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Cheap soundcard.. again!
ben
post Aug 4 2002, 03:34
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I know this topic has been answered to death, but I still cannot find a solid answer, or is there even one? All I need is a simple soundcard, I don't do any recording, and I don't need any extra DSP/game stuff. I'm just looking for a great sounding card that isn't very expensive. Someone mentioned the Ensoniq 1371(?) chipset being a good one, can anyone comment on that?

I'd *like* to have 2 outputs, but I can cope with 1. There's gotta be an inexpensive solution to a good sounding card, at least, better than my MX300. I use Peter's SSRC resampling directx plugin, so resampling quality isn't an issue.

I also don't need digital outs. Just something simple that sounds good! Does it exist?
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rjamorim
post Aug 4 2002, 04:08
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SoundBlaster 128 PCI

The high quality sound card from Creative. tongue.gif

(Although there are some version issues, IIRC)


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fewtch
post Aug 4 2002, 04:20
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All the credit should go to Ensoniq, Creative Labs is more a (very successful) marketing company than anything else.


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godzilla525
post Aug 4 2002, 07:05
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The Turtle Beach Santa Cruz is highly regarded... and not that expensive.

It has front (ch 1&2) and rear (ch3&4) line/headphone outputs, and a versajack that can be line/headphone out (ch 5&6), line in (ch 3&4), or digital out (ch 1&2). ...Mic input, wavetable header, game connector, analog and digital cd inputs... This card resamples, though with the best results for resampling hardware.

$59 + $4 S&H from newegg.com


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JonPike
post Aug 6 2002, 01:32
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Yep, Ensoniq made good stuff, then Creative bought them, and rebadged a few products.. I remember the controversy when it became publicly found that the $99 SB 64 PCI was actually the Ensoniq product (forget the model) that was still selling for $49.

That was a 1370 (and or the 1371?) chip board.

I was wondering though.. you guys reccomend them, but can you still buy them? Creative hasn't made the 64/128 for 3-4 years haven't they? Can these things only be found in swapmeet bins if you are lucky? I haven't seen one in a few years, and I go to a lot of computer swaps..

Not quite what I'd want to hear if I was looking to get a card..
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Randum
post Aug 6 2002, 01:49
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If you don't care about any extra features like 3d positional audio or any of that kind of BS, one thing to consider is a cheap USB audio external DAC, like an griffin iMic (website down at the moment, probably temporary)... having the DAC external to your system case can dramaticly reduce EMI related noise, and it only costs ~$30... Audio quality sounds great to me, I don't know how its quality would be rated by audiophile types... I would be curious to hear their input.
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KikeG
post Aug 6 2002, 01:55
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QUOTE
Originally posted by Randum
having the DAC external to your system case can dramaticly reduce EMI related noise


However, reasonable quality internal cards (Turtle Beach Santa Cruz and better) don't need to have an external DAC to perform well over this EMI noise issue.

My recomendation for a cheap soundcard is this card, the TB Santa Cruz aka Videologic Sonic Fury.

The problem is that under "SB 128 PCI" name there are some different actual soundcard internals, which vary over time, and many of them are quite bad quality.
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Randum
post Aug 6 2002, 03:05
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QUOTE
Originally posted by KikeG

However, reasonable quality internal cards (Turtle Beach Santa Cruz and better) don't need to have an external DAC to perform well over this EMI noise issue.


Really? How do they manage that? Shield the DAC chip on the board? Even so, wouldn't EMI still affect the signal coming off the (analog) cable coming out of it? Sure, its not actually inside the case, but very near it, as opposed to an external DAC, where the signal doesn't 'turn analog' till its a good distance away from the case. I don't know, Ive actually never owned a good quality sound board like the ones you recommend, so I don't know how it compares subjectively, but it seems to me like it would always be worse (on the emi issue anyway) than an external dac.
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fewtch
post Aug 6 2002, 03:09
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QUOTE
Originally posted by JonPike
I was wondering though..  you guys reccomend them,  but can you still buy them? Creative hasn't made the 64/128 for 3-4 years haven't they?  Can these things only be found in swapmeet bins if you are lucky?  I haven't seen one in a few years,  and I go to a lot of computer swaps..

Not quite what I'd want to hear if I was looking to get a card..

