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It would be better to just purchase the sound card, the volume knob stand with extra connections degrades the sound drastically. I immediately noticed the difference from plugging straight into the card and moving to the standalone volume knob. I have seen other reviews mention the problem as well and it unusable.
Also for this price you'd be much better off purchasing a USB Dac/Amp like the Fiio E10K, which is actually cheaper and will give cleaner sound. Don't believe the marketing of 'Surround Sound' when it comes to sound cards or headphones. Headphones by design have two drivers, one in each ear. The 'Surround Sound' is done with software which can really change the signature of the sound for worse. Better to have a good pair of headphones or speakers, a good Dac and Amp, and let the game or movie create the surround sound. Going from this sound card to the E10K then eventually the O2/ODac with a good pair of headphones I noticed a big improvement. Trust me, even without any 'Surround Sound' products the game creates the sounds appearing to come from all around you, and it will sound better with a good setup than with the best 'Surround Sound' software filter.
" the volume knob stand with extra connections degrades the sound drastically "
Did you plug it into headphone socket and/or decreased volume from max? Either will degrade sound quite dramatically as the external block is a simple pass-through wire with added resistance and the headphone socket itself is a design disaster that degrades sound quality quite dramatically.
If you plug into front speaker jack (stereo jack), you get decent audio quality.
The Fiio is such a brilliant little box. Picked one up for about $50 less than this and it takes audio from sounding pretty good (especially if you don't know any better) to plainly amazing. Definitely agree with this post!
What OleDaneBoy is referring to as the "marketing of Surround Sound" in our cards have set the standard for virtual surround sound for decades in the PC gaming market.
They are actually called HRTF algorithms which take processing power. In host based systems like software game engines or onboard / motherboard audio or USB audio solutions these effects are hosted on your CPU and while a lot less of an overhead to calculate than graphics, they do affect CPU usage. The Z series (Z / Zx / ZxR) and the AE series cards - as well as our older X-Fi cards) all use the audio processor on the card to do this computation.
And what are we computing? There's "fake" virtualization which basically just takes stereo signals and applies reverbs to them to create a sense of a wider field of sound.
And then there are the HRTF's I mentioned above. These algorithms take all of the surround sound streams and re-calculate them in real-time to change the arrival times of the sounds to your ears (this is a very very simplified and reduced version of what is actually happen, but the easiest way to explain it). This fools your brain into thinking it is hearing audio from different starting points...and it's been refined (and attempted to be copied) over decades of development.
The reality? Our cards utterly blow away software engines surround sound and I stand by this comment without hesitation (as do thousands of reviewers and customers)
There are also other advantages to having one of our cards versus a simple DAC .
- The SBX Bass technology in the card is not just a simple gain being applied on an EQ curve. It actually creates harmonic overtones in the upper range frequencies that if the human brain is hearing it "fills in blanks" by "hearing" bass. What does that mean? It means we can make headphone drivers and smaller speakers sound like they are MUCH larger than they are without causing those speakers to distort OR drawing more power.
- Our cards handle 128 sound channels simultaneously WITH effects. You don't get that with competitive solutions or a simple amp or dac. If you play multiplayer games...128 channels go REALLY fast when you consider each player is generating multiple audio cues and the environment as well.
I wish there was a way to have everyone experience the A / B demos we give at trade shows.
I've heard the skepticism OleDaneBoy is laying down literally thousands (if not tens of thousands) of time (and I get where it's coming from). And I've seen people shaking their heads in disbelief and smiling just as many when they've heard our tech in action.
Sound is a hard product to sell. A lot of people don't appreciate just how much of a difference great audio and gear and tech can make to your listening and gaming experience...it's not like the graphics industry where you can put before and after picture on the screen to clearly show the advantages. You gotta have people experience it to truly get it. But on the other hand, that's why we've literally sold hundreds of millions of Sound Blasters over the decades..once people experience the difference, they tend to want to keep that experience because going back to sub-par stuff just isn't acceptable.
I've had this card and moved on the Dac/Amp combos I mentioned. My comment was not skepticism but my own experience as well as the majority of Headphone and Speaker enthusiasts. It is much better to have a good Dac/Amp than to have software augmenting the sound.
When gaming there was no loss of 'Surround Sound' and in fact the games sounded much better when not running through the software. My main point was that Headphones by default have only two main drivers, left and right, but you still get sound that comes from all points around you as the game's audio takes care of positional audio without one of these sound cards running software.
For music there is no competition, a good Dac/Amp will beat any sound card every time. And yes these are just my opinions, but as stated before also the opinion of every Hi-Fi enthusiast.
EDIT: Also I currently still have this sound card installed and have done many A/B testing with it and my E10K and O2/Odac Rev B. Gaming, movies, and ESPECIALLY music all sound much better on the Dac/Amps.
DigitalRonyn most likely has not delved deeper than the marketing material he was given, be fair to him ;)
And... straight from creative marketing material: "SBX Surround consists of two core technology components – Upmix and Virtualizer."
Software HRTF uses the position calculated by the game to create an accurate sense of its location. Creative SBX has to take the channels as presented from the software and upmix and virtualize either 2 channel or multi channel audio to create a fake headphone surround effect than can only track the positions of these channels, whereas the software can represent a sound at any angle.
Clearly, we do not want or need SBX surround when gaming HRTF is still available, still free, and still better... and can often handle more than 128 sounds.