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Testing the Audigy 263

An Anonymous Coward writes: "The Audigy is Creative's latest Soundcard range, a long overdue upgrade to the aging Live! range and coming in a year where Creative have faced some of their stiffest competition since the Aureal Vortex 2 was released. 3D Spotlight's complete review of the Audigy Player covers pretty much everything you will want to know, from Drivers to API Support, Connectivity & Performance Conclusions." The review doesn't mention how the Audigy works under any open source operating systems, though.
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Testing the Audigy

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  • Wishlist (Score:4, Insightful)

    by skroz ( 7870 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @09:59AM (#2714458) Homepage
    I'm still waiting for real time, on the fly DDS 5.1 encoding. As far as I know, the only chipset that supports this is part of nForce, and there will be no standalone graphics cards built around nForce.

    The problem seems to be one of latency. Even with fast hardware acceleration, encoding AC3 takes long enough to introduce perceivable lag. Unless this could be compensated for, this would be a bit troublesome for games.

    Oh well. Both Live and Audigy cna do AC3 passthrough, so I guess I'm OK for games. One of these days I _will_ have a single wire from my computer to my receiver instead of four. Ah, perchance to dream.
    • Er, sound cards. There will be no standalone sound cards.
    • The review notes that Dolby Digital implies that the signal is compressed at some point, resulting in a theoretical loss of sound quality. (If you can hear the difference between the HD and standard Audigy output, you might well notice artifacts in the AC3 output.) The single wire solution might well be based on IEEE-1394, but I'm guessing that most receivers don't support this.
    • Re:Wishlist (Score:3, Informative)

      by Namarrgon ( 105036 )
      Any standalone soundcard based on the nForce APU would require some large & reasonably fast local memory. The bandwidth required by the APU for sound rendering can exceed 500 MB/s, according to nVidia - one reason for the 800 MB/s Hypertransport link between the north & southbridge chips, and a significant user of the chipset's "spare" 2.1 GB/s of main memory bandwidth, even when an external gfx card is used.

      I've heard different figures for the latency introduced by realtime DD encoding - between 10ms and 70ms. 10ms wouldn't be perceivable in the context of a game, and even 70ms isn't much - a lot for a musical performance, but still difficult to perceive - especially when the frames themselves will also be delayed by up to 33-50ms (when double- or triple-buffering).

      I've spent many hours playing games with DD-encoded sound on my Xbox, and I've tried listening specifically for delayed sound, but I haven't noticed any examples yet. The sound, BTW is superb, and is one of the main reasons I bought the Xbox.

      As for the SB Live! & Audigy products, how does AC-3 passthrough (for DVD-playback, presumably) help in any way with games? If you're willing to run four separate wires to your amp, you hardly even need an AC-3 S/PDIF connection - software decoding of AC-3 to the soundcard's 4-channel output would probably be sufficient.

  • I'd be surprised if the audigy ever worked on linux etc since they haven't even managed to get it working properly under windows XP (playback glitches, soundfont control acting oddly, surround sound apparently not working, all this on a brand new machine).. the europe.creative.com support forum is full of such stories.. come on creative, get the finger out.
  • by Xenopax ( 238094 ) <xenopax AT cesmail DOT net> on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:01AM (#2714469) Journal
    I know with a group of geeks like this I'll end up getting moded as troll or something, but I don't understand why anyone would think that Live! is outdated. I can understand the need to constantly upgrade video cards, but in the way of sound most people do not go much beyond stereo sound, and those that do will usually end up with some 4-5 point 3D sound setup. For these purposes Live! is more than enough, so I would argue that it is not aging, outdated, or whatever else you want to call it.
    • I agree. I upgraded to an Audigy because I wanted the Platinum version this time. The actual sound quality seems about the same. BTW, my speakers ARE good enough before you ask.
    • The Live was made to do sound in real time, not to make quality sound. This is why people buy professional sound cards - they are made to make great sound, but not to do it quickly. I think that the live sounds O.K. but still muddy. Through a good stereo system it sounds terrible. I guess that the same people who spent a couple grand on a home theater system (And wanted to play through it...) would buy this card.
      • Agreed. People need to start distinguishing between cards that are made to be DirectSound acceleration hardware (like SoundBlaster) and cards that are made to deliver decent quality analogue audio.
        • Many people with good enough stereos to care will have digital inputs anyway. Even the lowly Live! can output a digital stream for the people who want to listen to their games & MP3s on the home theater system.
          • digital is only the medium. Like people never tire of pointing out, mp3s are digital; doesn't mean they sound better than my cdplayer over analogue line outs.

            The thing about the SB is that (or so I have heard), you can't turn off the sound effects processor, so even if you have digital sound, it will be digital sound with a hint (hence the muddiness?) of echo.
            • digital is only the medium. Like people never tire of pointing out, mp3s are digital; doesn't mean they sound better than my cdplayer over analogue line outs.

              I am not saying "mp3 is better because it is digital." What I am saying is that if you are listening to sound from your computer, regardless of what kind of sound it is, you can use a digital output on the Live! card to let your expensive home theater system do the D-A conversion instead of whatever cheap part does that job on the Live! board. End result should be better sound than amplifying the Live's analog output.

              The thing about the SB is that (or so I have heard), you can't turn off the sound effects processor, so even if you have digital sound, it will be digital sound with a hint (hence the muddiness?) of echo.

              I have not heard that but it doesn't sound crazy. The Live! card I use now (to replace the MX300 I had that didn't work 100% in Win2k) definitely sounds a bit worse on simple playback tasks. I had assumed it was the Live's DAC but perhaps the problem runs deeper.

    • imo, it's not outdated and it's not really worth upgrading if you have a Live! (except if really you want a firewire port)
      Upon reading several other reviews and my personnal experience, i'd say : you have a Live!, keep it, it will be useful for some more years.
      If you have something like an awe64 (as I did) and want to upgrade, then go for the Audigy directly. (That's what I did and didn't regret it)
    • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
      I agree 100%. I mean, of course, it depends on what you do with your system, but most just play games and stuff. I've always thought it did just great for that. I also record LPs to wav files and then make CDs - I've had VERY good success with this old sound card - even coming off of vinyl.

