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marco.difresco
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 08, 2013 11:47 pm    Post subject: Suggestion for a good audio card Reply with quote

Hi all,
currently I have a Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro and I am not satisfied with it and since after various researches I made in the last few months (to try to solve the problems I will indicate below) I read many comments that claim that Creative isn't really the top of computer audio cards (both in term of hardware and drivers quality) as many "lay people" like me assume it is, I decided to get a new one.

What audio card do you suggest that is well supported under Linux?

I do not produce audio content, I just need it for play music, movies and games. While I do not have professional keen hears, I would like to have a card that is as excellent as Linux-possible as I am passionate of trailer music and sometime I hear classical (that are both very immersive if well outputed) and as for movies and games I definitely like to notice as many little details as possible.

As for output devices, right now I am using exclusively a "Razer Carcharias Professional Gaming Headset", but I will soon receive a Trust 5.1 speakers system (I don't know its quality as I got it free with a local store fidelity points, but if I get promising results with a good audio card, I will be probably willing to upgrade - so I don't want to hold back on the audio card quality).

As for the budget I would like to stay around € 250 ($ 320); I could round up a little bit, but only if the card is really good and well supported under Linux. I guess (correct me if I am wrong) that for the sake of compatibility I would be better off with a PCI-E card with regular 3.5 jack connections (I will get the PCI-E slot out of the Creative X-Fi that it is currently occupying it and the headset I am using has the regular 3.5 jacks).

As for reference about my dissatisfaction, the Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty works sufficiently well (but not excellently well for its €157 at the time of purchase) if I use just ALSA and just a regular audio player + a not audio-intensive app (i.e. app with occasional sound feedback for certain actions), but for everything else I have problems.

With just ALSA often it had the problem that somehow the output suddenly stop and I get instead a continuous pulse of static; sometime it happened after hours of computer use (I usually leave it on 24/7) and sometime after just few minutes. To solve I had to either:
- close all the applications that used the soundcard and re-open them;
- if that failed (most of the time), I had to log off and log back KDE;
- if that failed too, I had to reboot the whole computer.

It happened most frequently (but not exclusively, so it was just a matter of bring up the problem more easily) with the combo firefox-flash-youtube + wine-LOTRO (just to immediately exclude the most obvious solution here, LOTRO is the only game and Windows sofware in general that I am keeping using constantly and for everything else I am doing better with Linux than with Windows, especially after 6 years from conversion, so there is not going back :D ).

For about a month I have being trying PulseAudio and I no longer have the static pulses crashes, but the quality of the sound (especially on Youtube videos) are slightly (but sufficiently audible) distorted.

As I mentioned I tried to search for solutions around the web, but with no avail (I am giving the benefit of doubt that maybe I have just kept missing the holy grail solution, but at this point I am exhausted of keep trying with trial and error test on this single area).

I tried the card under Windows (for a while I had to dual-boot to play SW:TOR since at the time it wasn't supported by Wine) and I had no issues, so I exclude that it is defective (so no point to call for the warranty) and since I purchased it on July 2011, I cannot expect to simply return it as not satisfactory (I made the mistake of tolerating it too much in part because I was hoping that maybe the drivers weren't fully finished yet and would improve in time, and on the other hand because up until few months ago, when I returned to play LOTRO, the issue with ALSA was more rare and therefore more tolerable).

Thank in advance.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2013 12:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I didnt read your whole post. Really I just read the title.... High end card, no hardware mixer, but excellent linux drivers. Sound is absolutely phenominal....
http://www.htomega.com/claro2.html <== This is your card....

But if you still want a fantastic card That is a bit easier on you wallet. Mid end card, no hardware mixer, excellent linux driver and the sound is still absolutely phenominal.....
http://www.htomega.com/striker.html

HT Omega.. They make awesome quality cards. I have both and either one is awesome. They both use C-Media chipsets. One uses the cmi8770 chipset and the other uses 8788 chipset.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2013 8:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

duby2291 wrote:
I didnt read your whole post. Really I just read the title.... High end card, no hardware mixer, but excellent linux drivers. Sound is absolutely phenominal....
http://www.htomega.com/claro2.html <== This is your card....

