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Hardware Entertainment

Creative's X-Fi Audio Chip Reviewed 336

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the nothing-sounds-as-good-as-profits dept.
theraindog writes "The Tech Report has posted an in-depth review of Creative's new X-Fi audio processor. The 51-million transistor chip employs a unique audio ring architecture that pushes an apparent 10,000 MIPS, supports up to 128 hardware-accelerated voices for 3D audio, and can upsample and upmix stereo 16-bit/44.1kHz audio to multichannel 24-bit/96kHz. Creative says that the X-Fi's upsampling and upmixing capabilities can make MP3s sound better than the original CD, and although that claim isn't validated by listening tests, the X-Fi does sound better than other consumer-level audio cards. It also performs better in games, in part because precious few sound cards feature hardware acceleration for 3D audio."
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Creative's X-Fi Audio Chip Reviewed

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  • MIPS (Score:5, Informative)

    by PsychicX (866028) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:20PM (#13769619)
    Ah, good old MIPS. I always love this number. The first thing they tell you in computer architecture classes is, "This is the MIPS value. People used to use it, but it's very much a bullshit number."
    • Re:MIPS (Score:5, Funny)

      by isdnip (49656) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:35PM (#13769732)
      It stands for Meaningless Indication of Processor Speed.

      Fortunately the term is obsolete, and instead we have really accurate metrics like PR-ratings, NetBurst MHz and AMD's "+" numbers.

      • Don't forget BogoMIPS :)
    • so then this has how much computing power?

      would you kindly give us an answer?
    • Well, not true. (Score:5, Informative)

      by imsabbel (611519) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @08:26PM (#13770079)
      The _usage_ of the "MIPS" here might be mostly marketing bullshit (as it doesnt make the sound "better"), its not compareable to PMPO or co.

      Its just a bit decieving, because getting mips in audio chips is _REALLY_ easy. You are mostly dealing with 16 or 24bit integer values, in neat streams. You can build a whole function unit for a few 1000 transistors...

      So just give the thing 50 adders, 50 mul-units, runn it at 100 Mhz and you get 10 billion possible instruction per second (which might be burned quite quickly if you want to do bigger effects on xx streams, but thats another matter).
    • DSP MIPS (Score:4, Informative)

      by XNormal (8617) on Wednesday October 12, 2005 @06:20AM (#13771971) Homepage
      In the context of digital signal processing MIPS refers to the number of multiply-accumulate [wikipedia.org] operations per second, including incrementing buffer pointers. It is a well-defined number and comparing it is not meaningless even across different architectures.
  • Missing link? (Score:5, Informative)

    by synthparadox (770735) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:21PM (#13769624) Homepage
  • by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:22PM (#13769630) Homepage
    Soundstorm gave us a bit of hope but noone knows if that'll ever come back. I'm sure many gamers would just love to keep Creative bloat out of their system.
    • Creative Bloat (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anti-Trend (857000) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:40PM (#13769767) Homepage Journal
      You're right that Creative's Windows drivers are bloated, unstable and downright nasty. But the open-source [creative.com] emu10k1 drivers for Linux are actually quite good, and I've found that with a little tinkering, I can get my Audigy2 sounding better in Linux/ALSA than I can in Windows/DirectX. The best part? Zero bloat, and the drivers just work with no extra crazy software required. I just want to hear sound for goodness sake, not run friggin' Creative OS. I wonder if this new card will also have open-source drivers?

      -AT

      • Re:Creative Bloat (Score:4, Interesting)

        by EzInKy (115248) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @08:03PM (#13769927)

          You're right that Creative's Windows drivers are bloated, unstable and downright nasty. But the open-source emu10k1 drivers for Linux are actually quite good, and I've found that with a little tinkering, I can get my Audigy2 sounding better in Linux/ALSA than I can in Windows/DirectX. The best part? Zero bloat, and the drivers just work with no extra crazy software required. I just want to hear sound for goodness sake, not run friggin' Creative OS. I wonder if this new card will also have open-source drivers?


        I'm with you with Creative cards on Linux...they just work and work pretty well. As far as the poor Windows users go why does Creative feel they have to punish them so? I thought the idea was to sell cards, not piss people off.
      • by gkitty (869215) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @09:24PM (#13770372)
        I always had bad experiences with stable machines becoming unstable after installing Creative's drivers, and never liked that you can't seem to just install what seems like a driver but have to screw up your system with what seems more like an application suite / (buggy) driver combo. What's worse is that despite the bloat Creative's stuff never has the features that I actually want in a sound card.

        The only salvation for my SB cards has been the 'kx project' drivers:

        http://kxproject.lugosoft.com/index.php?skip=1 [lugosoft.com]
        (sorry I don't know to enter a URL here...)

