A question of sound.

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Right, I have onboard sound connected to my Amplifier. Now I'm thinking about getting a sound card for gaming/music and HD555's. For theory's sake just say I got the XonarD2. So I plug into the Amplifier then into the soundcard and the headphones into the Amplifier.

So sort of like; Output > soundcard > Amp > Headphones.

Will the sound quality be alot better? Mainly just trying to justify it for myself because the onboard sound is ok through the amp just now with lossless files but for gaming in particular.

Like I said, I have 555's and XonarD2 in mind.

Edit - A soundcard for gaming anyways, not the Xonar in particular.
Edit2 - I guess it will depend on my Amp aswell...
 
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I am slightly biased here (as I am professional sound engineer) but I would say you might want to consider something other than a Xonar (or any gaming card for that matter).

It all boils down to how accurate the analogue/digital and digital/analogue conversion is. For £80 (for the D2x essence), one could do a lot better in terms of sound quality. For example, the M-Audio Delta 44/66 or even the M-Audio Audiophile 2496 for £55 would give you a much more accurate representation of how the artist/developer originally mixed and mastered the audio source. It is important to remember here that professionals use professional equipment, monitoring and acoustic treatment costing thousands and thousands of pounds. Surely they are in a better position to judge how a project (which they have had a direct hand in technically/artistically) should sound rather than a 3rd party soundcard manufacturer who almost always color the audio with additional limiters/multi-band/EQ and post-effects? Which by the way, all the while degrades the audio.

The Xonar is alright for what it is but if you are truly anal about sound quality (which I would assume you are as you are using lossless) then getting a professional sound card will absolutely spank the Xonar/X-Fis for less money providing you with a much more accurate representation of your favorite audio sources be it movies, games or music. Of course you would have to be willing to sacrifice some of the gimmicky driver options for home cinema setups but by the sounds of it you don't run 5.1 or anything anyways?

As a side note my Xonar broke the other day because of really poor design. Now I'm a little stuck as both OcUK and Asus don't want to know. £80 down the drain which I could really do with atm!

It's a difficult one as I am unsure how much time you spend listening to music compared to gaming. I am currently running a MOTU 828MKII (~£500s worth of soundcard) on my gaming/mastering rig and compared to the xonar it replaced it is out of this world. Of course, this is hardly a fair comparison but even something like the M-Audio Audiophile will give you much superior convertors, more accurate stereo imaging BUT will not provide the aesthetic goodness of a xonar nor the 'home cinema' bells and whistles inherent within Asus' driver suite. Although, an M-Audio will be rock solid and won't bork when you try and take out the floppy connector leaving you £80 out of pocket :p

Of course like I said at the start I am slightly biased but do yourself a favor and get off the onboard sound either way! You won't regret it...
 
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I have the xonar essence stx, its a music enthusiast card rather than gaming card and is particuarly designed for use with headphones in mind too, its more expensive than the d2 but sounds awesome (prob not as good as the £500 job above to be fair, lol)
 
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@hughythomas

I never have equalizer effects, I do want my sound to be as close to the real thing but that costs thousands. :p But with my lovely pci slot I can get closer. The M-Audio Audiophile 2496 sounds quite good. I only have a 2.0 speaker set up just now. I'm getting a very good amp from my dad the set up is still 2.0 but it will be alot more powerful. I love listening to music.

I don't care about gimmicky drivers to be honest I want good solid audio.

Sorry to hear about the Xonar dude :\

To be honest the Xonar looks nice but I'm more bothered about the innards and quality of the card.

I'll look into this audiophile 2496. The inputs are alot different but I learn fast atleast.
As far as gaming to music ratio it's 50 50 aslong as I get a great sound, an allrounder card if I'm honest. :)


Edit - Will it be good with headphones aswell as my measly 2 speakers? :p Just depends who's in the house or not.
 
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Great in which case definately have a look at the Audiophile or any other competing product within in the budget 'pro' category. What you will find with these soundcards is a much more accurate/true representation of the audio source without any nasty post 'game enhancing' effects (which by the way are more of a marketing ploy than anything). In light of this, make sure you're dad's amp has EQ because these type of soundcards will sound much more neautral. I would imagine that you are like 90% of the rest of the population and like your music to be dynamic and exciting - in this respect an amp with just treble and bass knobs would be perfect. This way you can add some punch to the low end and some crisp clarity to the high end. Most hi-fi amps these days have EQ and will sound VASTLY better than a software based EQ.

In regards to the headphones cann you just confirm for us what amp your dad is gonna sort you? I'm sure if it's worth its weight it'll have a headphone amp and suffice to say it'll no doubt sound fanastic. I only recently made the move to hi fi seperates (for mastering audio) and all I can say is wow! Wish I'd done it earlier! I bought the following from various places:

Monitor Audio BR-2 bookshelf speakers
Speaker stands (HIGHLY recommended or if you dont have room some Auralex Mopads)
Sony budget hi-fi amp

The sound difference over my crappy wharfedales was immense. Anyone who comes round to the studio always comments...

