Advice on a decent/top gaming sound card

By deeps1987 · 32 replies
Mar 13, 2008
  1. hey guys
    right iv recently built a gaming pc, with the help of the people at TechSpot forums :) and until now iv used the standard sound card that came with my ASUS Maxiums SE Formular.
    Its a SupremeFX II
    as its a gaming pc, and everything else is top spec, i figure why not upgrade my sound card. Its currently connected to my surround sound in my room, in the form of a Denon AVR-F100. Its connected to 4 speakers, need a center speaker. Iv currently got it hooked up to the pc via a coaxial cable. I don't really play games loud enough to notice any deficiency in my sound card, but then again i don't know how it should sound in the first place.
    So i need some advice on one of, or the best gaming sound card available.
    I don't mind spending a decent amount on it
    Is there a difference between a PCI or a PCI-E sound card?
    Thanks guys :)

    PC Specs if it helps
    Intel Quad Core Q6600 G0 @ 3.96Ghz (Watercooled)
    ASUS Maxiumus Formula Special Edition Intel P38 (Socket 775) (Watercooled NB)
    OCZ DDR2 PC2-8500 Reaper HPC Edition 4GB (4 X 1GB)
    OCZ GameStream 1010Watt PSU
    ATI Radeon X2900 Pro 1GB GDDR4 (858/1153) EK Waterblock (hopefully upgrading soon)
    X2 Samsung Spinpoint T501 500 GB 16MB Buffer
  2. Whiffen

    Whiffen TS Rookie Posts: 229

    Creative makes some nice cards.

    Depends on how much you want to spend but I'm guessing you'd want something like 24-bit, 96KHz+ with 5.1 channels or more for what your doing. You can spend a little more for a card with 192KHz. I'm sure this will improve your audio quality but from what I hear I don't notice much difference between on-board and a sound card, I figure they are better for people who deal more with audio editing and such, just to keep in mind if you buy a 200$ card you may not notice much of a difference. For gaming I'm sure it will help as well though.

    The difference between PCI and PCI Express is that PCI Express has more bandwidth, its much faster. I'm not to familiar with sound cards so I don't know if buying a PCI Express card would make to much of a difference over a PCI one.

    Take a look here and you can read up on it, their is a nice chart a bit down that tells you the speeds of the different PCI slots.

    That looks like one crazy build you've got anyways, lucky >;D
  3. deeps1987

    deeps1987 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 109

    Thanks for the reply :)
    Um I'm gonna use it for gaming and listening to music, i don't watch films on my PC if that makes any difference?
    Anyway i think I'm gonna go for a top end card, the one you linked looks a bit small and even my daughter card from my motherboard looks better (SupremeFX II).
    Regarding the interface, would a sound card really benefit from the extra bandwidth of a PCI-E over a PCI? i didn't think sounds cards would use that much bandwidth.

    i have a few links of the cards iv been looking at here

    Razer IAS Barracuda AC-1 Gaming 7.1 Sound Card + Barracuda HP-1 Gaming Headset
    Auzentech X-Fi Prelude 7.1
    Asus Xonar D2X 7.1 PCI-Express
    Asus Xonar D2 7.1 PCI

    They are arranged top to bottom, highest price being first.
    Does EAX make any difference? the ASUS cards don't have EAX support. The ASUS card is the one i like the most, but I'm not sure about it because of the EAX.
    Also, you mentioned '24-bit, 96KHz' lol i really don't know what it means. But the ASUS card does 'Full duplex High-definition audio processing at 192KHz/24Bit for all Input and outputs and Inputs' whatever that means.

    Another point, the Creative cards have all analogue outputs by the looks of it, along with a odd connection, I'm guessing that's for connecting to digital outputs, right? I can connect the PC to the Surround sound via either optical cable or coaxial, pure analogue is no good to me.
    Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Professional Series 7.1
    Connections Picture
    That's the only thing that's turning me off buying a Creative, that odd connection

    One last point, as the sound card is connected to my Denon Surround sound system via a digital interface, does that mean the sound card is sending raw date to my Denon, which then decodes it, so the spec of the sound card doesn't make any difference, as the Denon is decoding etc?