        If you are a musician these drivers have the features you actually want; WDM, ASIO, GSIF - other than the sound floor (on my SBLive) they make the card competative with a mid level music card. No bloat and I've found the driver to be solid, though the UI is rather yucky.
      • Funny thing...

        I had a friend whine and complain about his audio with his SB Live (some edition) and he was right about things being broken. It was EAX or something at the time not working when it was supposed to be.

        Oddly, in that same week, someone wrote on the white board in the lab a horribly long url to compaq's version of the drivers.

        So I downloaded the 100mb+ crap and burned it to cd.

        Those bastards must have rewritten a lot of stuff or simply fixed all the broken pieces. Everything worked, no more audi
    • I have an original Gravis Ultrasound-- $50 and it's yours...
    • except soundstorm has/had crappy eax capabilities (only goes up to eax2... eax5 is the current ver in use). its performance wasn't up to the then creative cards.

      people also used to complain about many issues with it, including hissing, crackling and popping (no not those 3).

      what we need is for nvidia or someone else to invest in a high end gaming sound card to compete with the x-fi.... i just don't see that happening. all we have now are semi-pro music cards with eax1/2 (if even that) and relatively bad per
    • SoundStorm may be gone but I am getting by with my HDA X-Mystique, which puts out a real Dolby Digital 5.1 signal over coax and optical cable. As far as I know it is the only modern product that outputs 3d game sound (EAX 2, DS3D) as DD5.1.

      The drivers are rarely updated, unfortunately. It's a tolerable product though and maybe the only game in town if you want digital sound output for your gamez0rz. No EAX HD support, of course.

      All those nice DD5.1 computer speakers out there... so few ways to drive them wi
  • precious few sound cards feature hardware acceleration for 3D audio.

    Does that mean that all the others only accelerate 2D audio?

    • Re:3D? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Guspaz (556486) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:43PM (#13769779)
      Exactly. The statement might be revised to "Precious few sound cards feature full hardware acceleration for 3D audio", since some cards like the SB Live! do 3D acceleration, just not on enough 3D channels to cover it all in hardware.

      This used to be a big issue in games where 3D (surround) sound was used. These days with faster processors, it isn't such a big issue any more. In fact, many modern games (Half-Life 2's Source engine, and DooM 3) both do all sound processing exclusively in software (though Creative later blackmailed Id into adding hardware support for DooM 3). It was decided for this current generation of games that CPUs were fast enough to do the sound processing in hardware, and that it was the best way to provide a consistent presentation no matter what sound card is used. Both games do all their 3D mixing, and their post-processing (reverb for example) entirely in software.

      Does doing it in hardware still provide a CPU benefit? Yes. Is it that important anymore? No, unless you're going nuts for framerates.

      I seem to recall a benchmark done years ago on an Athlon 1.4 that showed 40% CPU usage exclusively for 3D sound on the SB-Live, and something like 5% on the Audigy. Now, with current high-end CPUs at something like 3x faster than that, spending 15% of a game's CPU budget on sound is fine. Multithreading in games (to support multicore processors) will further reduce this, since you'll be able to offload sound processing to the second core.
    • upsampling and upmixing capabilities can make MP3s sound better than the original CD

      ooo... a capacitor...

    • Does that mean that all the others only accelerate 2D audio?

      A friend (with too much money and who read a few too many "Maximum PC" style reviews) once purchased a Hercules Game Theater card...it had some form of MP3 decoding hardware acceleration. Unfortunately, it also tended to crash his computer.

      Really, all this 84.67 speaker stuff is kind of silly. The only point of more speakers is that they can more closely approximate headphones in the imperfect audio environment that is your room (and you normally
  • Creative Left Out (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OneByteOff (817710) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:25PM (#13769645)
    I feel bad for Creative, they are pretty much the one and only sound card manufacturer (yes I know there are others but they are the most popular IMO). But is there really a demand for a bigger and better sound card from the average consumer?. How often are you in the middle of playing [insert game name here] and found yourself saying "man, I need a sound card upgrade, I'm just not getting the performance i need!!". In addition, when was the last time you thought of water cooling your sound card?.

    My point is merely that sound cards provide great sound, but if your not in the Music industry, all the cards sound pretty much the same.

    • Try playing Half Life 2 with poor sound. It is one of the few FPS I play where gameplay depends on what you hear and in what direction.

      I also run a mini theatre with my PC: DVD Player/DVD Recorder(Device), DVD Audio(PC), DivX(PC), Mpeg(PC), Avi(PC), DirectX Applications(PC), Flash(PC)

      And a mini studio: Fruity Loops, Vegas, Acid, Reason, Midi In/Midi Out
      • I think the point is that for most people, on-board sound is better than they need. Pros and semi-pros are, of course, going to use something better, but regular old consumers, even the high end gamers? Unless they have money or are picky about their audio, they won't do anything special. A lot of systems have pretty good built-in 5.1 output, and should be plenty good for HL2.
      • Re:Creative Left Out (Score:3, Informative)

        by Guspaz (556486)
        HL2 does ALL of it's sound processing (3D, effects, etc) entirely in software. The only benefit a higher priced Creative card can provide is a better SNR, which isn't the end-all-be-all.

