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Phaenius

Capped (clipped, whatever) sound with Audigy sound card

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OK, here's my problem, I hope to explain it in a good way for everybody to understand. I have an annoying problem with my sound card, or at least I think it's the sound card, no idea what else might be. Situation is like this. I have the feeling that something is capping the sound (like some sort of limiter) on high passages of music and/or if the volume reaches a certain level. If I raise the volume (no matter from where, from sound car volume control, Windows control, or even hardware knob on the front panel), the sound level doesn't get higher, only if few instruments are in the music or voice. When there are more sounds, more instruments, voice, complex music, multiple sounds, harmonics, etc., sound gets capped. It doesn't get distorted, but capped, I hope you understand, it's like something is limiting the maximum output. The software limiter is off, I tested with headphones, directly on sound car front panel, multimedia speakers with built in amplifier, using coaxial output, analogue output on the back and even using optical output on the front panel to input to an external AV receiver via optical SPDIF. The end result is always the same. I tried installing different drivers, nothing works. It did worked fine, when I bought the sound card, but after 2 years or so, now the problem and it's been like this for one year. Is the sound card damaged ? I repeat, it doesn't distort sounds at high levels, just limits them. And I don't listen to insane levels, I do mind my own ears, those are normal levels, it's just sound card won't output more. Does it runs out of power so that is limiting the sound ? What can it be ?

Anyone who encountered this type of problem or have any advice is kindly asked to help me. Thanks.

Those are the specs:

- Sound card: Creative Labs X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series

- Headphones: Sennheiser HD550 (used directly on sound card front panel)

- Active speakers: Genius SP-HF 2020 (used via sound card coaxial output and sound card analogue output, both front panel and back)

- AV receiver: Denon AVR-1509 (used via sound card optical output and listened to both headphones and passive speakers)

- Sound card driver (reported by Windows): Creative SB X-Fi ver. 6.0.1.1375 (5/5/2010)

- Operating system: Microsoft Windows 7 x64 Ultimate with Service Pack 1

- Computer power supply: Corsair CMPSU-430CXV2

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You aren't the only one to see (hear) sound problems on Windows 7.

I had the luxury of using the same soundcard I have in my Windows 7 PC when that PC had Windows XP. The problems did not occur in XP. Also, surround sound never seems to work in the OS itself, but does for games.

I will say that you could still have a hardware problem with the card itself, you could check the caps for bulges or leaks.

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As I said, I have this card for about 3 years now and before I upgraded to Windows 7, I had Windows Vista and it had the same problems. I mean not from the start. It worked great, then it started to fade and now this. Maybe some people would never notice, but I am a bit of a Monk (the detective) and I notice everything that is not right. It's annoying to use it like this.

Good think you mentioned games. Those (and movies) seems to sound ok. Only in music this problem. Wonder why. I only use it on stereo devices (headphones, speakers, amplifiers), never on multichannel.

What do you mean by caps ? Sorry, English is not my first language. Do you mean the capacitors ? They do look ok, no swelling or any signs of failure by visual inspection.

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OK I think I know what you are experiencing... Tell me if this makes sense... the range of the music is greater than the range of (some piece of) hardware somewhere along the line.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipping_%28audio%29

If this is the case, it may only be certain songs or types of songs that cause this problem. I have some MP3s that include both a wide range of sounds that I cannot trust Windows 7 to play accurately. These particular songs experience the clipping problem when I play them from an external device through my car stereo, but do not when played through my franken-stereo I built for myself.

I wonder if this problem you experience happens with all songs or just certain ones.

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I read the links, it may look that way, but what can I do in this case ? I mean, the sound card drags it's own power from the power supply, nothing I can do about it. It powers itself from two ways, one via PCI BUS (like any other PCI card) and the front panel is powered by 5V FDD-style socket. Nothing I can do about it. What I don't understand is why the movies and games sound ok and only music behaves in this way. On an additional note, when I am listening to music via Winamp and I also play a movie file, I can clearly hear the capping, the clipping happening on high music passages, even when there are very low passages in the movie. I believe it also has something to do with exclusive mode (or what is called). But is there a way to solve this ?

And another thing I don't get it. SPDIF (coaxial and optical) is a digital interface. Why I can alter the volume in Windows or sound properties, mixer, sound card control panel, whatever and I can still get an effect via the digital output ? I thought you can only alter the volume on the analogue side (I mean AFTER the digital-analogue conversion), to listen to sound card's analogue output (headphones or front line-out speakers), not digital. I thought via digital sound is only bypassed ?!?

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Well you have a problem right now (for sure) but I think you're looking at it the wrong way. Right now we do not know if this problem is caused by either hardware or software. The age old "it used to work fine" really doesn't apply in electronics, especially since as they age their individual component tolerances change. The same is true of software, as I expect your Windows isn't running with a RAM Overlay on it, meaning that it too has changed in little ways that are impossible to know exactly.

