TechSpot

New Audio Review Articles for TechSpot! (give your input)

By seanp789
Jan 31, 2006
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  1. I am planning a series of articles covering audio products and performance on the PC. This will range from basic 2.0 speakers to connecting your PC to a 5.1 home theatre receiver with Audiophile quality speakers.

    Please reply with your thoughts and answers to these questions:
    1) What level is your audio knowledge?
    2) How interested are you in learning more about audio?
    3) Are there any specific products you would like to see reviewed or compared?
    4) Are you interest in the pros/cons of 2.0,2.1,4.1,5.1,7.1, or all? speakers setups?
    5) Are you more interested in powerful high fidelity systems or small, easy to setup systems with sound quality as a second concern?
    6) Are you interested how much quality a new sound card will bring you?
    7) what do you use your PC audio for? (please list in order of heaviest use)
    8) What is your current sound card and speaker set?


    Please answer these questions above as well as state any additional ideas separately afterwards. You comments will help shape the information that will be covered in the new articles.



    ***example response***
    Dave Noob

    1) very little
    2) very interested, I want to know what I'm missing
    3) I want to see the Logitech z5500s compared to the klipsch promedia 5.1s
    4) I have 2.0 speakers, I would like to know the benefit of 5.1 and 7.1 speakers
    5) small and easy to setup
    6) yes
    7) mp3s, gaming, divx movies
    8) onboard sound with generic 2.0 speakers

    Additional comments:
    Low budget is very important to me but I was interested in 5.1 for gaming but I also want to know how i can improve my music without spending too much.

    ***example response***
     
  2. Ruben

    Ruben TS Rookie Posts: 105

    1) good
    2) very much
    3) e.g. X-Fi vs Audigy 2 ZS vs Audigy 1 vs Chaintech av710 vs HD Azalia...
    4) yes, surround speaker placement guide would be nice
    5) both but not above $700 for the whole kit
    6) I guess this depends on your system. Blind tests would be nice
    7) music listening, sound editing, movies, games
    8) Audigy 1, Inspire 5.1. set, various headpones

    I think I ll be getting X-Fi. I auditioned this card at my friend last week,
    it sounds good and has very clean interface.
    So my primary concern are speakers: I want to get a good pair of speakers, maybe some studio monitors (for movies I'll use them together with my 5.1. multimedia set.)
     
  3. DonNagual

    DonNagual TechSpot Ambassador Posts: 3,566

    1) Basic
    2) Somewhat
    3) Sound cards, mid-range speakers
    4) All
    5) Not top of the line, but good performance for the dollar.
    6) EXTREMELY
    7) MP3s, Gaming, Watching TV, streaming vids etc, DVDs
    8) Onboard (A8N-SLI deluxe) 8 channel sound, Creative I-Trigue 3600 speakers
     
  4. JMMD

    JMMD TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 1,177

    1) Very good/excellent in regards to Home Theater audio, good for PC audio.
    2) Always interested in learning more.
    3) Different onboard audio chips vs. X-Fi, Audigy 2, etc.
    4) I'm pretty familiar with the pros and cons already.
    5) Powerful system for home theater. For my PC, I just want good quality audio, volume is not that important.
    6) Yes
    7) MP3's, Games, editing videos
    8) PC #1: SB Audigy Gamer, with Logitech 2.1 system (don't recall the model). PC#2: Onboard audio (Nvidia Nforce3 RealTek ALC850) with Logitech Z-2300 2.1 speakers.

    I'm really only interested in 2.1 audio for my PC's. For home theater audio, a mid-range 5.1 system is what I use currently.
     
