The Crab Boss
Over the last several years every computer I have owned has had one thing in common. The onboard sound card has been made by Realtek, and with each of them I have experienced various quirks. Sometimes the mic output is too low, sometimes there is mechanical noise that I can never seem to filter out. In all cases I have been annoyed to no end with dealing with them, but for the most parts too lazy to really change. In part this is because I remember days when the only real option for a sound card was a Creative Soundblaster, and I’ve had my own series of issues with them. Additionally I remember add-on soundcards rivaling at least a low end graphics card in overall expense to pick one up.
About six months ago my on board sound card decided to go flaky. I made a mistake to decide to update my Realtek drivers when I was doing the same for my LAN drivers. After installing the reference drivers I lost all use of the soundcard. No sequence of uninstalling and reinstalling various community drivers, the reference drivers from realtek, or the ones posted on the MSI support page seemed to restore full functionality. In the past I have used a USB headset before with decent success so I shopped around to find one that I found comfortable. The end result was picking up the Logitech g430 headset, that comes in a rather fetching blue and black color palette. The install was easy enough, but early on I noticed a few quirks with it, in that I had to plug it into one of the two USB 3.0 ports on my machine. Once I figured out that this was what was happening, I resolved the issue and soldiered on.
Adventures With Sound
For the most part these headphones were excellent and the Logitech drivers provided some really nice 7.1 surround sound emulation. As far as communication went I seemed to be understood well, and transmitting both clearly and with plenty of volume. It was during this time that we birthed the ideas of our podcast, and it was with this headset that I have been recording all of the episodes. As I listened back to the recording however I noticed something that bothered me. All of the other guests came through with much more full sound than my own voice. My voice sounded very flat and tinny and no matter how much I fiddled with the settings did it seem to actually improve it.
After some research I found that this was pretty much a universal complaint with this particular headset and namely the usb soundcard that accompanies it. It seems like it does a great job of output, but a pretty poor job of input, only allowing for 16 bit audio. The result is the “flat” sound that I had noticed and that frustrated me. The suggestion universally was to hook the headset to onboard audio for the microphone, and the usb for the 7.1 surround output. This seemed like a hack at best, but no amount of fiddling with the drivers and settings managed to fix the problems I noticed. This eventually lead me to start looking for other options, and as always that ended up with me searching Amazon.
For years I have had an unnatural love for all things Asus. As a result I have owned a number of products and when I buy something I always tend to start with seeing what their product offering is. A search of Amazon lead to what I expected, there to be a lot of Soundblaster options, but mixed in among them was a Asus Xonar sound card that had relatively good reviews. The best part was it was cheap, currently $26.99. I ordered one with my Amazon Prime membership, and it arrived on my doorstep Sunday morning. I was shocked to find that something actually delivered on a Sunday, and it was not like I actually paid for overnight or anything of the sort. Within a few minutes I had popped it in my case, and booted back up. I grabbed the latest drivers from the Asus website and popped into a game… and the sound was amazing. It was every bit as good as the Logitech software was capable of and then some.
Then I hopped on Teamspeak to hang out with my friends and test it there. Immediately upon speaking I got “Is there a Helicopter in the background?”. I recorded some test audio and sure enough there was a very noticeable mechanical disturbance in the background of my audio that seemed to get worse the longer I talked. My heart sunk, and immediately I had flash backs of all of the fiddling I had done with both the Realtek and Logitech sound drivers to see if I could get something better than what I was. I could get the sound to go away momentarily, but it always returned regardless of the settings. Once again I took to the internet and found people complaining of this, and leaning towards that I would need to RMA the card and get a new one.
New Drivers New Hope
There in the middle of the stack I found a glimmer of hope. There was a thread by a poster saying that he had all of the issues I was having, and ditching the Asus drivers fixed his problems. I guess the Xonar drivers are notoriously bad, and that there is another group that has released a Unified Driver for the Xonar family. I downloaded the drivers hoping that this would maybe fix my issues as well. It took a series of reboots to uninstall the current driver and install this new unified driver. I booted into a game and it sounded amazing just as before, and this time upon firing up Teamspeak, I was greeted with “the helicopter is gone!”. This is the part of technology that I like the least, the wide variance in which drivers work best for which cards.
I realize that it has become tedious for companies to release a specific driver for a specific revision of a product, but I feel like the age of the universal driver for a “Family” of products has been riddled with this sort of issue. Right now for example I am currently self locking myself to a specific version of the GeForce drivers, as I had all sorts of hell when I tried to update to the latest version. In any case, I have recorded a few audio samples and am extremely pleased with the results, so here is hoping with future episodes of AggroChat there will be far less disparity between our voices as there was in previous episodes. Hopefully the tinny flat audio is a thing of the past.