Sound card recommendations requested.

Discussion in 'Computers' started by Paul_Sjordal, Dec 28, 2005.

  1. Paul_Sjordal

    Paul_Sjordal Supporting Actor

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    Hiya! I was gonna post this on a gaming forum I hang out at, then I remembered this place (haven't been here in a long time, sorry, guys). You guys are generally far more knowledgeable about this sort of thing, and these boards get a heck of a lot more traffic.

    Anyway, I'm considering purchasing a sound card to replace my [bad word] Hercules Game Theater XP. In general, Hercules is a little slow on the draw when it comes to putting out updated drivers to fix known incompatibilities, a fact that caused me to regret my purchase almost immediately. Now they've stopped updating the drivers altogether (the most current driver available on their site for my card is from February 2002).

    I haven't purchased a Creative Labs sound card for a long, long time. I got fed up with their bloated, buggy drivers and all the unnecessary software bells and whistles they insist on throwing in your face. When the SoundBlaster Live! was revealed to cause data corruption on the PCI bus (potentially affecting everything else on your computer) I decided I'd had enough (unfortunately, that's when I bought the Game Theater [​IMG] ). Yeah, yeah, I know. The data corruption only occurred under very specific circumstances, but it's the principle of the thing. How can you trust a company that lets a major product roll out of the door with a flaw like that?

    I'm looking for a card that's under $80 (I'm on a budget), which is OK because I'm more interested in gaming than music or home theater (my computer isn't even connected to my stereo, nor is it ever likely to be), although I do sometimes listen to MP3s while surfing and watch the occasional DVD on my computer. I do need a card that lets me use 5.1 speakers and a mic at the same time, but these days it seems only integrated audio forces you to choose between 5.1 and having a mic.

    At first I looked at Turtle Beach cards, mostly because I've heard good things about them regarding frequency of driver updates.

    The first card considered was the Turtle Beach Montego DDL, which as far as I know is the only reasonably-priced mainstream card on the market that produces true Dolby Digital 5.1 when you play DVDs on your computer (which I do from time to time). Unfortunately, there is a known problem with the sound levels mic channel. Turtle Beach has acknowledged the problem but has given no indication about when or if this will be fixed in a future driver release. This is a problem for me because this would prevent me from using TeamSpeak when I play online games. I can't do without that.

    The next card I looked at was the Turtle Beach Catalina 8 (7.1). This is far more reasonably priced and most users report very good sound quality, but some report mediocre sound quality and a significant minority report severe sound quality issues (hisses, pops, etc.).

    So I swallowed my pride and took a look at the Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 Value. For all of Creative's flaws, they are the industry standard, and the Audigy 2 reportedly has very good sound quality (comparable to the Audigy2 ZS). Unfortunately, I have heard numerous reports (from review sites and user reviews) about performance issues with games when 3D sound is enabled.

    Realistically speaking, the Audigy 2 has the least significant problems, or at least that's what I've gathered from my cursory research. What's a little performance bump in games? On the other hand, I really came to detest Creative's drivers, or at least I did back when I still used Creative cards. For all I know they've radically improved their software drivers, but I'm not holding my breath.

    I've been dinking around my usual hardware review web sites, but it seems like no one does performance testing from a gamer's standpoint anymore. The few sound card reviews I can find are for $200+ cards and the reviews and testing procedures are focused on sound quality for the sorts of people who use their computers to drive elaborate home theaters.

    So what do you think? Does anyone have a recommendation for something likely to fit my needs?
     
  2. Paul_Sjordal

    Paul_Sjordal Supporting Actor

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    Ack! This doesn't look good. Has anyone else heard of this "squeal of death" nonsense?
     
  3. PeterTHX

    PeterTHX Cinematographer

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    I have the SoundBlaster X-Fi. Well worth the upgrade.
     
  4. Harold Wazzu

    Harold Wazzu Supporting Actor

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  5. Paul_Sjordal

    Paul_Sjordal Supporting Actor

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    From the user reviews in your link, EAX compatibility is not so hot, and gaming is pretty much the primary use of this computer.

    Hurm, looks like the Audigy 2 ZS might be a better bang for the buck for gaming, but I'll have to research that "squeal of death" thing some more. I know that part of the blame could be with motherboard chipset manufacturers, but why is it always Creative cards that have these wacky problems with the PCI bus?
     
  6. Paul_Sjordal

    Paul_Sjordal Supporting Actor

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    Harold, thanks for your recommendation. As I research, the M-Audio Revolution 5.1 is looking more and more like the best bet, but I'm still checking.
     
  7. CRyan

    CRyan Screenwriter

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    M-Audio is fairly highly regarded in the HTPC market. I have heard all good things.
     
  8. Shane Martin

    Shane Martin Producer

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    My friend and I both have 2ZS's and have not yet had any issues in the past 13 months we've owned them. I can say the 2ZS has been a good card. My previous card the Live 5.1 sucked but this card has changed my previously negative mind towards Creative into a positive one.
     
  9. Paul_Sjordal

    Paul_Sjordal Supporting Actor

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    The more I read up on this Squeal of Death business, the less interested I become in the Audigy 2 series (despite the very good game performance of the Audigy 2 ZS). The majority of people don't get this problem, but those who do are a big enough minority that I'm not sure I'm interested in rolling those particular dice.

    On top of that, this is the second time in a row Creative has had a significant problem with the PCI bus (albeit for a minority of users in both cases).

    I could very well change my mind, but as of right now I'm leaning away from the Audigy 2 series.
     

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