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Which sub $50 sound card should I buy?
arman68
post Jun 25 2002, 10:26
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I know the topic about which sound card is best keep coming over and over, but I need some advice on buying a soundcard below $50.


What I need from it:

2x stereo outputs (I want to use 1 for general use, and the other one will be used for a 24/7 MP3/OGG/MPC/... playback connected both to Hi-Fi and wireless transmitter)

A decent quality stereo input to convert my old vinyls.


What I definitely do not need is: 5.1 surround sound, 3d effects, etc...


What do you think of the following cards:

Terratec 512i
Terratec DMX XFire 1024
VideoLogic SonicFury
Philips Rythmic Edge
Philips Seismic Edge


If anyone has some of those cards, or others to suggest, would you be kind enough to run the Rightmark Audio Analyzer tests from http://audio.rightmark.org/ and post the results in this thread.

Thanks.
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arman68
post Jun 25 2002, 10:43
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FYI, RightMark Audio Analyzer 4.0 alpha 2 is available at:
http://forum.rightmark.org/ubb/Forum5/HTML/000002.html
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qristus
post Jun 25 2002, 10:52
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QUOTE
Originally posted by arman68
What do you think of the following cards:

Terratec 512i


I have that card, and I can only advise you to stay far away if you're going to use it with Windows. Hardware-wise the card is good, but the drivers are crap (a complaint I've heard often about Terratec cards)- or at least they were half a year ago, and I don't think they've been updated since.

A big design flaw (IMHO) is that you reach 0db attenuation for the wave out when the slider reaches 70% or so - so if you're not careful it's horrible clipping all over the place. That was especially fun with some (badly programmed, but still) games where the wave volume was hard set to 100%.

But still, the biggest problem I had was stability - when starting to play an audio/video stream my W2K system would hang completely and have to be rebooted about 50% of the time!!! And that on a system that had otherwise been rock stable for ages. Needless to say that card didn't stay in my system for long.

However, if you're going to run it with a Linux box, go for it - it's cheap, the ALSA drivers for it are flawless as far as I can tell, and it's reasonably easy to set the volume to keep it from clipping. I'm using it in my file server/mpc jukebox at the moment.
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KikeG
post Jun 25 2002, 20:17
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I would get a Videologic Sonic fury, aka Turtle Beach Santa Cruz. From an audio point of view, I think is the best of all them. The Terratec Xfire 1024 I think is very similar, shares some hardware with Sonic Fury, but I think The Sonic Fury is still better, I own one.

But I don't know if it is sub $50, I thought it was more expensive.
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arman68
post Jun 26 2002, 10:57
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I have found the cards a those prices (in GBP as I am i UK):

24 Terratec 512i
33 Philips rythmic Edge 4 channels PCI RP
34 Terratec DMX XFire 1024
41 Philips Seismic Edge 5.1 PCI RP
44 VideoLogic SonicFury PCI OEM (VL-60442)

It's true the SonicFury/SantaCruz is over $50, and if I consider it I should also consider the following card:

47 Terratec SiXPack 5.1+

And how about this one:

33 Hercules Fortissimo II RP
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KikeG
post Jun 26 2002, 22:17
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I would still go for the Sonic Fury / Santa Cruz, from an audio quality point of view. The others have either worse sound quality or worse driver quality and support.
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arman68
post Jun 27 2002, 15:25
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After looking at the specs I have found that I can group the cards in 3 categories:

Cirrus Logic CS4624 DSP:
* Hercules Fortissimo II
* Terratec XFire 1024

Cirrus Logic CS4630 DSP (superior to the above):
* VideoLogic SonicFury/TurtleBeach SantaCruz
* Terratec SiXPack 5.1+

Philips Thunderbird Avenger DSP:
* all Philips ... Edge cards


For cards which are using the same DSP, are the drivers from different manufacturer interchangeable?

Does anyone has any experience of the Philips cards?
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NickSD
post Jul 8 2002, 05:21
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I just bought a Turtle Beach Santa Cruz. With nothing else changed, I swear my sound is twice as clear now. I had no idea that my old soundcard was so inadequate until I popped this baby in... smile.gif I used to have a Diamond MX300... One thing I definitely noticed is that the output power is much better. I don't have to turn my speakers up nearly as high to get the same loudness as before (which I always had fairly high with my old one).

Is it normal to hear quite a large difference or could I just be fooling myself here?

By the way, I paid about $70 including taxes/shipping.
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mithrandir
post Jul 8 2002, 05:38
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You can find the Santa Cruz for under $50 if you buy used. I bought mine in a private sale for $40. It's a very nice product.
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KikeG
post Jul 8 2002, 09:10
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QUOTE
Originally posted by NickSD
Is it normal to hear quite a large difference or could I just be fooling myself here?


In my opinion, and according to http://www.pcavtech.com/soundcards/M300/index.htm , I think it's quite probable that the large difference you perceive is mostly due to the latter fact you point (sorry!) . Anyway, the SC is a better card.

Looking again, it could be an amp issue, if you say that your old card output a very low signal.
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fewtch
post Jul 8 2002, 13:56
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If you really want cheap, how about *two* Soundblaster PCI128 'digital' cards? I'm not sure how well they would work together, but at that price you wouldn't lose much. And they're just fine for recording external sources to digital... noise floor is surprisingly low (~ -78dB) if you disable inputs from CD-ROM drives and such -- and ADC's are a simpler technology than DAC (in other words, even a cheap one is good enough, especially for vinyl/tape sources).

