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USB External Sound Card Recommnedation?


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Hello, does anyone has any recommendation on a good USB sound card? I am using a Laptop; Dell M1730 and I have Razer Baracuda HP-1 which is a 5.1 surround headset that I cannot take advantage off due to the fact that I am currently using integrated sound card from dell.

Does anyone has ny recommendation? Price doesn't matter much as the functionality. I am looking for a great sound experience for surround gaming, home theater and music jamming.

Do you or can you recomend one? I got some option but I cant seem to decide what would be more useful for me. Here are my current option.. however any other recomendation is very much appreciated.

1: Audio Advantage SRM by Turtle Beach: http://www.turtlebeach.com/products/audio-...e-srm/home.aspx

Seems great for mobile surround sound experience.. but what cons can I get from it? I read the reviews but I wasn't satisfied with their input.

2: TerraTec DMX 6Fire USB : http://www.terratec.net/en/products/DMX_6Fire_USB_2084.html

Seems great but I cant find any reviews about it. Also, there are a lot of grea feature that I most likely will never use. However as long as it will give me the best result, I'm not that bothered with the wasted features.

3: Creative Sound Blaster X-fi Extreme : http://uk.europe.creative.com/products/pro...p;product=16642

I heared what it does is to only utelize that software that comes with X-fi PCI cards and provide you the right socket to incorporate surround set-up in your otherwise normal Speak-mic jack notebook.

Any one can give me some input/advise please? I also just bought Logitech z-550 5.1 Surround Speakers so I really really need one!

Thank you!

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Guest Luciyus Pax

USB sound cards suck for gaming as they use heavy cpu resources. They use between 10% to 15% cpu and although it is not important in regular windows tasks like internet,ms office etc it makes quite difference in gaming.

If you want surround option for gaming get either Creative audigy 2 zs notebook or creative x-fi express card version depending whether u have pcmcia or express card

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Guest Luciyus Pax

I would also recommend you to go with option 3-Creative X-Fi.

I forgot to add in my previous post that the first 2 cards u mentioned above are more for professional audio use ,they handle 5.1 surround audio well for home thater/watching dvd but they don't support surround and EAX sound in games as they are coded different then Dolby Digital-DTS in DVDs.

With Creative X-Fi Extreme Audio pci-expresscard sound card,you will have eax:great effects and positional audio in gaming, hardware acceleration in gaming: low usage of CPU and the ease of use

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Umm you said Creative X-fi Extreme Audio pci-xpress card sound card... that's the problem.. I'm using a laptop o_O!!

And what do you mean they dont support surround?

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Guest Luciyus Pax

3: Creative Sound Blaster X-fi Extreme : http://uk.europe.creative.com/products/pro...p;product=16642

I meant this card. It is pci-expressCARD which means pci-express for laptop :)

What I meant by support is that in games, the card will not produce 5.1 channel audio it will send the same stereo sound to all channel like in "all channels stereo" in a hometheater A/V receiver. You will have the same sound of your front speakers duplicated at back speakers. Or you will only hear sound from front speakers and nothing at back speakers and subwoofer. This depends on how turtle beach handles gaming surround as it is coded different different from Dolby Digital and DTS.

Let me give this example: you are playing an FPS,and a tank shoots from behind and its missile lands in front of you. If you use Creative card it will be like this: you hear the big boom only in back speakers first and gradually sound will move towards front speakers as missile goes in trajectory and when it lands in front of you,u will hear explosion only in front speakers. Just like how it should be let's say in theater sound system. But with turtle beach u will not have this effect and your front and back speakers will duplicate same sound ,it won't create this kind of missile trajectory sound effect. It will just be the same stereo sound of front speakers at same volume replicated to back speakers or as I said you will only hear sound from front speakers depending on how Turtle Beach card handles gaming sound.

