X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

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X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 3:13 pm

For reaons long discussed on sites like this, I have been less than impressed with my XF-I as of late. Today I finally got round to doing something about it in the shape of an Asus Xonar DX. Let audio niceness ensue - The card gets fantastic reviews...

...But were the reviewers tone deaf??? Compared to my XF-I Pro, this Asus card wont catch it in a month of Sundays. The Xonar sounds distant and muffled, and audio clarity is no where near the quality the XF-I offered. Even when I was using the "crabby" solution on my motherboard before I got the XF-I it sounded much better in analogue mode, and digital out with the onboard is fantastic (shame it's 2CH PCM only).

Even digital out (Tos-Link) on this Asus card manages to sound completly flat. Am I missing something??? I've fiddled with every conceivable button and slider in the Xonar control thingie and it makes no noticable difference to the sound quality. Everything stereo is upmixing too, and turning it off in the CP has no effect!!!!!

The speakers im using??? Yeah, they are love it or hate it - Logitech Z-5500D's. The sub is over boomy, always has been, but i've never had an issue with audio clarity...

So far, i'm considering sticking the XF-I back in...
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 3:55 pm

If the control panel settings make no discernible change to the sound, then I'd suggest that the drivers aren't properly installed. Perhaps uninstall and try again. I'd also be frankly astonished if you were getting any noticeable difference at all in the digital output quality between on-board, X-Fi, and Xonar with all the processing switched off.

FWIW, through my Sennheisers the Xonar DX sounds noticeably cleaner with music than the X-Fi XtremeMusic I had in a previous system, though surprisingly not massively better than the ADI onboard on my P5E (which has a separate riser card for the analogue components). The onboard doesn't do decent virtualised surround sound through headphones for games, though.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 4:26 pm

There's an easy way to test if s/pdif is outputting the bits unmolested. Download a AC3 or DTS file with a WAV header from here, set you digital out sampling rate to 44.1kHz and try playing the file. All volume controls must be at 100% and equalizers, etc. disabled of course. If everything is working right, the raw stream gets passed to the receiver/control pod.

I doubt you bought a sound card just to bypass its DAC though.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 4:33 pm

you need to completely uninstall ur xifi drivers first, are u sure u did that?

also, once u put the new sound card into the PCI slot, you cannot move it around
if you moved it at all, you must totally reinstall drivers again
you may have to mess with the settings for awhile as well, does regular line out work fine in stereo 2CH?
plug some headphones in directly to the sound card and test, play with the equalizer as well
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 5:30 pm

Another vote for bad driver setups. You mentioned it yourself that "changing driver settings had no effect". You kind of found the culprit.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 6:24 pm

Thanks for all the feedback to far. To address the most common issue regarding drivers - I have removed and re-installed them no end. After each removal I run Driver Sweeper to check it's fully gone (they aint), so I let it do it's tihng and re-boot then go again for a re-install. Sometimes when re-installing the drivers after you get the warning box about making sure you attached external power, the driver installer will appear to be running, but not actually do anything???

crazybus wrote:There's an easy way to test if s/pdif is outputting the bits unmolested. Download a AC3 or DTS file with a WAV header from here, set you digital out sampling rate to 44.1kHz and try playing the file. All volume controls must be at 100% and equalizers, etc. disabled of course. If everything is working right, the raw stream gets passed to the receiver/control pod.

I doubt you bought a sound card just to bypass its DAC though.

That works ok for the bitstream - The Z5500 reports it as a DTS feed on my chosen file. But then again, my on board crabby solution also does that when I re-enabled it and put the drivers back. Raw stream was being carried, but it sounded muffled and distant. Not sure whats up there, I disabled everything I could find - Either way as you say, I want to use this with Analogue output to the Z5500's pod like the XF-I was. Currently that sounds even worse.

potatochobit wrote:you need to completely uninstall ur xifi drivers first, are u sure u did that?

also, once u put the new sound card into the PCI slot, you cannot move it around
if you moved it at all, you must totally reinstall drivers again
you may have to mess with the settings for awhile as well, does regular line out work fine in stereo 2CH?
plug some headphones in directly to the sound card and test, play with the equalizer as well

Creative drivers removed = Check. I also didn't move the card because I cant! A couple of 5770's are "in the way", so there is only one PCI-E slot it can go into. :wink:
I tried telling it I had only 2 channel audio, and a 2.1 set-up. It didn't appear to care, sound came out of all 5 speakers in equal measure? And it sounded muffled? I speciffically checked that any up-mixing features were off.
On the plus side, headphones worked ok. Only difference here being that the headphones were connected to the FP Audio connector built into my case, as this card has a header for that exact purpose :) Sounded Slightly tinny, but a lot clearer than whatever the card's doing to the audio it sends to the Z5500's.