Best of luck

Tom
 
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The M-Audio 2496 is a fantastic budget sound card. I paid about 50 squid for mine and its much better than any onboard sound. It doesn't do surround or anything like that however I don't want that. I think it sounds pretty damn good going into my hifi. I have thought about getting an Asus Xonar Essence but I'm not sure how much of an upgrade it would be? I don't really want all of the effects and gimmicky stuff that comes with it and I don't need a heaphone output.

Dave
 
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Forget it mate it won't be an upgrade at all. They're gaming cards - no matter what people say about them they simply don't offer the sound quality of the budget pro cards. Am I right in thinking the Audiophile uses the same pres/converters as the Delta series? If so, I have ABed the Asus D2X vs the M-Audio Delta 66 (with both installed) and playing FLAC through winamp was a joy to listen to on the latter. The former was too 'pumpy' - its like it had a multi-band applied to it at the driver level even when all the DSP effects were apprently disabled. Obviously, if you go surround you kinda have to go for a gaming card due to all the Dolby/THX standards but if you are just listening in plain old 2.0 stereo - the Xonar WILL be a downgrade.

I even prefer my pro sound cards in games now as well. I play Oblivion, TF2, CoH and Batman mostly. Clearly having good speakers and hi-fi amp is a must to but the actual conversion from digital -> analogue is v important. Thats where the gaming cards fail.

The only disadvantage I can think of for all of M-Audio's products are their slow driver releases. I run 7RC atm and the Delta was slightly buggy with the beta drivers. However, using the Vista x64 solved everything but I would still look onto the future when they can offer native 7 drivers for their customers. Hopefully this will be sooner this time than when Vista got released.
 
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Whilst the other xonars are gaming cards, the essence is a true enthusiasts card, heres a quote from xbit labs review

When I had been listening to the Auzen X-Fi Prelude, I had not expected any card to surpass it. Later on, the ASUS Xonar D2 showed the weak aspects of the Prelude. And now, the Xonar Essence STX sounds better than the Xonar D2 and Prelude, and better than the X-Fi Elite Pro, and perhaps even better than any audio card in the world

Anyway, today, the Xonar Essence STX is the best choice for a person who wants to enjoy excellent-quality music, especially in 250-300Ohm headphones. It will also be good in games and may even prove superior to X-Fi based audio cards in some gaming situations. And finally, this audio card can be used for high-quality sound recording as it offers solid ASIO support. It also offers two outputs with different connectors and significantly different sound and is based on the modern PCI Express interface. Thus, I just can’t think of a worthy opponent to this audio card in terms of functionality and sound quality
 
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"When I had been listening to the Auzen X-Fi Prelude, I had not expected any card to surpass it. Later on, the ASUS Xonar D2 showed the weak aspects of the Prelude. And now, the Xonar Essence STX sounds better than the Xonar D2 and Prelude, and better than the X-Fi Elite Pro, and perhaps even better than any audio card in the world"

Oh dear. Clearly the reviewer hasn't actually heard any decent soundcards...the Auzen X-Fi Prelude is based on a...wait for it...X-Fi chip! In terms of gaming cards I'm sure it spanks the X-fi into oblivion and beyond. That's almost a compliment but the bar's been set kinda low...

"And finally, this audio card can be used for high-quality sound recording as it offers solid ASIO support. It also offers two outputs with different connectors and significantly different sound and is based on the modern PCI Express interface."

Name me one professional engineer/producer who uses this card for pro recording? Lol, thought not...I tried to use my Xonar just for some simple stereo mastering and it couldn't even handle that (let alone multi-tracking) BUT I do appreciate it ain't aimed at this market.

"Thus, I just can’t think of a worthy opponent to this audio card in terms of functionality and sound quality"

Probably because the reviewer hasn't ever heard one. How many pro cards (budget or otherwise) have Xbit reviewed to base an objective comparison on? I'm sure if they were to review a M-Audio, TC, Presonus, E-Mu or ANY budget sound card for that matter (be it PCI, PCI-E, Firewire or USB) I'm sure they would quickly realise there's more to PC audio than Asus/Creative.

I do admitt however that I am essentially comparing apples and pears here. And we all know a review site like Xbit would never review such a calibre of product because let's face it - pro cards are meant for pros. However, the recent saturation of the budget recording market (thanks to the advent of computer DAWs over the last 10 years+) has meant the market is FLOODED with fantastic products for silly money. However, it still ain't really fair of me to compare these low grade gaming cards to their professional counterparts. But, in my defence, for the money you pay for 'premium', 'enthusiast' cards in the gaming segment - I peronsally think its a total joke compared to what the same amount would get you in the pro sector.

Go pro and don't look back!
 