I am sure Terratec can't produce gaming surround,it can only decode dolby digital of dvd movies. Of course if a game supports Dolby Digital both Terratec and Turtle beach will handle it perfectly but there are so few games coded in Dolby Digital audio. Majority of the games use creative x-fi standards as audio standards. Let me say this : even if Turtle Beach card can wonderfully have gaming surround,you will still have huge cpu resource problems in games as it is usb-audio. For gaming ,creative x-fi extreme audio expresscard for laptops is the way to go as expresscard uses way less cpu resorces than USB and as I also said Creative sets the standards for gaming surround and sound effects(EAX), you will have much less problems with creative cards. EAX is creative's own audio standard and while some other cards feature EAX,it is only the old version 2.0. Creative x-fi has EAX version 5.0 which has phenomenal surround sound effects!

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I see.. so TerraTec is out of the picture then. However, according to the review here: http://www.overclockersclub.com/reviews/tb_srm/

Turtle Beach Audio Advantage SRM: COD 2 (game)

Speakers:

Was there a big difference? Yes and No. Yes, because using the control panel, I was able to tweak the speakers to separate sounds more evenly. This did help because the background noises were more focused to my side and rear speakers. And no, because it was still a little hard to hear my opponents footsteps as I would prefer, although it was an improvement over the on-board sound card.

Headphones:

Tada, I got what I wanted: clarity, separation and the ability to communicate and hear my team-mates. My kill ratio went up approximately seven percent, since I was expecting my opponent; it was also nice to be able to know in what direction they were coming from.

Hmm...

EDIT: I heared in a lot of forum and reviews, even video reviews about Creative vs Turtle Beach. Most favors Turtle beach? x_X?? What you are saying here is actually a great contrary to most of my findings hmm...

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Guest Luciyus Pax

Don't get me wrong my friend, Turtle Beach makes goos sound cards but the problem here is you are especially interested in gaming surround as well and Creative is the leader in that field. You won't get proper EAX(from sound in bathroom to bullets flying fast past your head sound effect and to anything else you can imagine with action movie sounds) sound effects with any other card than Creative cards and Creative X-Fi's sound clarity is really amazing. It will be enough for you unless you buy some very expensive headphones like Sennheiser HD 650 or AKG K701.

You won't hear sound quality difference between Creative x-Fi and turtle beach audio by using surround headphones and pc speakers.

I hope I did not sound like a Creative dealer :) As I said ,if you examine the games' sound options menus,there is only those 2 options: windows default sound driver and Creative X-Fi EAX.

With Turtle Beach ,you can't trust surround/positional audio in games as it will simulate-emulate stereo sound. You might often not get the proper exact positional audio and sound effect as it will simulate what is originally written in game code for 2 speaker setup. With Creative card you get the exact positional audio as programmers of games write sound codes using Creative EAX's procedures and there will be no simulation like in Turtle Beach's case as the original sound coding will be written for both Creative X-Fi stereo setup and Creative X-Fi 5.1-7.1 sound setup. So a if sound is supposed to go to channel 3 in original coding of game,it will go there with Creative X-Fi.

I repeat again,don't underestimate cpu-resource usage of USB audio! Although your system is powerful now ,u might have to lower settings like physics acceleration etc 1 year from now ,in future of games as Usb audio will use too much cpu resources for gaming.

With X-Fi don't forget to get this to attach your speakers. You might have been confused because of this as it is not included with X-Fi sound card package.

http://uk.europe.creative.com/products/pro...p;product=16779

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Yeah, hmm however, I haven't seen any compliants about CPU usage in Turtle Beach. I do, however, hear a lot of complains in Creative side as everything is processed through the Software since the card doesn't actually have any chips in it.

Totally confused now...

And ohh... for gaming, I play games with my wife so 98% of the time, we are using Headset. Right now, I own this little beast, Razer Baracuda HP-1: http://www.razerzone.com/index.php?main_pa...;products_id=38 Im not sure you consider that as "expensive high-end" headset...

And I heared Logitech vs Creative Gigaworks... that Logitech sucks? x_X!!?? Because I just ordered a Logitech z-550 x_X!!

Also, to clear things up.. I'll set value on my interest so people giving advice knows my priority:

Gaming: 40% with headset

Home Theatre: 35% with speaker system

Music: 25% Both headset and speakers

Thank you so much for putting time in this.. I appreciate it so much!