Meadows wrote:Another vote for bad driver setups. You mentioned it yourself that "changing driver settings had no effect". You kind of found the culprit.

I had hoped so, but now im not so sure? The card makes a clikly kinda noise when the Pc powers up. It's also sometimes missing in device manager rather randomly, and I get no sound at all. The card may be a dud???

I've removed all the Asus drivers again and put my XF-I back into the slot, and re-installed it's said drivers. Sounds just as good as it ever did, so I guess the PCI-E slot's not going bad...

Should I take it back for another one?
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 6:28 pm

Sure sounds like a dud to me. I can't speak for the X-Fi, but even Realtek onboard is tons better than my Audigy 2 ZS PPro was. However, it's better to test in another PC if you have one, or have a friend willing to try out the card for you.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 6:29 pm

rcs2k4 wrote:Should I take it back for another one?

Given the pretty-much universal Xonar love around here, it appears that you got a bad one. RMA time is here.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 7:02 pm

Dont use the front panel jack, we want to use the rear ports
unplug your digital to the z5500, make sure nothing is plugged into the card
then plug the headphones into the sound out in the rear of your DX card
make sure you plug it into the right one, the L/R front speakers, the second one in this pic
Image

other things to consider
you do not own a PCIEx1 DX card and have it plugged into a regular PCI slot, right?
in your computer panel options, you do not have digial set to INPUT instead of output to the z5500s?
the port for the spdif is in and out, not sure about this DX model but my HT has an option to reverse
also, is the adapter seated correctly since you are using a SPDIF cable?

z5500 little hand controller thing does go bad often, so before you RMA the xonar DX, put the xifi back in and see if it works properly

after this u might think about RMA
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 7:26 pm

It's getting fun is this :wink:

The Xonar's back in the case. Drivers in, XF-I drivers removed etc etc etc. Now, first of all, and I know you were being nice, but I can tell the difference between a PCI-E 1 slot and good ol' PCI :P There's no chance of me, um putting it in the wrong one! W7's CP for audio says input is currently line-in/Mic from the Xonar, Output is speakers. Speaker type (according to Windows) is 5.1.

My headphones were plugged into the 2nd hole down from your picture, and the sound output is just like the speakers - Muffled and distant sounding. I'm still using the 3 analogue cables that i've been using in the XF-I (creative's logo is on the cable ends), and they are colour coded for their cards. To avoid any doubt over me plugging things in the wrong way round (might have done!) I have left 2 of those output holes empty...

The green cable (this is how it worked on XF-I cards) carried front left/right. I've put that into "Front Jack"
The orange cable carried centre (I think) and the sub. I've put that into "Subwoofer Jack"
The black was for the rear left/right. I've put that into "Rear Jack"
I've also had an optical cable in the top one sometimes, so switch between the 2 to guage the difference in sound quality.

The digital out works, but sounds bad as before. The speakers pod thing correctly identify the right bitstream type when I tested earlier. I switch to 6Ch Direct 96/24 on the pod thing and I get the analogue feed off the Xonar. It sounds just as bad as the Dolby Digital feed...

Speakers deffo appear to be in full health. They still work on the XF-I and my intergrated crab. I'm willing to try anything else, as on paper (and from the reviews) this thing should have the XF-I licked. My speakers aint half bad neither so it should sound pretty decent (Yeah, I know - Not exactly an audiophile choice. I was attracted to the giant woofer they come with!)... :wink:

**Edit**
On a side note, if I do have to take it back, it's easy as I bought it from a PC World store. The price was better than the usual e-tail suspects. When I was in there, on the same shelf thay had an XF-I Titanium HD @ about £160 (a lot more than this Asus card cost). I thought "Ohhh god, not getting another creative card" - In the cards defence it had some attractive figures on the box that made my gerbil brain go all fuzzy. Any one here have one of those - I'm tempted to plump the extra £££ and get it instead - It's creatives equivalent of the Asus Xonar Essence STX but would cards like that be wasted on a Z5500D speaker set???
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 7:38 pm

I think it's RMA time mate.

As for the 3 cable setup, it's not going to matter which color is in which port as long as you connect the corresponding ports to each other. My Xonar sounds better on analog than the analog did on my X-fi Xtrememusic. Even if you don't think it sounds better coming from the Xonar, it shouldn't be this bad.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 7:42 pm

Did you have any of the funky Creative DSPs enabled on your old X-Fi like the Crystalizer? It could just be that you've become accustomed to the colored sound produced by your X-Fi and now that you've gotten a proper, neutral sounding audio card, it sounds wrong to you. Just a guess.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 7:50 pm

Zoomastigophora wrote:Did you have any of the funky Creative DSPs enabled on your old X-Fi like the Crystalizer? It could just be that you've become accustomed to the colored sound produced by your X-Fi and now that you've gotten a proper, neutral sounding audio card, it sounds wrong to you. Just a guess.