So we already know that Windows 7 does make changes to audio levels by itself in some way, as you have seen with multiple audio sources, and as experienced by me and others. So far none of us has determined a particular method of disabling this other than using another operating system. So in order to fully test your system you will need to try a different source to see if it is a problem with the software or the hardware.

If you have another hard drive and can install XP on it with drivers, etc and try to duplicate the sound dropping problem. If you do not have an XP to install, you could probably get away with using the Windows Embedded Standard 2009 Trial.

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsembedded/en-us/downloads/windows-embedded-downloads.aspx

Or I suppose you could even install Linux and attempt to recreate the behaviour.

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Well, I have a better idea. Not install anything, but try booting with KNOPPIX (or if you know something better, please let me know). Thanks for the tip. I will try. Hopefully it has all the drivers required.

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I've done limited sound testing with Linux. Knoppix should be fine presuming it has the drivers.

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Unfortunately, it doesn't work. KNOPPIX doesn't recognize sound card at all. Now the sound it's even worse in Windows. It gets distorted on certain passages where are enough low frequencies and I noticed if the song is recorded at low volume, when I raise the volume of the sound card, sound is capped. If the song is recorded at high enough volume, it's ok (sort of). It's so weird. I wonder if I damaged the sound card with my listening. I noticed something similar on my Samsung phone. Sound gets distorted on high volume. But as I said earlier, I didn't listened to insane volume. And for sure, ears don't introduce distortions of that kind. It's the equipment. I just want to know where exactly is the problem. If I buy a different sound card, I might end up with the same problem. Could be the insufficient power ? The DirectX drivers or sound card drivers ? Poor shield isolation of sound card or computer itself (susceptible to radio waves) ?

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Have you checked the mixer settings for individual levels on each different audio source? You've only mentioned setting the overall volume via various controls.

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I checked and multi-checked everything, own mixer (Creative Console Launcher), Windows mixer, sound properties in control panel, I checked everywhere. Everything seems to be properly set-up.

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Check the cabling from the card to the front panel--you could have a floating ground. Is it connected to the correct output (line-out or speaker) ?

Try disconnecting the front panel from the card and testing the line-out and speaker outputs directly off the card. Headphones are usually higher impedance than speakers. Check the manual to see what the card supports (without the front panel headphone amplifier). Make sure you test all outputs with appropriate impedance-matched playback devices.

The on-card and/or front-panel amps for the headphone and speaker outputs could be blown. The line-outs from the card to self-powered (amplified) speakers or a hi-fi system should provide the best sound quality. The external amplification can then deliver all the volume you desire.

Edited by jumper
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The cable to the front panel is a ribbon with many wires, quite similar to HDD IDE cable. Here is a picture of the whole thing. Notice the pins at the back ? A large IDE-type cable goes in there and goes all the way to the front panel (also seen in the picture). http://mjac.co.uk/_articles/technology/creativexfi/platinumfatal1tychampionseries.jpg Unfortunately, that ribbon cable isn't shielded and (others experienced that too) sound is distorted when two of my HDDs work, because those two are connected to an add-in PCI-BUS card controller, which is close to the slot sound card is connected. Trust me, I tried the best configuration possible, given my motherboard model, connectors and peripherals used.

The front panel is optimized for headphones output, a headphone is supposed to go in that socket in the front, with proper impedance. I suppose it's not like in the back. But I do have now connected external self-powered speakers via coaxial output from the front panel anyway. I also used the optical out in the past, with an external receiver. It works best, but still not like it did when I bought the card. I am afraid to further use the receiver to not damage it, if sound card is faulty.

What I don't get it is why I can control the output volume via mixer even on digital outputs ? Those volume controls act on digital level ? I thought only on finals (I mean via analogue outputs, the 3.5 mm connectors at the back).

Still, what puzzles me the most is why if the sound is recorded loud int he first place, everything works ok, since I don't need to raise the volume. If the sound is recorded low, I have to raise the volume on the sound card and then it gets capped, like sound card doesn't have enough power (like occurring in clipping). But how much power can a common sound card use ? Certainly not much.

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Unfortunately, that ribbon cable isn't shielded and (others experienced that too) sound is distorted when two of my HDDs work, because those two are connected to an add-in PCI-BUS card controller, which is close to the slot sound card is connected. Trust me, I tried the best configuration possible, given my motherboard model, connectors and peripherals used.

Well, though it won't probably help for the capping, if I were you I would already have "converted" the "ribbon" cable to a "round one" (and shielded it by using some aluminium foil or the like):

http://www.overclockersclub.com/guides/sleeving_cable_guide/

http://www.overclock.net/t/5846/round-ide-cable-guide

jaclaz

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I already have a couple of those already shielded IDE round cables left overs from various motherboards. Problem is the connector. Ir needs a little adapting, some pins are blocked. As you said, it may help with the buzzing and radio interference, but won't probably solve the clipping, which seems somehow power related.

Edited by Phaenius
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