  5. N3051M

    N3051M TS Rookie Posts: 2,800

    1) medium-high
    2) very much so

    3,4 & 5) X-fi/ major brands and soundcards with/without external units vs/to professional/industry type audio in the music/recording/audio industries (eg the MBOX etc) the Mbox 2 vs Mbox, speaker setups not realy a concern although any info is good, speakers themselves (consumer to pro to industry) info is useful, sound is always no.1 (<<had to combine it because i didnt have a way to not repeat the same sentance 3 times... hope you can understand what i said :D )

    6) yes
    7) media (tv, video/movies, music etc), sound recording/editing, video editing, games, misc..
    [^^^ going to swap soon ^^^]
    8) current: onboard C-Media audio runing through the stereo, line-in conected to a bass/guitar amp line-out (temp mixer :D), logitech usb headset for private/closed-in/night listening.. soon to get (when money starts to grow on trees) MBox, studio monitors...
     
  6. sjps220

    sjps220 TS Rookie Posts: 129

    1) basic
    2) very
    3) no
    4) 7.1 is too much for me I think. I have enough trouble fitting five. I have a 5.1 system but the speakers are old and thrown together.
    5) I'm mostly interested in cost effective set-ups, and the best way to connect them
    6) yes
    7) music, games, movies,
    8) I have a creative audigy 2 zs and the logitech z4 2.1 system.
     
  7. TS | Thomas

    TS | Thomas TS Rookie Posts: 1,327

    X-Fi review on the way :)
     
  8. Julio Franco

    Julio Franco TechSpot Editor Posts: 6,541   +321

    Hopefully tonight :D
     
  9. hewybo

    hewybo TS Maniac Posts: 570

    ok

    1) pretty high
    2) very
    3) 5.1 PC speakers compared (price/responses)
    4) yes
    5) Small, easy to set up with sound quality as the FIRST concern.
    6) Yes- (will find out about, and review, the low end of the X-fiExtreme cards when it's delivered tomorrow!)
    7) Music, music, music, and movies. And music.
    8) Audigy 2ZS with Logitech x530 5.1. (These speakers will be replaced next week with Logitech z-5500's)

    Hear 'em up and move 'em out!! :)
     
  10. poertner_1274

    poertner_1274 secroF laicepS topShceT Posts: 4,745

    1) What level is your audio knowledge? Intermediate, not musician level, but close
    2) How interested are you in learning more about audio?Always interested in learning new things]/b]
    3) Are there any specific products you would like to see reviewed or compared?For me personally, it is home theatre setup and hardware. I don't use my PC speakers that much, and I have a computer hooked up to my bigscree, with surround sound
    4) Are you interest in the pros/cons of 2.0,2.1,4.1,5.1,7.1, or all? speakers setups?sure
    5) Are you more interested in powerful high fidelity systems or small, easy to setup systems with sound quality as a second concern?I'm interested in what is the best setup compared to a certain price range. If it is technical, then so be it, but if it is an easy setup, even better.
    6) Are you interested how much quality a new sound card will bring you?Absolutely, the better the card, the better the sound
    7) what do you use your PC audio for? (please list in order of heaviest use)mp3, video clips, recorded TV
    8) What is your current sound card and speaker set?Unsure exactly, lol
     
  11. howard_hopkinso

    howard_hopkinso TS Rookie Posts: 25,948   +19

    1) What level is your audio knowledge? Good.
    2) How interested are you in learning more about audio? Very.
    3) Are there any specific products you would like to see reviewed or compared? I can find all the reviews/comparisons I want on the internet.
    4) Are you interest in the pros/cons of 2.0,2.1,4.1,5.1,7.1, or all? speakers setups? Wire wires, and more wires lol.
    5) Are you more interested in powerful high fidelity systems or small, easy to setup systems with sound quality as a second concern? Power, and quality are my main interests.
    6) Are you interested how much quality a new sound card will bring you? Yes.
    7) what do you use your PC audio for? (please list in order of heaviest use) Music/TV/DVD
    8) What is your current sound card and speaker set? Ac97 onboard sound/Logitech 2.1 Z3e.

    Regards Howard :)
     
     
  12. young&wild

    young&wild TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 1,268

    1) What level is your audio knowledge?
    In between beginner and intermediate.

    2) How interested are you in learning more about audio?
    Highly Interested

    3) Are there any specific products you would like to see reviewed or compared?
    Any high-end computer surround speakers vs affordable high quality home theather systems.

