Which sound card?

I recently decided to get a sound card for my computer as an upgrade from the awful on board chip. I have narrowed my choices down to two options:

Asus Xonar DX/XD for £60 


Creative sound blaster Z for £71


I am torn, please help me!



For music, the Xonar. Far better drivers and software. Gaming? The Sound Blaster, which has much better directional sound.

Thanks! I think i will get the Asus then. I CBA for awkward drivers. 

Asus has pretty horrific audio drivers, in that sense that if you don't install all of the windows bloatware, the DSP on the card won't work. In fact, the Asus has no real drivers, the DSP anly works with the windows bloatware that bogs down the system. The DSP is also pretty basic, and X-Fi does a much better job at repairing mp3 or other lossy music than the Asus windows software does. And it's not only the DSP, also things like impedance switching cannot be done via a normal way, it can only be done via the bloatware. So when in a few months you have to switch to linux to enjoy the latest games at a reasonable framerate, it's a completely useless card. It also means that you can't use the Asus card in a DRM-free operating system.

Apart from that, both of those cards have pretty generic audio devices on them. At least Creative has open sourced the drivers to their cards, and have had linux support for quite a while now. So you don't have to install their equally terrible bloatware to make the cards work, they just do, without application software that bogs down the computer, and in a DRM-free operating system.

Best option is to buy an audio interface from a music store, there is just no comparison, and you won't be paying a lot more for a lot less. With consumer computer hardware, the problem is that most of what you pay, goes up in marketing bullshit and the "made for Windows" sticker, not in hardware.

So i should look for a sound card in a music store? I assume you mean the same place you get instruments?

If you want quality sound, you need something that is made for making/listening to music. Asus and Creative are not good at this, although difference will be noticeable compared to integrated audio.  

You might want to get something like this depending on your needs. 



Yup, as explained in the other thread a week ago. A place that also sells recording gear for music.

the xonar essence is the best card for MAKING music


I don't agree, it's substandard, that's why musicians and audiophiles don't come near that kind of stuff.

It's really bad in comparison to audio interfaces, even if it's just for playing mp3s. And audio interfaces are also cheaper. There is just no comparison.


All i need is a sound card that will simply give me a better quality sound than my integrated chip and works with windows+linux. Any models+makes you can recommend in particular for <£90? 

There are so many options, what kind of solution do you prefer.

I prefer USB audio interfaces, because they don't catch as much interference from the PC generally, which is a problem with true high fidelity cards, because you can't hide the interference in noise and lack of frequency response anymore. Another benefit of those is that you can take them with you for use on a laptop, on a friends computer, or in a future ultra small form factor computer (mITX board only have one PCIe slot for instance, which is pretty much reserved for the GPU or the future floating point coprocessors when all chips have on board graphics).

What you're looking for is a "class-compliant" card. That means that the card will immediately work in linux without installing drivers, because the kernel already has everything in it that you need to use it. Even if the box says that it comes with drivers for Windows and Mac for instance, that means nothing for linux, because if it's class-compliant, linux doesn't need any drivers.

I suggested a PCIe card in the old thread you posted on this, that's a good card, the chip code has been open source by Creative so that linux drivers could be developed. That card will just sound very good on it's own and is class-compliant so it will immediately work in linux without drivers, but working with the DSP will require some advanced knowledge in linux, because it will see that DSP as a profesional DSP device that can do anything you want it to do. There is also a simple solution, in that sense that if you use audacious with the proper DSP plugin for example to play mp3s in linux, the DSP workload can easily be diverted to that DSP without much tweaking at all, in fact, pretty much automatically. But that's another story. In Windows, it will just act like any X-Fi product, with the caveat that it probably won't work in Windows 8, because the manufacturer did not prolong it's windows 8 compatibility license with Microsoft because, well, not many people use Windows in serious music applications, it's all mac and linux there, and microsoft wants money for it, and developing a driver costs extra money, especially for a broken system like directx, so they didn't bother.