      I don't care what self proclaimed "golden ears" will say, but statistics say there are far fewer than there claim to be. I used to consider myself an audiophile until I discovered the content was more important, anyway. Not that I don't like nice clear sound - but I feel like I get it from my old card.

      I've got an AWE32 that I never felt sounded bad. I'll have to upgrade when the ISA slots can't be found anymore.
    • by Tet ( 2721 )
      I can understand the need to constantly upgrade video cards, but in the way of sound most people do not go much beyond stereo sound, and those that do will usually end up with some 4-5 point 3D sound setup.

      Which is why I have Soundblaster PCI128s in all of my machines. Unlike a new grpahics card, where you can see the difference, to me, a cheap sound card doesn't sound significantly different to a top of the range one, so why bother? 3D audio? More of a marketing gimmick than genuinely useful. My oggs sound fine in normal stereo, as does Serious Sam. I'm not a professional musician, so I don't need huge banks of stored sounds, or heavy duty MIDI control, so why would I need to spend a 3 figure sum on a soundcard?

    • After reading that review I had the same opinion - my current Live! 5.1 card is more than good enough. I cant see that Ill choose to upgrade any time soon. I only replaced my old card (AWE32) since my old ISA card was no use on a new PCI only motherboard.

      Of course the article seems to spend far more time commenting on the bundled software (which is of very little interest to most people Id assume) and the features of the driver rather than actually reviewing the hardware itself, so its difficult to see from it alone what the major selling points of this card are. Really it looks like a me-too product in order to keep up with their competitors - people would always rather buy the new product over the older but almost equally capable one.

      Then again since I probably only use ~10% of the features of my current card I doubt Creative are trying to market this thing to me.

    • It is creative's decision.

      Maybe you aren't fallowing that much but companies like C-Media,Philips and more are e.g. changing to 6.1 format, providing 24bit (allthough card can't produce) S/PDIF outputs for $25! The cheapo card I have from C-Media (Zoltrix brand) has real cool specs.

      I used AWE64 before, gave up both the card itself and Creative brand when I saw they offically say "it is an old card, not supported" and "upgrade to live(!)"

      Creative does what it does in every 2 years. I don't want to guess evilly but if it fallows AWE64 abandoning policy, you will see Live drivers rarely updated than never updated at all, basing them to a generic driver. (Talking about non Open Source systems/drivers of course).

      I learned a lesson. If I get real impressed by a Creative product, I remember my AWE64 nightmare on win2k than look for similar/better specs of "so called" no name, Taiwan brands.
    • by nuxx ( 10153 )
      ASIO drivers on the Audigy are a big first for Creative. Back with the Live! there are various hacks for making drivers from other EMU10K devices work with the Live!, but things didn't always work perfectly. In case you're wondering what ASIO support would do for you, go download a copy of Native Instruments Reaktor (or another soft synth) and try to make instruments that work with almost zero latency. Not going to happen using standard Windows drivers. But throw an ASIO-complient sound card in there and your PC is suddenly a very powerful instrument, too.

    • ...of samples at any one time. While you can load any sized soundfont you want (given you have enough ram of course), when actually playing sounds if you try to play more than 32MB worth of samples at any given time you'll lose some notes. The Audigy card does not have this limit, you can play back any amount of samples. This was reason enough for me to upgrade. I'm sure other features (firewire) make it worth the upgrade for others too.
    • by Zathrus ( 232140 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:50AM (#2714651) Homepage
      Hook up the Live to some real speakers. No. Not those. Virtually nothing you can buy that are advertised as "computer speakers" qualifies. I'm talking about an actual preamp/amp/receiver and some good home theater or music speakers.

      The Live is very, very noisy. The connector for digital output conforms to no standard known on earth (yes, you can often connect it to other gear and it will work, but the voltage on the thing is totally out of whack). There's also absolutely no dejittering or noise protection on the digital output.

      The DACs are low quality, which makes a big difference if you're not using the digital output (see above).

      Most people putting together home theater PC's used the Live only because nothing else was available. That changed last year when M-Audio made the Audiophile 24/96 available. It has high quality 24 bit/96 KHz 2-channel output and a good digital output for 5.1. Apparantly the latest version [digitalconnection.com] has 4 input/output 24/96 channels now.

      Best resource for information is the HTPC forum on AVS [avsforum.com]. I haven't been reading there recently, so I don't know what the real story is on the Audigy.

      Personally, I found the review linked to be pretty useless. They didn't actually talk about sound quality at all, at least not beyond the absolute basics.
      • Personally, I found the review linked to be pretty useless.

        I would tend to agree. I am trying to setup a video capture system around a Matrox Marvel G400 (it's old but I already own it). I have read that Creative's Live! drivers are rather bad with regards to latency. In other words, it likes to hog system resouces which is bad for high CPU and HD demanding video capture.

        BTW, small rant... doesn't the phrase "covers pretty much everything you will want to know" , cancel itself out? Is one allowed to use "pretty much" and "everything" in the same sentence?
    • by Brian Stretch ( 5304 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @11:18AM (#2714764)
      What's wrong with the Live!? It pollutes the PCI bus with noise, which is why it's a frequent source of PCI DMA I/O corruption, particularly (but not exclusively) on VIA chipset boards. I've found the Turtle Beach Santa Cruz to be an excellent, trouble-free replacement, and best of all Red Hat Linux autoconfigures it (zero human intervention required). See the SCFAQ on VIA Hardware [viahardware.com].

      I couldn't figure out why my HDTV [accessdtv.com] card was locking up every hour or so on my KT133 board, nor why WinXP was crashing frequently on my KT266 board. Removing the Live!'s fixed both systems. I didn't bother attempting a Live! on my new KT266A.
      • Hes right. If you have a dual board with a Via chipset, the sblive can skip and lock the system. This is a well known issue.

        I couldnt run SBlive in either of my dual win2k/linux boxes, So I picked up a yamaha pci for 15 bux, and it works flawlessly.

