Bob’s Notes on PC Sound Cards

Updated 12/05/98

In my quest for a decent sound card for use with the JBL SMAART program (See for more info), I have tested many cards.

AZTECH PCI238 - Also known generically as PCI64-Q3D. This generic card sports a PCI interface and built-in Qsound processing. It was about $29 at the local computer shop. The card uses the Trident 4DWAVE-DX chip, with the following other identification numbers on it: CDD02, M3G81. After installation, I noticed it had a very quiet noise floor... I was getting excited, thinking this was it! I was having a real hard time with SMAART getting coherence in the upper octaves, so I began to do some experimentation. Although the card has a very low noise floor, and a DC offset of 0, it has SIGNIFICANT nonlinearities in its A/D converter. My pure 1kHz test tone showed up as having almost 10% THD! This card is another one for the trash pile.

AUDIO STORM PCI-64 - This PCI sound card boasts a 64 note polyphony in its wave table synthesis. Unfortunately, its A/D conversion is pretty poor. While it has an acceptable noise floor, it experiences very bad nonlinearities like the Aztech PCI238. Pass this one up!

DIGITAL AUDIO LABS CARDD+ This is the cadillac of sound cards, as far as I’ve seen. It has an extremely low noise floor (with no input, the output is only spread over 4-5 codes!), and excellent linearity. It does not have all the "frills" of most sound cards (input and output volume controls, extra bass boost, etc..), but that is what makes it good... Less is better! I do not believe it is a full duplex card.

ESS1688 Many cards use this chip and its cousins. This is a middle-of-the-road performer. You will generally have a rather high noise floor that contains some tones (which will probably vary with the sample rate), but it does have good linearity. Because of this, it does work rather well with SMAART, although it may be difficult to perform RT60 measurements due to the high noise floor.

GALLANT PCI64 This PCI sound card has a moderate noise floor, but excessive distortion exactly like the AZTECH PCI238. It uses its own proprietary chip, with a moderate wave table synthesis section. Pass on this one.

GENIUS SOUND MAKER uses the Avance Logic ALS100 + chip. These ISA cards are real cheap - about $12 at the local computer shop. This has to be the absolute worst A/D on a card I have ever seen. The recorded .WAV of a pure, .01% THD rock-solid 1kHz tone yielded all sorts of warbling and trash. Stay away from any card that uses the Avance Logic ALS100 chip!

MEDIAMAGIC ISP16 This card uses the Crystal Semiconductors CS4248 or CS4231, which have very acceptable performance. I would expect decent performance from most any card based on the Crystal chipset, as these guys really know what they are doing. Some of the original Sound Blaster 16 cards uses Crystal chips, I think.

ROLAND RAP10 This uses all Roland proprietary chips. It has been discontinued for some time, but has to be one of the best General Midi synths on a sound card yet. Its A/D performance is very good. While the noise floor isn’t super low, its noise is primarily white, with no "tones" observed. Linearity is excellent. I do not believe this is a full duplex card.