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Audio: Sound Solutions

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Creative Labs has been the standard for custom PC audio for as long as I can remember. Onboard audio has finally reached a level that has all but done away with the market for sound cards, for all but a very small, discriminating market segment or two. This piece of silicon is for the audiophile/gamer, who wants the best of the best. Who would have thought a sound card could help you win a fragfest playing Battlefield 1942? This card can!The X-Fi supports a 24-bit Analog-to-Digital conver-
sion of analog inputs with a 96kHz sampling rate, along with a 24-bit DAC with sampling rates of 96kHz output to a 7.1 analog speaker system. The DAC also handles stereo at 192kHz to any stereo output. Recording may occur in 6-bit to 24-bit modes with sampling rates from 4kHz to 96kHz with direct monitoring. Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) is managed by a 20kHz low-pass filter at 109dB across all channels. Total Harmonic Distortion + noise at 1kHz is rated to be 0.004%. Audio Performance (Rated Output @ 2Vrms, Typical Value)
Connectivity is covered all around with an almost unbelievable array of connections for everything from optical SPDIF to the 3-in-1 Flexi-jack, and everything in between. The list is bigger than this page allows! The card shown is only one of many in the Sound Blaster X-Fi family.
This card leaves little to want for most people who crave excellent audio and want higher frame rates in their games. Though not as fast as the X-Fi, it is also a full generation older. With high quality DACs and a professional style Graphic Equalizer, you can make listening to anything an immersive experience. For gaming, this card supports 3-D surround sound through a 7.1 speaker configuration. Cinematic quality also ensures that you'll get the most from all those DVD movies. 24-bit DVD-Audio playback across all channels is made even more apparent by the 106dB Signal to Noise Ratio. Advanced hardware accelerated digital effects processing includes 8-point interpolation that reduces distortion to inaudible levels and a 64-voice hardware wavetable synthesizer. DAC and ADC specifications are nearly identical to those of the X-Fi, and the package comes with a liberal software suite from Creative to enhance sound and provide entertainment center function.

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Turtle Beach has been in the sound card business for what seems like forever, and in the distant past was considered to be the top of the heap for this kind of product. But despite its change in status, this company still makes an acceptable product at a price that is far more acceptable than the top of the line from Creative. This card also offers 3-D sound and positional (surround sound) audio effects with 2 speakers or a 7.1 speaker configuration, and provides Dolby digital playback. While it is true that the advanced technology of the Audigy and X-Fi units will provide more realistic output, one must have a highly discriminating ear to appreciate the difference in some cases. The most obvious difference I've noticed is in DVD output, but this card is still an excellent value for those on a budget. There are those of us who don't really care how high the quality of sound is as long as we can play our CDs and DVDs and get some kind of audio feed-back in games. For this segment of the population, onboard sound may be all that is necessary. Onboard sound comes from a digital signal processor (integrated audio control link) which is connected to the the ICH (I/O Controller Hub) on the motherboard and controlled by software (a driver, and other software which acts as an interface). The sound is processed and sent to jacks at the rear of the PC where speakers are attached. RealTek, Avance, Sensaura, Intel and others manufacture drivers and other software that allow the use of onboard sound. Though the options available with this kind of sound system are fewer, sound quality seems to suffer very little, and for the vast majority of the computing population, is more than sufficient. The added cost to a motherboard is also insignificant, so this is almost like getting something for nothing! Who can argue with that?
Ferrell-PC · ·Franklinton, NC
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