But if you still want a fantastic card That is a bit easier on you wallet. Mid end card, no hardware mixer, excellent linux driver and the sound is still absolutely phenominal.....
http://www.htomega.com/striker.html

HT Omega.. They make awesome quality cards. I have both and either one is awesome. They both use C-Media chipsets. One uses the cmi8770 chipset and the other uses 8788 chipset.


Thanks for the suggestions. I'll try to look for a vendor here in Italy.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2013 12:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

marco.difresco wrote:
duby2291 wrote:
I didnt read your whole post. Really I just read the title.... High end card, no hardware mixer, but excellent linux drivers. Sound is absolutely phenominal....
http://www.htomega.com/claro2.html <== This is your card....

But if you still want a fantastic card That is a bit easier on you wallet. Mid end card, no hardware mixer, excellent linux driver and the sound is still absolutely phenominal.....
http://www.htomega.com/striker.html

HT Omega.. They make awesome quality cards. I have both and either one is awesome. They both use C-Media chipsets. One uses the cmi8770 chipset and the other uses 8788 chipset.


Thanks for the suggestions. I'll try to look for a vendor here in Italy.


If you can't find that specific brand. Try to find one with one of the C-Media chipsets. They are well supported on linux with very good ALSA drivers in kernel.

I like HT Omega because of the quality of the boards and components they use. Whatever you find just check to make sure the quality of the product is good.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2013 12:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you can stick with stereo sound, the best option would be using external DAC, feeded via USB, which gives the ultimate quality and eliminates the hardware noise from PC.
Two good options below 250EUR are:
- HRT Music Streamer II+: http://www.headfonia.com/hrt-music-streamer-ii-2496-usb-dac/
- ODAC: http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2012/04/odac-released.html
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2013 1:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I presume you get some on board HDA or equivalent.
Can you tell us what's wrong with it ?
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2013 6:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Buy speakers, an external receiver and amp and connect it to the *digital* output of
your motherboards integrated audio system.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2013 11:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks all for the suggestions. :mrgreen:

First thing: while returning home from work I remembered that I had the old SB Audigy 2 ZS in a drawer; I installed it and now I am no longer having the distortions with PulseAudio (I have yet to try with just ALSA).

Now this give me the time to study the upgrade more calmly. I still want to upgrade since, even if I don't longer have the distortions and the output seems generally clean (probably the Audigy emu10k1 driver is more stable than the X-Fi ctxfi driver), after few songs I am already noticing that it is a little bit less "immersive" than the occasions where the X-Fi worked (i.e. under ALSA-only with a single audio player and no other major sound-intensive software running concurrently); and if the X-Fi was not a great card, I can assume I can get a better sound with a better setup.

If you wonder why I switched to X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro: one day the Audigy suddenly stop working; I checked the logs and there were no errors and the headset plugs seemed plugged correctly so I thought that the card just died so I compulsively ordered a new card (and as I mentioned on the original post, as a "lay person" in audio I made the mistake to believe that Creative was the top). The day after for other reasons I had to open the computer and for the sake of testing I unplugged and plugged back the Audigy and it started to work again, but since the order for the X-Fi was already sent out I decided that I could well keep upgrading to the incoming card and keep the Audigy as backup.

gorkypl wrote:
If you can stick with stereo sound, the best option would be using external DAC, feeded via USB, which gives the ultimate quality and eliminates the hardware noise from PC.
Two good options below 250EUR are:
- HRT Music Streamer II+: http://www.headfonia.com/hrt-music-streamer-ii-2496-usb-dac/
- ODAC: http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2012/04/odac-released.html


While I am just using the headset right now (I still have to unpack the Trust 5.1 system due to space constraint), I am looking forward to have a surround system. :wink:

aCOSwt wrote:
I presume you get some on board HDA or equivalent.
Can you tell us what's wrong with it ?


