I'm looking for sound card recommendations to replace my integrated ac97 set up. I mostly will use it for music, with an occasional smatter of games and movies. Sound quality is mostly what I'm looking for, but I need support for at least 5.1 speakers and a digital out. I don't think I need to say this but ALSA support is a must.
Currently I'm eyeing the m-audio 7.1 revolution. If anyone has info or advice (pertaining to this card or otherwise) it would be appreciated.
Earlier this year at Phoronix we performed a small ALSA Linux sound-card round-up @ http://www.phoronix.com/vr.php?view=6010 In the article we looked at Creative Labs Audigy 2 ZS, Creative Labs Audigy 2, Chaintech AV-710, and the Aureal Vortex.
Unfortunately, Creative Lab's won't ne providing Linux support for their new X-Fi chips till at least the middle of next year -- and even at that time they will be binary-only drivers. At last update, the ALSA developers weren't too far with their support for the X-Fi APUs, but hopefully they will gain some momentum soon. Under Windows, the Creative X-Fi is supposed to be phenomenal.
Personally what I use in my main system and a few other production machines are Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy line-up. The sound quality and overall support under Linux is terrific. The Chaintech AV-710 is another cheap popular alternative.
The m-audio 7.1 uses the Envy24HT chip like the Chaintech. Supposedly it has slightly better quality though due to the use of different DACs (among other things perhaps). It's a fair bit more expensive though.
At this point I'm either going with the m-audio or the Audigy 2 ZS.
I got the m-audio card, largely due to reviews saying it produced higher quality sound for music and movies. It took several hours of me beating alsa over the head, but I managed to get it set up exactly how I want it: 2 channels cloned to 5 for regular stereo playback, 5.1 channels on a non-DD/DTS surround source, and digital pass-through on DD/DTS sources.
The sound quality is terrific, coming from ac97 sound at the least. I had my doubts before actually hearing it, but was very surprised at how subjectively better the quality is (objective tests and specs aside).
I can't say I can hear any palpable differences compared to the Chaintech card (on different speakers several hours earlier, so not a good comparison), but I got the m-audio at a good price and am very satisfied.
James, what kind of speakers are you using to not hear the difference between a Revolution and AC97? Get yourself some Klipsches or Swans!
For anyone passing by this thread later on, I'll give a thumbs up to the Diamond XS71 for pretty decent sound and flawless ALSA compatability. I used to pimp out my M-Audio Audiophile 24/96, but then I started having serious issues with dmix. It's still excellent for an HTPC, though, as long as you don't want a direct connection to your optical drive.
I've had no end of trouble with the Revolution 5.1, apparently it uses some different I2C interconnects from the Revolution 7.1, or something. I had heard recent revisions of the 7.1 were having issues as well, so maybe the entire mess has been straightened out on the ALSA side.
I recently got word from Auzentech that their Xmystique and Xplosion are working well with Alsa now, though hardware DDL and DTS are non-functional thanks to Dolby's proprietary nature. You can still send a DDL or DTS signal, however, and the Xplosion will pass it on just fine. I think I'll be replacing my Audiophile with the Xplosion in my next build, you've got to love a soundcard that makes it easy to swap your opamps.