m10000 on-board -> audigy 2 nx -> m10000 on-board
I finally have found some time to play around with my audigy 2 nx, so I was able to compare it to the m10000 on-board audio. The results are contained in this post. All of this stuff has been discussed before, but usually in fragments, and not in detail with my type of setup.
As for context, at this time I am not interested in using any digital output since my amp does not support this, and I do not want more crap in my trunk. Also, I want to be able to use the PC for volume control, since this is hooked up to my steering wheel controls.
For my initial install, I used the M10000 on-board audio to output analog 5.1, which then went directly into my amp. My amp has front, rear, and sub inputs, each with various gain and crossover controls. I have a 12" sub in my trunk.
1. During windows boot-up, I got a nice big THUMP, like someone slamming my trunk shut. Annoying.
2. The voltage level of the bass output was very low compared to the levels of the front and rear outputs. To compensate, I had to significantly increase the gain of the sub and decrease the gain on the fronts and rears. This made for a bad signal-to-noise ratio on the sub channel.
3. Noise. If my engine was not running, for example, I could hear harddrive noise through my speakers, etc...
4. Fronts and rears sounded flat. I believe this was due to the audio drivers diverting the bass from the stereo signal to the sub. Therefore all of my bass bas going to the sub, none to the fronts/rears. Sounds really bad at low volumes.
Using the M10000 on-board audio for analog 5.1 is not a good idea. Time to try the audigy.
AUDIGY 2 NX
Creative Labs Audigy 2 NX is plugged into a USB2.0 hub, which is plugged into one of the rear USB2.0 ports of my Casetronic C134 case. I mounted the audigy right next to my amp, to minimize any interference. Here's a pic:
Improvements over initial set-up:
1. THUMP is gone.
2. Noise is gone.
1. Sub volume is still low compared to fronts/rears.
2. Fronts and rears still sounded flat, since the 'bass redirect' does exactly that. It redirects the bass to the sub, which means that the other speakers aren't getting any bass. This sounds like crap at low volumes.
3. There's now an occasional stuttering that I hear (roughly 25hz or so). I've been reading that this may be due to a XP SP2 usb2.0 problem, but I got all the newest drivers, etc, and it still happens. I also heard some stuttering when using an external USB harddrive... I read somewhere that the M10000 USB does not play nice with the audigy. This may in fact be true.
4. The audigy uses an amazing amount of CPU power. It does not seem to matter if it's set to 5.1 or desktop speakers... it consistently uses more than 30% of the M10000 CPU power. This basically breaks any wmv or divx playing. Mpeg 2 still does ok, since it's hardware accelerated, but even it now had the occasional freeze.
The audigy 2 nx and M10000 don't play nice with each other. Even if the stuttering could be solved, it simply uses too much CPU, and does not have the kind of 5.1 quality that I'm looking for. (not enough control of how stereo sound is manipulated into 5.1)
I went back to using the M10000 on-board audio, but this time simply to output an analog stereo signal. No more 5.1. Switched my amp to take front/rear/sub signals from just one set of stereo inputs.
Improvements over initial set-up:
1. THUMP is still gone... yay! I guess it was caused by some sort of 5.1 initialization during windows boot-up.
2. Sub is getting a good signal now, since my amp is just grabbing the low freqs from the single stereo signal.
3. Even though there is some noise (more than audigy, which had no noise), it is much improved over the initial installation. Seems that the simple stereo output from the M10000 has a much better signal-to-noise ratio than the 5.1 output. There are also fewer cables now.
4. Fronts and rears no longer sound flat... obviously, they are getting bass now.
1. Of course, I don't have 5.1 anymore, and I had to make my front/rear/sub relative gain adjustments directly on my amp with a screwdriver (no nice software interface). Oh well... at least I just had to do this once. I also still have a little bass boost knob sitting in the front of my car that I use to adjust the sub-level on the amp remotely, when switching between various types of music.
1. I've decided that using pc hardware to output a 5.1 analog signal is not a good idea, at least not with the M10000 in a C134 case, which limits me to a USB soundcard. If I do try 5.1 some day, I will install an automotive 5.1 decoder, which takes the SPDIF signal from the M10000.
2. Using the M10000 for stereo output is not perfect, but decent, and a good compromise.
3. BestBuy has an awesome 30 day return policy.
I hope these ramblings can help someone some day :)