    For the soundcard aspect, Chaintech AV710 and few cards with Envy 24 chipsets compared againsts card like X-Fi, EMU0404.

    4) Are you interest in the pros/cons of 2.0,2.1,4.1,5.1,7.1, or all? speakers setups?
    Yes

    5) Are you more interested in powerful high fidelity systems or small, easy to setup systems with sound quality as a second concern?
    I m always interested in systems offering the best price to sound quality ratio.

    6) Are you interested how much quality a new sound card will bring you?
    Definitely. A better soundcard is the key to better audio production.

    7) what do you use your PC audio for? (please list in order of heaviest use)
    MP3, DIVX Videos, DVD movies, Audio CD

    8) What is your current sound card and speaker set?
    Hercules Fortissimo III and Altec Lansing (used less compared to my Alessandro Grado MS1 Headphones).
     
  13. Vigilante

    Vigilante TechSpot Paladin Posts: 2,120

    1) What level is your audio knowledge?
    From 1-10, about a 6.5 (10 being smarty)
    2) How interested are you in learning more about audio?
    Very much, certain things
    3) Are there any specific products you would like to see reviewed or compared?
    2.1 Speakers, THX high powered. Recording products. Mini midi controllers. Freeware audio programs, midi, looping etc..
    4) Are you interest in the pros/cons of 2.0,2.1,4.1,5.1,7.1, or all? speakers setups?
    Not really
    5) Are you more interested in powerful high fidelity systems or small, easy to setup systems with sound quality as a second concern?
    Powerful and good sounding first, cost second
    6) Are you interested how much quality a new sound card will bring you?
    Possibly, but my music probably wouldn't sound any better at their encryption. Neither would my speakers benefit.
    7) what do you use your PC audio for? (please list in order of heaviest use)
    Music streaming, MP3, games, DVD, web audio (low quality)
    8) What is your current sound card and speaker set?
    Onboard realtec AC'97 on an nForce3 mobo. I have a Sound Blaster Live something but didn't want the extra driver set. 2.1 Altec Lansing AVS300, aging

    I am most interrested in the home recording studio. PC connected and PC edited. In the area of MIDI creation, looping, live recording, midi controlling and so forth.
     
  14. YellowC4S

    YellowC4S TS Rookie Posts: 125

    I want a REAL soundcard...

    Something made by Lexicon or Boothroyd/Stewart Meridian or Krell or Parasound or Denon or Theta Digital. For what it's worth, I also want a video card made by Runco or Faroudja and computer speakers made by B&W or Dynaudio.
     
  15. YellowC4S

    YellowC4S TS Rookie Posts: 125

    In answer to your question...

    1) What level is your audio knowledge?
    HIGH
    2) How interested are you in learning more about audio?
    VERY
    3) Are there any specific products you would like to see reviewed or compared?
    Soundcards by some of the HIGH-END people in home audio
    4) Are you interested in the pros/cons of 2.0,2.1,4.1,5.1,7.1, or all speaker setups?
    YES
    5) Are you more interested in powerful high fidelity systems or small, easy to setup systems with sound quality as a second concern?
    I want it to sound good
    6) Are you interested how much quality a new sound card will bring you?
    VERY
    7) What do you use your PC audio for? (please list in order of heaviest use)
    Movies, Music, Games
    8) What is your current sound card and speaker set?
    Audigy2 ZS Platinum, Klipsch Pro-Media DD 5.1, Klipsch 5.1 speakers
     
  16. Mictlantecuhtli

    Mictlantecuhtli TS Evangelist Posts: 4,916   +9

    1) Adequate

    2) Very

    3) Dolby Digital Live and/or DTS Connect cards, such as HDA X-Mystique or X-Plosion

    4) Yes, all of them

    5) Sound quality matters

    6) Yes

    7) Listening to music, movies, gaming, TV

    8) Onboard ALC658D connected via S/PDIF to external 5.1 set (HDA X-Mystique in the near future)
     
