Soundcard

Alex SE

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#1
Have a Creative X-Fi DH external sound card and thinking to go for something more professional. Doesn't matter if in- or external, it needs to have RCA in and out, if possible in and out s-pdif and at least 24/96. The most important, if internal, it should not be PCI because there are only PCI-E slots on my PC :(
There are good deals for used M-Audio and RME internal cards, but all of them are PCI :(

Anyone have idea/suggestion?
 

George S.

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#2
I use a Asus Xonar U7 MK 2 USB card, but it's probably comparable to what you have. I also tried a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4, I think it is, disappointing, the Xonar is better. Also tried a Asus Xonar Essence STX PCI-e Soundcard, again disappointing, too much electrical noise inside the box.
The U7 works best, but overall results are disappointing. I've been using REW software, and 60 Hz hum from my surroundings is the issue.
That's the reason I was considering trying Audio Tester again.
I'm thinking a soundcard based spectrum analyzer just isn't going to work for professional results. But I haven't given up trying.
 

Alex SE

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#5
There are plenty of "audiophile" cards out there but just a few that ARE audiophile.
Yeah, some of them sound nice but far away from what we need when recording a tapes from PC or testing a decks using a PC.
Now, I'm no longer perfect young ear, but obsession to make a perfect recording remains. Something is in ears but even in consciousness otherwise I would be not here with all of you :)
 

Alex SE

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#6
That's the reason I was considering trying Audio Tester again.
I'm thinking a soundcard based spectrum analyzer just isn't going to work for professional results. But I haven't given up trying.
Observe that there can be compatibility issues between card and software. I have lost good amount of my nerves trying to find out why I had weird readings with AT v.3. At the end I tried AT v.2.2 and everything seems to work fine. I suggest you to try v3, but if you see something crazy, go for v2.2.
 

George S.

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#7
The sound card driver also matters. I've never had good luck installing the manufacturers software suite for the cards. Even after I tick all the boxes turning all the processing options off. Best luck I've had is install the card and let Windows install the compatable driver only, nothing more.
Have spent days trying to get ASIO drivers to work, no luck there also.
On board sound needs to be disabled in the Bios. Then we get to Windows Sound settings. Fun!
Best luck I've had is to fresh install Windows, get the card and test software working, and use that machine for testing purposes only. A good older laptop with a good battery works best. You can cut the power, run the test on battery, then repower it.
 

vince666

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#8
as a rule of thumb, i always avoided cards from "Creative" brand or other ones made computer brands, which i call the "multimedia" cards which, usually, need to be compatible with games, surround stuff and such.
Don't know nowadays, but in the past the wide compatibility (with games and such) was easily achieved by also putting SRC (sample rate converter) chips to allow the card to play sounds at different samplerates in the same moment.

On the other side, the cards aimed at music production, which might show poor compatibility with PC games, don't have SRC chips but the card does directly synchronize to only one sample rate at a time and would crash if you force them to play different samplerates in the same moment.
For example, both of the cards i use here, if i play a file at a samplerate and then another file at another (or i simply switch between samplerates) it does synch/set to that only samplerate and, while switching the rate, i can hear a click.

of course, for measuring purposes, i would avoid anything which was made for audiophiles, like those ones with tubes added... they are good to listen but maybe not that good for measurements.

i will, of course, stick to typical music production brands... i.e. Focustite, M-Audio, RME, etc...
 

Alex SE

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#9
as a rule of thumb, i always avoided cards from "Creative" brand or other ones made computer brands, which i call the "multimedia" cards which, usually, need to be compatible with games, surround stuff and such.
Don't know nowadays, but in the past the wide compatibility (with games and such) was easily achieved by also putting SRC (sample rate converter) chips to allow the card to play sounds at different samplerates in the same moment.

On the other side, the cards aimed at music production, which might show poor compatibility with PC games, don't have SRC chips but the card does directly synchronize to only one sample rate at a time and would crash if you force them to play different samplerates in the same moment.
For example, both of the cards i use here, if i play a file at a samplerate and then another file at another (or i simply switch between samplerates) it does synch/set to that only samplerate and, while switching the rate, i can hear a click.

of course, for measuring purposes, i would avoid anything which was made for audiophiles, like those ones with tubes added... they are good to listen but maybe not that good for measurements.

i will, of course, stick to typical music production brands... i.e. Focustite, M-Audio, RME, etc...
Sitting at the office, so I can't write long stories :(
Only problem with M-audio and RME is that all of them are PCI. Have you a newer PC, you can forget about them :( They can be found for 50€ but no use for me.
 

vince666

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#11
Sitting at the office, so I can't write long stories :(
Only problem with M-audio and RME is that all of them are PCI. Have you a newer PC, you can forget about them :( They can be found for 50€ but no use for me.
but they both make also external ones.
nowadays, the brand M-Audio is owned by Avid, btw.

if you are still using, say, windows XP then the old M-Audio audiophile USB card should be nicely compatible with audiotedter as it's shown in the pictures into audiotester's manual.
I own a M-Audio Fast Track USB as well, but it doesn't have line inputs, only a mic input channel and and a instrument input channel (intrument/line on the first version but it's only one channel) then it's not suitable for measurements and, even if they exist drivers for Win7, i was never able to make it work on Win7 or later, while it works great on Win XP.
So, be careful if you're going to get an old/used model.
 
