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  #1  
12-10-2010, 01:18 AM
Reading Bug Reading Bug is offline
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I recently purchased a new Compaq Presario for internet use and am looking to do pro level audio editing on it as well. Iíve been working previously on my Mac Pro, but would like the flexibility to utilize both machines interchangeably.

After doing the usual legwork on research, Iím testing out a Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi HD external sound card (connecting via USB) to get myself as close as possible to the quality of my Macís internal sound card. The results, Iím sorry to say, are not great. It has excellent fidelity, but lacks the dynamic range and general robustness of the Mac card. Iím testing with the same peripherals (stereo system and headphones) I use on the Mac; the only difference is the sound card and the computer.

I didnít think a sound card would be a big hurdle to overcome, but frankly I have next to no experience with them; in addition, there seems to be very little information online that explains basic details.

First, is there a good recommendation for a truly top of the line card? Is internal much better quality than external, for whatever reason? Would the build of the computer itself Ė for better or for worse Ė play any part? This is particularly important because the Presario would need to be returned (quickly) if it is not the machine for the job. Any help would be greatly appreciated!
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  #2  
12-10-2010, 01:28 AM
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By what means are you judging the fidelity?

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  #3  
12-10-2010, 02:23 AM
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The SoundBlaster has a very crisp signal, but it's just a little too flat. I'm looking for something with more character; clear separation of the highs, mids and lows. Like listening to CD quality.
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12-10-2010, 05:19 AM
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Without a point of reference, it's hard to say why you're hearing what you're hearing. It could be something as simple as the USB2 cards not really being as quality as the internal PCI cards.

Honestly, I've never been all that impressed by Mac audio cards -- professional audio work has long been done on DOS and Windows machines, based around workflows such as Protools (Avid), Sound Forge (Sony), and a few others. It may be that you've become accustomed to inflated/pitchy/tinny audio from the Mac? Audio depth tends to be very warm and acoustic, whereas compressed audio has a range of mostly high and low registers -- like CD Audio. The Mac may even be punching up certain areas of the audio. Based off your "flat" comment, this is all very likely a case of being habituated to flawed audio.

Top of the line? (Are you sure? )

Look at some of the Avid M-Audio cards: http://www.m-audio.com/index.php?do=...=PCIinterfaces
For under $100, this isn't bad at all: M-Audio Audiophile 2496 MIDI Digital Recording Interface
Best price at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...SIN=B00006I5H5
Of course, pro audio cards come with their own downsides -- namely potential that drivers can be an issue, or that it fails to work well as a "general use" sort of audio card, as a SoundBlaster or Turtle Beach would do.

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  #5  
12-10-2010, 12:42 PM
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Thanks Admin. Perhaps "top of the line" is a bit too much for my needs; I probably should have said "something between entry-level consumer and professional."

I think the best thing to do is explain my basis for comparison. At home, I still listen to CDs on a personal CD player (the same one I’ve been using since 1999). The only pair of headphones I use are Sony MDR-V6 studio monitors. For listening out loud, I use a Sony CMT-HP7 stereo system.

Better image here: http://nadavi.com.ua/jpg_zoom1/31589.jpg

I know it might not really be what a pro engineer would use, but I’ve come to trust it over many years of everyday listening (even before I really learned audio editing). As I mainly edit simple 2.0 stereo and even old mono soundtracks, it’s really right for the needs of the source material, the editing software (Izotope RX) and my ears. Under headphones, it plays this material (as well as my CDs) just as well as my personal CD player.

For my Mac Pro work, I’ve hooked up the CMT-HP7 to the Mac’s sound card. The quality – from the Mac to the CMT to the headphones – is the same across the board. All just as excellent as the personal CD player. Also, recording 2.0 through the line-in results in the same quality described above. I’ve been extremely happy with it going both in and out.

I may not need the best out there – I’m not a professional - but I don’t want to lose ground either. I’m looking for advice because, with my peripherals, I’m hearing a setback with these $40-$80 external cards.
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  #6  
12-10-2010, 12:47 PM
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Of big importance: would any of this be the result of inferior build materials on the Presario (USB ports or otherwise)? Or does it rest entirely with the quality of the sound cards or peripherals?

I only have a few days left to return the Presario to Best Buy if it's part of my problem...
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  #7  
12-10-2010, 06:49 PM
NJRoadfan NJRoadfan is offline
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One thing I can tell you, some Macs have worse built-in audio then others. My circa 1998 Beige PowerMac G3 has a Crystal based audio chipset that noticeably sounds like crap compared to my Soundblaster Live! card in one of my PCs. Both computers were hooked up to 1970s-80s era transistor amplifiers and circa 1975 EPI 250s.

USB output should in theory sound better since its in a separate shielded box away from electrical interference. But, that doesn't always guarantee better audio quality, particularly if the vendor uses a cheap and crappy DAC (digital-to-analog converter). Regarding modern Macs, they likely have generic HD Audio compliant chipsets, SigmaTel and Realtek seem like what Apple is using nowadays.
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  #8  
12-11-2010, 02:05 AM
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I really don't see how the Presario could be at fault in any way. Does it have room to install an internal PCI or even PCI-Express audio card? (PCI cards are within your budget, PCI-E cards are professional cards and probably not what you want.)

Because of the variables involved (your ears and understanding of audio quality), I find myself at a bit of a disadvantage trying to make suggestions. But I'll try as best as I can. Aside from guessing at limitations of the DAC in the USB card you were trying, there's really not a technical reason for why you're hearing what you're hearing.

Consider Turtles Beach cards, instead of SoundBlaster. I've always liked those better, and consider them to give higher fidelity in years past -- those are the cards used here, with the ATI All In Wonder setups.

These are the current models available from TB:
Turtle Beach Montego: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...SIN=B0009MFQ4Y
Turtle Beach Riviera: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00...SIN=B0001YAPL4

Another forum member wrote that he just bought a TB card, and his video workflow is going great based on what I was reading. So there are at least some of us that are "happy campers" using these.

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