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 Post subject: Help me pick a backwards compatible Win8.1 x64 sound card
PostPosted: Mon Sep 23, 2013 5:02 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jun 16, 2006 12:36 pm
Posts: 293
My Audigy 2 ZS works perfectly in one Windows 7 x64 install, completely fails to work in another Win7 install, and fails in Win8.1. Using integrated audio is probably a bad idea, but it costs nothing extra. I'm not after sound quality so much as I am getting the stuff to play. If I were after audio fidelity, I would post this in the Hi-Fi category. There's not much besides Creative's Recon series that sounds worse than onboard audio.

Primary goals:
I'm looking for a card that is compatible with Win8.1 x64. This probably means everything from Vista and later shouldn't have issues, but if Creative's forums are any indication, driver issues follow every card through every operating system.

Legacy support:
--I know I should note that VOGONS users with a large collection of games played without emulation will typically have a massive collection of sound cards due to extremely limited hardware compatibility of the games. I'm hoping this won't be the situation with what I'm trying to accomplish here, and that I won't have to have more than one sound card, OS install, and entirely discrete system to get sound from the application to the speakers. I don't want everything, but I'd like to know the views of the forum on what I can emulate, and what shouldn't be a priority.
--Pins for a MIDI wavetable daughter-board (the reason I include MIDI connectivity in the spreadsheet is in case it doesn't have wavetable support on the card itself, you could always attach a GM card). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MpnZlOJIqw. None of the cards that I have looked at included wavetable support onboard. More on MIDI and soundfont support: http://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?t=34631
--OpenAL support (the most recent cards from Creative support OpenAL).
--DirectX Audio (the parent API of DirectSound and DirectSound3D (DS3D)); the reason I didn't mention it in every entry on the spreadsheet is that if it's a Creative card with OpenAL hardware support, it is guaranteed to have DS3D support via ALchemy. I'd like to know if that also includes Direct Sound and the parent API DirectX Audio. For cards that only have OpenAL emulation through ALchemy, the software doesn't even bother passing the DS3D calls through OpenAL emulation, ALchemy does the processing. The Auzen Bravura has DS and DS3D, but not DirectX Audio.
--24 bit SoundFont support. Creative's Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Pro, and the Creative Titanium (non-24 bit SoundFont, however) were the only cards made after '05 I could find that met this criterion.
--Environmental Audio Extensions (EAX) 5.0 hardware acceleration. This one is tricky, since some forums say that manufacturer specifications will sometimes list EAX, but not whether it is software emulation or hardware accelerated. The Creative Z-series and the Auzen X-Fi HomeTheater HD are the only cards I could find that support hardware accelerated EAX 5.0. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm assuming that if the card supports EAX 5.0, it will be backwards-compatible with earlier EAX versions.
--ASIO 2.0 support. Most of the cards in the spreadsheet don't specify which protocol revision it uses or even bother to include ASIO support at all.
--VxD, WDM, and WDF support. The only cards that bothered to mention this were the Auzen Bravura and AUZEN X-Fi HomeTheater HD, so it must not be that big of an issue and it will never cause any compatibility problems with hardware or software. Riiiiight.