        I also picked up a Audigy, and no more skips. The only annoying thing now, is its startup logo the I cant seem to disable in windows. Im also camera shopping and I needed a firewire port for that, now I have one. The bass does sound a little weak, but that might just be me.

        All in all, if you can pick one up for 50-60 bux, its worth it. (check pricewatch, seems 55 is the lowest)
        • Cant believe I forgot one thing!

          The install blows. Creative installation support should be shot. Also you cant install XP drivers on windows without installing its cd first. Come on. Just give me a zip file with the drivers damn it.
          • Amen! God, I wish I had some mod points for you. Is it too much to ask for a zip file of the dll's, inf files, etc? The install program (ensonic or 128) on Win98 and Win2k both run an EXE and try to set everything up for you. Sometimes yo win, sometimes you don't.
    • Another problem people seem to forget is that Live! resamples anything sent to the digital out port to 48Khz. What's wrong with that? The mathematics involved are roughly equivalent to scaling an image by non-integer values. You can either duplicate samples to fill in the "missing" ones (ie. nearest neighbor) or you can use interpolation and filtering (causing 'blurring' of the signal, but sounds a little better). Either method sucks and will audibly distort the original signal. Real digital sound cards do not resample or at least make it an option. I kinda doubt the Audigy is any different, but someone prove me wrong. Either way, there's still the problem of jitter and digital noise. Unless you have a very high-end DAC which buffers and re-clocks the incoming samples, you're going to have problems with most consumer soundcards.
    • I know with a group of geeks like this I'll end up getting moded as troll or something, but I don't understand why anyone would think that Live! is outdated.

      I agree completely! I mean, if someone thinks their Live! isn't quite good enough, maybe they need to overclock [tagor.com] it!
  • I've had it for a few months now and I think it's great. Games sound great and the MP3 encoding is great. I finally bought an MP3 player and encode all my music through Playcenter. I've run it on Windows XP and now running it on WIndows 2000. I'm waiting for Linksys to release XP drivers for my wireless USB network adapter so I can go back to XP.
  • Audigy on Linux (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:04AM (#2714481)
    The emu10k1 cvs repository has a audigy branch that is working to some extent.

  • Noise Clean up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SGDarkKnight ( 253157 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:05AM (#2714484)
    The one thing I couldn't belive was how Creative faked the noise clean-up ability of the audigy. In the demo they presented in the software, they simply used to audio files and cross-faded them. Now from the tests that I did on it, the clean-up wasn't bad, but was nowhere near as good as the demo had presented it to be.
  • My Live! Value is good enough. The only difference between the AWE64 and AWE32 and the SB16 was channels and processing power. The SBLive! added EAX, soundfonts, and dolby digital stuff. Audigy. Just an SBLive! with more power. Doesn't sound different. Just supports a few more features that you really don't need. Heck, if you're not a crazy audio guy just get a PCI512. It's cheap. It works with everything. And it has EAX so you can get 3d sound in all the cool games. What else do you need?
  • The review doesn't mention how the Audigy works under any open source operating systems, though.

    The Alsa Soundcard Matrix [alsa-project.org] shows all Audigy cards greyed out - which is "support is undetermined as yet".

    That's saying that they don't have the specs and don't know if the card will be ever supported. My guess is yes, but not right now...
  • SMP (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Palapatine ( 208816 )
    I have any audigy gamer. It still suffers from the same lag that the live had when under a MP system....
  • Creative Open Source (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tsar ( 536185 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:11AM (#2714515) Homepage Journal
    The review doesn't mention how the Audigy works under any open source operating systems, though.

    If you're interested in helping Creative develop open source drivers for the Audigy, go to their Open Source Page [creative.com]. Get the emu10k1 source [creative.com] and thumb through the mailing list archive [creative.com] to find out how to get the Audigy branch of the tree.

    Don't do heavy wizardry? They also need lab rats for the drivers they're building, so sign up.
  • by vanadium4761 ( 203839 ) <jason@vallery.net> on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:13AM (#2714526) Homepage
    What I really want to know is if there is still limitations when using VIA chipsets?

    Past Creative cards (including my SB Live! Value) have caused data corruption when copying large files across the IDE bus as well as hissing and popping during mp3 playback. This problem affects at least the VIA 686B on my FIC AZ11E board. You can find out more information about the problem here [viahardware.com].

    • by da5idnetlimit.com ( 410908 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:50AM (#2714652) Journal
      http://downloads.viaarena.com/drivers/4in1/4in1436 (3)v(a).zip

      simple. Just U ask
      Don't forget to remove space before (3)

      Also the Latency Patch for PCI
      " More VIA chipsets are supported
      * "Standby" and "Hibernate" power management is supported on Windows 2000 and XP
      * Installation is simpler
      * More patches included: Aureal Vortex, Radeon LE
      * CPU Idle bit is no longer patched, so CPUs run cooler
      * VIA's MWQ patch is included (VIA's current patches have bugs)"

      Here :
      http://download.viahardware.com/vlatency_v019.zi p

      Hoping this patch won't allow you to escape my rockets 8)
  • why is this here? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    If the review doesn't cover anything related to open source why should I care? Almost all hardware out there will work with windows, that's not the case in *nix.

    The Santa Cruz is a better card anyway. WHQL drivers for all versions of windows, less system resources are used, and the sound quality is far better.
  • Sadly, I don't believe Dolby 5.1 digital output still is supported by the EMU10K1 (SB Live) drivers. This despite the fact that the SB Live Dolby 5.1 capable cards have been out for quite some time. How can you expect to fully test a new sound card under an open source OS's when features that have been out about a year still aren't supported?
    • I have a SB Live! 5.1 card and I have succesfully gotten AC3 passthrough working in Linux, using the driver from opensource.creative.com and xine.

      You need the emu-tools from the same page, in order to correctly setup our card, but after that, everything works great. Normal sound is sent digitally as PCM... So Digital-out support is supported at least for Linux, and have been for at least half a year...
  • The review doesn't mention how the Audigy works under any open source operating systems, though.