I would go for a USB audio interface, I have several myself, from Roland to TC Electronic to MOTU, and they all work just fine for listening to music. Tascam (known from the professional audio devices and the former TEAC audiophile hi-fi) makes some cool cheap class-compliant USB audio interfaces that are small and handy. Their newer and smallest ones are the Tascam US-100, which are also class-compliant. There don't have a DSP chip, but they run internally on 48V DC like most pro audio devices (instead of 5V or maximum 12VDC for consumer computer hardware audio devices, and there is NO WAY IN HELL that it's possible to produce audiphile audio with an audio circuit powered by 12 VDC, it just won't happen, because in order to prevent an op-amp from clipping, you need to feed it with at least 15-18 VDC, that's just the way it is). The top Asus soundcards for instance use a 12VDC floppy power lead (which causes a groundloop, added to the groundloop of the unshielded jacks through the backplate that connect with the ground of the PSU directly, which is all very bad for audio quality and fidelity and can drive you mad), whereas the Tascam USB devices upgrade the 5 VDC USB bus power to 48 VDC. Opamps require only very little current, much less than the 500 mA a USB 2.0 bus delivers, so that current is basically transformed into voltage, which is vital for accurate dynamics, and for powering condeser mics through phantom power). The Tascam unit will also take +10dB professional signal, giving the audio circuit more constant and dynamic headroom, less distortion, a lower native noisefloor, and more tolerance.

But to be 100 % honest with you, but you probably won't believe me, if it was just for music listening with the highest quality possible within reason, and for using a high quality mic for instance for videocalls and maybe some guitar or whatever recording to make a demo, like nothing really professional like external DSP processing with plug-ins, and really high bitrate recording and advanced signal routing, I wouldn't spend more than 20 EUR on a soundcard, because That's just what it's worth. If I would make an entry level audiophile soundcard myself from parts, that's about what it would cost in parts, because it's a very simple device: it takes the digital signal from your computer (that's always the same, no matter what card), runs it through a D/A converter to get an analog signal, and then puts that signal through an amplifier to make it audible through a transducer (headphones or speakers). You can go crazy with that, and buy a pro grade ultra high quality resampling D/A converter with it's own insulated power supply, and run that balanced to an audiophile grade super expensive high powered amplifier, which is also easy to do, but defeats the purpose unless you're going to be using very expensive audiophile grade transducers. But if you're just after a much better sound, a small device like the Miditech AudiofaceII for instance, that costs 20 EUR incl. VAT (http://www.musicstore.de/de_DE/EUR/Computer/USB-Audio-Interfaces/Miditech-AUDIOFACE-II-inkl.-Miditech-free-software/art-PCM0009705-000), will easily outperform any expensive hyped consumer computer hardware soundcard, will give you much better stereo separation for positional audio in games, and will have more decent audio parts than a consumer computer hardware soundcard. It's class compiant and according to the synology forum works on a synology NAS (that runs on linux),  so I'm pretty sure it's a good deal. No DSP to worry about, just good audio quality.

If you also play the guitar for instance, you could get a class compliant guitar processor with audio interface, like those from Digitech which are pretty good and cheap, or a Roland/Cakewalk/Edirol audio interface, which is top quality for a reasonable price.

All solutions that are much cheaper than consumer computer hardware soundcards, and just have better audio quality.

I wish I could show you the difference, because I see and hear it every day, I run an audio production studio and have plenty of devices around. There really is little difference between on-board audio with intel or realtek chips and expensive "gamer" or "audiophile" soundcards offered by computer hardware manufacturers, in comparison to the huge difference in sound quality there is between all of those and entry level recording grade audio interfaces, even those costing less than 20 EUR. But I do realize that there is very little chance that you'll believe me that a 20 EUR card in a simple low cost cardboard box will actually give a better sound than a 160 EUR gamer brand card in an expensive bling marketing cloak. But at least I've tried to explain it.