudio.com

Odin
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PoisonDan
post Apr 30 2002, 13:54
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A few follow-ups:

I know the sound quality of the SBLive! is not very good, but I already mentioned game compatibility is very important for me. Say what you want about Creative Labs, but the gaming compatibility of their cards is unsurpassed. Does anybody know an audiophile-level soundcard that is also a great gaming card ?

I would also like to mention that having two internal cards is also not an option: I simply do not have a free PCI slot left. If I had, I would also consider adding an Audiophile 2496.

I would also like to mention that the MIA is certainly overkill for me. I don't want a card for recording or creating music, only for listening. About my equipment: I use the Sirocco Crossfire speakers and (most of the time) a Sennheiser HD535 headphone (BTW, I like the fact that both the GTXP and the SL1200 have a separate headphone input with volume control).

Keeping my SBLive! and adding a SL1200 seems to give me the best of both worlds: SBLive! is unbeatable for games, SL1200 is ideal for listening to music. And I like the idea of the SL1200: no need for a free PCI slot, and it has an external DAC.

However, having one card that does everything well is convenient. If the GTXP sounds about as good as the SL1200, and has no major issues in games, it looks like an attractive option for me.

Therefor, it would have been cool if anybody has listened to both cards and can comment on the sound quality of both (and any differences).
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dB
post Apr 30 2002, 14:29
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QUOTE
Originally posted by Odin


My soundcard of choice is the EchoAudio MIA which is an excellent card


You're right, but Echo MIA doesn't support Linux.


Bye, dB
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fewtch
post Apr 30 2002, 14:50
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Just about any card is overkill for me. What I'd like is a card that simply has excellent sound quality, digital I/O as an option, and allows recording/playback at 24/96 (digital & analog) without resampling.

I couldn't care less about all the 3-letter acronyms, to me they just mean bloated drivers & less system stability. Unfortunately, the 3-letter acronyms sell more sound cards (even the high-end ones)... rolleyes.gif

If someone ever makes an excellent card with basic functionality at a reasonable price, I'll be the first in line. Fat chance tho...


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JohnMK
post Apr 30 2002, 15:10
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QUOTE
Originally posted by PoisonDan
I already mentioned game compatibility is very important for me. Say what you want about Creative Labs, but the gaming compatibility of their cards is unsurpassed.


As far as I know, stereo is supported by all sound cards under discussion. Do you need something more out of your card? After putting up with the Live! for several years, and the constant background hiss and instabilities that accompany it, I switched to an Audiophile 2496. I went into it thinking about how much I might miss the 3D positional audio of the Live! and later series, but honestly I do not. I'm finding that super-clean, perfect stereo does my ears perfect justice.
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PoisonDan
post Apr 30 2002, 15:30
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QUOTE
Originally posted by Keynes


As far as I know, stereo is supported by all sound cards under discussion. Do you need something more out of your card? After putting up with the Live! for several years, and the constant background hiss and instabilities that accompany it, I switched to an Audiophile 2496. I went into it thinking about how much I might miss the 3D positional audio of the Live! and later series, but honestly I do not. I'm finding that super-clean, perfect stereo does my ears perfect justice.


To make things perfectly clear:
- I do not need 3D positional audio
- I do not need all kinds of spiffy EAX effects, reverb, etc...

When I mention "game compatibility" I mean "getting problem-free sound in games". All I want is that my music sounds great and that the games sound decent (no need for 3D or EAX).

I've read a lot of reports about non-Creative cards that have missing sounds, static, distortion, hiccups and other problems when playing sound in games. I do not want this.

As an example, take the Terratec 6fire 24/96. According to everything I've read about the card, the audio quality is great. However, it has several issues with games.

A quote from the 3DSoundSurge forums:
"I tried MoHAA demo and AvP2. Huge noise and static - almost no game sounds audible anymore.

In both games the sound turns randomly to steady noise, drowning all game music/effects behind them. This is not minor noise and it seems to have nohing to do with mixer input settings."

Tomshardware also compared the SB Audigy to the 6fire and said this about the Audigy in games:
"No sound is missing or patchy as it is sometimes with the Terratec DMX 6Fire 24/96."

That's why I am so afraid to use only a non-gaming sound card, like the Audiophile 2496 you mentioned. I would really appreciate some feedback from users who have used this card extensively with games.
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Odin
post Apr 30 2002, 16:48
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Sounds to me like you have already decided to go for creative labs. In that case, it would have to be the audigy in it's cheapest package...

Odin
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PoisonDan
post Apr 30 2002, 21:38
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QUOTE
Originally posted by Odin
Sounds to me like you have already decided to go for creative labs. In that case, it would have to be the audigy in it's cheapest package...

Odin

I beg your pardon ????

I wouldn't buy a new Creative Labs card even if my life depended on it. I'm just wondering if I should keep my SBLive! to play games, and get another card for music. If I can find a high-quality soundcard that is also suitable for gaming, I will probably ditch my SBLive!

The point is: do you know a high quality soundcard (e.g. Audiophile 2496) that will also sound decent in games (no audio glitches) ?
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Trelane
post Apr 30 2002, 21:59
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Gaming should be fine on most cards (you've already stated that you don't need 3D audio or EAX). Hell, I play games with my SL1200 and they all work fine.