    That might have something to do with the fact that the Audigy is a hardware product for Windows. If someone adapts it to *BSD, Linux, etc., the quality of their device driver code should not affect the reviews that the product gets.
    • If Audigy is a Windows-only product, then some people will want to know that in a product-review. It is actually a bad point about the product in itself, that it isn't supported under Linux.

      Now, if Creative does not want to support Linux-drivers, that is their choice, but I sure want to know about it, and thus the review should mention it.

      There are three choices for Linux-support:
      1. Ignore it
      2. Develop own drivers
      3. Release specs so other people can write drivers.

      If Creative choose 2. they are of course responsible for the quality.
      If Creative choose 1. They are responsible for possible lack of good quality drivers.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        I agree, when a manufacturer does this
        I usually vote with my feet. I'll have
        to look into the Santa Cruz card someone
        else mentioned.
      • If Audigy is a Windows-only product, then some people will want to know that in a product-review.

        But not that many. Linux and the *BSD families have great penetration in the server marketplace (where high-end audio cards are not needed) but they are an insignificant force as primary desktop OSs. I don't care how many /. users run Linux or how many self-serving polls have been done by Linux advocate organization. If Linux had enough market penetration to make it a viable market for sound cards, manufacturers like Creative Labs would eagerly support it. They are in business to make money and would not just ignore a lucrative market for their products.

        It is actually a bad point about the product in itself, that it isn't supported under Linux.

        No, it is not a "bad point" about the product. That's analogous to saying that a "bad point" about Victoria's Secret panties is that they don't come in plus sizes. Victoria's Secret chose their market. So did Creative.

        So you think that a product review should explicitly state all of the operating systems under which the product does not run?

        1. "This product does not run under Linux, QNX, HP-UX, FreeBSD, Solaris, BeOS, OpenBSD, OSX, DR-DOS, VRTX, AtheOS, Oberon, Sky OS, OS/2, VxWorks, NetBSD, HURD, ..."

  • Live is *aging*? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Junta ( 36770 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:21AM (#2714560)
    I don't know, for most common people, sound card technology doesn't matter much, it has pretty much reached the level it needs to. The only reason I upgraded from AWE64 to Live was because I needed a PCI audio card. The midi support under windows improved, and now I could do all kinds of neat surround sound stuff if I had the speakers, but, especially under linux, it doesn't do much that my AWE didn't, in fact, does less sometimes (no midi support). I don't mind, timidity is better anyway, and the sampling rate from 44.1kHz to 48kHz helps the playback of some files (software that doesn't downsample, not that I can tell the difference between 44.1 and 48kHz, 44.1kHz more than satisfies the requirement of the human ear. To appreciate 48kHz, you would have to be able to distinguish sounds approaching 24 kHz, while 44.1 had you covered up to 22.05, more than enough for common ears.. And the industry move from 16-bit samples to 24-bit samples for sound seem equally pointless... I don't think *anyone* can distinguish 65,535 levels of amplitude for sound, much less 16.7 million. Yet it takes up 150% the space (uncompressed). CD Quality s152ound: 16bitx441000sample/sec=705600
    New standards:

    This huge difference for imperceptible improvemnts? At this point it's not so much about improving quality, put pushing new tech to get consumers to buy more.

    Anyway, the differences between Audigy and Live series seem less distinctive than between the AWE and Live series. This is not like the 3D scene, where completely realistic output is not yet possible. Sure you can add all kinds of mostly useless bells and whistles. You can mix tons of channels in hardware, but typically each application only makes use of a single channel, and done intelligently a small pool of 3 or 4 channels will suffice. Most sound applications that would take advantage of this do this in software anyway, and modern hardware can provide realtime preview in software without trouble anyway. The only thing Audigy has done is make Creative work less on the Live drivers, which are still a bit flaky on XP...
    • I don't think *anyone* can distinguish 65,535 levels of amplitude for sound, much less 16.7 million

      Well, but I think it's not possible at the moment is to have a range of sound from a falling needle to a rocket flying over you head. In music you'd most probably not have any use for 24 bit since it doesn't have such huge differences in amplitude, but for movies and security-recordings it gets interesting. But maybe 18 bits would be enough for that...I don't know..

      • You're point is taken, but still, the standard approach works even here... Rather than use a linear scale, a log scale is typically used. The levels are clustered together at the lower amplitudes, where things need to be most distinguished. At the very very loud end, they are widely spaced to allow very loud amplitude with low differentiation, since the human ear loses precision at higher dB levels. For security applications, quality does not need to be audiophile level, certainly your run-of-the-mill security video is pretty crappy but considered adequate.

        For movie audio, I don't think people want to be able to hear realistic level close up rocket noise, as that would probably blow out their speakers and make them deaf in the process. 65,535 is a lot of levels, especially allocated on a log scale...
    • > And the industry move from 16-bit samples to 24-bit samples for sound seem equally pointless... I don't think *anyone* can distinguish 65,535 levels of amplitude for sound, much less 16.7 million.

      There *IS* a reason for higher samples: to prevent banding when doing "audio blending." In plain English: playing multiple samples at the same time to reduce (audio) artifacts.

      I'm a graphics guy, so I'll give a few analogys.

      Lets say you have a 16-bit framebuffer (65536 colors), and want to show partially transparent smoke. With each layer of smoke you add (blend) to the screen, you will notice artifacts (banding) due to the lack of gradients. If you remember the old Voodoo's 1 (which only supported 16-bit color (well technically 21-bit :)) you could easily see the artifacts.
      i.e. (Not the greatest examples, but they should help you see the difference)
      http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/games/oldnews/990703.ht ml [xlr8yourmac.com] (Scroll down to the bottom), and
      http://www.riva3d.com/v32.html [riva3d.com]

      It's the same reason commodity graphics use 32-bits per pixel -- It's good enough. However, where detail matters, even 8-bits/channel is too low, 16-bit/channel is perfect for film -- that's 2^(16*4) = 64 bpp (bits per pixel) = 1.8e19.