The biggest advantage is the drivers are incredibly simple (none of that usual crap), work OK with DirectX 8.1 (no slowdowns on fast CPU as far as I can tell) and no IRQ conflicts or issues with MB chipsets that i know of. Also, they don't resample. IMHO, they were the last worthwhile cards Creative Labs (actually, Ensoniq) made. Just don't use the most recent Windoze drivers, if possible (it seems "surround sound" is turned on by default every time the PC boots up, very annoying).


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KikeG
post Jul 8 2002, 15:34
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I wouldn't buy any cheap Creative card, as it's impossible to know what's inside the particular card you get. I mean, old SB 128 PCI were said to be much better quality than nowadays SB 128 PCI cards, many of them, according some people, are total crap.
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fewtch
post Jul 8 2002, 17:30
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QUOTE
Originally posted by KikeG
I wouldn't buy any cheap Creative card, as it's impossible to know what's inside the particular card you get. I mean, old SB 128 PCI were said to be much better quality than nowadays SB 128 PCI cards, many of them, according some people, are total crap.

Dunno... I had an old SB PCI128, and after one of the jacks went intermittent I bought a newer one (sometime last year) with "digital" (SPDIF)... sounds exactly the same as the old one, no difference whatsoever.

I wonder if the real issue might be the newer drivers included with the cards. Creative has messed around with them, and screwed 'em up in my opinion. The last good driver version (VxD anyway) was 4.06.2001.


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Slo Mo Snail
post Jul 8 2002, 19:06
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Well... If you consider running Linux (or any other non-Windows OS) I wouldn't buy any Cirrus Logic 46xx based cards... Cirrus Logic doesn't give any hardware specs to allow multichannel output (hardware based) and S/PDIF
Right now I have a Guillemot Maxi Sound Fortissimo (Yamaha YMF744-B based) and haven't run into trouble and everything works (Windows and Linux)
I have no perfect ears but I think the sound quality is nearly perfect... only when you turn volume up to > 95% I get some clipping
You can find this card at ebay for < 30

I wouldn't buy a Soundblaster 128, too... It just sounds crappy when you got the wrong modell sad.gif
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Destroid
post Jul 8 2002, 20:44
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QUOTE
Originally posted by fewtch
(it seems "surround sound" is turned on by default every time the PC boots up, very annoying).


This is the result of the drivers getting screwed, seems to happen when the machine gets frozen and has to be powered down. All the driver files need to be removed and reinstalled (latest drivers don't seem notably better, I use my CD drivers). Here's the exact quote I got from Creative tech:

QUOTE
Try doing a cleansweep of the drivers for the sound card and reinstalling with the drivers from 

http://www.americas.creative.com/support/f....asp?descID=939

by following the steps below.

1. Go to Start> Run> MSCONFIG. Choose Selective Start-up and uncheck each of the options.

2. Click on Advanced, and place a check next to Enable Start-up Menu. Click OK, and restart the computer.

3. When you get the Windows Start-up Menu, choose 3. Safe Mode.

4. Once it loads up, go to the Control Panel > System > Device Manager> Sound, Video, and Game Controllers and remove the Sound Blaster PCI 128 listings.

5. Restart the system and choose Command Prompt Only. From the C: prompt, type CD Windows and then hit Enter. Type DEL and each of the files listed below.

ENSMIX32.EXE
STARTER.EXE
MIXRES32.DLL
SNDSCAPE.INI

6. Type CD SYSTEM. Type DEL and each of the files listed below.

EAPCI.VXD
EAPCI95.DRV
EAPCI4M.ECW
EAPCI2M.ECW
DEFAULT.ECW
CLNUTIL.DLL
CLNUTL16.DLL
CLUNTL32.DLL

7. Next type CD.. and then hit Enter. Type CD INF and delete each of the files listed below by typing DEL before the file name.
DRVDATA.BIN
DRVIDX.BIN
EAPCI95.INF
UPDDRV95.INF
EAPCI95.INF
UPDDRV95.INF

8. Reboot the computer. Go through the installation and then run the V128W9XUP.EXE. This should install all of the drivers for the sound card. To set your system to normal, go to Start> Run> MSCONFIG. Click on Advanced and uncheck Enable Start-up Menu. Click OK. Select Normal Start-up. Click OK and restart the system. At this point your system should be working normally.


But I've had about enough of this half-ass supported card. Can anyone let me know if legacy support in a Santa Cruz is decent? Since my future machine will not have ISA slots I am looking for great legacy support on top of the wish list here, such as HQ sound and modest price.


Edited by rjamorim: Changed {code} to {quote} to make it easier to read.


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fewtch
post Jul 8 2002, 20:54
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It never happened with me, with the machine freezing up. It happened immediately after installation of recent PCI128 drivers... reproducible every time! And it went away after going back to the older drivers.

Hell with the tech, half those people (especially "techs" working at a mass-market company like Creative) are probably more fit to be working in the fast food industry. I'm surprised s/he didn't tell you to reinstall the OS! rolleyes.gif


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Destroid
post Jul 9 2002, 07:37
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Yeah, they tried but I finally had to convince them I knew more about my machine than they did.

That cleansweep does work tho' unless you skip too many of the dumbass steps. I just use:
uninstall->reboot-safemode->removeHW->exit-to-dos->delete filelist->reinstall


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