        Using a generic onboard card with surround support will not be much of a different experience than using an X-Fi. You'll notice cleaner sound due to the better SNR, but that's it.

        Valve did this because CPUs have advanced to the point where sound processing can be done in software without too much of a processing time investm
    • I think it would be really cool to see a sound card that can simulate sounds bouncing off walls. Not entirely important but the more immersive the better.
      • Re:Creative Left Out (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Guspaz (556486) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @08:07PM (#13769954)
        You're thinking of the Aureal Vortex (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A3D [wikipedia.org]). A3D simulated a low-detail version of the 3D environment and calculated reverb based on the reflections inside that environment.

        A3D died off years ago, and Aureal was bought out by Creative. EAX still can't come close to A3D's capabilities.

        For an idea of the A3D generation, Quake 3 supported A3D for 3D audio, though it was later removed when A3D died off.
        • by ashpool7 (18172) on Wednesday October 12, 2005 @12:18AM (#13771035) Homepage Journal
          Yeah, you left out the part where Creative crushed Aureal by playing dirty and ate the technology to no useful end. Creative threatened to do almost the same thing to ID Software with the "carmack's reverse" fiasco. 3D sound positioning has stagnated because of Creative.

          nVidia probably backed off SoundStorm because of either implicit or obvious threats from Creative.

          In terms of Companies That Are Evil, I'd say Creative ranks right up there with Microsoft. I don't see why we should give them the time of day.
          • nVidia probably backed off SoundStorm because of either implicit or obvious threats from Creative.

            My understanding is that Creative actually (surprise surprise) owns some of the patents or even software used inside the Soundstorm. In particular they bought Sensaura, which provided the software for the Soundstorm's DSP. Apparently they then jacked up the prices so it didn't make sense for nVidia to continue with it (especially since it unfortunately never took off on the PCs - though obviously it did well on

      • This was done by Aureal, which would calculate sounds as they bounced around the room based on what the walls were made of. Sounds would linger for longer periods of time if you were in a metal room than if you were in a cave, for example. The processor was also capable of changing it based on the shape of the room. I believe HL1 supported this.

        Aureal, of course, was swallowed by Creative, and I cannot think of any other tech buyout that saddened me more, especially since Creative seemed to have no clue
    • Re:Creative Left Out (Score:5, Informative)

      by Monkelectric (546685) <slashdot@@@monkelectric...com> on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:44PM (#13769790)
      There are those of us, to whom a good soundcard is critical. And weirdly enough, creative has started to make some fairly decent stuff after having been a laughing stock for years.

      They bought E-MU who was a synth manufacturer, and started releasing some very high quality stuff under the E-MU brand. I point to the 1820M which has unbelivable specs which have all been verified by independant tests. This sound card is a low end *MASTERING* grade unit for about 550$.

      • I still run the classic soundblaster live Platinum and it has outlasted every other PC part I have had. This was the most hi-end card before the 5.1 days and costed $250 at the time. Creative however should start selling the 5 1/2 frontend bay piece separately from the cards.

        • Re:Creative Left Out (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jandrese (485) *
          Heh, I have an SB Live Value I bought ages ago when I was a poor college student and built-in sound cost extra and was even crappier on motherboards. Thus far I have felt no need to upgrade. My motherboard now has 6.2 sound and optical out and all sorts of stuff that my (equally old) speakers can't handle. But the SB Live supports 8 channels in hardware compared to the 1 my regular card supports. It's no secret why I still use it.
    • First of all you're right! Creative makes some decent stuff. Too bad there's not more of a market for it.

      I think, as a few others have mentioned, this may be changing. With the sudden HTPC boom... MythTV, MCE, etc... people gotta have good sound. Can't do that with onboard that's for sure.

      When I built my MythTV box the first thing I had to do was go out and buy a new sound card! Funny enough, the second was to upgrade / add another tuner card.

      Sound is one of those funny things where you don't realize h
      • All I would need for a HTPC is an optical out port, since my audio receiver does all the sound processing. If you're playing a DVD or HD stream, the sound is passed bit for bit to the audio receiver. This is of course if you're using a seperate sound receiver, which I hope you do for a home theatre.
    • Look at that giant screenshot in the article. It's a small little integrated circuit. It doesn't even have a heatsink! I think creative is happy just producing the same product year after year with minimal feature improvements. If they really wanted to sell something that gamers would be interested in, they would pour research money into full sound physics processing such as what Aureal did back in the day. I tell you, I have yet to hear anything as amazing as Aureal for suround sound.

