Essence ST+H6, Creative ZXR, or Essence STX ?

Discussion in 'Soundcards, Speakers HiFI & File formats' started by Jayman88, Nov 25, 2013.

  1. Jayman88

    Jayman88 Member

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    I am a semi-noob to the HTPC type setup and am trying to decide on a sound card for my new system. I am hoping those of you more experienced in this area can help.

    I have been doing my homework for quite a few days now and think I am getting close to a decision, but need to confirm a few things before I pull the trigger. I will do my best to provide detailed info here.

    A little background for you…
    I am in the process of upgrading my computer to a Haswell-based (X87 chipset) system. I am pretty picky when it comes to sound quality and I have a decent audio system. It’s not nose-bleed hi-end, but it is definitely in the high-end realm. My music collection lives on my computer in the form of FLAC and maxed out VBR mp3’s. Since I live in China, proper blurays are not readily available so I download most of my movies. Yes, I know some of you may frown on this, but I don’t have much of an option here. The blurays that are sold here are pirated anyway, so it makes more sense for me to download. When I do download, I get the 1080p bluray rips which include the proper DD/DTS track (each movie runs 8-12 GB).

    About my system/restrictions:
    · I have been using a combination of onboard sound (movies) and external USB DAC (music) for the past few years, but I want to switch for convenience reasons (1 card to handle movies, music, and games). My USB DAC setup, while sonically good, only really works for 2-channel and my onboard sound for movies is not really satisfying (plus I am upgrading).
    · I want to switch to a PC soundcard direct to amplifier solution, i.e. connect from computer to amp either via spdif or analog direct from the soundcard.
    · I have an integrated amplifier with spdif inputs (coax & optical), analog 6.1 inputs, and it can decode up to 6.1 (DTS.ES & DD.EX) but not anything newer. No HDMI inputs. I do not want to switch my amp.
    · PC running Win 8.1
    I have a strong preference for a PCI-e card as that is the way Intel is going in the future. The new X87 chipset(and future chipsets) don't even natively support the old PCI standard. Some lower grade X87 motherboards have a PCI slot, but that is only via a 3rd party chip. All high-end motherboards now don't have a PCI slot, it's all PCI-e. That being said if the only true option is a PCI card I will consider it.
    · My usage as follows: Movies 60%, Music 35%, Games 5%

    I have been looking at almost every card made within the past 4-5 years and narrowed it down to a few. Below are my general questions and also specific questions about the cards I have picked so far.

    5.1 vs. 6.1
    I have read it both ways (usually comparing 5.1 & 7.1), however it seems many people say that while the difference isn’t huge, if there is a cost effective way to implement 7.1 it is definitely a moderate improvement over 5.1. Having never heard anything but 5.1 I am hoping you can help shed some light on this. A little trickier is the fact that my rig can only do 6.1 so I am not sure if that changes things at all. If there is a link or sticky somewhere that can summarize this debate, by all means please do forward that as I don’t intend to make this thread a big debate about 5.1 vs. 7.1.

    Impact of Playing Compressed Bluray files vs. actual discs
    As I noted above, I don’t have access to bluray discs. I currently use MPC (with k-lite codec pack) to play movies. Honestly, I can’t yet get my head fully around the relationship between the source file, the player (MPC/VLC), the soundcard, and the final output to the card for both modes (spdif and analog out). This is one topic where if you have some good links that help describe how they work together, I would love to see them. I think I get the basics, but when it comes to the details and limitations I am at a loss, hence my questions below about the specific cards.

    Asus ST + H6 (Essence ST Deluxe) - PCI
    · No reason to use the spdif for this card, so I am assuming analog output all the way, right?
    · What DD/DTS formats can it actually decode and deliver via analog output? They seem pretty limited when I look at the Asus site, but I may not be reading it right.
    · Does it have a 6.1 mode? If not and only a 7.1 mode, what could be done from software side (MPC/VLC) or via connections to suit my amp’s 6.1 limitation? Would combining both rear surround outs into a single rca input to the amp’s singular rear input work?

    Asus STX - PCI-e
    · It only truly supports 2.0 channel output, but it does have spdif out. Would it be sending a 5.1 or 6.1 signal via the spdif for the amp to decode? 6.1 is the theoretical max for spdif, but can this card carry the signal?