  17. seanp789

    seanp789 TS Enthusiast Topic Starter Posts: 113

    A couple things I wanted to mention up front. Since there are a few people interested in the HDA Mystique and Explosion. They each use the C-Media CMI8768 and CMI8788 chipset respectively. They both still operate on the AC'97 codec by default. The DACs on these chips vary, but by default are horrible. the DAC can be bypassed using the DD5.1 or DTS, however, if any of you have tried using the optical out for C-Media onboard soundcards it still sounds horrible.
    C-Media is well known for their low cost onboard sound soultions.
    In terms of sound quality you shouldnt even consider the Mystique. The Explosion you can expect to be on par with an audigy 2 and the nforce2 soundstorm. The CMI8788 chip the Explosion uses was designed as a higher end onboard sound solution. It is not in direct competition with the X-Fi. Connecting an X-Fi with the analog cables to a receiver will generally offer higher sound quality over the Explosion's digitally re-encoded. The Explosion in terms of gaming only offers up to EAX 2.0 many games can be played with EAX 3.0 or higher.

    A note on DD and DTS encoding: These are both compressed formats and would be similar to encoding all the sound you hear into high bit rate mp3s. While still good and suitable for games and movies, detail will be lost by compression to any notciable degree in music.

    The Explosion should be a consideration if a single cable, 5.1, digital connect to your receiver is an absolute requirement. The Explosion has many nice features that should be expected from a modern soundcard. Audio fidelity while improved over older models is not a top contender. At the same price range you will yield better sound quality through the base line X-Fi and analog interconnects.

    Final note: The differences between the Explosion and the X-Fi will increase with the quality of the rest of your sound system. If you have cheap computer speakers the differences may be negligible. If you have a moderate or high end home theatre system you wish to connect your PC to the Explosion is easier to connect but the audio quality will be degrated before it ever reaches your receiver.

    As I said before, you can compare the Explosion to be about on par with the audigy 2. If that is good enough for you and you need the DD and DTS encoding its certainly worth considering. If music is a big thing for you, dont even look at it.
     
  18. hewybo

    hewybo TS Maniac Posts: 570

    X-Fi Xtreme Music + Logitech Z-5500 Digital

    I mentioned before that I would report on the above items once I installed them. The X-Fi replaced an Audigy 2ZS; the Z-5500's replaced Logitech x-530's.

    I will begin by presenting a brief synopsis: I now have an Audigy 2ZS and a set of Logitech x-530 5.1 speakers for immediate sale. To say that I am impressed is a colossal understatement. I installed the X-Fi a week ago, and immediately checked it by playing the "Live at Albert Hall- Born" concert DVD performed by by Bond. I seldom use this word, but I was astounded. Having been addicted to this concert DVD for it's first two months in my possession, I was utterly familiar with every nuance. Or so I thought.

    First- the Xtreme Music does not decode Dolby, but those familiar with SoundBlasters know about the CMSS 3D (Creative Multi-speaker Sound) mode.In the ZS, it did a decent job of upmixing its stereo output to all 5 speakers, and to the sub. To my (rather good, even if I say so) ear, the Xtreme Music's version of CMSS 3D has been tweaked somehow, as the "surround" experience was excellent.

    The increase in clarity and crispness I heard in the mid and high ranges from the Xtreme, as compared to the ZS, were like night and day. I heard notes played I had not heard previously, and could even clearly hear the performers fingers moving up and down the strings at some points. (Those familiar with that concert will attest to some VERY heavy bass and percussion runs).

    The new GUI, though some have complained about having to switch modes- the software offers "entertainment" (movies and music), "game mode" (for gaming), and "audio creation mode" (for creating audio)- is much better and easier to navigate, IMHO.

    Thus far, I have only used the entertainment mode, and, Lordy!, have I been entertained. The card offers the ability to "superrip" CDs and MP3s into high quality sound items, and and can record in resolutions from 44.1kHz to 96kHz. Supports ASIO with as low as 1ms latency.

    It is AMAZING!