      The reason:
      16-bit graphics only has 32 gradients (5 bits/channel) available (per R,G,B)
      32-bit graphics has 4 channels, each with 256 gradients (per R,G,B,A)

      The greater the number of gradients you have available to you, the less you degrade the signal, when you mix in other sources.

      Now true, 16-bit audio, is only one channel. But if you want to mix channels together you could naively do something like:
      channelOutput = (c1 + c2 + ... + cn) / n, which effectively drops the bottom few bits. (Should be Log2(n) but I haven't double checked the math.)

      Now, you do have a point, most people won't notice any difference in 16-bit samples, and that there is decreasing returns on quality (i.e. 64-bit audio samples sound exactly the same as 32-bit audio samples.) But if you're creating/mixing audio, you want the highest quality you can afford.

    • Re:Live is *aging*? (Score:3, Informative)

      by gordguide ( 307383 )
      " ... I don't mind, timidity is better anyway, and the sampling rate from 44.1kHz to 48kHz helps the playback of some files (software that doesn't downsample, not that I can tell the difference between 44.1 and 48kHz, 44.1kHz more than satisfies the requirement of the human ear. To appreciate 48kHz, you would have to be able to distinguish sounds approaching 24 kHz, while 44.1 had you covered up to 22.05, more than enough for common ears.. And the industry move from 16-bit samples to 24-bit samples for sound seem equally pointless... I don't think *anyone* can distinguish 65,535 levels of amplitude for sound, much less 16.7 million. ..."

      For the record, changing the sample rate from 44.1 to 48 and back again is A Bad Idea. You will alter the file unless you use a multiple/fraction (ie 44.1 should be upsampled to 88.2 or downsampled to 22.05 to maintain data integrity).

      We can all "hear" 24KHz and far beyond. When you localize sounds (ie a bag is popped behind your head, but you know which direction it came from) your brain is processing frequencies which are many multiples of 24K.

      The trend to record at higher sampling rates is based (in part) on the filtering necessary at 16 bit. All information at and above 22.05 KHz is abruptly cut off. Because filtering introduces audible "artifacts" at multiple/fraction and interference frequencies, there will be distortion created at many frequencies, these distortion components are well below the cutoff frequency (and therefore in the audible portion).

      Redbook CD is a primitive digital standard based primarily on the hardware envisioned in the late 1970's and the need to get "an album's worth" of music on a single CD.

      You should also know that 16 bit quantization is only used on loudest sounds (100% signal). When a sound is reduced in volume, fewer bits are used to describe it. Moving to 24 bit means (in layman's terms) that a quieter sound may be described by 6 or 8 bit data rather than 1 or 2. This is clearly audible.

      To encode a 10Khz note (sine wave, which means like a smooth ocean wave) that moves from volume 0% to volume 100% immediatly, 16/44.1 can only describe the change in 2 discreet steps. Imagine a 2 step stair when what we want is a pond ripple. You need many times the sampling frequency to describe this wave accuratly with digital storage. At 100Kz you could describe it with 10 stair steps, for example. This is still not a smooth continuous wave, but it's closer. Analog, which has other problems, can describe it perfectly.

      Finally, remember that Analog is not a "dirty word"; it is how we all hear everything. We are trying to use digital storage and processing to describe analog data.

      This is akin to translating a novel from French to English; we will always be wrong about some subtle things but we still try as hard as we can to come closest. Each translation step (like resampling 44.1 to 48K) is a subtle change in dialect which may drastically change the final interpretation. We want to minimize the translation steps for the most accurate reproduction and storage.
      • >To encode a 10Khz note (sine wave, which means like a smooth ocean wave) that moves from volume 0% to volume 100% immediatly, 16/44.1 can only describe the change in 2 discreet steps. Imagine a 2 step stair when what we want is a pond ripple.

        Sorry to say this, but an audio DAC does not do this.

        I was corrected on this point once myself, so I'll help you too.

        When a high-frequency sound is to be played, harmonics above the sampling rate are discarded (all instruments have harmonics, unless you like listening to test tones). When a DAC sees a strong high-to-low swing it shapes it (jeez... can't remember the name now... Q filter? Delta filter?) into a sine wave. By adding these sine-wave shapes together you get an exact representation of the sound below the maximum sampling frequency.

        Basically, a pure sine wave is dead easy for a DAC to represent (no harmonics), whereas a true square wave (infinite harmonics) is impossible for a DAC to perfectly represent.

        Fortunately, most instruments aren't square waves, and even so, most square waves can be reasonably approximated.

        Anyways, for a more thorough (and correct) analysis, talk to your local Telecomm engineer. :)

        Here's [free-ip.com] some info.

        This [howstuffworks.com] is the best layman's explanation I've found.
      • Sony is working on/released a digital audio standard with a 2.8mhz sample rate and one bit per sample. The way it works, if the bit's zero it goes down, if it's one it goes up. You can encode any analog signal with it, with no restrictions on volume.
    • It is possible that you could tell the difference between 16bit 44.1ks/s vs 24bit 48ks/s. With 16bit sound the absolute best signal to noise ratio (SNR) you can get is about 96dB. With 24bit you can get a theoretical SNR of 144dB. The source SNR will dominate the SNR of the ouput, so assumeing good shielding the 24bit sound should be quite a bit better then 16bit.

      Now there are some limitations. Most stereo gear is designed for CD sound (16bit) and won't do better then 96dB. The max theoretical SNR of an amplifier is about 130-140dB (can't remember exact value). I believe that is a limitation imposed by physics and probably has something to do with the charge of an electron. So while 24bit may seem like overkill it is probably a standard that will survive longer then any of us.

      Regarding 44.1ks/s vs 48ks/s. Higher is always better. Nyquist's Theorem states something along the lines of: You can reproduce any signal if your sampleing rate is atleast twice as high as the highest frequency in the signal. So 44.1ks/s should be able to reproduce 22.1kHz, but it can't. Nyquist assumes an infinate sequence of samples which is clearly impossible. With more samples you can also do better digital signal processing. There are just more samples to work with.