      Until innovation occur
    • I knew someone was going to say this - I was just looking for the person who got modded a 5 with the statement "who needs a better soundcard?"

      I agree that a soundcard intuitively doesn't do much. At its simplest it is a glorified D/A converter. But realistically, as the summary points out, hardware acceleration makes a difference. When I upgraded from my soundblaster live (a pretty good soundcard) to audigy 2 I got about 10 more frames per second in unreal tournament 2004 (a cpu-bound game). I would like to
  • by slaker (53818) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:26PM (#13769657)
    ...But this guy sounds a lot better, regardless. [bluegears.com]

    OK, actually, it sounds a lot better when it's connected to a Home Theater receiver/amplifier. Whatever. It's a far better way to spend your $100.
  • If only... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Supp0rtLinux (594509) <Supp0rtLinux@yahoo.com> on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:29PM (#13769680)
    they'd put in a USB or PCMCIA form factor for use in my laptop...

    MobileOptimized [mobileoptimized.com]
    • I would not buy USB (Too much added bulk), however I am also hoping for a PCMCIA version.

      The Audigy 2 Notebook (PCMCIA) was very impressive, as it provided the entire feature set of the Audigy 2 ZS (with the exception of hardware midi synth I think?) in the PCMCIA form factor.

      A PCMCIA version of the X-Fi would be greatly welcomed by me, for the vastly improved SNR over my notebook's onboard audio, as well as the 3D headphone virtualization.
  • Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hey Pope Felcher . . (921019) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:38PM (#13769751)
    . . . why does Creative still refuse to include an optical out on its sound cards?

    Yes you can get the live drive, but on a media PC that's designed to be on show, it makes sense to have the digital outputs out the back, where they can be easily concealed.

    HiteC [ihda.co.kr] do one, as do turtle beach [turtlebeach.com], why not Creative?
    • . . . why does Creative still refuse to include an optical out on its sound cards? Yes you can get the live drive, but on a media PC that's designed to be on show, it makes sense to have the digital outputs out the back, where they can be easily concealed.

      My guess would be that they figure anyone who wants optical connections wants the pro-sumer quality live drive. Either that or they ran out of room on the card. Seriously, look at the back of the cards. Unless they remove something else, there does
    • You can get optical out and decent sound for way cheap.

      "Creative Labs, the worst thing to ever happen to sound card industry."

      the runner up was

      "Creative Labs, holding back soundcard innovation for over a decade"

  • Better than a CD? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Marlor (643698) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:39PM (#13769757)
    Creative says that the X-Fi's upsampling and upmixing capabilities can make MP3s sound better than the original CD.

    In other news, Creative have created a new image compression standard that makes compressed images "look better than the original uncompressed version". A Creative spokesperson has announced that this compression standard uses the same technology as X-Fi to create information out of thin air.

    Seriously, there is no way to make a recording that is compressed by a lossy algorithm such as MP3 sound as good as the original without creating information out of thin air. Of course, X-Fi can't do this, so it must be "guessing" what the original information was. This would of course mean that what you are listening to is just a moderately close approximation of the original recording that has had information added to it to sound "better" (by some Creative engineer's definition of "better").
    • by mabinogi (74033)
      It said "sound better", not "more accurate".

      It's very possible to take even a lossy MP3 and via processing make it "sound better" to the average listener than the more accurate reproduction given by the original CD.
      Just like smoothing can make an image look better even though it loses more information.

      Of course there's no reason why the same processing couldn't also be applied to the CD output, so claiming it makes MP3s sound better than the original CD is a little silly, but otherwise I don't see a problem
    • by morcheeba (260908) * on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @08:17PM (#13770027) Journal
      It is fairly easy to make an algorithm to improve the quality of losslessly-encoded sound.

      In fact, I just came up with two genre-specific filters:

      Rock music*: fout(x) = x * 1.1
      Rap music: fout(x) = x * 0.0

      (* preliminary research on the rock music filter was done by Spinal Tap Ltd, et al)
    • Re:Better than a CD? (Score:2, Informative)

      by DrLex (811382)
      Indeed, this sounds like market speak for "We add some nice sounding junk to your audio, but it'll be nowhere near the undistorted CD audio.".

      Under normal circumstances, there is no room to improve a 44kHz 16bit signal intended for end user audio (I'm not talking about mixing & stuff). Most humans can't hear above 16kHz (20 if you're lucky) and 44.1kHz can represent signals up to 22kHz. The only reason to use higher sampling frequencies, is to make the design of digital low-pass filters easier. 16bit
      • 16bit is enough to represent a dynamic range of 90dB, which is far more than what you'll hear in the overcompressed crap that populates the charts today.