    I received the Z-5500's yesterday. Long-term ownership is unnecessary to rate these. Can anyone spell ROCKS? Or Awe-Inspiring? Ultra-linear high capacity amplifier. Decodes Dolby Digital, DTS, and DTS 96/24, (though not neo.6), and Dolby Prologic II. The 10" high-excursion ported driver in a 6th order enclosure does NOT "thump and thud" as so many do. All bass notes are clear, clean, and hold as in rolling thunder.

    The control panel has a backlit LCD screen with full function controls, as well as a mini-jack out for phones, and one "in" for players-mini-discs, and a full-function remote is included. Cables for 5.1 analog input are included. Also has Optical (Toslink) digital input, and coaxial cable digital input, and -HERE'S THE DRAWBACK- these cables aren't included. Seems like, at this price, they could do that for a guy, but- oh, well.

    Absolutely incredible PC speakers!!! To shorten this monster post- no more opinions, as these specs speak for themselves:
    500W RMS
    1000W Peak
    SPL max 115 dB
    Response 33Hz-20kHz
    In Impedance 8000 ohms
    Sig to Noise >93.5dB, typical 100

    Totally awesome! Wanna buy a good soundcard and decent PC 5.1s? :giddy: :grinthumb
     
  19. seanp789

    seanp789 TS Enthusiast Topic Starter Posts: 113

    Heybo: Just a few small corrections...

    http://www.creative.com/products/product.asp?category=1&subcategory=208&product=14066
    The X-Fi xtreme Music does indeed decode dolby digital 5.1 and DTS and should be accessable in "settings" or the audio console. Also, CMSS should be disabled for anything but stereo content you wish to play on all yor speakers. CMSS will alter both stereo and 5.1 content. With 5.1 content you will find CMSS sending signal meant only for the front channels to the rears. It also inreases what is sent to the sub woofer and tends to be overly bassy. You can adjust this by moving the CMSS slider closer to just the front speakers.

    Also, the "super-rip" feature you mentioned actually sounds pretty good on the Z5500(from experience), BUT take that same CD you just made and put it on a high end stereo system and it would sound aweful.



    I would highly suggest you read techspot's new article on the X-Fi as it will help you get the most out of your new card and speakers.

    The X-Fi and the Z5500 represent the best sound to dollar value on the PC I have seen so far. Step beyond the PC market and into Hi-Fi and you will see another giant leap in audio quality.
     
  20. TS | Thomas

    TS | Thomas TS Rookie Posts: 1,327

    I wouldn't be overly enthusiastic about any of the 24bit Crystalizer features. I mean, what it sounds like on the loseless source (e.g. CD) is what it sounds like period.

    If you want "real" 24-bit (44.kHz+) output then time to find a DVD-Audio (MLP, not that regular Dolby/DTS) ripper ;) (I've read a few months back its possible to do this in a roundabout way; think it involved the decoders output being changed to the hard drive - don't ask, it's not something I've spent much time on as I've not had any - that is, until my Fellowingship Of The Rings - The Complete Recording set arrived :)!)
     
  21. seanp789

    seanp789 TS Enthusiast Topic Starter Posts: 113

    Take a loseless source like a CD, and play it on typical PC speakers and you often lack both high and low frequency extension and even have a weak midrange.

    As Thomas said the 24-bit Crystalizer is not sonically accurate. In fact it compresses the dynamic range of the signal it processes (much like you will find in receivers that can compress DD5.1 and DTS tracks) , amps everything by roughly 3dB@50% and then artificially spikes what it detects as a transient peak and any other algorithms creative has programmed. Now on speakers that were not very musical to begin with the crystalizer will let you hear some details you didnt notice before. Yes they will be distorted from the original signal, but the fact that you can hear those details at all is subjectively considered an improvement.

    When I was using my Z5500 5.1 set , I used crystalizer pretty much all the time because it seemed like the sound had more impact (more thump, more ting). On my new B&W DM600 S3 speakers it sounded horribly unnatural and as much as I wanted to leave crystalizer on I simply couldnt because it sounded so bad. On the new speakers I could already hear all the details I was missing in the z5500 so the crystalized signal was perminantly turned off. If you use PC speakers I would still recommend you play with with the crystalizer to see what you prefer even on loseless sources. Setting the crystalizer to ON and @0% will still compress the dynamic range but it will not insert the artificial frequency spikes.