      To tie this altogether we have to consider one other reality: Electronic gear produces 3rd order harmonic noise. 3rd order harmonics suck. They sound bad, sometimes are even painfull. It results in a lot of higher frequency noise. So we have to compensate for this with better then required sample rates and sample bits. This is why the next CD standard will probably be 24bit and 96ks/s.

  • ::yawn:: (Score:4, Informative)

    by tRoll with Butter ( 542444 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:22AM (#2714562)
    Despite my log in name, this is a serious post.

    Warning: Audiophiles can just skip over this post. If you have a dolby 5.1 speaker system connected to your fanless, netbooting PC located in a soundproof room - you probably won't agree with this post. If you're like the average computer user with a reasonably-priced PAIR of amplifed speakers, keep reading...

    Has human hearing improved to the point we require sound cards to keep advancing? It seems Creative Labs ran out of ideas after the Sound Blaster 16. 44.1kHz 16-bit stereo is CD quality - sure, a card with a better sampling rate can record, but honestly, when was the last time you recorded anything and needed better than CD quality? The noise generated by your PC's fans and hard drive would offset any improved quality in the sampling hardware. Of course, if you have a recording studio - you probably aren't using a PC for your sampling, and if you were - it's not using a Creative Labs product.

    After the Sound Blaster 16, Creative Labs figured MIDI was the future and produced the AWE 32, several variations of it, and then the AWE 64. A few computer publications were even confused by the 32 and 64 note polyphony with bit depth and called them 32 and 64 bit soundcards, respectively; whereas in reality - they featured the same 16-bit DAC and ADC capabilities as the Sound Blaster 16.

    The fact of the matter is, so-called "high-end" Creative Labs cards are the "Monster Cables" of the sound card industry. Sure, they look nice and cost a lot, but they're not noticably better than a standard PCI Sound Blaster 16. I've been using an old ISA Sound Blaster 16 since I bought it, and it still sounds just as good as the day I first installed it. I hear they're less than $10 on eBay now.
    • Can subscribe to this - same old SB16 ISA here, no troubles with games, OS and even hardware that came and went during this time.

      God, the computer I bought it with (or rather, "for") was a 486DX2/66.
    • Yea, but those new ones, with the front panels are really neat! Actually an advancement if you ask me. But yea, Sound Quality, blah whatever, there is a noticable different when you use something better than plain headphone jack cables though. RCA at minimum. Otherwise, its all fluff.
    • I must agree with you completely on this one. I, too, have an SB16 ISA which I bought back in 94, and it works beautifully. I added a Yamaha DB50XG to it, so it's got kick-ass MIDI (though no-one cares about MIDI anymore...sigh). I'm one of those guys who can't hear anything more than stereo, so an Audigy is overkill...besides, my old SB16 ISA has got great Linux support!
    • Re:::yawn:: (Score:2, Informative)

      by gordguide ( 307383 )
      " ... Most (pro audio, not games) software out now is in 24 bit/96khz land. ..."

      The SW may be HiBit, but a CD must still be downsampled to 16/44.1 for disk burning.

      Without regard to your sound card (or even no soundcard installed), you can work on HiBit files in the digital domain all you want,and even share those files as data with others. To print to Redbook Standard (CD Audio) playback, it must be downsampled.

      People who want to encode live music/DAT/etc at HiBit will have pro audio cards or outboard processors that make any SoundBlaster seem a bargain.

      Different users, different world. The SW issue is moot.
    • If you don't notice a difference between the Audigy and a SB16 PCI, then you're probably using cheap $10 speakers that have the frequency range of a speakerphone. If you want good quality sound, you have to make sure all the components are good quality-- think of the "weakest component" rule here.

      On my Klipsch speakers, the Audigy sounds better than my Live did.
      There's an Awe64 PCI card sitting in one of my other boxes, and the S/N between that card and the Audigy is night and day. The Awe64 has a constant background HISSSSSSSSSS that you just can't get rid of.

      Granted, I don't have a "typical" setup (external DAC and Mackie mixer), but with a reasonable setup the difference between various soundcards really becomes apparent. Hook up the SB16 to an A/V receiver, and good speakers, and you'll be appalled at the sound quality of the SB16, because the hisss and lack of high-frequency clarity will be readily apparent even over the whirring fans and hard drives in your computer.

      The point is, the Audigy has the potential for much greater audio quality than creative's earlier soundcards, it just takes some effort on the consumer's part to minimize ambient noise and make sure all the other components are decent quality. Along the same lines, you can't run a GeForce3 Ti500 card through a 14" CTX monitor from 1991 and expect good image quality. You might even say the GeForce3 isn't any better than your S3 Trio64 card!

    • The fact of the matter is, so-called "high-end" Creative Labs cards are the "Monster Cables" of the sound card industry. Sure, they look nice and cost a lot, but they're not noticeably better than a standard PCI

      Well, that's the thing, the aren't that expensive. You can get a live for like $20 now. And for me the digital output (fiber optic) is nice because I used to live in a dorm room with a ton of interference.

      Also, you're ISA card is dragging your whole system down with it. running anything on the ISA bus hampers the rest of the computers performance immensely.
  • Live Drive (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Sierpinski ( 266120 )
    The best part about the Live! in my opinion was the introduction of the Live! Drive. For those of you who don't know what that is, check into it. It's a module that fills a full-size drive bay on the front of your PC, and has controls like Volume, alternate inputs, bass/treble, etc. It (in my opinion) has revolutionized the sound card market. I was happy to hear that the Audigy came out, hoping now the Live! prices would drop, but as of yet, I haven't seen any decrease.

    As far as the difference, a salesman (yes, a salesman!) told me that it just "has more power". I have to say that Ghost Recon sounds just as lifelike as I thought it could get on the Live! system, but I don't think that it lacks anything due to 'not enough power'. I guess we'll see.
  • yet another company totally fucking up the simple job of installing software - ie copying files from a cd to a hard drive.
  • Can the audigy playback cd audio at 44.1kHz, _without_ resampling it internally to 48kHz, as the live does?