Media playback support:
--TrueHD and DTS-HD. I could not find a single stinking sound card that supported the standards. I read somewhere that if a GPU supports the HDMI 1.3a standard, it will support both HD formats; this means my AMD A10-6800K on a GA-FM2A85X-D3H should support the HDMI standard, but it's a guess. The APU has gone through years of R&D, testing, previews, reviews, I bought it, I have it sittin' pretty in the FM2 motherboard, and I still don't know what HDMI revision it uses. Also, because a sound card has an HDMI port on it doesn't mean it supports the standard--the Auzen X-Fi HomeTheater HD has no less than two HDMI 1.3a ports (which they inconsistently refer to as 1.3 in different places in the specifications), an RCA/TOSLINK Combo Jack, and a D-Sub; yet not once do they mention TrueHD and DTS-HD support. Unless I've missed something, and the standards are supported by default when bitstreaming is involved. I could hazard a guess and say that the HomeTheater HD card can support streaming from a GPU that does support the standard: http://www.auzentech.com/site/products/ ... ter_hd.php. It's possible, but unknown to this user, if other cards with HDMI ports or accessory units can do the same thing. I'd like to know if I'm going to have to buy an AV receiver so I have the right connector for speakers.
--I didn't mention 7.1 support in any of the spreadsheet entries, but having the discrete ports is preferred rather than whatever Surround Sound simulation passes for relatively high quality. The system atm uses junk Logitech speakers, and I have another set that are less junk, but they're 2.0 1/8" jacks. I'm fine with buying some real speakers. I might be moving the computer into another room to function as an HTPC, but until the television is upgraded, the system will stay in another room with 2.0 speakers. Even when there was a living-room system that had 5.1 speakers, the speakers were always underutilized because the cables were not properly laid out beneath carpet and inside walls, so the speakers would end up piled on top of the DVD player (an old Koss all-in-one unit--pretty much dead to anything but audio CD's now). Things could change eventually, and I'm curious for my own benefit because the system I'm writing this for isn't for myself, but I'm going to be building one for myself after I've got the low-end one set up. I'm going to get speakers to match the sound card, not the other way around. I'm not aware of any HDMI speakers, but whatever it takes not to break the TrueHD and DTS-HD bitstream's HDCP.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc ... sp=sharing
Everyone, including you, can edit the sheet.

What I'm looking for from the forum is any advice beyond what the specs have, or any additional cards that I've left out from the list. I'm also trying to find out if I need multiple sound cards to support the features listed, or if one feature is a subset of another feature, or if a feature has been superseded by support for a newer and better feature.

 Post subject: Re: Help me pick a backwards compatible Win8.1 x64 sound car
PostPosted: Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:54 pm 

Joined: Sun Jun 18, 2006 7:37 pm
Posts: 5879
So after reading all this...

  • If you're trying to play old games in the DOS age, your best bet would just to use DOSBox. It's not just because of better compatibility or whatever, but its the fact that who knows what'll happen if you run the game "natively" on hardware that's orders of magnitude faster? If this is an old school Windows game, Windows' software MIDI emulates Roland's MT-32.

    If you still need a card with a hardware MIDI synthesizer though, you're going to have to spend money on "prosumer" cards and those could care less about gaming features. Something like http://www.m-audio.com/products/en_us/A ... e2496.html
  • In regards to OpenAL, it's actually supported by pretty much every major platform and is not limited to Creative's solutions. It was open source until 1.1 and I believe it was forked off from there. And honestly, I'm starting to believe that game developers are just forgoing it altogether for in-engine mixing like Source does.

    Also, what exactly did EAX do for us anyway? Subjectively I think it made things sound worse because, say for instance in the first Call of Duty, with EAX on, it sounded like every bullet was fired in a long hallway. And I leave EAX off anyway because... well all the effects just add some kind of echo to it.
  • Do you really need ASIO? If you're doing hardcore real-time mixing, then sure. But otherwise ask yourself if you really need it. I play music/rhythm games on my computer and as far as I know, I don't use ASIO and I play them just fine.
  • VxD, WDM, and WDF are driver models for Windows 9x, NT until version 6, and NT6 respectively. Chances are if it's a newer card, it certainly does not have VxD support. WDM was supported in Windows 98 and Me, however.
  • Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD are compressed formats. If your sound setup supports raw PCM, then there's no harm, no foul that you don't support either of those formats. Otherwise the verdict is that most video cards can do a bitstream passthrough. Otherwise, HDMI support is a firmware/driver thing, not a hardware thing (for example, the PS3 supports the latest HDMI spec through firmware updates)
  • Most sound cards support at least 5.1 channels. I don't think you'll have a problem there.

Unfortunately in sound cards, it's impossible to find a one-size-fits-all card. If you're gaming, just take a Sound Blaster Z or X-Fi Titanium and call it a day, because the other cards don't care about gaming.

