SoundBlaster X-Fi vs on-board sound chip (like Azalia or SoundStorm) for example.
Should you invest couple of hundreds of ringgit to a dedicated sound card? Well, the answer lies to this question : “Should you invest several hundreds ringgit for a dedicated graphic card?”. The answer may be yes or no, depend on the user.
Most gamers only care about their frame rate. Thus, state of the art 3D Card is a must. At least GeForce9600 GT at this moment (which you can afford roughly RM500 per card). Compare to intergrated vga chipset, yes, the different like a Perodua Kancil Vs Lamborgini Gallardo. Too obvious. Some games which cant be played before, now can be played at max resolution with all the bell and whistle.
But for soundcard…..errr
Ask your ears and ask your speaker or headphone. Do you really care what your ears listen too. Do you really care a deep base ‘thud’ instead of ‘thong’. Do you really care to have total control to fine tune your sound output. And do you really have a good pair of speaker or headphone.
What ever the answer is, your game, MP3, video or even anime, will run find with the cheapest intergrated soundchip. Don’t worry. But the sound will be flat and mediocre. Deep solid low frequency base and crystal clear high frequency treble and chiming sound…can be forget about.
As for me, my personal experience, I can’t run away from intergrated soundchip. Tell me what motherboard doesnt provide intregrated soundchip nowadays (even the high end one). So, I could always compare the sound output from those cheap chip vs Creative SoundBlaster Live Player, Creative SoundBlaster Audigy and the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Platinum. Both cost me RM220, RM 280 and RM720 (at their prime time).
I use a pair of Grardo SR80, Philips SHP2700 and Zalman 5.0 Headphone as the transducer to translate sound from electrical signal to soundwave. Grado can, absolutely the best among 3, no doubt. But, the other headphone is used to simulate real world user who use sub RM200 headphone for their own listening experience. As for the speaker, I need to trust not so transparent Altec Lansing AM4100 4.1 speaker.
And I could say the different is really obvious. You have to listen to believe. There is no point you buy a good, or even an expensive set of speaker but using the intregrated audio chip. Your speaker or headphone only able to produce the sound as good as what signal it get from the chip. With intergrated audiochip, my headphone or speaker (espcially the very transparent grado headphone), reveal the sound was too flat, mix up and a lot of instrument disappear. The bass sound like ‘tong’ instead of solid ‘thud’. The treble, almost not exist. The voice, not so clear. It like i listen to FM Radio instead of CD player.
And for gaming experience, SoundBlaster X-Fi (note, windows xp only), really show the true talent of latest game sound technology. You could sense where the bullet is coming, sometime I even feel the bullet cross my head, actual location of my enemy (their foodstep or sound of their weapon reloading), or other car engine noise which try to overtake me, surround ambient sound which reflect to my character movement, EAX 5.0 HD and ground shattering explosive sound effect. It’s not about EAX or reverb effect only, but sound placement which integrated audiochip lack of processing power to process it in real time, no matter what claim they made (5.1, 7.1…heh my arse). Yeah…and this cheap soundchipset will tax your CPU too…as it lack dedicated sound processor.
With SoundBlaster X-Fi too, I could tweak the sound on hardware level. The equalizer, Crystalizer, 24 bit DAC engine, sounds module and all the effect will appear in real time. There is no silly software DSP to play with…well I never ever like DSP software to enhance my music experience coz it sound so fake. X-Fi could handle sound tweaking as good as you adjust your expensive car stereo cross fader, equalizer etc.
Watching DVD with DTS never feel so good with X-Fi. Once you setup a proper set of speaker, let say 5.1 speaker, couple with X-Fi, you will never ever want to watch movie using those cheap intergrated soundchip. The realism and aura of sound is so different. I could feel every single angle of sound effect using x-fi, and expect flat and boring stereo x2 sound from integrated chip.
And trust me, even using the Philips SHP2700 (cost me RM85) married with X-Fi will reveal the true power of dedicated sound card. Imagine if you use RM1000 headphone or RM 200 set of speaker. You will be stunned.
Listen to believe…don’t read spec..but listen for yourself.
PS : However, if you use RM20 speaker of headphone, save yourself from being fool. There is no need a dedicated and expensive soundcard if your speaker is not able to produce all the sound tone.