Well ... I am embarrassed to admit, but due to a bad experience in the waaaay past (15 years :roll: ) with a (cheap) eMachine that had a too noticeable (but insufficiently, considering it was a cheap computer, to call it defective) interference noise, I always distrusted the integrated sound cards. in fact I originally upgraded the audio of that PC with a Sound Blaster Live and since then I always kept the habit to have a dedicated audio card over the integrated one on all the computer thereafter.

Eventually tomorrow (it is already midnight here in Italy) I can give it a try. My motherboard (http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/Intel_Socket_1366/P6X58DE/#specifications) has a Realtek ALC889 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC; how does it compare to the SB Audigy 2 ZS in terms of hardware and driver support?

roarinelk wrote:
Buy speakers, an external receiver and amp and connect it to the *digital* output of your motherboards integrated audio system.


For the external receiver I am guessing the DAC gorkypl mentioned, or something else? Sorry, but I am little bit newb with the terms. :oops:
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2013 11:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

marco.difresco wrote:

Well ... I am embarrassed to admit, but due to a bad experience in the waaaay past (15 years :roll: ) with a (cheap) eMachine that had a too noticeable (but insufficiently, considering it was a cheap computer, to call it defective) interference noise, I always distrusted the integrated sound cards. in fact I originally upgraded the audio of that PC with a Sound Blaster Live and since then I always kept the habit to have a dedicated audio card over the integrated one on all the computer thereafter.

Eventually tomorrow (it is already midnight here in Italy) I can give it a try. My motherboard (http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/Intel_Socket_1366/P6X58DE/#specifications) has a Realtek ALC889 8-Channel High Definition Audio CODEC; how does it compare to the SB Audigy 2 ZS in terms of hardware and driver support?


That isnt a bad audio chipset that you have onboard It has very good ALSA drivers in kernel right now... The problem is the quality of the audio circuits and board design. Generally speaking dedicated sound cards have better opamps or better DACs or better circuit layout, or all of these things. I most motherboards the audio circuits run straight past the high frequency circuits that the NB, CPU and RAM use. This places limits on how the audio components are placed.

All in all most people probably just don't care that the sound isnt as good cause its good enough, but if you do care get a dedicated card.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2013 3:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'd be interested to know if any modern sound cards still have hardware mixers. I've been hauling a PCI SB Live! from computer to computer for over a decade now as it sounds fine to me and has a hardware mixer, but I expect my next computer may not have any PCI slots any longer, so I'll need a new sound card.

The cards mentioned above do not have hardware mixing and the other promising lead I found (the Xonar) also does not have a hardware mixer. Google suggests that at least the Audigy 4 supports hardware mixing, but how about the newer cards?
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2013 4:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mad Merlin wrote:
I'd be interested to know if any modern sound cards still have hardware mixers. I've been hauling a PCI SB Live! from computer to computer for over a decade now as it sounds fine to me and has a hardware mixer, but I expect my next computer may not have any PCI slots any longer, so I'll need a new sound card.

The cards mentioned above do not have hardware mixing and the other promising lead I found (the Xonar) also does not have a hardware mixer. Google suggests that at least the Audigy 4 supports hardware mixing, but how about the newer cards?


the good ones don't... I mean we arent rockin 486 SX2's anymore. CPU performance is now such that having a hardware mixer means little. Plus hardware mixers are limited only to their capability. A software mixer can do whatever its programmed to be capable of.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2013 5:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

why not E-mu or you want take 5.1 channels on output?
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2013 9:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

duby2291 wrote:
having a hardware mixer means little

Not for games. When the CPU and GPU are being stressed to achieve 60 frames-per-second smoothly, taking the time to perform mixing on the CPU, and service the soundcard interrupts, adds noticeable jerkiness.

People need to actually try this for themselves, as I have done. With a decent soundcard and decent speakers/headphones, one can realize that e.g. the song being played has the vocalist singing twice at different tones.