Ummm, yeah I did :oops:. I spend so long setting things up, I can recall exactly where things are set:
- XF-I Crystalizer: 58%
- DSP-EQ Enabled: Set to Rock (In Music mode only)
- CMSS 3D: Enabled (Stereo Xpand)
- Bass (LFE) Re-Direction: Enabled, Set to 72Khz

The creative card (IMO) sounds bad without the Crystalizer especially. Crucially however, my on-board crabby sound card has none of that stuff the XF-I can offer and sounds almost as good as the XF-I in stereo (surround is awful - Realtek's upmixing hurts my ears), but both sound way better than the Xonar?
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 8:11 pm

The XFi Crystalliser simply boosts the extremes of the frequency range, and I imagine the rock preset does much the same. If you like the sound of the X-Fi with those settings, I think I understand why you'd be unimpressed with the Xonar. Still doesn't explain why changes in the driver panel don't do anything though.

By the way, the clicks when it powers up are entirely normal for a Xonar. I've also found with mine that there's some low-level electrical noise in the signal when using the front panel connections that isn't there when using the back panel connector. Strange since I didn't notice the same problem when using the front panel connector with the onboard audio.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 8:35 pm

To conclusively rule out driver/software wreckage from your old X-Fi, either try the card in another PC which has never had Creative's drivers on it, or boot a Linux live CD.

@potatochobit - Even if he did manage to force a PCIe card into a PCI slot, it wouldn't make *any* sound. (Other than maybe the sound of sparks as the card and/or motherboard fries itself.)

Edit: Anything with technically flat response (which the Xonar should have) is going to sound "wrong" if you're accustomed to those X-Fi settings you've listed. You are probably used to hearing 10 dB (or more!) of bass and treble boost, and some funky phase shift effects as well.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 10:18 pm

just brew it! wrote:Edit: Anything with technically flat response (which the Xonar should have) is going to sound "wrong" if you're accustomed to those X-Fi settings you've listed. You are probably used to hearing 10 dB (or more!) of bass and treble boost, and some funky phase shift effects as well.

++ this. You probably just need to (re) acclimate yourself to what reality sounds like. Your ears/brain build up a resistance, so to speak. If you want to listen to everything as it was intended to be heard you need to listen with as flat a frequency response as you can put together.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Thu Mar 10, 2011 10:41 pm

Although your points are correct, the OP mentioned that even the onboard audio sounds a lot better, and that the FP output sounds good. So I'm guessing it's still a busted Xonar card.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 12:47 am

The CMSS 3D "stereo expand" may explain the "muffled"-ness when you play the same sound without that effect. You can argue from the other side that the stereo expand thing makes things sound more "hollow". :P

What kind of audio material did you use for testing? I am not sure the "Rock" setting is going to make a Mozart symphony or Mendelssohn violin concerto sound good at all. :o
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 12:58 am

morphine wrote:Although your points are correct, the OP mentioned that even the onboard audio sounds a lot better, and that the FP output sounds good. So I'm guessing it's still a busted Xonar card.

Yeah, a bad card is a definite possibility here. I'm not saying that it *can't* be a bad card; just that it is still going to sound very *different* from what he's used to, even if the card is OK. Trying the card in a different PC and/or from a Linux live CD like I suggested would help narrow things down to hardware or software.

Flying Fox wrote:The CMSS 3D "stereo expand" may explain the "muffled"-ness when you play the same sound without that effect. You can argue from the other side that the stereo expand thing makes things sound more "hollow". :P

I've never understood the attraction of those kinds of effects; they always sound very "artificial" to me. And as far as canned EQ settings and stuff like "Crystalizer" goes, If I'm listening on speakers or headphones that need a little help in the bass (or treble) department, I'd much rather tweak manually with an equalizer that has individual sliders for the different frequency bands. Canned EQ settings are nothing more than someone else making a "one size fits all" decision regarding what they think will sound good to the largest number of people on the largest percentage of equipment.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 1:14 am

rcs2k4 wrote:The card makes a clikly kinda noise when the Pc powers up. ...

The "loud pop" during power-up is probably not an issue. My card does it, and it's flawless, but it does it every time the headphone amp goes enabled.

rcs2k4 wrote:... It's also sometimes missing in device manager rather randomly, and I get no sound at all.

Yes, this is the part where it starts being a dud.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 1:44 am

MrJP wrote:By the way, the clicks when it powers up are entirely normal for a Xonar. I've also found with mine that there's some low-level electrical noise in the signal when using the front panel connections that isn't there when using the back panel connector. Strange since I didn't notice the same problem when using the front panel connector with the onboard audio.

