Best Sensaura Implementation

Discussion about old sound cards, MIDI devices and sound related accessories.

Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby Gahhhrrrlic » 2018-4-12 @ 20:10

I've come across 2 cards that support Sensaura technology: The Diamond MX400 and the Turtle Beach Santa Cruz. Which is the better card? Also, despite what I have read about Sensaura, people generally do not recommend it over a Vortex 2 card, even though a3d 2.0 has quasi 4 speaker HRTF while Sensaura has genuine 4 speaker HRTF. Would that not make it the clear winner for windows games supporting A3D/EAX?

I just bought an SQ2500 Rev. B0 and now I am having second thoughts that maybe I should have gone with one of these other cards instead. Granted Sensaura cards are not particularly noted for their non-3D feature set but that's why I also have an SB Live 5.1.

Should I have bought one of the Sensaura cards above? Which one? If not, why is Vortex 2 still better? How much better is one tech than the other?
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby swaaye » 2018-4-12 @ 20:25

Santa Cruz is pretty nice. It works well with XP, unlike any Aureal card. I was playing some Voyager Elite Force with A3D and the Santa Cruz just recently. Using headphones. It does work as it should I think, but whether it's amazing or not is up to you. I didn't like how voices didn't seem to fade at all with distance for example. Positioning seems great however. It's probably the best non-Aureal A3D-supporting option.

I have never used a MX400 so can't comment on that.

I have used Vortex 2 pretty extensively. Is it the pinnacle of 3D audio? Some people think so. It's definitely not perfect. There aren't very many games that use A3D 2.0 well. The drivers aren't super stable. It's almost useless for XP gaming. Its headphone mode is not as impressive to me as what Audigy/X-Fi do. It doesn't really have any EAX support (driver 2048 is a joke). I think it sounds similar to the Santa Cruz in the end.

You just need to experiment for yourself. Figure out if you like any of them. I'm also a bit of a fan of the VLSI Thunderbird Avenger chip that does hardware QSound. That is on Philips Seismic Edge / Acoustic Edge. Don't buy the cards with the older Thunderbird 128 though as it doesn't have good XP drivers.

Believe it or not but those cheapo Realtek AC97 codecs on motherboards used the Sensaura software library back in the XP days. When Creative bought Sensaura they dropped it I think. NVidia's sound solutions also used Sensaura.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby Gahhhrrrlic » 2018-4-12 @ 22:37

swaaye wrote:Believe it or not but those cheapo Realtek AC97 codecs on motherboards used the Sensaura software library back in the XP days. When Creative bought Sensaura they dropped it I think. NVidia's sound solutions also used Sensaura.


I have AC'97 via a VIA southbridge. Would that work or is only Realtek that's supported? The drivers are non-specific about this.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby squiggly » 2018-4-12 @ 22:57

Gahhhrrrlic wrote:I've come across 2 cards that support Sensaura technology: The Diamond MX400 and the Turtle Beach Santa Cruz. Which is the better card? Also, despite what I have read about Sensaura, people generally do not recommend it over a Vortex 2 card, even though a3d 2.0 has quasi 4 speaker HRTF while Sensaura has genuine 4 speaker HRTF. Would that not make it the clear winner for windows games supporting A3D/EAX?

I just bought an SQ2500 Rev. B0 and now I am having second thoughts that maybe I should have gone with one of these other cards instead. Granted Sensaura cards are not particularly noted for their non-3D feature set but that's why I also have an SB Live 5.1.

Should I have bought one of the Sensaura cards above? Which one? If not, why is Vortex 2 still better? How much better is one tech than the other?


There are lots games with A3D2 support, are there any notable games with Sensaura support? It is a fundamentally different API, even though the drivers provide a DirectSound wrapper.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby Gahhhrrrlic » 2018-4-12 @ 23:29

I admit to lacking a detailed understanding of how they work but I thought they piggybacked off A3D and EAX... so when directional 3D transfer functions are required and the game calls A3D to do it, it gets rerouted to Sensaura's HRTF tables instead... or is that completely wrong?
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby swaaye » 2018-4-13 @ 00:19

Games that support 3D audio hardware use the MS Directsound/Directsound3D or Aureal A3D API. The sound card implements support of those APIs with some sound technology like Sensaura, Qsound, Creative stuff, Aureal tech, etc. When you run a DS3D game on a Vortex card it's still using Aureal technology to produce the audio. A3D is a competitor to DS3D. EAX is a superset of DS3D (and so uses DS3D).

There are really not that many great A3D 2.0 implementations and the lists out there are inaccurate because some games dropped support during development. Some use Miles Sound middleware and that doesn't exactly give you a hand tuned A3D 2.0 wavetracing experience.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby squiggly » 2018-4-13 @ 00:26

Gahhhrrrlic wrote:I admit to lacking a detailed understanding of how they work but I thought they piggybacked off A3D and EAX... so when directional 3D transfer functions are required and the game calls A3D to do it, it gets rerouted to Sensaura's HRTF tables instead... or is that completely wrong?