Built-in motherboard audio is poor quality, suitable only for crappy speakers.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2013 4:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The quality of sound suffers tho, and the drivers for Audigy werent very good when I tried it. I kept hearing audible pops. Many other at the time experienced the same thing. I'm sure it must be fixed by now tho.

EDIT: wow that thread you posted is 6 years old and what you said in it still applies even now. No way would I suggest an X-Fi to anyone ever. I wouldnt recommend an Audigy over anything with a C-Media chipset. It's OK if that what you have, but if your going to buy a card buy a good quality card. The truth is that software mixers are surely nice to have if you need one, but I'd argu that most folks could very easily get away with nothing more than ALSA. I've never experienced any pops, skips, stutters or any anomaly. And I've been known to put my CPU under extreme load while playing games and watching movies.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2013 4:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I use an Aureal Vortex II - supports 32ch mixing and sample rate conversion, 10 band EQ (controllable from alsamixer), and drivers that don't crash. The sound quality is probably at the limit of what you can get without an RF-shielded breakout box, given that these were originally $100 cards. The only area they're lacking is driver support for the 3D spatial rendering hardware, but OpenAL can do HRTF in software now so that doesn't matter.

They're going for $5 on eBay last I checked. May not be compatible with your needs though since they only support 4 channel surround.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2013 5:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

duby2291 wrote:
I kept hearing audible pops

Well, I never did. Are you getting confused, and thinking of one of the models of Audigy that *isn't* hardware-mixing?

My post isn't as old as it looks - the Gentoo forum isn't showing my edits, because it's the last post in the thread. I should have listed the edits to it, I suppose.

duby2291 wrote:
extreme load

You're missing the point. Hardware-mixing cards are easier on the CPU, plain and simple. I know this because I tried it myself, testing a variety of soundcards in the same PC.
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2013 6:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ciao Marco,

I would just try the onboard audio: on board HDA support in linux is really good, no strange configurations required at all. Just alsa and nothing else. While I don't know exactly what model of Trust 5.1 speakers you have, Trust is a pretty "cheap & cheerful" brand, so I can virtually guarantee that the sound card is not going to be the limiting factor in your system. I suspect that the Trust system in its entirety costs well under the 250 € you would spend...

I use quite nice headphones (300+ €) with an integrated sound card, as even in this case the improvement offered by an expensive sound card/DAC is pretty marginal...
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2013 6:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

optiluca wrote:
pretty marginal

Have you tried a decent soundcard in your system? It's a quality thing. Sell your headphones for a €5 pair ;)
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 12, 2013 11:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have, and it's really quite a small improvement. Admittedly, the headphones have quite low impedance (approx 30 ohms), so unlike some other models (with impedances north of 500 ohms) they don't put too much strain on the amplification stage of the card. As for the DAC, diminishing returns kick in pretty early on there. I don't doubt that spending good money on a sound card will get you a better product, I am just saying that for driving speakers of the (rather lowly) calibre of a Trust system the difference is going to be virtually nil. Spending an extra 250 € on the speakers would be leaps and bounds better.
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2013 9:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Regarding the Trust speakers, the box just says (I still have to open it) "Soundforce 5.1 surround speaker system".

As I mentioned, I have them right now only because I got them free with a store fidelity points; eventually I can sell them over eBay to get some "money back" (after all I earned those fidelity points by buying products :roll: ) to put on the budget pool.

Just a note on the speakers matter: while I do understand the rule of the weakest link (it isn't worth to have a great audio card with crappy speakers and viceversa), due to space constraints and other reasons I will have some time gap between the purchase of the audio card* and the speakers; but since I am counting to solve the limitations within a medium-range time, for the time being I am focusing on the audio card* that will both support the 5.1 output (and if the budget will support it at the time, maybe even a 7.1 system even if I will use it just occasionally) and that works the best both in term of output quality and as Linux support. :wink:

BTW, as I mentioned I am so far using the "Razer Carcharias Professional Gaming Headset" as I read good reviews at the time of purchase (many months ago); what do you think about it? Will it be able to be a good match with a good audio card* until the purchase of the speakers?