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Guest Luciyus Pax

Turtle Beach Audio also produces very good desktop PCI sound cards. They surpass Creative in stereo and home theater sound quality as they have better DACs(Digital Analog Converter). Turtle Beach Audio's card can make a difference with high quality headphones like Sennheiser HD-650 but it is stereo music usage. So are you sure u read reviews of Turtle Beach Audio USB sound card versus Creative X-Fi? Because reviews might have refered to the desktop version of cards.

Cpu resource usage is problem of USB, a USB sound card will always use much more cpu as it is how USB is designed in hardware. Sound card manufacturers can't do anything about it. Creative X-Fi 's cpu usage is between 2%-6% . Usb Audio is 10%-15%

Just go to Creative's site and look for EAX supported games. Almost all of the games are designed for EAX. Turtle Beach audio will never have same sound effects in games as it can not support latest EAX versions as it is Creative's proprietary hardware design.

If you have the ability to test both cards,please test before you buy!

Also visit this website: www.head-fi.org

It is a website about high end audio and headphones. Check computers as source section and generally most of people recommends Creative X-Fi for gaming audio but as I said stereo music is another domain. Turtle Beach will surpass Creative in high end stereo music usage but you will have to upgrade your speakers as well to hear the difference,to another brands like Klipsch or Swan.

If you want good surround music, excellent gaming surround and DTS support for movies, go with Creative!

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I think someone misinformed you badly. Actually creative x-fi is one of the few hardware sound accelerated cards in the market. Everything is processed in hardware and Creative X-Fi has hardware sound effect chip which the biggest income of Creative company. EAX 5.0 sound effects can not be processed without hardware chip accleration. Usb audio and onboard audio process sound fully on software. There is no usb sound card which can process audio effects in hardware due to design limitations and there will never be.

You will get hardware accelaration only with a desktop PCI card or Creative's X-Fi Expresscard laptop card(that is the only hardware accleration sound card in market for laptops). Hardware accelaration of sound is what gains Creative money!

There was a specific onboard Creative sound card available within new Dell Laptops and that is the only software sound card of Creative beside its external usb-audio line. You might have been confused because of that card.

http://uk.europe.creative.com/products/pro...p;product=16642

That card you mentioned is pure hardware acceleration in games!

I am glad if I was helpful

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One last thing this is the sound card I am using right now and it is considered the best sound card by many people.

http://www.emu.com/products/product.asp?ca...p;product=15185

It is considered way underpriced for the qualities it has. It does not support surround sound for gaming but it does support for DvDs via optical out(to connect to a A/V receiver and regular home theater speakers) . It is a professional sound card designed mainly for stereo music. Its brand E-MU has recently been acquired by Creative although Creative does not interfere in design of E-MU cards , Creative only handles its marketing-sales. E-MU is a professional audio brand.

For stereo music listening you might consider this in future.

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I think someone misinformed you badly. Actually creative x-fi is one of the few hardware sound accelerated cards in the market. Everything is processed in hardware and Creative X-Fi has hardware sound effect chip which the biggest income of Creative company. EAX 5.0 sound effects can not be processed without hardware chip accleration. Usb audio and onboard audio process sound fully on software. There is no usb sound card which can process audio effects in hardware due to design limitations and there will never be.

You will get hardware accelaration only with a desktop PCI card or Creative's X-Fi Expresscard laptop card(that is the only hardware accleration sound card in market for laptops). Hardware accelaration of sound is what gains Creative money!

There was a specific onboard Creative sound card available within new Dell Laptops and that is the only software sound card of Creative beside its external usb-audio line. You might have been confused because of that card.

http://uk.europe.creative.com/products/pro...p;product=16642

That card you mentioned is pure hardware acceleration in games!

I am glad if I was helpful

I am talking mostly on about the Laptop cards so please set aside the desktop sound cards. And as with the X-fi notebook card from Creative, no it doesn't have the chips.