    Sorry about the long post lol i really don't know anything about sound cards

    (p.s thanks regarding the pc compliment :) as you can see I'm spending my student loan on decent stuff :D lol)
  4. Whiffen

    Whiffen TS Rookie Posts: 229

    I forgot you were going for a top end sound card, I thought you had a <100 price range for some reason xD

    It looks as though your current card is PCI-E, 24Bits, and has 192KHz. That already looks really good and has the best specs you can buy, as far as I know, on it. I would say keep what you have! ;D


    I too am new with sound stuff but I'll see if I can explain bit depth and sample rate.

    You have probably seen audio waves before, a series of waves like the green lines on the graph below in the "example" picture attached.

    Lets say you have some music playing and it has a higher bit depth and sample rate than your computer has, like the dark green line. You can see that the endpoints of some of the line segments aren't lined up with the graph, which is your computers bit depth and sample rate, so your computer wouldn't be able to play that music at that bit depth and rate, instead it would have to play the music at your computers bit depth and sample rate, it would have to alter the music a bit to make it match your computers bit depth and sample rate. This might not always be noticeable but it wouldn't be able to play it at the quality of the actual song. The light green line you can see matches up with your computers bit depth and sample rate so you will be able to hear every note exactly like it is.

    Bit depth refers to the number of audio energy levels.

    16 bit audio has 65,536 levels
    24 bit audio has 16,777,216 levels

    You can see how one level is marked in the graph, so picture that graph with 16777216 different audio levels thats a lot of different sounds you can play!

    As you can see 24 bit has a lot more levels than 16 bit so audio can be played at many more levels. 24 bit is the most bits out so far and almost everything made today has 24 bits.

    Sample rate refers to the samples per second.

    Like in the graph my sample rate is 0.01 KHz or 10 samples per second, like bit rate the more the better. I think 192khz or 192000 samples per second is the most out so far. As you can see the higher the sample rate the more parts of audio you can have per second, so the more you have the more accurately you can play audio.


    Attached Files:

  5. deeps1987

    deeps1987 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 109

    :) Thanks for taking the time to make the picture and explain it, i understand it now. So my computer can play higher bit rates, but it just downgrades it to a level it can understand and process?

    Any suggestions on the cards iv choosen?
  6. Whiffen

    Whiffen TS Rookie Posts: 229

    They all look good to me, but your current card already has everything so unless your looking for a different type of audio jack or other specific purpose I'd say stick with what you have right now ;D Maybe get new speakers instead >;D?
  7. deeps1987

    deeps1987 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 109

    iv actually got pretty good speakers, big heavy things lol, 2 Mission, 2 Energy ones.
    Does EAX mean alot?
  8. Whiffen

    Whiffen TS Rookie Posts: 229

  9. deeps1987

    deeps1987 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 109

    so its basically a form of hardware acceleration?
    wont the ASUS card have like software acceleration which is equivalent to EAX? or maybe even its hardware acceleration will be like EAX? :S
  10. Whiffen

    Whiffen TS Rookie Posts: 229

    Hmm good question, to tell you the truth I'm not sure. I'd think hardware acceleration would be better but that also depends on what your buying.

    ... I guess that would also be a good reason to buy a new sound card though, for newer hardware/software acceleration.

    X-Fi's cards are pretty good too if you are still considering buying one =D
  11. deeps1987

    deeps1987 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 109

    ah ok.
    Regarding the interface, would a sound card really benefit from the extra bandwidth of a PCI-E over a PCI? i didn't think sounds cards would use that much bandwidth.

    Also as the sound card is connected to my Denon Surround sound system via a digital interface, does that mean the sound card is sending raw date to my Denon, which then decodes it, so the spec of the sound card doesn't make any difference, as the Denon is decoding etc?
  12. deeps1987

    deeps1987 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 109

    please help
  13. Whiffen

    Whiffen TS Rookie Posts: 229

    I think it would benefit a bit from a PCI-E, but I don't think that matters to much. Just pick a card and what ever Slot type is comes as it should be fine.
  14. turbo1

    turbo1 TS Maniac Posts: 353

    if you're setting up a PC speakers,let's say a 5.1 or 7.1 channel,
    you will be needing a sound card if you dont have the supplied
    built-in output to your motherboard that can provide the sound
    format corresponding to your PC speakers.

    but that will basically give you an analog signal (DAC) going to your
    PC speakers.