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#14
don't know if installing two versions can be a problem.
but i believe it isn't.

hey, why don't you try with a few individual test tones at more frequencies?
this way, you can burn them onto a CD and test the card's inputs only by feeding the tones from a standalone CD player.
and can also monitor the levels of such tones on your PC with a common audio editing software with some meters, like i.e. Audition or Wavelab.
Also, with phase meter (usually available in these audio editors) you can check phase correlation between L and R inputs at different frequencies.... with the latter test, years ago, i had discovered that my old Terratec EWX 2496 card had L and R inputs in phase at low and mid-lows but, going to higher frequencies, it gradually added phase difference between L and R inputs so, at 10Khz, i had a considerable phasing between channels due just to the soundcard itself... and, with this problem, this card was NOT suitable to check azimuth on a tape deck by cheking the phase in X-Y mode.
EDIT: or maybe, that phasing issue on my old Terratec happened on its outputs? (I don't remember exactly, after all these years)... anyways, while testing a soundcard itself, if the loopback mode shows weird stuff, it would be a good idea to separately test inputs and outputs with the help of some external gear... you'll never know if you card works properly at its inputs, outputs or both unless you go and test them also separately.
 
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George S.

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#17
Two versions of Audio Tester shouldn't be a issue. But, drivers are critical. I've had best results with driver install only, NO additional sound card software. Make sure ALL other sound devices are disabled, on a desktop with a video card this includes the video cards built in sound.
And, you need to ensure you are using the correct bit depth for your program. Far as I know that is 16 bit, not 24 bit. REW only does 16, check Audio Testers documentation. Additionally 16 bit 48 kHz seems to be adequate for most testing because 48 kHz supports reliable testing out to a frequency of appx 1/2 that, 24 kHz. In audio, we usually test out to 20 kHz.
You need to go into your windows sound settings and make sure the computers sound inputs are set appropriately, and then ensure the softwares sound settings are the same, such as 16 bit 48 kHz. Also, all Windows sound settings need to be checked, normally 100 percent volume, equal 100 percent balance, "what you hear" may need to be on or off, depends. If you have the Creative software installed, you may never get accurate results. I ran Creative X-Fi cards for in desktops for many years, using them for signal processing for Software Defined Radio. Creative software can be problematic. Asus software is likewise. If I'm setting up a machine, it gets a fresh Windows install, sound card driver only, all other sound devices get disabled in Bios or Device Manager. Then, Windows sound settings get set to match the program.
 
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#18
actually, both M-Audio and RME used to make external cards... but if you're going to get an old used model it might happen that it can be used only on Win XP operating system.

moreover, if you're going to get ANY external card which connects on firewire interface, make sure your computer has a firewire controller based on Texas Instruments chipset or you'd be simply asking for problems.
But, to stay on the safe side, it'd be better to stick to USB external ones only.

As just told above, I own an old M-Audio Fast Track USB card... bought around year 2004, and it only works fine on Win 2000 or Win XP despite it has official drivers up to Win 7 system.... but this model isn't good for you because it doesn't have 2 line inputs (only 1 microphone and 1 instrument/line input, then it's suitable to record from microphone or guitar/bass)...
But, there was another old external M-Audio USB card, named Audiophile USB, with line inputs which should be 100% compatible with audiotester... but, again, it must run with Win XP system.
I believe these can be found for very cheap at now!

Regarding old external RME ones, I remember their Fireface 400 and Fireface 800 models which rely on firewire interface (not the easiest one to make it working properly) and it was a quite expensive model).

That said, I doubt you need to spend as much as 500 euros to get a modern USB card with suitable line inputs...
I am seeing that, i.e., a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 (3rd gen) USB card should be around 200 euros or so...
It has 4 analog inputs and 4 analog outputs... inputs 1 and 2 are with inbuilt mic/instrument preamp and maybe they can also get line level signal but they have gain input knobs which would force you to tweak/calibrate the gain just anytime you go and make measurements... while, inputs 3 and 4 are simply line inputs with no gain control knobs and, for measurement purposes, it's more handy to rely on line inputs with fixed levels.
Just, i need to check if this card works with balanced, unbalanced (or both) signals...
With the kind of devices you're going to use there, you definitely need unbalanced mode.
On my (a bit old now) Echo Audiofire 4 external (firewire) card, inputs and outputs can work in both balanced and unbalanced modes... but, hey, this is a model which has poor compatibility with audiotester software then I was forced to switch to another card for measurement purposes... but it works great with music production software, which is the actual reason why I had bought it, after all.
 

George S.

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#19
I have a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 first gen. Balanced and unbalanced. Unacceptable distortion for a test instrument, just like El Paso Tubes shows in that second video I linked to. The latest models are supposed to be better.
 
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