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Custom B - Gregg's new rig
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geggis
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June 13, 2011 - 11:00 am
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What's really pissing me off at the moment is the bullshit transitional phase that PC audio is going through.

My home theater surround sound works a treat when you feed the AV receiver a digital signal but getting the 5.1 signal from a game from a PC digitally is an absolute nightmare. I could just go straight into the multi-channel analogue ins but the bass redirection/crossover is a bit messy and the sound can be noisier depending on the source. In order to get 5.1 from a game into my receiver I've got to use either Dolby Digital Live or Dolby Theater Surround Connect which encodes the signal on-the-fly into a single digital bitstream which can be decoded by the receiver. The soundcards that support these standards are pretty expensive and come with all sorts of features I'm unlikely to use but more importantly it seems that most of them have trouble dealing with legacy games (ie. Windows XP 32bit) in Windows 7/Vista. I've got Windows 7 64bit and I'm a bit scared to sink £80+ on something that might not work as intended.

On XP I was using a Creative Audigy 2 ZS and had tried Creative's own drivers and software but they were atrocious at handling the bass redirection/crossover (rendering my subwoofer absolutely useless) and couldn't maintain their volume settings for some bizarre reason (this was dangerous for my speakers). I then stumbled across some unofficial but reputed kX drivers which were much more solid and heavily customisable but didn't support EAX. I'm not entirely convinced that the positional audio and bass redirection was up to spec either. They were the best I could do and so I resigned myself to them until I was to get a new rig.

Now I've got a new rig I'm in a similar bloody situation. I'm currently using Realtek's onboard HD audio and while it sounds fine (much better than I expected after some tweaking), its bass 'management' is… well, it isn't. I've got no control over it apart from being able to toggle it on or off. Nice. Then there's the 'Full Range Speakers' option. I don't have full range speakers but when I toggle this option everything sounds a whole lot better which leads me to believe that the bass management isn't doing a very good job and my sub isn't being used as intended. The line-in/mic input volume slider intermittently goes up on-screen as well without me touching it. I mean, I can literally sit there watching it move.

Then to top things off I installed Clear Sky (which now runs like silk) and the surround sound wouldn't work! After some poking about I found an OpenAL 'soft' file to use but I'm a bit worried that this sort of stuff might happen more often seen as Windows 7 doesn't play too nicely with legacy games (of which there are many ie. most of 'em).

I don't know. Proper 5.1 systems don't work too well with PCs in my opinion. Headphones ftw. Or PS3s, they sound super.

Anyway, I needed to rant about that.

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Helmut
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June 13, 2011 - 12:37 pm
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Creative Technology seems to me to be one of the bad players in the industry from the old monopoly days. Admittedly, I was/am supremely pissed at the failure of Aureal due to litigation initiated by Creative which killed the future of A3D and those wicked cards at a time when Sound Blaster cards looked (and sounded) like components stuffed in a tin pie plate. Four speaker systems used to work amazingly well to depict location and directional sound, particularly in Thief.

Three years ago there was the stink over the 3rd party drivers that enabled functionality on Creative cards that Creative said couldn't be enabled, I remember some of the forum discussions from that time from the modder, and Creative's driver code quality was represented as pretty crappy.

Sound support also seems to have taken a hit with the use of emulation to provide DirectSound support in Vista, which removed the ability of legacy hardware to support proprietary extensions such as EAX. It seems  OpenAL is Creative's attempt to stay relevant as a producer of hardware add-on cards.

I've just installed the Freespace 2 open source project which comes with graphics updates, a whole bunch of mission packs, and OpenAl support  the need for OpenAL, and while the graphics updates are great, the sound on this very basic game is now atrocious. Various cutscene voices are muddled and muted as if the sound engine is trying to 3D everything.

Sadly, it doesn't surprise me that you are having issues.

My Dark Souls single player sensibilities are protected by a +10 GfWL Firewall of Ineptitude

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geggis
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June 14, 2011 - 3:53 pm
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Just been reading about the Aureal fiasco. That sounded nasty. Let's hope that Asus don't somehow get the same treatment with their Xonar cards emulating EAX.

I remember Thief and System Shock 2 very fondly on my Soundblaster Live! There were few games to match the splendour of their sound design at the time but EAX was something that just worked really well with them. I think the next big surprise audio-wise was when I bought my Audigy 2 ZS (before I had my 5.1) for Battlefield: 2142. I remember just sitting there agog, listening to the clarity and dynamism of the audio over my onboard Realtek, wondering how the hell I'd been playing it without a Creative card. Again though, DICE really know what they're doing in the audio department, so much so that when I moved on to Quake Wars everything seemed comparatively lifeless.

