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Thread: The forgotten component - What’s up with computer audio?




  1. #11
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    Default Re: The forgotten component - What’s up with computer audio?

    I've been a big fan and supporter of soundstorm since I got my first msi k7n motherboard back in the winter of 2001.
    It started off with some Cambridge DTT2500 (black with DD receiver) I had that used to run off of a SB Live with the digital breakout card for the proprietary digital connection to the cambridge speaker systems. Using the sb live w/ digital I thought the 4.1 channel sound was pretty damn good, then I hooked up the soundstorm using digital coax to the dolby digital receiver and I was blown away by the accuracy and sheer superior quality the soundstorm delivered. I was a happy camper and figured creative labs would have to up the ante sometime because the soundstorm so thorougly outclassed their audigy (which was essentially the same as the sb live).

    Now I'm running an a7n8x-e deluxe, still using soundstorm, but I uhhh, upgraded, my speaker system to a full blown home theater including receiver. I spent a lot of money, but my god it is so good.

    Meanwhile, what has creative done? No real improvement in sound card technology thats for sure, but thats not all. Creative has pulled another 'creative' by buying out a competitor. This time they bought sensura, whom produced a technology nvidia licenses in their soundstorm. So, no more future soundstorms.

    That is why they will not appear on the nforce4.
    Good job creative, keeping your market dominance not by making superior audio solutions, but by buying out competitors or litigously enforcing your vast crappy patents.

  2. #12
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    Talking Re: The forgotten component - What’s up with computer audio?

    When I 1st got my first Nforce 2 motherboard I never bothered with the soundstorm audio (Boy do I now know that was daft!!!), As I had used other onboard Audio before (C-media, Realtek) and they had all been rubbish.

    I was happy with my System and it's SB Audigy.
    Then I got my wife the same Mobo (Asus A7N8X Deluxe) and used the onboard soundstorm for her system.

    I was AMAZED at the audio quality difference.
    We both have Creative sLabs Inspire 5.1 5500 Digital speakers, and on her system everything sounded better, CD's, DVD's, MP3, games and internet radio.
    So I decided to try the soundstorm on my system, needless to say after the several hours of "testing" Audigy was removed and given away the next day.

    Other people I know have Audigy 2 cards or some sort of silly 5.1 card that they brag about, but to me it just don't sound as good as the soundstorm does. Mind you the "The Soundstorm does Dolby Digital encoding on the fly, does your <superdooper soundcard MK2>?" usualy shuts them up :)

    And thanks to the sound I gets from soundstorm I get my 3 main happy time in DVD's and games, "I wanna see it big, I wanna hear it loud & I wanna FEEL IT ALL OVER", After all playing a film or game is good when you can see and hear it, but when you can feel it too, then it makes it GREAT!!!

    NaRyan, one heck of a soundstorm fan (encase ya never noticed!!! :P)
    p.s sucks that there will be no more Soundstorm cards.
    /me crys

  3. #13
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    Default Re: The forgotten component - What’s up with computer audio?

    From a Sound Designer's perspective a much larger issue and limitation to "What’s up with computer audio?" is that most of the market is driven by game sound and the status of what is regarded as 'State-Of-The-Art' in game sound render is laughable to be generous.

    To be fair, until recently sound render capability and fidelity in games has really not been much of a concern with good reason; games and game design haven't offered the level of play detail and subtlety to take advantage of much more then crude 'positional' sound render capabilities, and as far as fidelity is concerned most game Fans listen to game sound on the most abject sound hardware as far as fidelity is concerned even when under the illusion they have purchased State-Of-The-Art rig.

    There are a slew of issues and challenges unique to game sound rendering that will only be overcome when some generous or concerned Developers and Programmers assumes the onus of seriously addressing them -- to date no one has. Fundamental issues and serious limitations of game sound render that bring it in way below the bar of what's technically feasible can be summarized (in no particular order):

    · limited dynamic range (due to the following)
    · crude sub-mixing of multiple sound channels
    · gross compression/companding
    · simplistic, crude compression and companding algorithms
    · gross interactions between mixer, compression and companding
    · lack of sound and level designer control over aforesaid parameters
    · complete lack of even the most basic engineering documentation of the aforesaid
    · no (or very crude) steridian based boundary effects
    · use of cheap canned DSP & positional libraries
    · very poor perspective (first to third person) and proximity effects
    · crap-tastic tools (worst in the industry)
    · no security
    · poor sync
    · undocumented black-box sound manipulation

    As just about everything that can be wrong with sound render in games is wrong even the smallest concerted attempt at addressing some some of these issues with the crudest of solutions would be a God Send. In many cases issues and limitation of crusty sound renderer 'back planes' and features could be overcome by the simple expedient of documenting how they perform and at the very least offering Sound & Level Designers means to disable mixer compression, ACG, and DSP effects and features, and create or adjust these effects statically/manually.