    Thomas: where do you get your DVD-Audio discs, I'm having a hard time find any selection locally. On the internet its hard to get details on the loseless audio's bit/Khz rate.
     
  22. LNCPapa

    LNCPapa TS Special Forces Posts: 4,316   +268

    1) What level is your audio knowledge?
    Scale of 1-10: probably around 8.5
    2) How interested are you in learning more about audio?
    Very.... very, very
    3) Are there any specific products you would like to see reviewed or compared?
    High to very high fidelity 2.0 sound cards. M-Audio cards or anything Envy 24, X-Fi vs Audigy 2 reviews, mobile audio, etc.
    4) Are you interest in the pros/cons of 2.0,2.1,4.1,5.1,7.1, or all? speakers setups?
    Not really
    5) Are you more interested in powerful high fidelity systems or small, easy to setup systems with sound quality as a second concern?
    Fidelity first
    6) Are you interested how much quality a new sound card will bring you?
    Yes - very
    7) what do you use your PC audio for? (please list in order of heaviest use)
    flac playback, movies, games - in that order
    8) What is your current sound card and speaker set?
    Audigy 2ZS + CS DTT2500 (don't use these speakers much anymore - I usually listen through AKG k240s that I hope to replace with some AKG k701 via Live! Drive.) I'd like to get some really nice new soundcards as well and a headphone amp.

    Also in the proces of building an HTPC so I've been reviewing lots of sound related products lately. I've been stumped here as to which direction I want to go.
     
  23. TS | Thomas

    TS | Thomas TS Rookie Posts: 1,327

    Do'h, should have checked back here sooner :) I'm actually not a purchaser of DVD-Audio to be honest. It just so happened that the Fellowship of the Ring complete score included a DVD-A. Beyond that I've essentially the sample CDs which Creative included with their DVD-A supporting Soundcards. The best suggestion would probably be to stick the DVD-A into Google or other search engine. This site may be of some use?
    http://store.acousticsounds.com/dvdaudio.cfm
     
  24. kirock

    kirock TS Rookie Posts: 1,598

    1) What level is your audio knowledge?Scale of 1-10: probably around 7
    2) How interested are you in learning more about audio?Very
    3) Are there any specific products you would like to see reviewed or compared? Compare High/Very High End to medium/low end for perspective.
    4) Are you interest in the pros/cons of 2.0,2.1,4.1,5.1,7.1, or all? speakers setups? Just the important or major points of interest.
    5) Are you more interested in powerful high fidelity systems or small, easy to setup systems with sound quality as a second concern?
    Fidelity first
    6) Are you interested how much quality a new sound card will bring you?Yes as a comparison to popular/common on-brd sound cards.(RelTek, AC97 etc.)
    7) what do you use your PC audio for? (please list in order of heaviest use)music, movies, games - in that order
    8) What is your current sound card and speaker set?
    On-board SB Live! 24bit, Creative p7800 7.1

    Can you also discuss some of the bells and whistles that come with the sound cards, example the EAX console, built-in filters, basically how to get the most out of the set-up?

    Great idea, can't wait. Thanks.
     
  25. seanp789

    seanp789 TS Enthusiast Topic Starter Posts: 113

    well the article is done.

    I'm going back and making revisions to cover some of the feedback ive gotten from this thread.

    Audio appears to still be a pretty nitch market. Most games, even new ones are not supporting beyond EAX 3.0

    I can only hope that EAX HD and OpenAL will promote developers to make more use of advanced audio effects. As far as games go I have yet to see a single title use 24/96 sound samples as opposed to the standard 16/44. X-Fi is still a premuim card and we will likely not see a wide use of its capabilities until it becomes the de facto standard much like the audigy 2 has been for a few years now.
     


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