Perhaps the game that has left the biggest impression on me since BF:2142 is Dead Space. It was that game that made me buy my 5.1. I'd played it on a friend's PS3 before I had my own and saw that it had won an Edge award for best audio. I figured that if I was going to get a PS3 and Dead Space I was going to have to get a good sound system to do it justice, and that's what I did. The problem now is getting the PC to play nicely with it.

Before my previous post I was eying up the Auzentech Forte, an apparently very good (but expensive) sound card based on Creative's own X-Fi chip, but shortly after finishing it I realised that, if all I need is to get a game's 5.1 signal to my receiver digitally then why don't I just buy the cheapest card which supports DDL and/or DTS Connect?

It turned out that one of the cheapest cards (and one I'd been looking at months ago for my previous rig) offered DDL in addition to Directsound and emulation of EAX in Windows Vista/7 on the card itself without having to download any third party apps like 3D Sound Back or ALchemy. The card I've gone for is the Asus Xonar DX which has cost about £50 rather than £115 for the Forte. I'll have to let you know how I get on with it. I've high hopes after all the glowing reviews I've read.

Also, my computer with its guts exposed!

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Steerpike
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June 14, 2011 - 4:53 pm
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That is the world's most awesome heat sink. I must have one.

Life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

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Helmut
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June 14, 2011 - 5:18 pm
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That heat sink is APPALLING! Do two days penance for conspicuous consumption. I don't think there's anything that needs that much cooling in your box. Fukishima, maybe.

 

I want one.

 

I once bought a pair of speakers for the back when I had a 5.1 setup. I was under pressure and thought I read something once about membrane speakers so I snagged a pair and used them for years. Later on, I was looking for something to sell and decided to do a tabletop comparison with the other two pairs I had, one the very first pair of speakers that came with my first $3300 dollar PC, an annoyingly heavy and ugly set. I'm no audiophile, but the membrane speakers were absolute trash, muddying everything and I was so astonished at being able to hear crunching gravel in BF:2. They do make games that require processing audio clues to be really successful.

In one of the articles I linked to the concept of audio acceleration was explained and I thought it interesting. The market for audio processors developed when processors were slow and audio processing expensive. Now, the processing is the same cost it was 15 years ago, and multiple processors are the norm. Further, it doesn't make any sense to stuff audio processing down the PCI bus. I have two full cores that never are used in any game I have.

Don't you have an ASUS sound controller for your on board Realtek card? On your mobo CD under extras or something? I have all the fan control and mobo temp control s/w installed from there and I like their stuff. The ASUS audio controller portion looks like below and it has many more knobs than the default Realtek stuff. Only a taste of the possible environments are shown, but the classy, stone pillars, in the shower, in the sewer, in the hall of heroes, and opera hall are all favourites of mine. 

[Image Can Not Be Found]

My Dark Souls single player sensibilities are protected by a +10 GfWL Firewall of Ineptitude

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geggis
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June 14, 2011 - 5:39 pm
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Believe it or not the Scythe Mugen 2 (heatsink and fan) is one of the best cheap coolers money can buy. Granted, it is huge weighing in at nearly a kilo but the fan is very, very quiet and the heatsink is very efficient — look at the contact plate: no lapping required there! It's apparently also an exceptional performer when in a pull/push configuration with a second fan should you ever require it. The cheaper alternative was the Coolermaster Hyper 212 but it apparently gets a bit noisy on load and a replacement fan takes it up to the price of the Mugen 2. This is the review that sold me on it.

My Realtek HD Audio manager looks a lot cleaner than that monstrosity but appears to share the same functions. I'm using pretty much everything that came on the sole motherboard disc that came with my parts and so far everything has been working A-okay. The Asus stuff does seem very solid though. Hopefully the Xonar will be the same. At worst I've got two sound devices in case something doesn't work on one of them.

Scout
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June 14, 2011 - 9:34 pm
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What's the catch with the analogue in connections? Are they really that noisy? You probably already know this but sometimes moving the subwoofer around the room makes a big difference in sound quality, avoiding nulls and such.

Reading about your trials trying to get decent 5.1 from PC to AVR via digital connects gives me pause about moving to multichannel gaming. I do have 5.1 in my main system for movies and music but still game with a 2.1 set up.

Beautiful looking rig. [Image Can Not Be Found] Wow, the power supply and heat sink must add another ten pounds to the weight of the case. Who moves cases around though.