* for the sake of brevity, I just wrote (and I will write in any future post) "audio card", but I am just using it as an "umbrella term" for either a PCI card, a USB card, a DAC or what else you can recommend to put between the source material (MP3, movies, games) and the speakers. :P
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2013 10:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't have any experience with the headset at all, so I can't say for sure I am afraid. Judging by the name, I imagine it's relatively bass-heavy (for more immersive gaming). From the manufacturer's website I see it has an impedance of 32 ohms so I also imagine it already goes quite loud even with integrated sound. And amazon tells me they go for about 80 dollars. Some reviewers there seem to be complaining about a lack of bass, but gamers tend to be bassheads... :P

I suspect that even with the headset, an expensive audio card will make little difference. However, I guess nothing stops you from getting one on amazon and just returning it if turns out to be useless...
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2013 2:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can't help but disagree. I admit fully that my observations are subjective. But I swear up and down that there is an audible difference between the quality of sound between onboard audio and a good quality audio card.... I mean it is a real difference. I suppose some folks are simply less perceptive than others. But I assure you I can hear it.

About your headphones..... Please for the love of god do -not- plug them into your cases front panel audio jacks. They should always be plugged into the rear IO panel. With onboard audio it has to do with a lack of filtering, and also the trace lengths and impedance through the wires leading to the front bezel. With audio cards trace length isnt really an issue, however most cards don't filter the front panel outputs. Some high end cards like the HT Omega I recommended in my first post do filter the front panel outputs, but even in the very best case you still have impedance through the wires leading to the front bezel. I know some here will criticize and say it isnt significant, but I bet that you can physically hear a difference from the front panel outputs and the rear IO panel outputs.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2013 10:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

duby2291 wrote:
do -not- plug them into your cases front panel audio jacks. They should always be plugged into the rear IO panel. With onboard audio it has to do with a lack of filtering, and also the trace lengths and impedance through the wires leading to the front bezel.


I actually agree on this (and indeed I will also attest to the difference being audible). I think this stuff really varies from pc to pc, maybe that's where the source of disagreement lies... In general most of my experience is based on recent laptops with HDA: I have had quality issues with AC97 in desktops in the past.

In any case, certainly with HDA I have never seen any of the issues that the OP is suffering with his dedicated sound card (i.e. static), so may I venture the suggestion that he switches to onboard sound to at least solve his immediate issues? Having to resort to pulseaudio is always a bad sign :D
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2013 10:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

duby2291 wrote:
About your headphones..... Please for the love of god do -not- plug them into your cases front panel audio jacks. They should always be plugged into the rear IO panel.


No problems here; I always kept them (as any previous headphones/speakers) attached directly to the audio card. :P
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 10:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi all
first I want to give an update on the matter: few days ago I was noticing that even with SB Audigy 2 ZS, PulseAudio was giving occasional distortions; so I removed PulseAudio, banned the relative flag on make.conf and re-emerged the relative packages to have ALSA only and so far I yet to have any particular problem (even the driver crashes I was having with the X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro that leaded to pulses of static sound haven't manifested yet).

Now, while the SB Audigy 2 ZS isn't giving any explicit issue, I have to admit that the audio quality is somehow "flat" (tested on some songs that with the X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro, on those cases where the driver wasn't crashing, sounded more "immersive"), so I am looking forward to the upgrade.

As I mentioned, for the short-middle term I am confined with the headphones, but on the middle-long term I am looking forward to get a 5.1 speakers system.

So far on my list I have:
No hardware mixer
HT Omega Claro 2
HT Omega Striker

With hardware mixer
Aureal Vortex II (limited to 4 channel surround and lack RF-shielded)

External DAC
HRT Music Streamer II+
ODAC

Do you have any other card name to suggest?

Thank you all for the help. :)
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Marco Di Fresco
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