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What New Sound Card?

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Thad E Ginathom

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With one thing and another, I am beginning to feel the purchase of a new sound card coming on. To set the scene, my old card is an RME DIGI96/8 PST, but due to various problems, I've been using rubbish on-board of late.

RME make expensive stuff, and it is now way out of my budget. When I bought the DIGI96/8, it was already out of production and iirc, close to half price.

My main criteria are, now, much the same as they were then: hifi (not necessarily audiophile, though) stereo output and input. I also want TOSLINK digital for portable devices.

I do not need studio stuff such as balanced mic inputs. In fact, I do not need balanced/unbalanced confusion! My output will be to powered speakers or amp line input, my input, of from external devices will be line level. If I want to play "studios" (which I did want to once) I have a small four-channel mixer with which I can feed a line-in.

However, because I want high quality DAC and ADC I am looking at the home-studio side of things, rather than the consumer side. There are all sorts of things I might want to do with a sound card at some time in the future, but they do not include 5.1, 7.1, or any kind of home cinema except plain, ordinary 2.0 stereo.

Sites I've been surfing, names I've been reflecting upon: M-Audio; E-MU; TerraTec; ESI; Marian; HT Omega and more.

I'm not going to take this decision immediately, but within a couple of months, and I'll probably go around the loop a few times, but, at this point on the loop, I could do with some "analogue" input from others!

My budget is Rs8,000 to 16,000.

I am not dogmatic about PCI, PCIe, Firewire (would need a card, not that expensive, no probs) or USB, except I do find my self wondering if USB is really up to it. Well, given the amount of expensive USB sound kit out there, I guess it is, at least since 2.0.

My shortlist as of yesterday (probably the first of many) was:

Marian Marc X --- studio oriented, but not too many sockets and stuff ---and maybe changed to the Marian Trace Alpha, even as I write (see below)
HT Omega Clario Halo --- more of a polished "prosumer" card

I'd never heard of the latter until two days ago! USP is a high-quality headphone amp, the rest of the stuff meets my requirements. Marian is a make I nearly bought when I bought the RME about five years ago.

Now... state of play at the interval...


I'd almost made up my mind on the Marian Marc X but some further investigation put me off. They do not appear to have updated their drivers since 2007. There is no Vista, let alone Win7, and I get the feeling there won't be. This time, I don't think it is a good idea to buy what might be an obsolescent card; it may well be my last expensive sound card.

Whilst I do not want to move from XP for the foreseeable future, who knows that new PCs may come along, bringing Win7, or even forcing me into the Linux camp! I I have thoughts about a new PC, but then, I always do have; I'm a shopoholic!

There is also the Marian Trace Alpha, which seems to be the current range for the company. This is fine, except... balanced i/o. Actually, half-fine: I'm after a pair of M-Audio's Studiophile AV40 for the speaker, and it accepts balanced TRS input ---(just realising that as I write the post!) :) :) so the Trace Alpha also makes it to the shortlist!

But... how would I connect a line level device to the card's balanced input?

Thinking as I write, helps to focus the head! Any input on this would be welcome.

Also how to buy...In India? by post from USA? from UK? I'm going to Singapore in February...
 

spirovious

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Well I am happy with my asus Xonar D2X which is good for mov & music.
Price can be 9 to 11k.
Other good for HTPC- Xonar HDAV-delux 15k?
For pure music Xonar ST around 13k?
 

Thad E Ginathom

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Thanks for that input, I hadn't looked at the Asus range, but will check it out.

Further to above, Marian trace alpha lacks the optical digital. Maybe I could live without it. Used to use it a lot when I was using mini-disc to record stuff, but haven't done that in a long time.
 

spirovious

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Thanks for that input, I hadn't looked at the Asus range, but will check it out.

Further to above, Marian trace alpha lacks the optical digital. Maybe I could live without it. Used to use it a lot when I was using mini-disc to record stuff, but haven't done that in a long time.

With D2X ,I have lot opions from Opt/Spdf combo inpet to similar output.
Midi connection to-
Asus Xonar D2X Sound Card review
 

thevortex

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Thad,

Have you looked at something like the EMU-1616M? It works great as a DAC and as a home recording unit. And it is somewhat of a bargain at under $500 as well.

Or if you are OK with the card not being outside the computer box (theoretically free of interference and EMI) then you can also look at the EMU-1212M. It uses the same mastering grade DACs, just that it does not come with a breakout box.

Actually if you did not have the requirement of recordings, then I would have suggested a DAC - that seems to be the way to go now, especially when you consider the USB variety. Simply plug and play regardless of Operating System and there are some lovely options in the USB DAC market which would more than give a run to some of the sound cards being discussed.
 

hemantwaghe

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Myself too was in process of getting a sound card and I bought ESI Juli@
now major criteria of buying was one day I saw it is available @ US$ 50 on Amazon and I bought it and currently the card is arraived a day back and in Pune
I hope it is in good condition as US$ 50 is too low a price!I'll be getting it in next 2 weeks and then I'll use it and will review it..