It's not wrong, but it's not the complete story either. Any sound-card that supported DirectSound3D would work as you described (although not exactly piggybacking off A3D and EAX). It is similar to EAX in that it extends and enhances DS3D.

A3D1 was little more than simple HRTF - which is why other sound cards (Live, Sensaura) supported A3D1 - it was trivial for their drivers to convert the API calls to something the card understood.

A3D2 on the other hand is not supported through DirectSound. The reason for this is it uses much more than mere HRTF - it effectively uses a kind of audio ray-tracing that requires the sound card to effectively know about the 3d-model in the same way the GPU does. The DirectSound3D api did not support passing this kind of information from the game to the sound card, so direct A3D2 support was needed in the game, so it talks to the A3D2 driver directly to pass the necessary 3d model information to the sound card.

Sensaura, A3D1, EAX - are basically all variants of HRTF with various kind of effects processing. A3D2 is true 3D audio that simulates things like occlusion, so sounds will be muffled if you don't have clear "line of hearing".

That's the short story of why A3D2 is so highly regarded.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby swaaye » 2018-4-13 @ 00:29

A3D 1.x still uses A3D.dll. AFAIK it's not connected to Directsound.

There is at least one thread buried in the forum with lots of A3D chat. I'm not sure which games actually bothered to do wavetracing well. Might only be Half Life.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby squiggly » 2018-4-13 @ 00:38

A3D is not connected to DS3D, but it's close enough that a DS3D supporting card/driver can emulate A3D quite easily, and they did so.

I think Thief1 is the stand-out A3D2 game, but there are others, including HL1. I remember someone saying that Thief2 started out claiming A3D2 support, but it was ripped out at the last minute.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby swaaye » 2018-4-13 @ 01:02

Wait let me correct myself - I'm pretty sure that the non-Aureal cards with A3D 1.x support do just wrap it to DS3D. I'm not sure what the Turtle Beach Santa Cruz and its CS4630 chip with A3D 2.0 support does however.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby Gahhhrrrlic » 2018-4-13 @ 01:50

Thank you all for the clarification.

If I understand correctly, since the boards that implemented hardware support for sensaura can support APIs like a3d 1.0, then basically all a3d compatible games will work using sensaura's transfer functions, right? Except that they will have full 4-channel support + elevation? Perhaps, if it claims 2.0 support, this means it is also capable of doing its own brand of 2.0 effects. As indicated, a straight 1:1 translation between function calls is probably not trivial but since I have never seen a single instance of a game stating Sensaura support, maybe that means this is actually how they achieved it - through some sort of transliteration of the API.

I guess in the end it is a trade-off. The HRTF is supposed to be better for Sensaura but it seems that may be all it has going for it. Swaaye you seem to have first hand experience with one of these cards so tech specs aside, you can probably speak to whether or not there is any noticeable improvement in the HRTF aspect of the feature set. Have you ever used that card with 4 speakers vs the vortex 2?

1 last question which I would really like to know is what happened to a3d support for dark engine games (System Shock 2 for example). The dll files are there, the support is supposedly there but with all the modern day reconstruction of the game files, nobody talks about a3d support anymore since OpenAl now seems to fill that gap but I have always wanted to know if I could play ss2 on an a3d card and get that positional sound.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby squiggly » 2018-4-13 @ 02:09

Gahhhrrrlic wrote:if it claims 2.0 support, this means it is also capable of doing its own brand of 2.0 effects


If you find a non-Vortex2 card that claims to accelerate A3D2.0 I would be most interested.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby swaaye » 2018-4-13 @ 03:59

Santa Cruz does apparently support A3D 2.0. I've been using one with Elite Force with A3D enabled. I think it is the only card with any form of A3D 2.0 support besides Vortex 2. What's most exciting to me is it works in XP! I can barely stand the erratic instability of Win9x anymore. :)

viewtopic.php?f=46&t=46285&p=469002#p469000


Gahhhrrrlic wrote:I guess in the end it is a trade-off. The HRTF is supposed to be better for Sensaura but it seems that may be all it has going for it. Swaaye you seem to have first hand experience with one of these cards so tech specs aside, you can probably speak to whether or not there is any noticeable improvement in the HRTF aspect of the feature set. Have you ever used that card with 4 speakers vs the vortex 2?

1 last question which I would really like to know is what happened to a3d support for dark engine games (System Shock 2 for example). The dll files are there, the support is supposedly there but with all the modern day reconstruction of the game files, nobody talks about a3d support anymore since OpenAl now seems to fill that gap but I have always wanted to know if I could play ss2 on an a3d card and get that positional sound.


Remember that Sensaura isn't a discrete sound API. A transliteration sounds right. They do their own thing to bring Directsound/DS3D/A3D to life and it has its own flavor to it.

Unfortunately, I have not used a 4 speaker setup in ages, outside of the home theater at least. I use headphones on the computer.