    Can it sample analog audio from the aux / cd connector (for pctv cards) and mix / playback in real time? I really want to ditch the analog connector to my receiver. The live card can do this.
  • "Outdated"? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:39AM (#2714624)
    99% percent of gamers can't tell the difference between sound cards, except in a small handful of cases. Play generic motherboard sound system through good speakers and a Live! on a system without a subwoofer. Everyone will swear that the first one is a better sound card. Remember, the sample quality and sample rate are what really matter, and those are independent of the sound card.

    In all honesty, speaking from both a developer and gamer perspective, sound card technology peaked in the mid 1990s, even prior to the Live!. It's a solved problem.
  • probs worked out? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by discogravy ( 455376 )

    These guys [alienware.com] at alienware do linux stuff and they're offering it on some systems (they do high priced systems but they're p1mp-455 n!c3). note that they also do windows systems, so just cos they've got the audigy and they'll put linux on your box doesn't mean that the audigy will work with linux.

    I'm pretty annoyed that the breakout box only comes with the super-extra-deluxo-hyper-expensive version of the audigy. The really really really good thing about the audigy is that it'll probably help bring the Live's price down to stupid cheap prices.

    I know that Live! had some problems w/ 2000 and XP -- have those been worked out? does the Audigy have the same probs?
  • Firewire (Score:2, Informative)

    by sammy baby ( 14909 )
    I was a little surprised not to see any mention in the posts already here about the Firewire capability. The Audigy MP3 and Platinmum eX models come with their own IEEE 1394 ports. (Actually, a whole bunch of them have ports, but it looks like they're crippled in several of the cheaper versions.)
  • by Malc ( 1751 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @10:52AM (#2714656)
    Why would anybody want a product from Creative Labs? I have several, now aging. I will not by them again. Their driver support is abysmal. They also insist on trying to install tons of buggy, useless bloatware software that rarely gets used.

    When I first upgraded my system to 2 procs and installed Win2K, I found my system constantly crashing during games (Quake 3). It seems Creative Labs Liveware 3 stuff was not SMP safe. In fact they knew about it, but have they done anything to resolve the issue? The cure in the case of SMP Win2K is to use the drivers that ship with the OS.

    I also have a DXR3 DVD decoder. It works great under NT4... but did the lazy bastards every release Win2K drivers? NO! They pretended to, stringing people along for months with late beta drivers that were buggy. I don't know what their excuse is: the card is a repackaged Hollywood Plus card, and Sigma Designs had complete drivers a long time ago.

    Creative Labs support of the Live! cards in Linux was initially dreadful. It took a while for them to go down that road at all. Will the Audigy be the same, or have they been more helpful this time?

    The Creative Labs news groups used to be a good forum for support. Something that you need a lot of with Creative Labs products. The news server (news.creative.com) seems to have been buggered for months, even though it's still mentioned on their web site.

    All Creative Labs offers are cheap components. Literally. IMHO, they're not worth effort.
    • There's a reason I still use my Aureal 2 card.
      • I had an Aureal 2 card too, the MX-300. However it has some "known issues" in Win2k... namely, the inputs not working. I tried every hack and workaround known but eventually I had to cave in and buy a cheapo Live! card.

        (I use the sound inputs constantly becase my police scanner is hooked up to the computer. Much nicer than listening to its own speaker, and I can do touch-tone decoding or recording if I want to.)
    • I concur. SB16 was the last decent product out of creative about 6 years ago now. I bought a $400 lemon of a Voodoo2 from them, returned it, and received another lemon. By this (slow returns) time V3 cards were about $150 so I switched.

      For my new computer I bought a SB Live! and I am very disappointed with it.

      As you say, drivers are useless, installs a pile of junk software. I want an audio driver that works for your own hardware thanks.

      Creative Labs WAS audio which is why people still buy them but they've been making shit and selling it to people for the last 4 years.
    • Win2K and SMP (Score:2, Interesting)

      by i387 ( 314459 )
      1) 'driver support is abysmal...' Perhaps for an Abysmal operating system like Win2k :) Of course driver support in general from *MANY* companies wasn't that great for Win2k, but hell support wasn't that great from Microsoft itself with all the oddball service packs that thing had to have.
      There are only a select few companies that made abysmal drivers for Win2K - Creative Labs being one of them. I don't have problems with any other driver in my system - and I have an unusually large number of devices. See North40 and Bertha [industrialtechware.com]
      3) 'not smp safe...' You are *NOT* the average user, *LOTS* of things aren't SMP safe, and you should have done some research to check if it was first before jumping the gun and buying.
      1) Lots of things are SMP safe. Again, I have no other drivers that crash my system. 2) This has been a well-known problem since the Live was introduced on NT4. It's not like Creative didn't have time to fix these problems. 3) Creative Labs should not promise to fix problems like SMP support if they don't plan on doing it. The LiveWare 3 FAQ plainly stated that SMP support was being worked on for the next release. Incidently, the 2001-11-11 driver update release still has problems and crashes more often than ever.
      5) 'All creative Labs offers are cheap components. Literally. IMHO, they're not worth effort.' I've owned Creative Labs products since the original SoundBlaster, and I've really never had that many problems with them except for one time and that was because of a crappy ass motherboard so I can't exactly blame that on them.
      What about the jacks? Those cheap plastic 1/8" jacks suffer a lot of wear and tear.
    • How ironic... for years (before DirectX) I religiously avoided Creative Labs because I didn't like the company. I bought Gravis, Guillemot, Pro Audio Spectrum, and Turtle Beach cards... These were mostly cheaper and as good or better than the Creative Products available.

      Eventually, I got sick and tired of the incredible maze of problems with the various cards and games and programs so I switched entirely to Creative Labs (AWE32/64/Live) and haven't really had a problem since. I've had more nightmares with nVidia drivers (it took them 3 *years* to get a decent set of drivers) than Creative.
    • Creative Labs is the ATI of sound cards.

      Just the other day I wasted two hours trying to install a SB PCI128 on Win98 SE running on a P1-133 on an Asus p55t2p4. It's the most stable hardware and MS's best 9x OS (by far).

      The drivers would literally reboot the computer while installing. When (after many attempts) we got them installed Windows would generate endless errors on boot and when rebooted would have disabled the card.

