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The Woes Of Finding A High-Quality Sound Card For Vista x64

Posted in Hardware | Hi-Fi | x64 at Tuesday, 27 November 2007 20:59 W. Europe Standard Time

Sound card I am an audio enthusiast. My friends and I share a bit of a tendency listening to music, and the music should be reproduced clearly and in the best quality possible. For this very purpose I bought a mid-level Hi-Fi set a couple of years ago and connected it to my computer. At that time the machine was equipped with a crappy Sound Blaster sound card. The audio card was okay for the "high quality" Logitech speakers I used before I ordered amp and speakers. But after some hours of listening to the new Hi-Fi set I found that the Sound Blaster produced some kind of static sizzle, usually the instant before high amplitudes were sent over the wire. It was like my ears specialized in hearing these nasty glitches and listening to music became an agony. You might think that I'm nit-picking but actually listening to music wasn't the fun it used to be.

I started researching entry-level professional sound cards that are mostly used in studio recording environments. With the help of a newsgroup I soon found the Marc 2 for around 150 €, manufactured by Marian here in Leipzig, to be a decent choice. "Support your local heroes," I thought and went off purchasing the device. I have been very satisfied with the quality of this audio card, as it produces great sound without interfering noise from other PC components. Think of the hard drive is working background "sound carpet" you might have heard on machines that work with onboard or cheapo sound cards. (Try increasing the volume level to be really loud and listen carefully. Your speakers should remain silent.)

Now the time has come to build a new PC as my current machine is at least 4 years old and, as a matter of fact, my Windows Vista Ultimate installation DVD hasn't been touched for almost a year. Six months ago I started talking to Torsten what PC components to buy. Even more important, we were having lots of discussions about the operating system to use. Torsten is advocate of Vista x64, whereas I am used to 32-bit systems. (Because of my old hardware, where I don't have the option to switch to 64-bit.)

I eventually decided to go with Vista x64. Not only because of doing Torsten a favor :-), but with the prospect of a new machine and 4 GB RAM in mind there's essentially no other OS to choose from. (Okay, there's Linux and derivates, but I'm a Windows guy.)

During the hardware selection process, which based on Scott Hanselman's developer rig, I soon learned that the hardest part will be finding a decent sound card that supports Vista x64. Why? Because Marian simply doesn't support 64-bit systems. Heck, to this day they even fail to provide Vista 32-bit drivers for the Marc 2 I own. (I inquired, but didn't get an answer from the support staff.)

For the new sound card I have a set of simple requirements in mind, at least I thought they would be easy to fulfill by any hardware vendor in that space.

  • Jack Plug PCI card
  • 6,3 mm jack plug socket for analog output
  • Drivers for Vista x64 available
  • Works with the Windows volume control

The last requirement would prove to be the strictest. Most high-end audio hardware vendors use their own audio control panel for connecting IOs, managing the card's features and controlling the sound volume. That often means that the Windows volume control would be disabled for the card.

All applications relying on the Windows volume control APIs would be unable to do the things they do: Think of the built-in volume key on my keyboard or any remote control software. They all rely on the Windows multimedia APIs for volume control that are not available for cards with an "advanced" volume control panel. The "remote control software" part is especially important to me since I want to keep my IR controller working. I just have become used to the convenience of lying on my bed and controlling the video I'm watching.

I contacted every single vendor of professional sound cards for the requirements above:

Vendor/Product Price Windows Volume Control Compatible Comments Recommendation
Marian Marc 2 159 € Yes (on XP) No driver for Vista Not recommended
Marian TRACE ALPHA 169 € Maybe No driver for Vista x64 Not recommended
ESI MAYA 44 99 € No Audio control panel
Beta drivers (last updated in May 2007)
Not recommended
Terratec PHASE 22 74 € No Audio control panel Not recommended
M-AUDIO Delta Audiophile 2496 88 € No Audio control panel, but offering a SDK
Beta drivers under development
No 6,3 mm socket
Not recommended
M-AUDIO Delta Audiophile 192 158 € No Audio control panel, but offering a SDK
Beta drivers under development
Not recommended
ECHO MiaMIDI 149 € Yes Vista x64 release drivers available Recommended

MiaMIDI At least I found one professional sound device in the world that is capable of doing what I expect from a good sound card. When it arrives tomorrow, I will plug it in into its slot and see if it works as expected. Then, the real fun begins: setting up a new machine!

Hopefully this article helps you finding your sound card and saves you the time of going through the same time-consuming research process.

Sunday, 27 April 2008 07:42:38 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)
How does the MIAMIDI work for you?
Tom Lenz
Sunday, 27 April 2008 11:32:07 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)
Very well! The only issue I have is that sometimes that when the computer comes back from hibernation mode the audio has glitches. But that's an easy fix, just run the Echo24 Console (that's the control panel that is installed with the driver) and move a volume slider or change the internal sampling rates.