        Most people who care about music aren't listening to the "overcompressed crap" that populates the charts today :) A commenly cited value (in academia) for the dynamic range of the human ear is 120 dB [washington.edu] So 90 dB is definitely quite a bit short of "enough". Moreover, you seem to minimize the importance of higher sampling frequencies. Yes, their primary effect i
        • Most systems these days use oversampling and a sigma-delta DAC, which does not need a sharp analog low-pass filter (they do this with a digital filter, which has much better response characteristics). As long as the original source was mastered at a bitrate higher than 44.1kHz, downsampling it to that in the digital domain should not reduce the quality.
    • by Venner (59051)
      >>there is no way to make a recording that is compressed by a lossy algorithm such as MP3 sound as good as the original without creating information out of thin air.
      >>

      Right. I bet Creative's gone the way of BOSE (damn their eyes) and made the audio "sound better." To lay-people at least. BOSE accomplishes this 'amazing' feat by boosting the level of certain frequencies and/or increasing the volume. In blind tests, many people say that a louder soundbyte sounds better, and so forth.

      I personally
    • While we're on a roll the X-Fi also drains Florida swampland and causes bridges to materialize at the location of your choice with a simple mouse click. Most MP3's have discarded 75% plus of the CD's original data, the odds of Creative's claim being true are very dependent on the definition of 'better' in use. It's not the definition used by most who people who care about sound.
    • by nick_davison (217681) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @08:44PM (#13770179)
      That image technology has been around forever. Just watch an episode of CSI.

      I was going to make much the same observation and then something occured to me:

      Quality of sound is subjective.

      It's why every crappy CD player and walkman comes with a Bass Boost. Boosting the bass doesn't make the sound more authentic than the original but, for the average listener with no idea what clear music should sound like, more bass is appealing and a selling gimmick.

      Similarly, you upsample, apply smoothing algorithms, apply fractal algorithms, whatever, you may be able to give a perception of clarity, of spacial separation, etc. far in excess of what the original CD had. That doesn't mean it's what the artist and engineers intended, it doesn't mean it's more accurate to the original performance, but you'll still get the average 13 year old telling you that Britney's latest masterpiece sounds even better now.

      So, you can make a track sound "better" to an average sampling of listeners without it being more accurate to the environment of the original recording. It's all about their definition of better.
      • It's also entirely possible to "upsample" a recording to make it more accurately represent the original - if you have out-of-band information. For instance, we "know" what a violin is, and that a violin doesn't make high frequency "popping" noises. So given a sample of a violin with popping, we can use noise reduction on it. The result will not only sound better subjectively, but be closer to the original sound source than the recording from which we're working! Does this violate some rule of informati
    • While i agree there is no way to recover the information, and that their claim is probably totally bogus...

      It is probably similar to upconverting projectors. You take a dvd, the image gets processed and upconverted to HDTV res, and ive seen images look MUCH better after this process despite having the same amount of information (thoretically i thought it should look worse since it has to guess the value of all the 'in between' pixels but this doesnt seem to be the case)

      I saw a link posted on /. recently tha
  • by dada21 (163177) * <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:44PM (#13769792) Homepage Journal
    A few years ago I listened to a PC app that was destined for hardware that was ahead of its time.

    It upconverted/upsampled, analyzed the headroom and expanded/compressed as needed, analyzed the noise floor and reduced it, analyzed the spectrum and EQ'd it, analyzed the stereo separation and expanded it.

    After 9x the WAV (or was it VOC?) length, it sounded "better" 99% of the time.

    They never got funding and the project died.

    With powerful hardware, you'll definitely get a more aurally pleasant and more dynamic sound.

    But is it what the artist intended?
    • Radio Processing? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TibbonZero (571809)
      First of all, anything except a Weiss Linear EQ, or similar is going to induce phase distortion and make it sound like shit. Do you presume to have better speakers AND better hearing (which I am sure you don't) than someone like Bob Katz, or Bob Ludwig, etc? I doubt that you can make better choices compressionwise than they can and have on most songs.

      When it comes down to it, you are (were) doing roughly what they do on the radio- trashing the signal. Bob Katz has a great chapter on the whole process in
  • Gits :( (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eggz128 (447435) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:45PM (#13769796)
    Those fuckers killed Aureal. Creative has been on my shit list ever since...
    • by leathered (780018) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @08:12PM (#13769991)
      I think my subject line is more appropropriate than yours.

      If there's one hardware firm I despise over any other then it's Craptive for that very reason. Aureal had some superb tech waiting to be unleashed. A3D 2 was superb and was easily a 10 frag head start in Q3 and HL, you could hear exactly where your enemy was and where they were coming from. A3D 3 was going to be even better until Craptive decided to bury Aureal in litigation. Then the vultures bought what was left of them and A3D lies in their vaults while they palm off their inferior reverb engine that is EAX.

      I still take out my Vortex 2 card and cradle it thinking of what could have been. Now I can only dream of Creative going under and someone like Nvidia and the ex-Aureal engineers they employed for SoundStorm finally bringing us true positional 3D audio.

