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  • Sound Card Recommendations

    I'm looking for sound card recommendations to replace my integrated ac97 set up. I mostly will use it for music, with an occasional smatter of games and movies. Sound quality is mostly what I'm looking for, but I need support for at least 5.1 speakers and a digital out. I don't think I need to say this but ALSA support is a must.

    Currently I'm eyeing the m-audio 7.1 revolution. If anyone has info or advice (pertaining to this card or otherwise) it would be appreciated.

    Thanks.

  • #2
    Earlier this year at Phoronix we performed a small ALSA Linux sound-card round-up @ http://www.phoronix.com/vr.php?view=6010 In the article we looked at Creative Labs Audigy 2 ZS, Creative Labs Audigy 2, Chaintech AV-710, and the Aureal Vortex.

    Unfortunately, Creative Lab's won't ne providing Linux support for their new X-Fi chips till at least the middle of next year -- and even at that time they will be binary-only drivers. At last update, the ALSA developers weren't too far with their support for the X-Fi APUs, but hopefully they will gain some momentum soon. Under Windows, the Creative X-Fi is supposed to be phenomenal.

    Personally what I use in my main system and a few other production machines are Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy line-up. The sound quality and overall support under Linux is terrific. The Chaintech AV-710 is another cheap popular alternative.
    Michael Larabel
    http://www.michaellarabel.com/

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    • #3
      Ah, thanks a lot. I don't know how I missed that article.

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      • #4
        Speaking of Creative, are there any news of the progress of their Linux drivers? I'm just happy that Creative bothered to develop support for Linux.

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        • #5
          Any and all of Creative's Linux updates should be at http://opensource.creative.com/
          Michael Larabel
          http://www.michaellarabel.com/

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          • #6
            "The Chaintech AV-710 is another cheap popular alternative."

            Quote for truth. I absolutely love mine.

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            • #7
              The m-audio 7.1 uses the Envy24HT chip like the Chaintech. Supposedly it has slightly better quality though due to the use of different DACs (among other things perhaps). It's a fair bit more expensive though.

              At this point I'm either going with the m-audio or the Audigy 2 ZS.

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              • #8
                Update on soundcard:

                I got the m-audio card, largely due to reviews saying it produced higher quality sound for music and movies. It took several hours of me beating alsa over the head, but I managed to get it set up exactly how I want it: 2 channels cloned to 5 for regular stereo playback, 5.1 channels on a non-DD/DTS surround source, and digital pass-through on DD/DTS sources.

                The sound quality is terrific, coming from ac97 sound at the least. I had my doubts before actually hearing it, but was very surprised at how subjectively better the quality is (objective tests and specs aside).

                I can't say I can hear any palpable differences compared to the Chaintech card (on different speakers several hours earlier, so not a good comparison), but I got the m-audio at a good price and am very satisfied.
                Last edited by James; 06-23-2006, 02:29 PM.

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                • #9
                  James, what kind of speakers are you using to not hear the difference between a Revolution and AC97? Get yourself some Klipsches or Swans!

                  For anyone passing by this thread later on, I'll give a thumbs up to the Diamond XS71 for pretty decent sound and flawless ALSA compatability. I used to pimp out my M-Audio Audiophile 24/96, but then I started having serious issues with dmix. It's still excellent for an HTPC, though, as long as you don't want a direct connection to your optical drive.

                  I've had no end of trouble with the Revolution 5.1, apparently it uses some different I2C interconnects from the Revolution 7.1, or something. I had heard recent revisions of the 7.1 were having issues as well, so maybe the entire mess has been straightened out on the ALSA side.

                  I recently got word from Auzentech that their Xmystique and Xplosion are working well with Alsa now, though hardware DDL and DTS are non-functional thanks to Dolby's proprietary nature. You can still send a DDL or DTS signal, however, and the Xplosion will pass it on just fine. I think I'll be replacing my Audiophile with the Xplosion in my next build, you've got to love a soundcard that makes it easy to swap your opamps.

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                  • #10
                    oh no no. I hear plenty of difference between ac97 and the revolution. It's quite fantastic actually. The clarity is totally unlike what I'm used to.

                    I meant that I couldn't really hear the difference between the Chaintech and the Revolution.

                    I'm listening on Z-5500s and Shure e3s btw.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by James
                      I meant that I couldn't really hear the difference between the Chaintech and the Revolution.
                      Ah, that makes a lot more sense. The Chaintech has an excellent Wolfson DAC on the rears, which helps balance the more pedestrian DAC on the fronts. I'm sure the Revolution sounds better, but if you're listening to a lossy source (which includes most games) then it may not matter.

                      How do you like those e3's? For the longest time I was stuck between them and the UE Super.fi 5 Pro's that I eventually chose.

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                      • #12
                        Most of my music is q7 oggs, but I do have a fair amount of flacs as well. So I'd like to think I'm getting something out of the revolution that I wouldn't from the chaintech (although in my brief and unscientific comparison of the two, I really couldn't hear much difference).

                        The e3s are great. Other than a bunch of ~$200 headphones and the e2s I haven't much to test them against, but they sound very nice comparatively. The response is quite flat, and I can hear lots of subtleties in the music without it becoming tiring on my ears.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by James
                          Most of my music is q7 oggs, but I do have a fair amount of flacs as well. So I'd like to think I'm getting something out of the revolution that I wouldn't from the chaintech (although in my brief and unscientific comparison of the two, I really couldn't hear much difference).
                          I'd have thought so, too. What kind of music are you listening to? You should hear a bit more detail in natural acoustics. Even poor recordings should sound different, though maybe not better. You should all around have a little clearer sound, but synthetics may not benefit.

                          They've made some changes to the Revolutions without adjusting the product names, I wonder what exactly they've done. Maybe this is why Newegg started listing M-Audio products by model number instead of product name awhile back.

                          Or maybe the speakers are a bottleneck here, but I really wouldn't expect that from the Z-5500. Which speakers did you hear the chaintech with?

                          I guess this might not matter to you much, but I'm curious. Every comparison I've heard has had the Revo beating out the Chaintech.

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                          • #14
                            I'm listening to a pretty wide range of music: jazz, classical, poppish stuff, rock, a bit of hip hop, etc. I've really noticed the clearer sound in jazz pieces. I can really focus in on a particular instrument or vocals and hear it that much better. Anyways, enough gushing about how much I like my new setup.

                            I'm not sure offhand which speakers I heard the chaintechs on. The were fairly comparable to the Z-5500s though. As I mentioned way back, it wasn't a back to back listening of the two, so it was highly inaccurate I'm sure.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by James
                              I'm listening to a pretty wide range of music: jazz, classical, poppish stuff, rock, a bit of hip hop, etc. I've really noticed the clearer sound in jazz pieces. I can really focus in on a particular instrument or vocals and hear it that much better. Anyways, enough gushing about how much I like my new setup.

                              I'm not sure offhand which speakers I heard the chaintechs on. The were fairly comparable to the Z-5500s though. As I mentioned way back, it wasn't a back to back listening of the two, so it was highly inaccurate I'm sure.
                              That's what I was thinking all along, but I think I'm ready to chalk it up to that now.

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