From: http://www.vnunet.com/personal-computer-wo...ve-xtreme-audio

However, we still have a few issues with the card. Firstly, despite the name, it doesn?t actually include an X-Fi chip (the EMU20K1). Unlike Creative?s desktop cards, which off-load audio processing onto the card?s audio chip, this Notebook model relies on your laptop?s CPU to do the grunt work.

This means that turning on the 3D CMSS and X-Fi Crystallizer effects while listen to music will add some processor overhead. Secondly, it seem a bit odd to produce a card that?s aimed a audiophiles and movie lovers, yet only offer analogue surround sound via an optional adaptor

I'm not really sure now. Because whenever I read reviews about that sound card... there are always some negative cons that gets into me. Hmm, on the other hand, there are very few reviews about the Audio Advantage SRM from turtle beach so its really hard to compare x_X!!

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I am truely sorry in that case my friend. Thx for correcting me and showing me that review.It seems they changed the design in later revisions. Creative Audigy 2 ZS notebook has definitely chip on it as my friend has it and I have also examined its hardware reviews. It seems they changed design of Creative x-fi laptop card. In that case I say you try to find a detailed cpu resource measurements of X-Fi AUdio notebook. I remember when X-fi laptop card was first announced it had a chip on it, I think they changed the design in later revisions of this card to gain more money by omitting the chip.

This was Creative's motto for audigy 2 zs notebook card "All the power of audigy desktop sound card in smaller form for laptops!". It sucks they are not doing it now as well for X-fi laptop series. So I say CPU usage will be probably near usb audio's,not more. When Onboard realtek sound card is emulating EAX 2.0 effects its cpu resource usage is around 7%. It is the same for non Creative other software acceleration cards. You will still have EAX 4.0 support if u buy Creative x-fi laptop. What you will lose is its hardware low cpu-resource usage. If both cards(turtle beach and creative) have same cpu usage, Creative is still the way to go as you will not have EAX 4.0 in turtle beach audio.

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Kind of surprised no one's mentioned the ASUS Xonar U1. It's definitely one of if not the best USB soundcard. The latest drivers added something DS3D GX 2.0 which works a lot like Creative's ALchemy, providing EAX 5.0 emulation and surround sound support for DirectSound based games in Vista.

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HMm I read the review about ASUS Xonar U1... sounds really promising.. however, the problem I am thinking is that... it needs a system decoder for 5.1 surround? =/?? It only has an optical out..

anyone has any solution for this?

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not sure what you mean by system decoder.

but you are right if you want surround sound with the Xonar U1 you must have an optical audio input on your receiver. the Xonar U1 supports realtime Dolby Digital encoding (Dolby Digital Live) for up to 7.1ch surround sound.

most surround speaker sets, HTIBs and receivers have optical inputs these days though, so as long as yours does or you can get one that does, you'll be golden.

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Yeah... however, my Razer Baracuda only have analog input and HDAI connector.. so I'll need an analog adaptor..

What I like about the Turtle Beach is that it has all kinds of connection included in the package.. however Im not sure how well their software, drivers and support are...

Can anyone differentiate the Audio Advantage SRM to the Xonar U1? Coz when I read about the Xonar U1, reviewers said it is "pretty" good for laptops... however it has its own disadvantage specially in gaming with Vista.

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  • 4 months later...
Guest Andrzej

Hello!

I wait for my Dell XPS1730 and I have the same problem with soundcard + 5.1 headphones. I thought, however, that M1730 has 5.1 output (3x mini-jacks). Doesn't this work with Razer Barracuda HP-1? Also, the game i'm interested in (stalker cs) supports surround via OpenAL. I'll have Audigy Software edition, and I thought it will make it work (still in software processing mode, but SB X-Fi Ex-audio notebook will do the same). Am I wrong?

What was your choice with sound-card?

Best regards,

Andrzej

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I would definitely get the Creative model. While it doesn't have the emu20k1 chip that the desktop X-Fi cards have got, it will still provide for the lowest CPU usage of any of the cards you picked. Always stay away from USB audio. USB wasn't designed for that type of device.

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