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geggis
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June 15, 2011 - 3:41 am
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Using the analogue in connections means I have to rely on the soundcard to do the bass redirection and so far I've not had much luck with the Creative Audigy 2 ZS and two sets of drivers (official and unofficial kX) and the Realtek onboard audio I've used. If I could rely on soundcards to manage bass properly I wouldn't be bothered in the slightest about using the analogue connections though. Getting a digital signal to my reciever means it will handle all that stuff itself which I know it's very capable of doing because of my PS3. I've got a few pieces of music on both systems which I use to check the differences and the PS3 always sounds better. Testing games is very difficult because I don't tend to buy the same game on both platforms but thankfully Valve gave away a free PC version of Portal 2 with each PS3 copy so I think that's my chance to hear the difference. Portal 2 sounded superb on my PS3.

When I'm multiplayer gaming I tend to use headphones (to allow for mic use) and it was only really then that I realised how much noisier the Audigy 2 ZS was over both my PS3 and even my current Realtek onboard audio. However, the onboard audio seems to have a pretty noisy line-in connection for mic input so hopefully the Xonar will eliminate this.

The tribulations of PC audio! Scout, unless I find the perfect solution to all my woes, I say stick to 2.1 or headphone gaming. You don't need any sort of fancy real-time encoding to enjoy digital 2.1 audio.

As beautiful as the rig is, it sure is heavy and I didn't realise how heavy PSUs are on their own. I've moved it once from the kitchen to upstairs and don't really intend on moving it again! [Image Can Not Be Found]

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Helmut
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June 15, 2011 - 11:53 am
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What's your thought on the PS on the bottom? It looks like (in pic 4/6) the air flows in the front grill, then you have a fan on the front of the PS, then exits out the back. Wont that send a bunch of cat hair and dust bunnies off the floor through the PS? And saying you keep a decent place and don't have dust bunnies on the floor is not a valid answer.

My Dark Souls single player sensibilities are protected by a +10 GfWL Firewall of Ineptitude

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geggis
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June 15, 2011 - 12:10 pm
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The Antec P183 case is fitted with dust filters from top to bottom on all the front intakes and they seem to do the trick based on the dust-caked computer we have downstairs at work (which uses the same case). The fact that they're easily removed and washable is a nice touch. I prefer the PSU being down below because the cable doesn't get in the way on the back, it's different I'll say that.

Dust bunnies abound in the entertainment room so such measures are required. No cats though. Hailey doesn't like cats.

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geggis
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June 15, 2011 - 12:22 pm
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By the way: what are membrane speakers? That sounded painful realising that they were shit after years of use. I hadn't been using my onboard audio for that long before getting the Audigy 2 ZS but that was pretty nasty hearing the difference.

And regarding the sub woofer position: I spent a while shifting it around and read that you can actually stick the sub where you're likely to sit and crawl around the room listening for the sweet spot. Once you hear it swap yourself with the sub. Due to the limitations of my cable length and space for the damn thing I ended up putting it next to the left of the TV anyway and thankfully it works quite nicely there. When I was living at my parents' the sub was in a really crap position and as a result nearly everywhere anybody sat was LFE-less apart from in front of the radiator where it sounded awesome but that wasn't an especially convenient place to sit. They're funny old things. One day I'll get some full range speakers and be done with it.

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Helmut
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June 15, 2011 - 1:43 pm
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It's a speaker with a thin film that's moved electrostatically. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.....oudspeaker

Given what it sounds like they ought to be able to do, I would suspect that either the implementation was shoddy or that they were actually very small cone speakers packaged to look like membrane ones. It was a really flat speaker panel that hung directly on the wall so I thought they'd be awesome.

My Dark Souls single player sensibilities are protected by a +10 GfWL Firewall of Ineptitude

Scout
Portland, Oregon
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June 16, 2011 - 1:40 am
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Gregg, I finally ended up getting two matching subwoofers in the living room and placing them on opposite sides of the room. That works great. They shake the side tables once in a while. I placed one with the crawling around with sub in my chair method. Then just put the other one across from it.  I agree. Full range speakers are by far better sounding than using wimpy speakers and a sub to make up for it. 

Yes, 2.1 is blessedly simple in its way. USB out to a little tube DAC/AMP and out to speakers. I do run speaker wire from the amp to the sub first and THEN to the speakers. Very simple and pretty foolproof. 

 

Helmut, as the tune goes, "There's no replacement for displacement."  I always liked the boxy speakers.

And once again we (I) come to the conclusion that size matters.