      I don't care how good their latest chip is, creative can fucking rot in hell for all I care.
    • true but 3d audio at the time consumed 30-50% of the cpu time... you either had a reasonably performing game or you had a slow game and good audio.
    • " Those fuckers killed Aureal. Creative has been on my shit list ever since..."

      And Aureal's strategy was to put Creative out of business. They were not a non-profit, nor would they have been satisfied with 50% of the market. This is competition.

      • Re:Gits :( (Score:5, Informative)

        by leathered (780018) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @08:27PM (#13770090)
        Right.

        So fair competition in your eyes involves malicious litigation knowing that the legal burden will drive your much smaller competititor under?

        The only real audio card maker to have the balls to stand up to Creative was Diamond (remember them?). All the others wouldn't touch Aureal's tech while there was question marks over the legitimacy of Creative's claims which meant Aureal lost even more money. Later the courts would throw out every one of Creative's claims but by then it was too late.

        The real injustice was the fact that Creative after losing the court case was allowed to pick over the remains of Aureal and acquire their IP. There is something seriously wrong with capitalism when companies are allowed to do this. Whatever the outcome, Creative was going to end up the winner while you, I and Aureal were most definitely the losers.
    • a-fucking-men (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Doktor Memory (237313) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @10:07PM (#13770537) Journal
      I am, to this day, probably more bitter about Aureal's end than about any other failed tech company other than the one I was personally involved with. (Don't ask, you've never heard of them.) I still have my MX300 in a drawer, on the off chance that someone with a soul gets an internship at Creative and leaks the driver source so that it can be updated for XP and Linux 2.6. And I will neverever buy a Creative product in my life: it's almost five years later and they still haven't managed to come up with a positional audio codec half as good as the one languishing in their vaults...

      And dear lord am I ever enjoying watching Apple stomp Creative into bloody chunks in the DAP market. Couldn't happen to a nicer pack of thieves.
    • ... two of the best pro synth makers on the market. It's disgusting that a low-end POS (and I don't mean "point of sale") soundcard company could take over two high-end synthesizer houses, leaders in the sampler/workstation market, and cannibalize their incredible chipsets for *home PC sound cards*. What a waste.

      Imagine if all the bands in the late 80s and 90s had to compose their music on a SB16. That's how shitty 'Creative' has been for the music biz as far as I'm concerned. Bleah.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:45PM (#13769801)
    So how does this compare to other sound cards? I've been told by others into pro-audio that the Audigy was an expensive over-hyped POS and sounds really bad compared to pro cards.

    So how does this compare to low end prosumer cards like M-Audio and Emu? Or higher end more professional cards from RME, Apogee, Lynx Audio? Or is this really pointless? If there is DSP accelleration on this new card, I was wondering if it could have pro applications like VST reverb or something along those lines.
    • Well you were lied to. I've got the Audigy 4 Pro, which was short lived because of X-Fi, but it carries the same high-end DACs that the top X-Fi board has. I drive a set of Klipsch 5.1 Pro speakers with it and it sounds so good, I now drive the optical output from my DirecTivo in my office into the breakout box, where the Dolby surround signal is decoded by the sound card. If there is a better sounding board than the Audigy 4, I dont need it, cause the thing sounds great. Oddly enough, I waited a year to bu
    • Very different (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday October 12, 2005 @01:21AM (#13771281)
      Basically all pro cards from the low end up are designed to do one thing only: get audio in and out of the computer accurately. You pay for more ins and outs, better converters, etc, but all they do is play and record sound.

      The Creative cards from the Live on up are all DSPs. They are designed to convolute sound. So in a game if they want it to sound like you are in a parking garage, they give the proper commands to the card and it convolutes the sound to do it's best appromation of a parking garage. This leads to both lower CPU usage and more realistic sound than doing the processing all on the CPU.

      So the problem is, because of this consumer focus, sacrafices were made. One was that the Lives and Audigys output (and input) only one sample rate: 48kHz (Audigy 2s have 96kHz, but only in special cases). They'll accept any you like under that, but sample rate convert that. They do an ok job, but not great, distortion is introduced that you can see on a scope and hear on good equipment. So they are right out for good recording. Also, they kinda chepskated on the converters for the cards, so they are noisy, compared to others in their price range.

      But, for all that, they are real, no-shit, DSPs. If you get the OSS kX drivers (http://kxproject.lugosoft.com/index.php?skip=1 [lugosoft.com]) you can actually write your own assembly programs for the DSP and control what it does.

      Now the X-Fi is extremely exciting as it fixes most of the problems people had. For one it has three different modes it can be set in. In pro mode it dispenses with all teh resampling crap and does accurate 1:1 bit capture at any sample rate up to 96kHz. In other modes where it does resample, it does it with a kickass high-order filter that introduces essentially no distortion.