The clicks are the noise made by the relays that connect the output amps to the output jacks. The relays keep the outputs out-of-circuit until they're stable, preventing turn-on thump if you're connected to a powered-up external amp.

With regard to the front panel noise, you should make sure you're using an "HD Audio" cable and not the "AC-97" cable/header. Also, the routing of the cable from the audio card to the front panel is critical. Try to avoid laying the cable across the back of the vid card or across the VRM area of the motherboard. The routing may have changed when you went from on-board audio to the Asus card.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 9:08 am

Thanks for the advice. I'm definitely using the HD audio cable, and I have done some experimentation with the cable position with no luck so far. The Xonar is plugged into the highest 1x PCIe slot that was previously occupied by the riser card for the onboard audio, so the routing is pretty much the same in any case. The cable is quite short, so there's not a lot of scope anyway.

With Crossfire graphics cards, there's not an easy better solution, but I might see if it's possible to extend the cable to take it vertically away up past the CPU socket to the top of the case rather than forwards parallel to the upper graphics card. Incidentally, the interference certainly seems to be graphics related because it's noticeably worse if you're moving Windows around the screen. From some Googling I've discovered that complaints about interference on P182 front panel connectors are not exactly rare, though it is strange that it is definitely worse with the Xonar

The other weird thing that might be relevant is what happened when I recently got some new speakers. The new ones (Samson Studiodock 3i) can take both analogue and USB inputs. I was keen to find out how the internal processor and DAC compared to the Xonar, so I hooked both connections up and then used Windows to swap between Xonar and the speaker's internal processing (btw, the Xonar is better). Connected like this, I had the same background noise problem even when using the Xonar rear panel connections that I wasn't getting with the previous analogue-only speakers or headphones when using the back panel. Unplugging the USB lead removed the noise. This leads me to believe that the whole problem is probably some form of grounding issue.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 10:21 am

Could be a dud..but if you can't get rid of both creative and xonar drivers....i would stick in another hdd.... install windows and see what happens. It's telling though you say it sounds flat which it is supposed to which is why i don't run EQ at all unless the headphones require a bit of help as per what's been mentioned here.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 10:33 am

Last question, but you do have the power cable plugged in right? I noticed on my Xonar that I had to push the power in a little further....and it was a tighter fit.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 11:56 am

rcs2k4 wrote:- Bass (LFE) Re-Direction: Enabled, Set to 72Khz

That's one insane subwoofer.

In addition, Realtek chips do not support "upmixing". That's a Microsoft function that they support. It kind of enables the side/rear speakers, but only copies some annoying high frequencies there, which essentially makes it useless and headachy. Shame on you, Microsoft.
(I know this because I wrote to Realtek about it, and they damn near scolded me for having the audacity.)
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 12:04 pm

Meadows wrote:That's one insane subwoofer.


I did a double take to make sure it said khz. I think you meant Hz.

That pop/click has always scurrred me about my Xonar. I know it's normal, but it just doesn't seem like it should be doing that. I can't believe you were listening to your music with all those effects on. For shame.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 12:25 pm

Meadows wrote:
rcs2k4 wrote:The card makes a clikly kinda noise when the Pc powers up. ...

The "loud pop" during power-up is probably not an issue. My card does it, and it's flawless, but it does it every time the headphone amp goes enabled.

I wonder if it's an ASUS thing. The motherboard I replaced was a M3A78-CM which had a VIA codec of some sort that always went "pop" when I turned on the PC before the speakers. It also went "pop" every time it woke up - it'd go into power saving mode after 10-20 minutes of silence and when it started playing audio again it'd "pop" back to life.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 12:34 pm

The pop you're hearing comes from the card itself, due to a mechanical relay, to avoid a "pop" in your speakers/receiver. It's a good thing.
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 12:45 pm

morphine wrote:The pop you're hearing comes from the card itself, due to a mechanical relay, to avoid a "pop" in your speakers/receiver. It's a good thing.

Yup... the idea is to wait to connect to the external headphones/speakers until after the output driver stages and DC blocking capacitors (if any) have stabilized. From an engineering standpoint this is a surprisingly difficult problem to solve in a high-end (low noise/distortion) audio device unless you're willing to use electromechanical relays!
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Re: X-FI to Xonar DX. Awful sound quality...

Postposted on Fri Mar 11, 2011 1:28 pm

morphine wrote:The pop you're hearing comes from the card itself, due to a mechanical relay, to avoid a "pop" in your speakers/receiver. It's a good thing.

Maybe I misunderstood the original complaint, but I'm talking about popping in my speakers.
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