    Since you really care for a digital interface,you will need a SPDIF output
    (sound source) that i guess your motherboard already has.the cable depends
    on the output you have whether Coaxial or Optical fiber connections.and
    your receiver must also have matched Audio inputs (SPDIF) like with your sound card (onboard or add-on).

    your PC will basically throw the signal (sound) to your AV receiver,
    & yes it will process the data & will reproduce the sound to what ever
    the features it THX,DTS,7 Ch Stereo,Doldy digital plus.

    so,even if you have a 7.1 Ch PCI sound card,you basically need a digital output
    & the rest of the Audio outputs in your sound card (sub/center,rear,front)
    will be un-useable & only supplies analog sound reproductions. ;)
  15. Cinders

    Cinders TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 867   +12

    From what I've gathered PCI-E cards are subject to much more internal noise than a PCI card, and for that reason alone I'd stick with a PCI card at the moment. I must also add that I don't have any new sound cards or a single PCI-E sound card for that matter. EAX is a sound encoding scheme that allows you to hear sound in context. Water dripping in a cave sounds very different than water dripping from your faucet. The higher the EAX version the more realistic the noise should sound. I think you already have the newest version of EAX.
  16. gamerex

    gamerex TS Enthusiast Posts: 150

    PCI-e soundcards won't matter much, and EAX really is noticable. Only Creative cards have the newest EAX 5.0 as far as I know, but others have usually 3.0 Bf2 and Bf2142 use EAX 5.0, and creative cards can support digital via a >3.5 mm optical connector-standard toslink< I think they sell those at wal-mart. I use headphoens for everything. Creative CMSS-3d+Headphones=10/10.1 Surround sound. I use --Sony MDR-V600--. Creative SOFTWARE though, a little buggy, sometimes it works fine, sometimes, you wanna throw the card away :mad: Look at my signature. I think OpenAL is broken.
  17. kris_h

    kris_h TS Rookie

    I think discrete sound cards are a bit over-rated to be honest (although i haven't used one in years). Of course, 192KHz/24bit quality is good, but you must consider that the only likely source of that kind of audio is maybe DVD's or HDDVD/Bluray. Most games you will find use MP3 encoding, which after decoding will probably output 44.1KHz/16bit audio, add to that the "lossy" compression associated with MP3, you will probably not notice any difference in gaming between using integrated 5.1 sound or a discrete sound card, the exception being EAX effects if your sound card can do it better than your motherboard/software.
    If you are doing professional audio work then a top end card would be useful, but otherwise the money is probably better spent on quality speakers etc, but you seem to have that sorted anyway, go buy a new graphics card or something :p
  18. Rage_3K_Moiz

    Rage_3K_Moiz Sith Lord Posts: 5,397   +36

    Buy a cheap Sound Blaster Audigy SE and forget about it. X-Fi and EAX 5.0 are overrated.
    I still use an Audigy ZS2 and love it. The only advantage to a discrete sound card is that it saves the CPU cycles that an onboard card would use. But if you have a very powerful multi-core CPU, you wouldn't notice any performance difference between onboard and discrete sound.
  19. gamerex

    gamerex TS Enthusiast Posts: 150

    Well, the advantages to a nice X-fi is crystallzer, which can boost 16-bit up to, as close as it could be to 24-bit. , the critisism part. Furthermore, you can purchase Hi-fi music online , and yes it's hooked up to WMP. Furthermore, if you have any MID files, they'll blow your ears away with the new synth that it comes with. I tend to record my collection of midis in 24-bit/96 KHZ 7.1 Channel 577 MB 18432 bit rate .WAV files. Fun to do on your spare time. And it's always fun to suprise your enemy by being aware of their noisy suprise!
  20. Rage_3K_Moiz

    Rage_3K_Moiz Sith Lord Posts: 5,397   +36

    Who listens to MIDI files nowadays? And most of the difference in the sound output will depend on the kind of speakers/headphones you're using IMO. My ZS2 sounds the same as my buddy's Fatal1ty X-Fi on my speakers and headphones.
  21. gamerex

    gamerex TS Enthusiast Posts: 150

    Hey! Don't insult my lovely MIDIs' :) , and as true as the Speaker/headphones part is, that brings to question... What kind of speaker and headphones do you have deeps? What kind of headphones/speakers YOU have, reader? It'd make a nice poll.
  22. deeps1987

    deeps1987 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 109

    hey guys, thanks for the replies :)
    OK mixed views on PCI-E and PCI and also on weather its even worth buying a real dedicated sound card.
    Also, regarding "turbo1"s comment, i didn't really understand what he meant. Does the sound card basically send raw data to the Hi-fi, in which case it doesn't matter what sound card I'm using, as the Hi-fi is decoding it etc (when linked via a digital medium i.e. Optical Cable/Coaxial Cable)