 Post subject: Re: Help me pick a backwards compatible Win8.1 x64 sound car
PostPosted: Thu Sep 26, 2013 8:16 pm 
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Joined: Fri Jun 16, 2006 12:36 pm
Posts: 293
Nice reply! Helped me get a much better general idea of what I'm looking for. :)

I do use DOSBox. It's also possible to tell DOSBox to use a physical card in the system, even if it's attached to another card as an add-on. The reason I was looking for MIDI pins on the sound card was so I could use the NEC 385 wavetable for native audio. I'd have to get an adapter of some kind so the m-audio card would accept the NEC 385 wavetable's IO. There are plenty of good reasons to avoid native hardware with old games. To play an old game, you have to play it on an old OS; Win98 and ME were the cutoff point with a bunch of features, where XP stopped including support; 98/ME don't support certain hardware--they probably don't support SATA, and I have no idea whether it could support a modern FM2 platform and a PCIe GPU. VOGONs mentions games not having the foresight to make the game independent of the CPU clock, so unless the CPU is unlocked and can run at extremely low speeds (I think the lowest an A10-6800K can run is 100MHz), the game will run too fast. DOSBox doesn't emulate every wavetable. Some games can't run in DOSBox anyway and fall in the worst compatibility gap between DOS and XP.

I still want EAX. It's a feature. Is there any reason why I would pick a Creative card over others that reputedly have higher audio quality (like Xonar cards)?

From the wiki article for ASIO, it looks like Windows drivers are available for cards that don't support it out of the box.

Doesn't look like VxD would be needed unless the OS used was Windows 3.x, Win95, Win98, or ME. Anything made for Windows 3.x is probably supported by DOSBox, and this is something I'd really only care about on a game-by-game basis. Since WDM was supported until Vista, could it be an alternative if a card doesn't support VxD, or would a card have to support both for the application? It seems like the card would at least have to support WDM, or require software emulation. http://www.staudio.de/kb/english/drivers/ "WDM is not as good as VXD or NT4 Kernel Mode when it comes to regular audio applications using DirectSound or MME. Of course it makes no difference when using ASIO or GSIF as these APIs are bypassing the KMixer." Sounds like all that the card really needs to support are the APIs. If there's a way to enable support for MME/Wave, DS/DS3D, ASIO, and GSIF through software emulation, as long as the game is compatible with the OS, there won't be an issue with the card. But to run any of those natively, the card is going to have to support at least WDM (or WDM emulation software that is compatible with a legacy OS; running the game natively would be for features other than audio, since emulation would mean the card loses out on hardware acceleration latency and CPU off-loading benefits).

I don't really have a sound setup. 1/8" 2.0 speakers or headphones, no receiver, preamp, amps, filter, etc. Trying to figure out where to go from there to get the HD bitstream or raw PCM available as audio with a minimum of quanitzation noise. Both HD formats are lossless codecs. TrueHD transports audio "over HDMI 1.3 (or higher) connections as the original TrueHD bitstream, with decoding and DAC both done by the AV receiver." -wikipedia. It sounds like I need an AV receiver, but it seems like a soundcard should be able to take care of both. The last post here http://www.overclock.net/t/1428697/help ... patibility mentions the Xonar HDAV being the only sound card that can do this. It also seems like the GPU should be able to take care of DAC and decoding, but doesn't have the right connectors. Whether it's being exported from the GPU as TrueHD/DTS-HD or PCM, it's got to be over HDMI initially; even if it were going to speakers, the speakers would have a box with a DAC on board.

I'd kind of like to start thinking of a 7.1 setup even if most movies don't support it.

It looks like I'm going to have to get multiple sound cards if I want compabitibility and features, unless the emulation mentioned above is available with the card. Maybe a NEC plus a host card for native OS wavetable support, one for EAX 5.0 and/or Windows 8.1, and a card for HD as a DAC and decoder (or an AV receiver, but that seems like overkill if I can get in-case components that can decode and DAC).

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