BTW if you carefully keep on checking US sites you will get good bargains .only issue is to get it shipped in India!
 

Thad E Ginathom

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I have looked at the E-MU 1616 family, yes. The 1616M might be a bit to much for the budget, but this family of interfaces comes with one feature that just might make that possible: a phono input!

I wonder if I could plug my Sure mic into that, and use it for Skype? ;)

<ate dinner mid-post>

hemantwaghe, that sounds like a really excellent deal! I've seen the juli@ well spoken of on this site.

<an hour or so later...>

Here's another candidate, going USB this time: EMU Tracker Pre. The magic feature of this one is accepting a stereo electret condenser mic, and I happen to have one, which I used with my mini-disc recorder, a Sony, which is remarkably good quality :)

I never really looked at the USB side of the EMU site before.
 
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Thad E Ginathom

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Thank you Cranky. 99% of the time, it is just going to be playing music, just like any domestic card, but for possible-use extras, I'd rather have the studio stuff than stuff like 5.1 or 7.1. I've not a gmaes player or a movie buff.

By the way, I just climbed up a ladder to the loft and checked out my 4-channel mixer (Soundcraft Spirit, dinky little thing*; no sliders for that professional feel, but hey, lots of knobs! ;)) and... it has a phono input. Two, in fact, so I could play at being a DJ :eek:. OK. that's not likely, but I'll certainly see about using it to digitise some vinyl, if it hasn't all warped in the boxes by now.




*I had daydreams of carnatic house concerts, which never happened. Or at least, not yet :)
 
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thevortex

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If you're OK with just one stereo analog in and out, you'd be hard-pressed to beat the E-mu 1212m for the money. The control software takes some getting used to, but if you've handled a mixer with a send bus before, you'll have no problems getting to grips with it.

The Juli@ is similar, though the A/D (or even D/A) quality is not to the level of the 1212m, though its digital output is probably a hair better - true zero-latency, the 1212m maxes out at about 4ms. If you don't know how that impacts you, you probably don't need to worry anyway. :) I record at 6ms, and only when you run lots of effects on a track does the latency start to create tracking issues. Of course the devs of some audio playback programs rate the Juli@ pretty highly because of its zero-latency output, but in a playback-only situation it's debatable how much a zero-latency output actually affects the sound.

Other cards in the same vein from Echo or Terratek are pretty common, and all will work very well for your situation. There is also the m-Audio Delta 44/66 around your price range, but no optical output on those, only coax. But a superb output it is, with a dedicated output chip (unlike the 1212m, which uses a GPIO pin of the processor to supply the digital output).

Of the cards mentioned, the Juli@ is available with Shalu Music in Mumbai, and the others may be ordered on request. It's very expensive though, you'd best be served by picking up the card from the Singapore outlet of Creative (if E-mu) or somewhere in Sim-Lin. I got my card from the retail outlet of Creative, and three years on it still runs on greased rails :)

For pure audio playback purposes though, Cranky, would you rate the Xonar Essence a tad higher than the ESI Juli or the EMU 1212m or the MAudio? I am referring only to the analog RCA outs not the digital outs at all.
 

thevortex

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I've never heard the Essence, so can't comment. Members who have both are divided on the issue - reports range from fantastically detailed to cold and hard. Personally, I'm not a fan of commenting on things I haven't heard :)

I thought I remembered seeing you saying that you had the Essence at your place for testing for a brief period and that you were very happy with its analog inputs. Correct me if I am wrong. :)
 

Thad E Ginathom

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An aside:

After realising that my mini Soundcraft mixer has a phono input, I dug it, and a couple of LPs, out of storage and connected things up.

It all nearly came to nothing for want of one more 1/4 to 1/8th adapter, but one was found (I know I must have bought dozens) and connected to my RME card. I expected a huge earth buzz, and got a small one. Connected the turntable earth to the PC case, and that went. Monitoring the recording level shows a constant noise coming in, but it is far below any level I can here.

The card seems to be behaving itself well with everything except VLC, so its replacement is now a maybe. New drivers will never be written for it, and it will not support the new Windows audio driver system in Vista/7. RME are telling everyone, "Look, it's ten years old..."

My PC speakers are working a little better, having shorted out the volume control, which I discovered to be defunct. I really will not know the quality of this digitising until I can get new speakers, which may not be until end-Feb 2010. I'm sure a dedicated phono pre-amp would be better. Probably even shifting my hifi and using that, but that's too much like hard work.
 

Thad E Ginathom

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In principle, I agree entirely, and also I don't have plans to move away from Win XP anyway. It's a pity that RME don't feel the same way as ? M-Audio, although, apparently, there are technical limitations on the card that make it unsuitable for carrying forward.