    Arguably the largest issue confronting fidelity in game sound render is having automated dynamic mixing of an indefinite and changing number of sound sources, of dynamic position and not have them overload. In essence sound renderers are required to automate the task of live show Sound Engineer that is setting up for multiple performers, performing different kinds of music with different instruments, different number of performers in each ensemble, and different musical genera on-the-fly -- a virtually impossible task with no automation, only crude DSP, and very crude compression schemes.

    The current solution has bee to use massive amounts of audio compression and companding (not to be confused with digital file compression) reducing dynamic range on a heinous scale -- and while this is a better sounding solution gross digital overload -- the dynamic range achieved and double digit distortion figures obviate any need for high fidelity audio hardware beyond the cheapest EAX compatible card and discount headphones that aren't physically painful to wear. The surround sound processing offered by even the best audio hardware and game renderers is little more then laughable marketing gimmick to be polite.

    The value of decent sound render performance capability won't be readily apparent unless or until it's available for a capable Sound Designer and Game Designer to collaborate and exploit and the results won't be the 'knock your socks off' kind of thing like HUGE explosions and cheap positional panning effects of jets, or magical plasma balls screaming past or behind you... The value and benefit will be realized in subtlety and deep immersive aspects of atmosphere. When acoustics environmental transition effects match the virtual space being rendered a lot of the subtle cues and atmosphere of the kind that can raise hair on your neck, make you shiver, uncomfortable, awe-struck, or those spooky jolts of adrenaline you don't quite understand will be achievable in games. Wind won't have to sound like the choofing on the news anchor mans microphone, and the subtle sonic density of the game world will be rich on a scale that is larger the the visual difference from Doom to Doom III. With decent sub-mixing, and control over compression schemes compelling dynamic range and transient effects can be had without a mud-slide of slew distortion offering even the most jaded drama and intensity freaks a case of the 'WoWoWs™'.

    Summarily with decent sound render capability there is the potential for realistic sound that will consistently lift you out of your seat and when environmental acoustics and ambient Foley match the spacial geometry of spaces rendered there is a powerful sense of what I call 'WoWoW™' because of ear/eye/brain psycho-visual-acoustic fusion in processing this environmental information -- to date no games are able to offer this consistently.

    A substantial improvement doesn't require massive engineering, a million lines of code, or even any real innovation. Just hire capable Game Sound Designers and PAY them!

    A lot of the code for much higher quality DSP, compression and automated mixing processing then found in games today is available for free in low resource open source DSP DirectX and VST audio plug-ins library projects; and even better work is available commercially. Game engine architecture that could use DX or VST plugs would be a real breakthrough allowing Sound Designers to do what Level Designers are finally just able to do with modern IDE Level Tools: sound design, and post production in real time on-the-fly. Programmable DSP in audio hardware that was more akin to the Nvidia's 'Programmable Graphics Technology' would really usher in a 'Next Generation' of audio DSP -- EAX needs a lot of work to even approach parity with what's possible in graphics processing and render.

    I'm well aware when I hoof, choof with a rant like this I'm suggesting looks time consuming expensive and 'way down the line' as far as feasibility and marketability. But there are incremental, low/no cost and code solutions that would be a huge step in the right direction. My Big Three are (in order of importance/value):

    · documentation
    · separate status assignable sound channels
    · on/off control for games sub-mixing and DSP

    Documentation should be priority number one; having to design sound for black-box DSP and mixing, where you don't have a clue of the thresholds, range, or actual specifications of the DSP being applied by the game's sound renderer -- you're screwed into an enormously wasteful situation of trial and error, and half-assed results. This (and the state of the industry) is probably why there are so may amateur game Sound Designers that 'seem' to get acceptable results, and so few real Sound Designers/Engineers that are willing to bother or take the work seriously.