      I am unsure if it has the ability to function as a VST plugin built in, but certinaly nothing precludes it from doing so. It's a powerful DSP and has the capability to route sound in and out of it.

      So, really, it's not comparable to pro cards. They are designed to do different things mostly. There are some pro cards that feature DSPs, but very few. These days in pro work, the effect processing is done in software. It's more flexable and real time is non-critical. However in a game, you can't dump 20% of your CPU in to doing a single high-quality reverb, so having a DSP is a real boon.

      Personally, I use both. I have an M-Audio Firewire 410 for pro, an Audigy 2 for consumer. I imagine that'll become an X-fi very soon here.
  • If such fanciful upsampling algorithms were able to be done, they would have existed already. But the fact is, is that the sonic "sugar" that this new Creative chip adds makes anyone who is reasonably knowledgable (and I mean in more than "I know what kilohertz means" way) just smack their forehead and groan.

    This sounds like anti-aliased audio on a huge scale, and I rekon the audio this produces comes at a cost to the original audio's dynamics and in a big way. To put it simply, you can polish a turd and ex
  • Gravis Ultrasound (Score:4, Interesting)

    by no_such_user (196771) < ... 002-todhsals-dj>> on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @07:58PM (#13769895)
    WRT making audio sound better than the specs of the original file, the Gravis Ultrasound [wikipedia.org] cards claimed a similar feature. IIRC, they claimed to interpolate new samples between those fed into the card from, say, a .wav file. This card was from an era before MP3's were ubiquitous.

    From the The Official Gravis Ultrasound Programmer's Encyclopedia [gamedev.net]:
    ... it will interpolate the data to give an effective 44khz (or less, depending on how many active voices) sample. This means that an 8khz sample will sound better on the GUS than most other cards, since the GUS will play it at 44khz!

    I don't know if this was ever proven to be effective. Some people said that interpolation made lesser quality files sound "smoother". These same folks might also have had a lot of ink [snopes.com] on their hands...
    • The only thing I really remember about the GUS was all of the flamewares between GUS users and SoundBlaster users in the comp.sys.ibm.hardware.soundcards (or very much like that) Usenet newsgroup. It was a pathetic screaming match between entrenched camps of brand-obsessive nerds.

      Sadly, while that particular skirmish is long dead, the endless tribal nerdfights continue to this day.

      PS: It's "jibs" with a soft "g", you heaven bastards!
  • by Eric Seppanen (79060) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @08:00PM (#13769907)
    That line about MP3s sounding better at 96kHz is a bunch of marketing BS.

    There are reasons for 24bit/96kHz, but upsampling just to play it out of a speaker isn't one of them. That's kind of like printing out something at 2400dpi only to scan it back in again at 300. At best, you're going to wind up with exactly the same thing, while at worst you're going to have a bunch of aliasing artifacts from the upsampling.

    Upsampling for playback is worthless even if your source material is perfect CD audio. Taking something even worse than that (MP3) and upsampling it is just turd polishing.

    Want better sound? Buy better speakers. And a sound card that has high-quality analog components. The digitial part is not the weak part of computer sound playback. Hard to market that, though: "Now with 10db more S/N! And better capacitors!"

    24bit/96kHz is good for doing high quality recordings, then manipulating the sound and mixing it. Once that's done there's no point in distributing it in anything better than 16/44.1, if all that's ever done with it after that is playback. If you want your listeners to be able to do their own remixes, that may be another story, but then you have to distribute separate mixer tracks anyway...
    • At best, you're going to wind up with exactly the same thing, while at worst you're going to have a bunch of aliasing artifacts from the upsampling.

      You can't have aliasing from upsampling. Aliasing occurs from attempts to sample frequecnies that cycle at anything more than half the sampling rate. If you think about a wave, you have a peak and a trough. You need at least one sample on the peak and one on the trough to accurately represent that frequency. Any tone higher than one half of your sampling rate re

      • If you upsample a track from, say, 44.1 to 88.2 you can do it perfectly. If you go from 44.1 to 48, or something that's not a multiple of your original sample rate, you have to interpolate a lot of the samples. And that's not a perfect process, because by definition you're guessing at what some of the samples should be.

        Yeah, so maybe it's not aliasing, technically. Maybe I should have said "artifacts". If you use a crappy interpolation algorithm (which I believe mass market sound chips have been known t
    • "Sounding better" is subjective.

      You could upsample the audio, by interpolating values between the samples (in which case the higher sampling rate would have some effect on the sound), and you could run some high quality filters and such, maybe split the frequencies better for sending to your subwoofer, tweeter, etc... Maybe with the higher sampling rate you can run a better algorithm for removing certain mp3 artifacts. I have also heard that due to the properties of some speakers, it is possible to get freq
  • Did creative add GSIF (Gigastudio) support yet, or do we still need separate musician's and gaming cards? Using a third-party driver with GSIF support (i.e. www.kxproject.com) is a suboptimal option.
  • Fuck Creative Labs [gossamer-threads.com]. Doesn't any one make cards that can do hardware mixing any more?