Besides that it's a great product, very reliable, great sound and volume level synchronization works as advertised!
Tuesday, 22 July 2008 08:16:10 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)
Hi, I am curious if you have tried operating this sound card in ASIO mode, and if so, are you able to control the input/output volume levels with Vista's built-in volume control? Actually, are you able to control inputs at all in WDM mode with Vista's volume control?

I have a similar card (E-Mu 0404), but I am plagued with these problems (as well as a few others).


Tuesday, 22 July 2008 23:36:28 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)

note sure about ASIO, I use Winamp to play mp3s mostly. I did a bit of video editing with Adobe Premiere CS3 recently, this would be the only application I could think of that might be using ASIO (at least that's what I set in the preferences). Vista's volume control works with Premiere, as well as with all other WDM apps I've used so far.

The only minor issue I have with the current drivers (version 8.2) is that the audio quality is unbearable after the machines comes back from hibernation after the computer hibernates while Winamp is in pause mode. I have to re-set the sample rate (48kHz->32kHz->48kHz) using the Echo console to make everything work again, which is not a big deal.

Saturday, 16 August 2008 20:10:35 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)
About Hi,

about ASIO it'd be nice if you could report if software that renders audio and/or audio fx in real time - like reason 4 - is working with minimal delays with your sound card.

Cool Blog by the way. Cheers.

Best regards,
Maciej Soltysiak
Saturday, 16 August 2008 23:49:09 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)
Hi Maciej,

Regarding your question on ASIO, I'm not really an expert in that field. I believe the only time I used ASIO with that card was with Adobe Premiere when editing a video. All sound fx (like lowering the audio track's volume) appeared to be applied in real time, i.e. without time spent for pre-processing.

The other software I use day in and day out is not really related to ASIO as I mostly do software development work in Visual Studio. But if you could tell me how I can find out more about the ASIO story, I would certainly try it out for you. Is there something like an ASIO test tool that shows detailed information on the card's abilities?


Sunday, 31 August 2008 02:11:47 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)
Hi Alex,

well, I'm not sure how to test except using a ASIO using music program like Reason.

However I found a program to measure ASIO latency: (37kB)

I tried to run it on my age old Live! Value with ASIO drivers from KX project, but it didn't work. Maybe it would on yours?

Maciej Soltysiak
Sunday, 31 August 2008 13:14:59 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)
Hi Maciej,

unfortunately I don't have the right cable to connect the output to the input on the MiaMIDI as explained in the help section of the tool. Thus measuring latency obviously fails. I'm sorry I can't help you at this point. But given that Premiere uses ASIO and the tool also shows the MiaMIDI driver in the device list, I suspect that ASIO basically works with the MiaMIDI.

Sunday, 31 August 2008 19:37:34 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)
Yup, sure seems so. Thanks a lot Alex for your effort anyway.

BTW do you own a PCI or PCI express version?

Maciej Soltysiak
Sunday, 31 August 2008 19:50:43 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)
Maciej, I do have the PCI version. Not sure if there is an PCI Express version, at least I could not find any information about such a device on the Echo web site.

Thursday, 03 September 2009 15:25:57 (W. Europe Daylight Time, UTC+02:00)
Hey there, jus surfin about and came across this story and would like to add my two cents......

I'm on Vista x64, and I have an E-MU 1212M PCI card (takes up two PCI slots), I'm not sure what other people say about it, but I think it is PERFECT!! I've been using it for about 1½ years, and its never done me wrong, and always did what I wanted it to do, it doesnt pick up any internal component frequencies, I can turn it up FULL, with not a peep out of the speakers. The SC has analogue and digital Ins & Outs (see link 4 details).

The speakers I use are Behringer TRUTH B2031A Active nearfeild monitors (300W RMS), which are connected to the sound card through analogue balanced jack to xlr cables, which go perfectly with the soundcard and produce a real consistantly crisp 'True' sound, I couldnt be happier with my setup (and I'm a fussy person!).

I'm not gonna go on about the ASIO mixing app which comes with it (see link), but it is very flexible and trustworthy. Also, if your pc can handle it, you can cut the ASIO latency down to 2ms. It has Hardware accelerated DSP FX, with a decent FX library.

I hope this helps someone.....

I have an ASUS Maximus II formula MB 1800MHz FSB, in an Antec 1200 Case, with a watercooled 2.4GHz Q6600 CPU 1066MHz FSB, OC'd to 3.65GHz, 1200MHz DDR2 8GB Corsair dominators, E-MU 1212M, TRUTHB2031A 300W RMS N/F Active Monitors, 9600GT Alpha Dog ed', 2x 19" LCD Monitors, and an awesome set of Stanton str-8 150's with a Denon DN-X 1500S (I wish I had cone a bit more Digital tho). Apps- Cubase 4&5 (x64), Reason 4, Adobe audition 3, SSF-9, Recycle, VSTs- all Native Instruments, Omnisphere, BFD 2, Novation V&Bass st, etc...etc...
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