    The whole EAX, Miles, AC3 HTRF positional foo-faw in current sound renderers is to be blunt -- dated crap. In the words of of Audio Engineer Frank Van Alstine it's 'Marketing' i.e. 'using fraud and deception to sell crud to fools' or 'selling the package rather then the contents'. The difference calculated on first to third person perspectives, positional, indoor and outdoor acoustic paths is so simplistic that it's cruder then the graphics equivalent of using DooM's 2D sprites for player models. To be fair some of these products are being worked on and will see progress and improvement, but some are little more then 'Marketing Brands' for dated work that's an embarrassment to Audio Engineering and Sound Design.

    Manual setup and greater control over mixing and DSP effects would allow for using much more capable and powerful DSP in post processing sound for a games. Comparisons between SoundBlaster Audigy II's laughable EAX reverbs and modern convolved and sampled reverbs are differences anyone can easily hear and appreciate. Being able to control the threshold of AGC and companding and the ratio of compression would be a dream come true, but just being able to turn the crappy processing off or set a threshold would be a huge leap forward.

    These results and improvements that can be had are not small; a good analogy is you can tell the difference playing a stereo music CD vs monophonic AM radio through the cheapest and crudest audio hardware, even a three inch PM speaker driven by a half watt audio amplifier is adequate for nearly anyone to appreciate the difference and potential.

    .
    Last edited by hoak; 09-07-2004 at 07:25 AM.

  4. #14
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    Default Re: The forgotten component - What’s up with computer audio?

    Hi there, I followed the link from Slashdot to your reviews of sound cards. As a happy owner of a nForce and nForce2 system, I think it's time for me to get some 5.1 speakers! But that's not why I'm writing.

    In your reivew, you've running these HW specs:
    Processor(s): AMD Athlon XP-M 2600+ @ 3900+ (2.6GHz)
    Motherboard(s): ABIT NF7-S
    Memory(s): 2x 512MB Buffalo 2-2-2-5 BH-5 @ 221MHz

    My question is a simple one (I think.) What sort of steps did you take to get the FSB past 200 MHz with 2 x 512MB DIMMS? I have a similar setup (same motherboard, far cheaper RAM) and I can't get past 200 even on some very relaxed timings.

    Now, from what I've read, you can't crank the FSB past 200 with 2 x 512 MB DIMMS because of the CPC (Command Per Clock) setting of the nForce2 chipset, a feature is ON in the standard Abit BIOS and can't be turned off. (Orher nForce2 borads, like DFI, let you change this setting.) So basically what I'm asking is: are you using a custom BIOS and if so which one? Or did you just mod one of the Abit BIOSes to tun CPC off?

    Regards,
    Ian

  5. #15
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    Default Re: The forgotten component - What’s up with computer audio?

    Quote Originally Posted by ipierce
    Hi there, I followed the link from Slashdot to your reviews of sound cards. As a happy owner of a nForce and nForce2 system, I think it's time for me to get some 5.1 speakers! But that's not why I'm writing.

    In your reivew, you've running these HW specs:
    Processor(s): AMD Athlon XP-M 2600+ @ 3900+ (2.6GHz)
    Motherboard(s): ABIT NF7-S
    Memory(s): 2x 512MB Buffalo 2-2-2-5 BH-5 @ 221MHz

    My question is a simple one (I think.) What sort of steps did you take to get the FSB past 200 MHz with 2 x 512MB DIMMS? I have a similar setup (same motherboard, far cheaper RAM) and I can't get past 200 even on some very relaxed timings.

    Now, from what I've read, you can't crank the FSB past 200 with 2 x 512 MB DIMMS because of the CPC (Command Per Clock) setting of the nForce2 chipset, a feature is ON in the standard Abit BIOS and can't be turned off. (Orher nForce2 borads, like DFI, let you change this setting.) So basically what I'm asking is: are you using a custom BIOS and if so which one? Or did you just mod one of the Abit BIOSes to tun CPC off?

    Regards,
    Ian

    Hi Ian, Steve will reply to you via e-mail - it was his system! :)
    Cameron "Mr.Tweak" Wilmot
    Managing Director
    Tweak Town Pty Ltd

  6. #16
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    Default Re: The forgotten component - What’s up with computer audio?