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Helmut
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June 16, 2011 - 5:49 am
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@scout: There was a company in the '70s selling a set of speakers that had (memory's a bit fuzzy) three layers of horizontal diaphragm. The marketing of the time illustrated the concept with the mental image that the sound was squeezed into the room like an orange seed out sideways from between your fingers. Naturally, non-directional, perfect in harmonal presentation, yadda yadda. Remember those? 

My Dark Souls single player sensibilities are protected by a +10 GfWL Firewall of Ineptitude

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geggis
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June 16, 2011 - 6:01 am
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Scout said:

Yes, 2.1 is blessedly simple in its way. USB out to a little tube DAC/AMP and out to speakers. I do run speaker wire from the amp to the sub first and THEN to the speakers. Very simple and pretty foolproof.

You have the sub handle the crossover before it gets to the speakers? Interesting. That's another option if my latest solution goes breasts skyward. I'd considered it but my mind got a bit tangled when I thought of how many cables I'd be running to the sub...

Scout
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June 16, 2011 - 12:38 pm
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Helmut, I have a sort of foggy place where memories of the 70s are stored. There's even a little foghorn in there so I must have some sort of substantive repository of actual memories in there, like a little rocky island. I do remember a friend being very proud of his flat panel speakers, Quads?? I think they were electrostatic. I had a big pair of Utah speakers, looked like small refrigerators, then a set of Paradigms, which I loved and eventually lifetime loaned to a friend. Now I have some Rocket 550s, a just barely full range speaker with lot of low end kick. I love speakers with lots of bass and midrange, I guess. I have a preamp with bass management for the main system that lets me dial the subs in and out of the equation as the mood strikes me.

 

Gregg, I have that wiring system by necessity. My little Dared MP5 dac/amp that I use for gaming/office music has no sub out. I googled around and saw several suggestions for this wiring system if you don't have bass management capabilities. The theory is it strips off the lower frequencies before advancing the signal on to the speakers. Not sure about that but it does seem to work quite nicely. Yeah, it's speaker wire to and from the sub, which is a lot of wire.

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geggis
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June 17, 2011 - 9:06 am
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Well for whatever reason the Asus speaker test that came with the Xonar DX software doesn't seem to work for me so for about 30 minutes I was sat scratching my head wondering why I wasn't getting any sound. By this point I'd upped the volume a bit and got my headphones on (big mistake) and decided to test the sound from the Sound section in the Control Panel instead. !!DIDDLING!! ARGGH!!

There was sound and soiled slacks.

Dolby Digital Live encoding worked like a dream and the receiver is making the most of it now. My biggest gripe is with the Asus mixer which is just really fiddly and nowhere near as intuitive as it should be, especially compared to Realtek's less-is-more equivalent. It's not possible to mute channels without having to lower their volumes via the teeny-tiny sliders, the teeny-tiny sliders are a pain in the arse to adjust, it's not possible to save different configurations so everything has to be tweaked depending on what you're wanting to do. It's just a bit disappointing after the robust customisation options offered by the kX drivers. Anyway, I'm not complaining, there are a lot of other options which should prove useful in the future.

Now to get Clear Sky's surround working with EAX…

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Mat
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June 24, 2011 - 12:24 pm
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Just thought I'd piggyback this thread with news that I've also built my own rig.

Well, I say my own. Gregg played a huge part in helping me pick the components, but I somehow managed to put them all together. As an absolute total PC n00b (never been a PC gamer, used Macs for last 5 or 6 years) I think that's not a half bad achievement. Only real hiccup during the building process was the CPU Cooler, which was a fiddly pain in the ass, but after lots of shouting and swearing I managed to do it. Obviously I'm attributing my success entirely down to the aforementioned shouting and swearing..

Once finished, the unit turned on first time and seemingly without a hiccup. I've still not installed Windows or anything yet, and I'll probably get a myriad of error messages when I do, but for now I'm basking in the glory of successfully building my own PC.  

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Steerpike
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June 26, 2011 - 3:27 pm
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I am obsessed with that CPU cooler of Gregg's. It has convinced me it's time to upgrade my (perfectly serviceable) machine.

Gregg, this Scythe Mugen monstrosity… it's huge, obviously (not that size matters), but do you think it will play nice with most motherboards? I have my eye on an Asus something-something (here) and since I'm building the whole rig around this heatsink, I want to be sure it fits.

Life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

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geggis
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June 26, 2011 - 4:47 pm
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That's a 1155 socket motherboard the same as mine and Mat's so you should be fine. 'Should' being the operative word there. It's more the high heat sinks on those whizz-bang RAM sticks and the narrow cases that cause the problems.

Between us, me and Mat have the same rig barring the PSU, cooler and case! It's ace!

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