High-End audio capture cards

After the High-End video capture cards thread, here you are another one, this time about their audio counterparts.

Many think that their default audio card is good enough… but, are you sure about it?

I was sure too, that my own sound card, a SigmaTel with the CXD9872RD was pretty good… the true is, that my ears and my TV speakers are not good enough to spot the difference between what could be considered a mediocre sound card (like mine) and what IS an excellent card.

It’s time to upgrade it… so, the feautures that I’m looking for an excellent sound card, to use as analog audio capture device along with its video counterpart are:

  • variable bitrate (16/24bit)
  • variable sample frequency (44,1KHz and 48KHz mandatory)
  • high quality connection, gold-plated
  • RCA analog input/output are very welcome
  • S/PDIF digital input or output are highly appreciated
  • NO external interface box – at least only connection cables

After some days of hard web search, I found A LOT of high end cards… I picked up few of them, that could be interesting:

M-Audio Audiophile 2496

16/24bit, 96KHz, gold plated RCA in/out, digital in/out, ADC S/N >100dB

Asus Xonar Essence ST

16/24bit, 44.1 to 192KHz, digital in/out, ADC S/N >118dB, lacks RCA in

ESI Audio Juli@

16/24bit, 44.1 to 192KHz, gold plated RCA in/out, digital in/out, ADC S/N >114dB

Lynx Studio Technology L22

8/16/24/32bit, 8 to 200KHz, ADC S/N >117dB, XLR&BNC in/out, optional digital boards

The Lynx L22 could be defined the Rolls Royce of sound card; excellent high quality, lot of features, but really high price.

M-Audio is very good, but quite old; the price is reasonable.

Asus seems to be the newest card, with excellent S/N ratio, but unfortunately lacks RCA in/out.

At the end, ESI Juli@ could be definided the best sound card, considering the balance between audio quality, features and price.

But it’s difficult to tell how much an high end sound card could be better than my old, default, simple sound card – that, by the way, is capable of capture digital sound bit-to-bit perfect, and that’s a very good thing!

Then, I discovered a free tool that could tell me the quality of any sound card, using test signal sent and received. I used the earphone out, connected to the microphone in, to test my sound card – better connections could be used, of course, with better result, but I wanted to test the worst case scenario.

The tool is RightMark Audio Analyzer (or RMAA); I tested my sound card with RMAA 5.5, but there is also a newer version; I strongly encourage all of you interested in audio capture for their restoration projects (but not only) to download it, install it, take some minutes to learn how to use it, get results and finally post them in this thread.

Here you are the result of my SigmaTel CXD9872RD, earphones to mic:

Test 16-bit, 48 kHz 24-bit, 96 kHz
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.35, -0.46 +0.26, -0.69
Noise level, dB (A): -86.7 -89.3
Dynamic range, dB (A): 86.2 88.0
THD, %: 0.014 0.012
IMD + Noise, %: 0.026 0.038
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -85.4 -84.2

and here you are the result of ESI Juli@ + LynxTwo for comparison, RMAA 5.4:

16 bit 44 kHz, +4dBu, balanced 1m cables ESI Juli@ loopback LynxTwo -> ESI Juli@ ESI Juli@ -> LynxTwo
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.05, -0.03 +0.02, -0.16 +0.04, -0.03
Noise level, dB (A): -96.1 -96.1 -96.4
Dynamic range, dB (A): 95.7 95.9 95.8
THD, %: 0.0006 0.0023 0.0006
IMD, %: 0.0046 0.015 0.0045
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -96.7 -97.9 -98.1

 

24 bit 44 kHz, +4dBu, balanced 1m cables ESI Juli@ loopback LynxTwo -> ESI Juli@ ESI Juli@ ->  LynxTwo
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.05, -0.03 +0.02, -0.16 +0.04, -0.03
Noise level, dB (A): -103.6 -109.3 -108.0
Dynamic range, dB (A): 103.4 109.2 107.9
THD, %: 0.0005 0.0023 0.0005
IMD, %: 0.0020 0.014 0.0019
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -103.9 -109.3 -107.2

 

24 bit 96 kHz, +4dBu, balanced 1m cables ESI Juli@ loopback LynxTwo -> ESI Juli@ ESI Juli@ -> ynxTwo
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.03, -0.02 +0.01, -0.17 +0.02, -0.04
Noise level, dB (A): -103.9 -109.8 -107.9
Dynamic range, dB (A): 103.9 109.4 107.7
THD, %: 0.0005 0.0023 0.0005
IMD, %: 0.0019 0.014 0.0019
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -101.6 -106.8 -106.7

 

LynxTwo results:

Mode 16 bit  44 kHz 16 bit  48 kHz 24 bit  96 kHz 24 bit  192 kHz
Frequency response (40 Hz – 15 kHz), dB +0.01,
-0.03
+0.01,
-0.03
+0.00,
-0.01
+0.01,
-0.01
Noise level, dB (A) -96.6 -97.2 -114.9 -114.8
Dynamic range, dB (A) 93.9 94.5 112.1 112.1
THD, % 0.0020 0.0020 0.0021 0.0021
Intermodulation distortions, % 0.0067 0.0063 0.0013 0.0014
Crosstalk, dB -91.6 -93.0 -107.7 -105.9

 

M-Audio Audiophile 2496 results

Line Out – Line In, 48000 Hz, 16bit
Frequency response (40 Hz – 15 kHz), dB -0.07, +0.01 Excellent
Noise level, dB (A) -94.9 Very good
Dynamic range, dB (A) 92.7 Very good
THD, % 0.001 Excellent
Intermodulation distortions, % 0.006 Excellent
Crosstalk, dB -92.7 Excellent

(all these tables, plus a lot of reviews, could be found on ixbtlabs.com)

After evaluating these cards results and mine, I was disappointed… and now I’d like to improve my audio card ASAP!

Waiting for your comments, and your sound cards results.

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