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You're not quite getting it though are you? The essence is NOT a gaming card, you keep using the term. If you look into the ESSENCE, you'll see its one of the first mass produced audiophile cards, bridging the gap between the gaming cards you're so fond of referring to, and the pro cards
 
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MikeHunt79 he referred to E-mu as a budget sound card but in the pro area. :p

Thing is if the Audiophile 2496 sounds better than an Essence being half the price of the essence is very good for me as money can get tight. I'll try and get the name and product code for the amp my dad has. I've not really looked at it but last thing he said it was a valve one me thinks. :p

@95thrifles. The essence does sound like a great card but I don't think I can afford that just yet so this alternative sounds good. And remember he did say he was biased in his first post. :p
 
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I don't think hughythomas really has a clue and quite possibly his hearing isn't as good as he thinks it is. There have been competent consumer cards for a long time now, the prelude was one of the first really good ones with good DACS and caps that are also user replaceable. The fact that it has an X-Fi chip doesn't make a difference, except that it adds a lot of functionality. None of these cards 'colour the sound' unless you want them to.
 
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"I don't think hughythomas really has a clue and quite possibly his hearing isn't as good as he thinks it is"

Interesting to think that my 15+ years of playing music (I am classically trained in violin, play drums, bass, guitar and sing) along with a degree in music production (BA) coupled with 7+ years in professional sound engineering, numerous studio sessions, time spent in professional recording environments, owning a recording studio, being a regularly gigging singer/songwriter, live sound engineer as well as a peripatetic guitar teacher at a school doesn't constitute having a clue about sound quality?

Well, I guess I should really consider a career change then :p

Back to the topic - I will admitt that I haven't owned the Essence and will have a look into it but again, all my previous points apply. You simply won't get the bang for buck in my opinion. And like I said right at the start, I AM biased having heard many gaming cards/pro cards/interfaces over my time. But, that is the nature of 'good quality' sound is it not? Music and sound quality/production are SO subjective thats why you can never TRULY trust a review on it as it is mostly art (albeit with the tech to support the art) and, as such, very personal. I could list my favorite artists right here for example and it would be almost statistically impossible for any of you to turn around and honestly say you held the same artists in the same high regard as I do, but it works both ways! My kids at school are constantly bringing in new material from artists I haven't heard of before to learn and its been fantastic for me as I am always being exposed to new music! Today for example, one of the little uns brought in John Mayer? Never heard of him before but his songwriting in my opinion, is very clever yet very accessible. Anyhow, I digress.

LeJosh if you can't afford the Essence I would again, strongly recommend looking up soundcards from manufacturers such as E-Mu, M-Audio and Presonus. Can you find out what model that amp is please? If it has a valve what kind? Can be a bit of a gimmick sometimes but if it was expensive might be a beast! What kind of inputs it has will affect what soundcard will be best for you in the long run.
 
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The essence is too expensive for me...

I will get back to you all if I do buy the one you recommended hughythomas. I just need to get off this onboard sound. :(
 
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Omg that 0404 looks the dogs for the money. Look at the specs! For £50 thats a steal!

Plus the included hardware effects (presumably reverb, compression etc) will spank anything the consumer cards have. Are they Au/VST/RTAS or what? Presumably you can't apply the DSP effects straight over the master out of the card? That would be sick! LeJosh could have the best of both worlds if you can by having fantastic sound quality and superior effects to enhance his listening experience.

Although I doubt you would be able to. Suppose you could DL audacity and import your tracks into that if you were really bothered about verb etc but I haven't had personal experience of Audacity I just know it is an open source DAW presumably with VST support at least? Maybe someone can shed some light on this...

Really impressed by that actually. Might have to pick one up to replace my dead Xonar...

EDIT: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/about/features hmm looks like you can use VSTs with Audacity with an optional enabler (presumably for ££?). Interesting...

EDIT 2: http://www.emu.com/products/product.asp?product=10447&nav=introduction Sweet! You can apply effects directly over master busses! As long as you are willing to put in ~2 hours max of learning your way around a basic audio environment I'd say thats the one for you LeJosh! Good find MikeHunt79!
 
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All in good time. Thanks guys. :)

Edit - Thing is if I bought that, how would I go about setting it up to my amp, what wires would I need? I kind of feel silly for asking...
 
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Simple phono plugs would do it or 1/4" jacks if thats what the amp takes (I'd imagine its the former). Do they sell digital hi fi amplifiers? The Emu also has optical outs which is pretty cool so if they did you could use the optical. Although, I've never seen one with digital ins so phono (the white and red plugs) would be the way to go.

Hope this helps

Tom
 
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Just to clarify, I never doubted that generally you knew what you were talking about, it was evident from the quality of your posts, I was just trying to make you see into your blind spot when it comes to newer consumer cards, as you did say you are biased ;) Youre probably right in bang for buck prob can do better than the essence, I was just trying to explain the essence isnt gaming card its audiophile card (my blindspot, I got one - but it does sound great :D )
 
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