This RME card does not work satisfactorily with one free application on this particular PC. There are numerous alternative apps. So: what's more sensible? Change the expensive card or change the app? The answer is obvious, I guess :eek:.

Oh well, the shopoholic in me will just have to be content with spending more on the speakers!
 
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Thad E Ginathom

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Have also realised that my tiny monitor has a tape input. Input to monitor/headphone out is switchable main-mix/tape.

So I have:

Deck --> mixer stereo-in (phono

Main Mix --> Soundcard In

Soundcard Out --> Mixer Tape In

This is neat because it allows me to switch between listening to the deck output and the soundcard output.

It's especially neat because my speaker volume control is defunct, and now I can control the speaker volume other than by the sound card software mixer, and the volume knob is right there to hand.

It's extra especially neat because I'm outputting mixer monitor/headphones to the speakers, and inserting headphone plug mutes the speakers :)

Now... I was going to buy the M-Audo speakers, and my main reason was volume/headphone on front panel --- I can reconsider the AudioEngines. :)

I'm off to read -->this thread

The Software powering all this is CoolEdit Pro 2.0. It is possible to edit the amplitude of individual samples, and I've used that in the past to edit out scratches --- but now I find that their ready-made pop and crackle eliminator is... Magic!
 
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gobble

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Quick question - Do any of these PC sound cards upsample 16/44.1khz music to 24/192 or 24/96? Are the linux drivers buggy or good and feature complete?

TIA
Regards
 

thevortex

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Soundcards by default do not upsample anything, you have to do it in a software upsampler. They only support multiple sample rates (and most do).

For best results you should upsample only to direct multiples - 44.1 > 88.2 >176.4, always simpler (and less chance of interpolation errors).

Hmm... as we discussed in our messages, Cranky, my Xonar D2X has a drop down selection box where I can select the upsampling rate.

Right now what I am doing is that I am matching the software resampling with the rate on the sound card's control panel software.
 

spirovious

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Right now what I am doing is that I am matching the software resampling with the rate on the sound card's control panel software.

Which software do you use?I tried few in foobar,but they sometimes dont do better with 96kz OR +.
 

gobble

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Hmm... as we discussed in our messages, Cranky, my Xonar D2X has a drop down selection box where I can select the upsampling rate.

Right now what I am doing is that I am matching the software resampling with the rate on the sound card's control panel software.

Does the linux driver come with similar feature?

TIA
Regards
 

thevortex

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Which software do you use?I tried few in foobar,but they sometimes dont do better with 96kz OR +.

There are basically SRC (Secret Rabbit Code) and SOX resampler plugins for Foobar. Some players such as JRiver Media Centre, Musicbee etc. have built in software resamplers.

To be frank, I have heard very little to negligible differences when switching sampling frequencies.

Does the linux driver come with similar feature?

TIA
Regards

Nope! But the good thing is you dont need it. In Linux, There are players such as Audacious which come built in with the Best Sinc Interpolator - which is the same as one of the other resampler plugins. Aqualung too is a fantastic player when you value audio quality and versatility along with minimal usage of resources.

These two work well with GNOME desktop environments. Not so much with the KDE distributions I have played with.

Another good thing - I missed your question before: Yes, the Xonar line of cards do get recognized by almost all the distributions I have tried. The recent ones that is. They come recognized with the C-Media drivers. The ALSA drivers are also very good nowadays - well updated and maintained with support for almost all of the recent cards.
 

thevortex

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It's still not a hardware upsampler, IIRC. It's what the driver reports to Windows as its native sample rate, and kmixer upsamples it. And kmixer is a terrible upsampler, which is why what you're doing is the right thing to do (though I would personally force the driver to operate at the native SR, as noted in our messages I'm not a fan of resampled audio, at all). If you use ASIO drivers, it matters even less as by default ASIO does not (cannot) resample or otherwise touch the audio stream, it just reads the audio stream and sets the input SR of the DSP accordingly.

The only cards that actually resample (by default) are the Creative series of audigy and older cards, where the DSP ran at a fixed sample rate and it would not be able to control the volume (or render all those funny effects that came with the bugware accompanying the cards), so it would resample (down or up) everything to 48KHz, and then back again. Even the X-fi does this, but not for sound quality reasons, and Creative does say it is 'acoustically transparent' but it's not bit-perfect. Since it's 48KHz, it is fine for DTS streams but not CD audio.

Pro cards do not resort to these funny tricks. They would be out of business if they did.

Edit: I was mistaken - the xonar series, indeed does resample the incoming audio if the sample rate differs from what is set in the control panel. And I didn't like that very much, as noted in the review.

Notwithstanding the 'Edit', Cranky, would you say what I am doing vis a vis my control panel settings and software resampler settings is the way to go?
 
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