      Eventually we gave up and went to the "Box of Stuff" and pulled out an old no-name ISA sound card. It came up, installed drivers for SB compatibility and was playing MP3s in no time, perfectly stable.

      If nVidia makes a sound card I'll buy them instantly. I've *never* had driver issues with nVidia cards and I love their common driver architecture enabling me to install the card on any Windows computer with two files, one for 9x and one for NT/2k/XP.

      My only complaint towards nVidia is that many OEMs use substandard RAMDACs (I think) which results in slightly fuzzy output at 1920x1440 or above. And that's not their fault, that's the fault of the company building the card. Asus is pretty good, the really cheap cards aren't great.
  • by eviltypeguy ( 521224 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @11:10AM (#2714717)
    The OpenSource drivers for the emu10k1 in CVS on the 'audigy' branch at http://opensource.creative.com/ allow the Audigy to work 'perfectly' under Linux. I've had no problems thanks to some great volunteers in the community with sound w/ my Audigy under Linux. Might I also add that when I enable sound under Linux in 3d games, I don't take a performance hit like I do in windows :)

    Look through the mailing list archive for instructions on how to install the CVS version of the drivers for the Audigy.
    • Is the 3d sound supported? What's the quality of the driver? Does it work well on SMP systems? Live, AFAIK, was not only poorly supported but also caused hardware failures, especially with VIA chipsets. It seems that the only compelling reason for Live owners to upgrade is stability.(Much like windows, the next version is supposed to be more stable than the last...)
  • by Slothy ( 17409 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @12:00PM (#2714951) Homepage
    Just as a warning, I'm a game developer. Short version: if you're just looking to play music, no, you don't need a hardcore gamer's sound card.

    But for those of you who are gamers, the Live! is out of date. The 3d sound support of the Live! is pretty poor, and although I haven't seen hard developer specs yet, it looks like they fixed a lot of it with the Audigy. I wish I could get some good hard specs on what EAX 3.0 is bringing us though.

    First, the Live! doesn't support any sort of sound reflection. It doesn't accept geometry to let it calculate the echos and reflections, etc. The Aureal cards did this years ago, and finally Creative is catching up. Additionally, with the Live you get global EAX support, meaning you say "the world has a reverb of X and an echo of Y". The Audigy lets you do it per source, so you can have a reverb on one object, an echo on another, etc.

    Essentially, the Live just does some cheap mixing of sounds using 3d distance to calculate volume. Then it passes the mixed sound through their DSP to add in effects. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but this is what I've found doing all the sound code for our game engine. From what I can tell, the Audigy does real 3d sound calculations using geometry that you give the card and has a more flexible dsp.

    This definitely will make 3d games more immersive. Small hallways will get a closed in sound with reflections, ideally you could have echos if you were in a valley in an outdoor engine, etc. Of course how well this works remains to be seen, but the capability is there.
  • I'm putting a new PC together for family members. Most of what they do with it is play games. They sometimes surf the net and read email, and on rare occasions they might even do some light word/excel work. They're on a budget, so I put the money mostly into an AMD 1800 CPU and the affordable GeForce3 card (Ti 200), and opted for a SB live value and a mid-priced 4+sub Altec Lansing speaker set.

    Does EAX really make a difference in games ??

    My PC has a SB AWE64, so I've never personally heard any EAX effects... and I haven't really played any games since Quake2 and Baldurs Gate. I really curious to hear from anyone who's got the Live or Audigy about what kind of a difference and how noticable these EAX effects really are in today's games (not what may come in the future).

  • Right,

    Now, my annoyance w/ Creative is and has never had anything to do with the hardware, as only a somewhat interested sound-enthusiast, I'm mainly concerned with having a soundcard that does the IO i'm interested in. Creative's always done that without fail.

    However, and it's a big however, also without fail, Creative's software has always, always, always sucked. And that wasn't just for emphasis. Under Win32, the drivers have always been at least useable, but the additional software, which is just as requisite as the drivers (for example, the creative remote center needed to use the LiveDrive!) has sucked . The installation problems noted in the review are ridiculous, and they're in my experience, par for the creative course.

    For commoditized PC soundcard hardware, they're still the leaders, and probably rightly so, but if I had the chance, I'd love to sit around and zing the programming staff with rubber bands.

  • There are a few problems with the Audigy that prevent it from being a good card to record with.

    Firstly, it still works for recording internally at 48k only, so if you are working at 44.1, every recording you make will be upsampled to 48k, then back to 44k. This causes pass band ripple and can be seen clearly on a spectrogram when the Audigy is fed with white noise. If you work at 48k, you will still need to sample rate convert before cutting a CD.

    Secondly, the Audigy will not sync to an external digital clock, meaning that it cannot do sample accurate digital transfers. You will have to sync external gear to the dubious quality of the Audigy's clock, causing jitter.
    The digital outs are only at 48k as well, so forget about clocking a DAT to the Audigy for digital transfers, even if it *could* pass a digital signal unchanged.

    Thirdly, ASIO is only at 48k. This is because it has to avoid the internal SRC, working at 44k would cause an ASIO host to slowly lose samples, putting tracks out of time and causing MIDI to play late. Again, you would have to SRC before cutting a CD from your ASIO recordings.

    Fourthly, the claimed 24/96 is playback only. You cannot record at 24bit or 96k with this card, and the DAs are fairly low quality, negating the point of 24/96 playback anyway.
  • by The Dev ( 19322 ) on Monday December 17, 2001 @02:03PM (#2715594)
    I bought one of these with the belief that it would be able to do 24bit/96KHz A-D and D-A. The prominent 24/96 logo on the box, along with the obsfucated specs made it seem like it would do it.

    The Fact is, it would only do 96KHz on the SP/DIF ports, and only do 24 bit at 48KHz (i.e. not 44.1 or any other rate). There was no way to record or play true 24/96 on the analog ports. What a piece of crap. Back to the store it went, then I bought a Digital Audio Labs CardD Deluxe, which does do true 24/96 and works great. It cost about twice as much, but at least it works.

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error. -- John Kenneth Galbraith