    Also in regards to "gamerex" i think your right, my sound card has EAX 3.0 which means i can play some games with EAX, but mostly i cant.
    And i don't use headphones while playing games, and i currently have 2 Energy and 2 Mission speakers. (The Energy speakers were originally from a 5.1 Surround Sound set up, for a living room, so i guess they must be quiet good for a Computer for games?)
    And your right about Creative and software problems, that's what put me off going this route. I like the ASUS card but it doesn't support EAX, so it kind of goes against the point of upgrading my sound card lol
  23. turbo1

    turbo1 TS Maniac Posts: 353

    ok,I’ll explain that the best way that I can…..

    Since you said from your previous post “ pure Analog is no good to me” ,taken from there, and you have the Denon AVR-F100 connected to 4 speakers. cool stuff,better than PC speakers with built-in amplifiers which normally reproduces Analog audio signals.

    Regardless of what model of high-end sound card you have,how many numbers of
    Outputs,5.1 or 7.1 sound format,you still get analog audio signals using those sub/center,front.rear outputs.

    Computers processes digital audio signals that by then sent to audio CODECS,
    (coder/decoder or sometimes called compressor/decompressor) before it will be
    sent out (DAC – Digital to Analog Converter) to the audio channels or outputs (sub/center,front,rear).

    That is for the analog side,now,lets get to digital side.

    Some onboard sound cards (motheboards) as well as PCI sound cards have digital outputs classified as the SPDIF/Optical fiber connections, which your motherboard already has (COAX/OPTICAL).this is different from the sub/center.,front,rear outputs since SPDIF have digital signal processors or digital audio processors built into them to simulate surround sound from stereo sources. (if that what you mean by coding/decoding the raw data) .

    You’re, lucky “if “ you have a digital input (SPDIF connection) at the back of your PC speakers with built-in amplifier.but then again,the logic is,…what will be the use of that 3 leads/minijacks If you already have an SPDIF connections in your PC speakers? That is as well the difference of a PC speaker system with an AV receiver (compatibility of input & output connections).

    Now,lets go down to your AV receiver,

    So,what do you get from Denon AVR-F100?

    Logic and DTS. DSP with 8 atmospheres.
    Income multichannel 5.1.
    Virtual Surround Sound.
    And more…..

    And what do you prefer in terms of connections assuming you already have a high-end PCI /PCI-E sound card (name your model)?

    Sub/center,rear,front outputs will give you analog audio signals.

    SPDIF output (from your motherboard to digital input to your Denon (via COAX/OPTICAL) is digitized.

    Whether you have a PCI/PCI-E sound card or not,you’ll still get the audio quality featured in your Denon because that will basically process the audio signal. & that is my main concern (existing equipment).having a PCI/PCI-E sound card is better though for additional bandwidth & a good bit rate.but be sure that the card has the digital output compatible to your AV receiver if that is you really care for digital sound. :)
  24. deeps1987

    deeps1987 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 109

    Thanks "turbo1" :)
    i think i understand it now. So because my sound card is connecting to my Denon via SPDIF, its sending raw data to the Denon which decodes it to a analogue signal, so my speakers can re-produce the sounds?

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but as my Denon is doing all the decoding, a newer, better sound card wont make any difference to me, as it will do the same job as my current sound card (which is just send raw audio files to the Denon)

    On the other hand, if i had normal PC speakers which connected via analogue cables straight from the back of the sound card, a better sound card would be beneficial, as it is actually decoding digital to analogue so my speakers re-produce the sounds? (As there is no Hi-fi involved to decode anything)

    I prefer a digital interface, as it allows me to use the same speakers from my Hi-fi, for my PC to, and it saves a lot of extra wiring, as all it took for this set up was one Coaxial cable from the PC to the back of the Hi-fi.

    (hope that make sense lol)
  25. gamerex

    gamerex TS Enthusiast Posts: 150

    Well, yes, the speakers will do the decoding, however, the decoding is still nothing more than an analog signal sent digitally. That is to say, the sound is still nothing more than sound, the digital signal is just a sound sent digitally, so how the sound actually sounds-well hear's how it goes.

    What I assume you're thinking is


    With Analog signals, cut out the Encoded-Decoded part. Hope that makes sense.
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