A lot of computer stores around here (Seattle WA. area) are still selling the SB PCI128 as their "bottom end" card (don't know about the chipset). Anyone who wants a guarantee of good sound would probably be better off with a $150 M-Audio Audiophile 24/96 (plus you get the added features). I'll probably use my PCI128 until the jacks go bad (they get loose & scratchy after awhile) then grab one of the aforementioned cards. Then I can think about upgrading my PC speakers (which are fairly crappy and wouldn't sound any different plugged into a $10,000 piece of equipment biggrin.gif ).

Edit -- because of my bad experience, I'll continue to recommend people with Win98 (SE) and WinME systems avoid the Turtle Beach Santa Cruz. It might be something to consider in an XP/2K or Linux system.


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ben
post Aug 6 2002, 04:28
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Yeah, there are MANY versions of the PCI 128. The earliest generation had a line-out, line-in, and mic-in. I think that was the Ensoniq 1370. Other generations had exactly the same board layout except there was another output. I *think* this was the 1371. Several versions followed this, don't know if they used Ensoniq chips or not.

I'll most likely get a Santa Cruz. I'm running XP so I shouldn't have any driver issues right?

Oh yeah, and I moved my MX300 to a lower PCI slot, away from my case fan and video card fan, and results in RMAA *dramatically* improved.
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fewtch
post Aug 6 2002, 04:38
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QUOTE
Originally posted by ben
Yeah, there are MANY versions of the PCI 128.  The earliest generation had a line-out, line-in, and mic-in.  I think that was the Ensoniq 1370.  Other generations had exactly the same board layout except there was another output.  I *think* this was the 1371.  Several versions followed this, don't know if they used Ensoniq chips or not.

The cure is simple, don't buy online... if a computer store nearby has the PCI128, just check it & make sure one of the chips has "1371" inscribed on it -- or if buying used on Ebay or something (always a possibility), ask the seller... beware of the issue with 1/4" jacks on used cards though, my experience is they do go intermittent after awhile.

You shouldn't have any driver issues with XP, since Turtle Beach is updating those drivers regularly (but caveat emptor as always).

Update... I just dug the old SB PCI128 out of the closet that I used for years, and it has no Ensoniq markings on it. Who knows, maybe there isn't any way to tell after all. I had no sound quality or noise floor issues with the card though. Interestingly enough, the main driver for the card is "ENSQIO.VXD" and it still uses the old Ensoniq wavesets for MIDI playback.


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KikeG
post Aug 6 2002, 20:06
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QUOTE
Originally posted by Randum

Really? How do they manage that? Shield the DAC chip on the board?


Using good engineering practice, such as using dual layered PCB's, and I guess other suitable techniques.

QUOTE
Even so, wouldn't EMI still affect the signal coming off the (analog) cable coming out of it? Sure, its not actually inside the case, but very near it, as opposed to an external DAC, where the signal doesn't 'turn analog' till its a good distance away from the case.


Well, the case is itself shielded.

QUOTE
I don't know, Ive actually never owned a good quality sound board like the ones you recommend, so I don't know how it compares subjectively, but it seems to me like it would always be worse (on the emi issue anyway) than an external dac.


Dynamic range (~ ability to resolve low level signals) is a good way of measuring this EMI influence on input/output signal.

I've measured a dynamic range of 93 - 93.5 dB on my M-Audio Audiophile 2496 on 16 bit mode output, and a dynamic range of around 85 dB on my Turtle Beach Santa Cruz, on loopback mode. Note that the maximum dynamic range possible with the 16 bit test signal I've used is of 94 dB.

Also, note that in an average silent room the noise can be around 30 dB. If we set our amp levels so that the soundcard noise floor is at 20 dB and quite probably masked from the room noise level (30 dB), we could have a maximum output level of 20+93=113 dB for the Audiophile and 20+85=105 dB for the Santa Cruz.

113 dB and 105 dB output levels are quite high, and are usually reached only at discos and the like, in fact 113 dB is near treshold of pain for humans.

Loud music at home could be around 90 dB max. That would push down the noise level of these cards at 90-85=5 dB and 90-93=-3dB, far below than the most silent listening room you could find (~20 dB background noise at special lab rooms), and I'd say totally inaudible, even in this ideal room.

That is another good reason why 24 bit is overkill for audio reproduction, and 16 bit is more than enough if properly implemented.
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