Soundcards. Soundcards?

There are still people who buy soundcards. I happen to be one of them. Why? Well, I like to listen to my music as close to the original production as possible and, having a soft spot for loud American popcorn movies, Mahler symphonies and concert blueray discs, I to listen to these in 5.1. Over the years I invested in a nice set of speakers and a dedicated Marantz 5.1 amplifier to deliver what you a arrogant high-end afficionado would call a upper middle class listening experience. To make the connection between computer and amplifier and to ensure a Dolby Live surround signal I bought a rather Creative X-Fi Titanium HD a few years that for some time did what it was supposed to do, even though the drivers were buggy and GUI looked like a five year old had a go at Visual Basic.  Recently though a new motherboard, processor and videocard was implanted, together with and a new Windows 7 install, and suddenly the card refused to encode Dolby Live. Why? No idea. The card was ripped out, installed in a different slot, the drivers were re-installed (including Creative’s Dolby package), but still no Dolby. Everything else worked fine, but no encoding. So, the infamous Creative support was asked for help. I explained everything as simply as I could, gave them each every hardware item’s name, even made a little move from a screen capture.

What did I get: ‘install, re-install. re-socket, re-install’. The fact that this was a fresh install didn’t register. I requested referral to second level technical support, but to no avail. So I bought an Asus Sonar Essence STX and told Creative to go and stuff themselves .

Asus_Xonar-Essence-STX

This card represents the best incremental step forward to the overall performance of my entertainmentwork station for a long time. With a built in headphone amplifier and its external power source this has transformed my listening habits. It’s now a pleasure to listen to a good recording of Mahler’s second symphony, the sound stage being delivered broad and with incredible depth by the Q-Acoustics front speakers. As an added bonus, the dolby encoding works flawlessly, and I can finally listen to Incognito’s 30 year anniversary concert in glorious 5.1 (as the best girlfriend refuses to let me have a similar setup in the living room. Interior design decision. Aha.)

So, if your partner won’t let you have a surround sound in YOUR livingroom, go out and spend a few quid on this card and turn your office into a sound stage. Or at least get some good headphones and enjoy your favourite tunes without alienating the neighbours.

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