    Not only was the nVidia SoundStorm APU the only sound solution capable of encoding Dolby Digital on the fly (which produces true and accurate 5.1 surround sound via either optical or digital coaxial cable to a set of computer speakers supporting these connections or to an external amplifier)
    DD does not produce anything, it merely compresses. If the DD signal has true positional audio, then that's because of the game audio not DD.

    You’ll get 5.1 sound using three analog cables but this type of setup is nowhere near as impressive or realistic as what the SoundStorm produces.
    It's better, since you avoid the lossy compression step, as long as you have a decent DAC on the soundcard.

    This means that in any games you play and as long as you are using optical or digital coaxial cable with your surround sound speakers (anything above 2.1 channels)
    You also need a DD decoder on the speaker side.

    Creative can do this with their EAX positional surround sound via enhancing the signal along analog cables (and others can do the same type of thing with Microsoft DirectSound 3D and less so A3D these days) but it will only work in games which support EAX (and DirectSound 3D via DirectX and A3D) and it’s not as good as Dolby Digital in terms of true cinematic realistic positional sound.
    Nearly every game that supports 3D audio uses one of the main 3D positioning audio APIs. All SoundStorm does is to encode the DirectSound3D/OpenAL etc channels into DD. DD is not going to improve the quality, like MP3 doesn't improve the quality of two channel music.

    The only way you can achieve proper positional surround sound in gaming with all other sound solutions on the market apart from the mighty SoundStorm is to utilize their analogue outputs (centre/sub, front, & rear jacks) but then it is not digital so you don’t get the true to life effects of proper digital.
    Most people, that do have surround speaker setups for their computers have analog only systems. And just because its digital doesn't mean its better, ultimately it has to be converted to analog at some point and most soundcards have better DACs then digital computer speakers.

    The results are fairly similar here with the new Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS taking out the lead. Again considering the SoundStorm is providing the best gaming experience, it stands up very well.
    No, the A2 is providing the best gaming experience since it supports EAX HD, EAX 4 and can produce 7.0 game audio for nearly all games supporting DirectSound3D/OpenAL, while SoundStorm only supports up to EAX2. The A2's analog output is at least as good, if not better, than SoundStorm's DD output.

  7. #17
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    Default The Bogosity, The Bogosity.....

    You might not know it, but most of the games you mentioned in your review are using Ogg Vorbis compression internally. 'The Ultimate Solution' is a audio engine that takes audio that's already been lossily compressed (with Vorbis), re-compresses it with a lower-quality codec (AC3), and then sends it to a consumer grade audio decoder for surround?! Ye Gods. Dolby must be wetting themselves over the licensing fees this Rube Goldberg contraption will bring in.

    No, dear folks, the real 'ultimate solution' would be an audio engine with Vorbis and other decode in hardware (because the Sound Storm isn't doing a thing to help with that and the games are doing it anyway) and sends six clean analog or uncompressed digital outputs to your surround system. Or... any decent audio card that decodes to six outputs. Then you can feed them into *any* amplifier/speaker combo (avoiding a second generation of compression loss) and avoid having to borrow or buy a specialized Dolby six channel A/V decoder to play UT2004. You'll get better output for cheaper from eMagic, RME, Creative or M-Audio.

    Using AC3 for already compressed audio is like feeding your game sounds through a couple of cassette tape copies before listening to it. It's just unneccessary hype.

    Monty

  8. #18
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    Default Re: The forgotten component - What’s up with computer audio?

    Yup it's just one of a slew of problems in game sound render -- see my post above...

    .

  9. #19
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    Default Re: The forgotten component - What’s up with computer audio?

    Quote Originally Posted by hoak
    Yup it's just one of a slew of problems in game sound render -- see my post above...

    .
    Agreed, there have been several long, literate posts here. I was merely attempting to be succinct on the subject that affects me most ;-)

    Monty

  10. #20
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    Default Re: The forgotten component - What’s up with computer audio?

    Audigy 2 audio is pretty good. At least its better than soundboards from '99... However, I have a 6.1 surround high end theatre system and didn't understand till now why I could not get digital whether through optical or spdif working past 2 speakers. Thanks much for the article.
    Not even analog can give me 6.1 even with it being a 6.1 card and that is truly sad. Audigy 2 left me wanting ever since it first came out and unless someone comes out with something that can allow me to truly hook up through a digital connection then this will be soundcard for years to come with its crap analog connection.

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