The Audiophile and SL1200 are both of high quality. If you need 24 bit/96 khz and/or recording capability, go with the Audiophile. Otherwise, I'd recommend the SL1200. But it's really a close call because both are great products.

If you do decide on the SL1200 and you run Windows XP, make sure you download the Windows Update for Audio. It corrects USB audio bugs present in the release of Windows XP. I am not sure if they were present in Windows 2000 or not.
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KikeG
post May 1 2002, 22:20
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I think the SL1200 maybe has the disadvantage that being an USB device it may have a higher load on your CPU with games.

The advantage, that it has headphone connector with volume control.

And about the issue that it is an external device and DAC, the fact that it is external is not a reason for being better or worse on audio quality. One of the best sound cards, if not the best of all, is internal, the LynxTwo: measured dynamic range of 130 dB (see www.pcavtech.com).
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Trelane
post May 1 2002, 23:04
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The SL1200 does indeed use more CPU during games. However, I have not noticed any significant decrease in performance (maybe a few FPS). In any case, I was merely pointing out that game compatibility shouldn't be a problem.

The SL1200 has its uses... one of the biggest I can think of is great audio quality for laptop users (such as myself) who often get shafted in the sound department. I'm sure that you'll agree that in its market (USB audio), the SL1200 is at the top of its class. smile.gif
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Pio2001
post May 2 2002, 00:06
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I've got a Marian Marc 2 (24/96), and noticed a strange behaviour in games :

With the digital output (in Windows98 / control panel / multimedia), lots of static and distorded noise in American McGee's Alice, no sound in Unreal Tournament.

But no problem at all if analog output is selected in the control panel, and the digital output source set to analog output in the Marian router !

So maybe there's a sync and/or resampling problem in the digital output handling of the 24/96 chip.
Are the gaming problems of the 6fire present in all output settings ?
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Surge
post May 2 2002, 01:56
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What about Philips sound cards? I've read somewhere that they are quite good qualitywize and not bad in gaming...
Philips Soundcards

Any more comments on Hercules card? I also plan to drop my SB Live! for a better card and I need a good support for headphones, since just a month ago I've got HD-600 (what a great purchase).

Any Linux issues with these cards? Are they supported? In mid May plan to ditch WinXP in favour of Debian or Slackware, hence if card works not well under Linux, it is not a good choice for me.
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greenirft
post May 2 2002, 02:42
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Your two best bets for decent musical and gaming audio are:

- Hercules GTXP
- Turtle Beach Santa Cruz

From what I'm heard the Santa Cruz has better sound quality, but not all the cool "whiz bang" features of the GTXP. But the GTXP has incredible game support, and some of those cool features that you might find useful, I cannot comment on the Santa Cruz's gaming ability.

But, the Santa Cruz does include the EAX and such, so it's there, but you got get the nice breakout box with all of the connectors.

As for the Soundblaster, Creative really needs to get it's act together. Sure the Audigy has nice featuers and all, but there still plagued with some of the problems that the SB Lives! had (but, VIA isn't exactly working too well with CL).
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PatchWorKs
post May 2 2002, 08:19
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ECHO really rulez...

TERRATEC seems not so bad...

CREATIVE LABS still sucks...
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user
post May 2 2002, 09:42
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I can recommend:
Terratec EWX 2496


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cd-rw.org
post May 2 2002, 09:43
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I have the SL1200 and recently I wrote a little article about it ( http://cd-rw.org/articles/archive/stereolink.cfm ). I am running a PIII/500mhz and havent noticed the USB Audio consuming CPU time so that I could notice it. Works with the very few games that I have tried also. My neighbour hates it.


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Sachankara
post May 2 2002, 09:44
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QUOTE
Originally posted by greenirft
Your two best bets for decent musical and gaming audio are:

- Hercules GTXP
- Turtle Beach Santa Cruz

From what I'm heard the Santa Cruz has better sound quality, but not all the cool "whiz bang" features of the GTXP. But the GTXP has incredible game support, and some of those cool features that you might find useful, I cannot comment on the Santa Cruz's gaming ability.

But, the Santa Cruz does include the EAX and such, so it's there, but you got get the nice breakout box with all of the connectors.

As for the Soundblaster, Creative really needs to get it's act together. Sure the Audigy has nice featuers and all, but there still plagued with some of the problems that the SB Lives! had (but, VIA isn't exactly working too well with CL).
First of all, GTXP and Santa Cruz/SonicFury uses the exact same audio DSP... The only difference is the frontpanel of the GTXP... So there shouldn't really be any difference in quality... (SonicFury is the European version of Santa Cruz... It's exactly the same card except the names... It even says Santa Cruz on the SonicFury PCB...)

And second of all, the so called "VIA bug" is really a "Creative bug" since Creative's Live! and Audigy cards does not fully support the PCI 2.1 standard which VIA's chipsets heavily depends on... They depend on the fact that the hardware has 100% PCI 2.1 support, and when the hardware doesn't, well then it won't be able to sync the bus correctly with the card and will then cause instabilites and data loss... It's a simple as that... Though Creative denies it, but what they say means nothing to me... (Intel's i815 chipset is also known to have problems with some configurations of Creative's cards... They also have some serious incompatibilites with GeForce 4 too... Two good example of the fact that the card screws up the bus timings...)
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