Sounds cards! With Windows 7 becoming the norm finding a decent sound card has become incredibly difficult. On one hand you’ve got Creative which used to the only choice, but after driver issues and other problems there’s no be all and end all anymore.
This is an overview of my experience which will hopefully help someone because finding the right sound card is no easy task.
I started by trawling Google with search terms like “The best gaming sound card for Windows 7”, “Best high end card for gaming” etc. I eventually narrowed it down to a few choices;
- Creative X-Fi Titanium
- Auzentech X-Fi Prelude
- Xonar D2 / D2X
So next I looked at EAX, how important is it? I found that since Vista EAX is a bit of a hash due to Microsoft dropping Direct Sound 3D since DirectX 10. Creatives and in turn Auzentechs solution is to use Alchemy which basically passes DS3d through OpenAL to the Hardware which can only be described as emulation. Now ASUS can’t actually do EAX through the Hardware due to no X-Fi chip, they emulate the effects through their software.
So to summarise both methods involve some form of emulation, one less intensive than the other.
Lets put EAX aside for a minute and look at sound quality. I’ll start by pointing out I haven’t actually had first hand experience with the X-Fi but I’ve read plenty of stuff from people that have saying that the Xonar has a much more high end sound, we’re talking £300 AMP quality here. The components on the Xonar are top notch and this is where Xonar get the edge. Straight up sound is much better and EAX is supported, so to me this seemed the direction to go.
I initially decided on the D2X which is PCI-Express, thing is it actually has a bridge chip on the card. It’s not native PCI-E and I noticed boot up time was slower due to this bridge needing to kick in for Windows. My PCI-E slots were in stupid places anyway, the card was way too long and my memory slots blocked all but one slot. So I got to test it but promptly arranged to return the card.
Instead I ordered the D2 which is PCI but other than that is exactly the same card. There is some conflicting information out there saying the D2X is better because it has GX2.0 (the EAX emulation) and overall sounds cleaner. This is untrue, they didn’t retest the D2 with the new drivers. Each card is EXACTLY the same minus the interface.
I’ve spent a good month researching this and I can save you wasting the same amount of time. At the time of writing the Xonar D2/D2X is the better card overall.
Oh and the reason I never got anywhere with the Prelude? Yeah they don’t manufacture them anymore and support for the card isn’t particularly good looking at the forums. If you can get one though, it’s certainly a contender but a more expensive one.
I’ll probably update when I’ve lived with the card a bit longer but so far I’m very happy. Listening to music and playing games is so much more immersive