    Creative ZXR - PCI-e
    · It only lists 5.1 support and only has 5.1 analog outs. Will the spdif out be limited to 5.1 or can it do 6.1(same question as for the STX)?

    Other Cards
    Auzentech – They have some really good cards, but it looks very, very much like they are going out of business or close to it, so I am not really willing to take a chance
    HT Omega – don’t see any cards with a distinct advantage over Asus Essence series
    Asus HDAV1.3 Deluxe + H6 – no longer in production and 2-channel quality not comparable to my top 3

    I think that’s about it. If there is a solution I haven’t thought about feel free to float it but please keep in mind the background…I want an internal soundcard solution and I don’t want to buy a new amp/receiver. My budget is flexible so I am not too concerned with the "value-based" comparisons, just which card best suits my needs.

    Thanks a lot for your help and suggestions!
    Jay
     
  2. Jayman88

    Jayman88 Member

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    24 hrs, 60 reads, but not one reply...does that mean my post was too long? Did I ask too many questions? Help please!
     
  3. RagDoll_Effect

    RagDoll_Effect Ancient Guru

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    Well, the ST and H6 daughterboard will allow you to do everything. Just don't hook up the left back channel and there should be a setting on your receiver/amp for just one back speaker/channel... 7.1 is just 2 back channels, instead of 6.1 which is 1 middle/centre back channel... Also, I think you can reassigne channels using the ASUS/Cmedia software :)

    regards,
    RagDoll.
     
  4. Jayman88

    Jayman88 Member

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    Hi RagDoll, thanks for opening things up.

    Unfortunately, the Essence ST is legacy PCI and not PCIe. My ideal situation is a card that does 6.1 or 7.1, has excellent sound quality for 2-channel music, AND is PCIe, then I am golden. If the Essence ST were PCIe my choice would be simple. Unfortunately it is not future proof, so I am testing the possibilities with the STX and the ZxR to see if they can meet all of my needs. If either of them can do 6.1 or 7.1 then either of those would be the winner.

    The twist of not using actual discs but files instead adds another question mark in the mix for me, as I don't know if what I am striving for can even be achieved when using files instead of original Bluray discs.

    My understanding is the Essence STX doesn't work with the H6, if it did then my choice would definitely be the STX.

    Are their any other PCIe cards that can meet my needs that I have missed?
     

  5. ASLayerAODsk

    ASLayerAODsk Master Guru

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    I have the STX, and I have never used anything but stereo with it on my B&W's. The quality is top end and I've had zero problems with it from day 1. While surround is nice, stereo is sufficient for me and Id rather have TWO really awesome speakers vs 5 mediocre to crappy speakers. I also filter/condition my power*Monster Power HDP 2500*and that makes a MASSIVE and noticable difference even though I have a good power supply, you can HEAR the difference as well as SEE it on your moniter, it's something I had always heard about but never considered and then tried it, and wow. I'd recommend it to anyone that is concerned about quality, period. :)

    PS I got the STX shortly after its release and I dismantled my Klipsch ProMedia 4.1's, and assembled my B&W's/NAD 7120 and haven't looked back. :) I also use the Mirillis Splash player for my movies so I can simply change its output to 60fps for best picture quality on HD movies.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2013
  6. RagDoll_Effect

    RagDoll_Effect Ancient Guru

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    Yes, there are other options if they're still available... The Auzentech X-Fi Hometheatre HD would be the best, if you can find one for sale. However, why not just use your 560 Ti and feed the bluray movies with MPC. You will then get DTS HD Master through it and Dolby HD. I run this type of thing and it's fantastic. Then all you need is just a soundcard that does 7.1 or 6.1, for music and games, which are available by the truckload :)

    regards,
    RagDoll.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2013
  7. Jayman88

    Jayman88 Member

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    Hi Ragdoll, interesting option...

    One of the very important functions for me is 2-channel music playback. My main reason for choosing these 3 cards is their sound quality. As I noted, I do have a decent system and sound quality for music is VERY important. These three cards seem to have some of the best reviews around the net for specifically their ability to produce quality sound on a quality system. I am currently using a pretty decent external USB DAC for 2-channel so I don't want to lose having a good source for playing music.

    This is one of the reasons I haven't really considered any card that isn't one of the top in the 2-channel music field.
     
  8. Tacoboy

    Tacoboy Master Guru

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    Maybe you do not need to spend that much for good sound quality.
    An Asus Xonar DX or D1 sound card comes with a CS4398 DAC chip and analog speaker 7.1 output, here in the USA a used DX or D1 can sell for $60.
    Save the rest of your money for the next audio upgrade.
     
