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Thread: Hardware vs. Software EAX

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered: Mar 2007
    Location: Krull Island, in the pub

    Hardware vs. Software EAX

    Hi,

    I've learned that after a certain generation of Creative Sound Blaster cards (X-Fi), the hardware acceleration for EAX is gone. After that, on newer cards, for example on my Sound Blaster Zxr, EAX is software "powered". I use NewDark and OpenAL, however, EAX sound a bit "distant" and strange compared to the old days, when I had a Sound Blaster Live! card in 2002.

    Are there any quality differences between old hardware and new software EAX in your opinion?

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2002
    Location: Saint-Petersburg, Russia
    Okay, I'll test it and show the results.

    I have an old PC with WinXP and Audigy 2, and the current set-up with Win10, X-Fi Titanium and ALchemy. Will test two things at least:

    - record a demo of playthrough of certain part in Half-Life and play it on both machines
    - make a save on a certain point in System Shock 2 where enemies are walking around and opening doors, and run it on both machines

    I will record output from both soundcards on the same volume level, so you could compare the recordings and see exact differences if there are any.
    ---Old Habits Never Die---

  3. #3
    Member
    Registered: Mar 2007
    Location: Krull Island, in the pub
    That sounds really great, can't wait for the outcome, thanks in advance!

  4. #4
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2002
    Location: Saint-Petersburg, Russia

    Okay, I did some tests, and there's really a difference!

    Everything is located here: http://valet2.com/sounds/eax-comparison/
    But I'll provide the direct links to the files.

    X-Fi means Win10-64 with the latest ALchemy installed with DanielK's latest drivers, X-Fi Titanium (not HD) souncard, set to stereo output mode, all bells and whistles disabled, all inputs muted. System volume is at 22% to prevent analog clipping. System resampler works at 24 bit 96 kHz.
    Audigy2 means WinXP-32 with DanielK's 3.8 drivers (don't ask me why I've used older drivers - I dunno), Audigy 2 (not ZS) soundcard, set to stereo output mode, all bells and whistles disabled, all inputs muted. I made sure that I deleted dsound.dll files from the game folders after copying them from my main machine. System volume is at 35% to prevent analog clipping. I believe the soundcard itself resamples whatever it handles to 48 kHz with bad results.
    ALchemy Universal means a laptop with Win10-64 and Realtek HD Audio, all bells and whistles disabled, with an old version of ALchemy with disabled hardware checking, which allows to run it even without Creative soundcards. System volume is set to 35% to prevent analog clipping. System resampler works at 24 bit 96 kHz.

    I have used Zoom H1 handy recorder to record the audio directly from souncard's line output, recorder's volume set to 20% to prevent digital clipping. The recording was made at 24 bit 48 kHz.

    For System Shock 2 I created a savegame which I loaded for each test and left the controls untouched. I also disabled music. The savefile (quicksave slot) is provided here.

    For Half-Life Opposing Force (WON version) I've checked EAX and unchecked A3D in sound options. I've made a demo recording and played it back for each test (console command playdemo eaxdemo1). The demo recording file is provided here.

    The only editing I've made was cutting the exact fragments from the whole recording and peak normalizing each fragment to 0 dB based on the loudest sample, just because the volume was different each time (due to technical difficulties in setting the exact volume on each device), and then saved it to 16 bit 48 kHz without dithering (since it's been recorded at 24 bit there's no audible quantisation noise after normalizing).

    SS2 with the real hardware EAX through Audigy 2
    SS2 with hardware (?) EAX through X-Fi using ALchemy
    SS2 through non-Creative card using ALchemy Universal
    SS2 using OpenAL, through X-Fi
    SS2 using OpenAL, through Realtek HDA (just for the sake of testing)
    HL1 with the real hardware EAX through Audigy 2
    HL1 with hardware (?) EAX through X-Fi using ALchemy
    HL1 through non-Creative card using ALchemy Universal
    HL1 through Realtek HDA without any hardware EAX, but with EAX checkbox enabled in game options, which imitates environmental effects using the game's engine, with intermittent reverberation (added to the comparison as a bonus)

    Well, what I can say - every option had a major difference. For some reason in HL1 I've heard some sounds using Audigy 2 and engine-based EAX that went missing using ALchemy (any). It's at 0:45-0:46 seconds. The echoing is different also. The sound itself using OpenAL differs on X-Fi and Realtek HDA, though all EQ and stuff that might have affected the sound was disabled. Maybe I did something wrong, so I will repeat the tests soon.

    If you want to do your own tests using my savefiles - feel free to do some!

    You can get ALchemy, both latest official and old ALchemy Universal from here: ftp://ftp.valet2.com/alchemy

    P.S. I'm kinda sad you can't record and show tests using 5.1 with EAX, which sounds AAAAAWESOME in both HL1 and SS2. If you happen to be in St.Petersburg, Russia please contact me, and I'll do a presentation for you.
    Last edited by Valet2; 30th Oct 2018 at 09:13.

  5. #5
    Member
    Registered: May 2015
    Very interesting, and just as I'm thinking about including a windows xp partition in my new build. I notice the Audigy and X-fi hardware solutions both sound generally superior to the software/integrated solutions, though I think the X-fi sounds the best overall. With the dedicated hardware the reverb sounds more natural and complete, with a much smoother tail-off.
    It sounds like openal just wasn't playing well with the X-fi, that sounds like stock software mode/eax disabled to me.

  6. #6
    Member
    Registered: Mar 2007
    Location: Krull Island, in the pub
    Thank you very much for the detailed information!

    So, as one of the main outcomes, I guess that even an expensive new Sound Blaster with Software eax sounds worse than an old one with hardware EAX?

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