    Dmix [opensrc.org] won't be good enough until it also works for applications using snd-pcm-oss's /dev/dsp emulation.
  • by leipzig3 (528671) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @08:14PM (#13770010)
    I think the moderator missed this announced card by Creative: Silent Card [bbspot.com] The SNR is way better.
  • Nice but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Solr_Flare (844465) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @08:48PM (#13770201)
    For myself, and I know many others, the sound card is something you consider when building a new machine entirely. It is rare that something so good comes out that I feel compelled to upgrade the sound card. For me, when I build a new machine I get the new top of the line card then put my old one in my secondary work machine.

    As others have said, a good set of speakers is really more meaningful these days than the card. Yes, definitely the card can make a huge difference. But the difference between an Audigy 2 and an X-Fi? Not significant enough to warrant a new purchase unless it is a totally new machine.

    Which, by the way, I suspect that is where the majority of Creative's revenue comes from, Dell and others who buy their cards in large quantities for their higher end machines.
  • While many might believe this is marketting BS, has anybody actually compared them? As someone has already mentioned, the Gravis Ultrasound could improve audio (I owned one).

    A review on Toms Hardware http://www.tomshardware.com/consumer/20050818/inde x.html [tomshardware.com] also says MP3s sound better.

    The card will also support multiple 3D positioned audio sources in real time.

    While the card is excessive for most users, the card is still very impressive.
  • by Frambooz (555784) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @09:25PM (#13770376) Homepage
    "Creative says that the X-Fi's upsampling and upmixing capabilities can make MP3s sound better than the original CD"

    That's like saying you can make JPEG look better than the uncompressed image. Yes, you can improve the quality of MP3 by careful interpretation of data and perhaps extrapolating information for higher frequencies (which most often suffer from MP3 compression -- MP3Pro [mp3prozone.com] does something similar), but it will NEVER be as crisp and clear as the original material, let alone better.

    Not that you'll be able to hear the difference on your $20 desktop speakers you got at the 'Shack anyway.

  • I lost interest... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by xigxag (167441) on Tuesday October 11, 2005 @10:15PM (#13770565)
    ... when I got to the part about Creative not using Dolby Digital Live because it's not DRM'ed enough. These guys were taking DRM seriously even before Microsoft made it a priority. Doesn't that make them Officially Evil?
  • Okay, Creative is still missing one key thing. I want a card that can encode (NOT decode) to Dolby Digital (EX) or DTS (ES) in real time! None of this ProLogic II or Neo:6 crap, or using 6 (or 8) analog outs. I want to be able to run an optical cable from my sound card to my stereo and get a multichannel digital stream that I can play around with.
  • Boring (Score:5, Informative)

    by HunterZ (20035) on Wednesday October 12, 2005 @12:56AM (#13771188) Journal
    As a former long-time Creative customer who has been burned many times and have seen many others burned, I'm no longer interested in Creative products. What I am interested in is this:

    http://www.hidiaudio.com/products/mystique.html [hidiaudio.com]
    http://www.bluegears.com/soundcard_xmystique.html [bluegears.com]

    That's right, a card that can perform real-time Dolby Digital AC3 encoding (aka Dolby Digital Live, or DDL). The spiritual successor to the nVidia Soundstorm!

    Turtle Beach has a card with the same chip, although their driver support is a bit lacking in comparison:

    http://turtlebeach.com/site/products/soundcards/mt goddl/ [turtlebeach.com]

    And this is the chip that drives them both:

    http://cmedia.com.tw/product/CMI8768_plus.htm [cmedia.com.tw]

    The cards are pretty affordable - newegg has them both for under $100. Personally I'd rather go with the X-Mystique due to better driver support and on-board coax output (even though both cards come with optical cables, IIRC).

    I guess Terratec has an Aureon 7.1 card that has DDL as well, but they don't market their cards to the U.S.
  • sigh.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MonoSynth (323007) on Wednesday October 12, 2005 @02:57AM (#13771538) Homepage
    MIPS - said before, Meaningless.

    24bit/96KHz - Lots of crap has been made with this label. Please tell me something about the DACs they use. I'd rather have a good (professional) 16bit/44.1KHz board than a consumer-level 24bit/96KHz one.

    'better than CD quality' - how? why? The only way to do this is by interpolating. How does it know if something is an MP3 artifact or if it's part of the music? How will it react to music that's encoded with OGG or AAC (and therefore has other compression characteristics)? Will this be 'better' like applying an unsharp-mask over a JPEG-compressed image which results in ugly squares?

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