  9. Jayman88

    Jayman88 Member

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    From what I have read, there is a considerable difference between the DX or D1 and the Essence series cards especially for 2-channel....which I really need.

    Does anyone know by experience or fact if either the STX or ZxR can do 6.1 through their spdif?

    Another point, can anyone please comment on the use of using mkv files vs. actual discs and if that would effect my ability to achieve anything above 5.1?

    Thanks!
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2013
  10. Tacoboy

    Tacoboy Master Guru

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  11. Jayman88

    Jayman88 Member

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    Hi Tacoboy,

    I think you are right. It seems that even though the spdif format supports 6.1, cards are not actually setup to transfer the 6.1 signal. As you said it's either 7.1 via HDMI or analog.

    I am currently considering either the ST Essence Deluxe using the analog outs or HDMI from a video card or sound card direct to a receiver/DSP.

    A couple of quick questions for you.

    Question 1:
    I am using MKV files which often have 7.1 DDTrueHD/DTS Master Audio content and I use MPC to play these files. If I use the analog out of the Asus Essence ST Deluxe (which includes the H6 daughter board for 7.1) connected to an external amplifier, will I actually get the TrueHD/DTS-MA? In other words will the MPC software (with proper codecs installed) be able to properly decode the TrueHD/DTS-MA and then just feed it to the ST to complete the D/A conversion?

    Question 2:
    With current Nvidia cards, are they still limited to spdif parameters via an internal connector, or is it now possible to achieve transmission of true TrueHD/DTS-MA via the video card's HDMI connector (to an external processor/receiver)? Are there currently any pitfalls to using a video card's HDMI connector vs. an internal sound card (not mobo onboard sound)?
    I am currently still not clear if doing so will limit my ability to get DDHD or DTS.

    Thanks!
    Jay
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2013
  12. RagDoll_Effect

    RagDoll_Effect Ancient Guru

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    Your nvidia card, carries Full HD audio via HDMI :) MPC does DOLBY THD and DTS-MA audio :)
     
  13. Tacoboy

    Tacoboy Master Guru

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  14. Jayman88

    Jayman88 Member

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  15. RagDoll_Effect

    RagDoll_Effect Ancient Guru

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    I see, there is just 1 back channel, which means that you just select back channel as back center or 1 back channel...
     

  16. Jayman88

    Jayman88 Member

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    Ragdoll, Do you mean in the ST driver software, MPC, or HDMI connection? I am not sure if any one of these three has a 6.1 or a singular back channel mode.
     
  17. RagDoll_Effect

    RagDoll_Effect Ancient Guru

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    MPC does, however, if you just select 7.1 in anything, both back channels will play through the back center channel on your setup :)

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    Uploaded with ImageShack.us

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    Mine is setup for back left and right in the matrix, however, just select the 6 channels and LFE and it will select the center back channel :)
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2013
  18. Jayman88

    Jayman88 Member

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    Hi Ragdoll, very good information indeed. Based on what you are saying then I could keep my current amp, get the Essence ST and achieve 6.1 via MPC and ST analogs out. This is one good option worth strongly considering.

    I am still tempted by the lure, however, of true 7.1 via an HDMI cable from the video card. What setup are you using to get proper 7.1 for movies in your system?
     
  19. RagDoll_Effect

    RagDoll_Effect Ancient Guru

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    For movies, I switch to HDMI through video card :) It works brilliantly and is lossless of course :)

    regards
    ,RagDoll.
     
  20. Tacoboy

    Tacoboy Master Guru

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    I do think you should keep your current amplifier, it might be 8 or 10 years old, but suggested retail price was $1600, it looks like something that offers some good sound quality and I think you would have to spend a lot (over $1000?) on a modern 7.1 receiver to match or beat it's sound quality.
    Also can not see you having a good enough reason for using HDMI
    I would say to get the Sound Blaster ZxR, it's got three really nice DAC chips (one PCM1794 & two PCM1796), run analog 5.1 from the ZxR to the Vincent's RCA inputs.
    I would think no one makes movies anymore that supports 6.1, trying to make a modern Blu-ray movie work in 6.1 might even make it sound worse.
    So just disconnect the rear center channel speaker and just use 5.1.
     

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