And I'm not sure if System Shock 2 supports anything more than DS3D + EAX. Any old card will handle that fine. Though a Vortex card would not support the EAX reverb portion.


Gahhhrrrlic wrote:I have AC'97 via a VIA southbridge. Would that work or is only Realtek that's supported? The drivers are non-specific about this.

Look for an Audio3D.dll. That's the typical name of the Sensaura library.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby Gahhhrrrlic » 2018-4-13 @ 15:53

I guess the mystery is still out there then :O Is the quad channel Sensaura better than A3D? Dun dun dunnnnnn ;)

I'm almost certain about A3D support in dark titles because of the dlls in the game. I'll see if I can learn more in the system shock forum about this. It would also apply to thief 2 I'm sure.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby tgod » 2018-4-13 @ 23:47

Weird, this review I found of the Santa Cruz says it only supports A3D 1.0, not 2.
http://web.archive.org/web/200204271220 ... uz-p2.html
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby swaaye » 2018-4-14 @ 00:01

Yeah I am not entirely sure what the Santa Cruz supports. It's really hard to find solid info. But it does work surprisingly well with A3D in whatever form it supports. It does seem unlikely to be a full implementation of 2.0 in any case, and I think since Creative owns A3D 2.0, nobody could support it. A3D 1.x support was a different matter. Companies were translating A3D 1.x even in 1998.

Also, I've been digging into wavetracing and it sounds like only Half Life and Heretic II fully implemented it? It was implemented in the games by Aureal. Developers didn't like to bother with wavetracing because implementing it is a complex task that takes considerable time and effort, resources that are hard to justify for a small percentage of your audience. I'm not sure if Descent 3 uses wavetracing, but it sounds like it was an impressive A3D 2.0 implementation to some degree.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby tgod » 2018-4-14 @ 00:41

Off the top of my head Nascar 3 has sound reflections in the game options but its greyed out and unusable unless your hardware supports A3D 2.0, which means wavetracing is required for it to generate those reflections. It certainly sounds cool enough on my Vortex 2.

On my modern system with x-fi/alchemy reflections are greyed out in the game unless i use the a3d-live ddls which fake A3D 2.0 support.
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby ZanQuance » 2018-4-15 @ 00:28

With a Vortex 2 card you only need swap to either using the 2.25 A3DAPI(A3D 2.0), or the 3.12 A3DAPI (A3D 3.0) to get most if not all A3D games working properly. The 3.12 A3DAPI does however require driver version 2048 or 2050 to work with A3DVerb which was their EAX 1.0 emulation.

Sensaura on the otherhand is DLL specific and for each A3D game you need to swap and mix DLL versions, I however experimented alot and found the best combination:

This seems to be the best Sensaura A3D dll combo for gaming. If you need A3D 3.0 games then just replace the A3DAPI.dll with the 3.12 version. but leave A3D.dll and Audio3d.dll at these versions.

A3D.dll is Audio3d.dll version 12.1.2009 (fixes Half-Life detection issues, so you no longer need the official Aureal version)
Audio3d.dll is version 12.1.2008 (Makes Chaotic WaveTracing work in all A3D 2/3.0 games)
A3DAPI.dll version 2.25 (Required by many A3D 2.0 games to work properly, version 3.12 works but is buggy)

Sensaura is a great audio engine, there was however only one game which was written just for Sensaura with the Game CODA middleware. Men of Valor (2004), it sounds pretty good but isn't a shining example of Sensaura features.
Sensaura will accelerate any DS3D and A3D games, with EAX 2.0 support. It supports piggy backing off the A3D 2.0 game geometry and replaces the WaveTracing with Chaotic WaveTracing, which sounds pretty awesome in Half-Life. Even though it wasn't stated as supporting A3D 2.0 it does support piggy backing off it.

I have the Santa Cruz and it works really well for every game I've thrown at it, however there are games which bug out and have clicking and/or missing samples. No soundcard is perfect in this regard while supporting all the major API's at the time.

Sensaura get high marks from me as it is a jack of all trades audio engine and does VERY well compared to the rest of the pack.
However there is no perfect equal to the A3D 2.0 engine and there were only a handful of games that implemented it well. So If you want A3D 1/2/3.0 support stick with the Vortex 2, if you want a Jack of all trades with great HRTF and some A3D/EAX features get any CS4630 based card, Santa Cruz, GameTheaterXP ect...

There is a good topic here that covered a lot of info
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby squiggly » 2018-4-15 @ 04:06

This is interesting. I think I have some of those cards lying around, would be keen to hear HL1 with EAX+A3D2.0 (chaotic wavetracing).

Funny, about the Canyon3D you said this in 2016:

> Automatically, however what I read about the Canyon3D is that it isn't a full Sensaura accelerator and doesn't have DSP code written to offload the processing, which means it will render in software and not work/sound as good and it running on the CS4630 DSP's :(

viewtopic.php?f=46&t=49969#p527842
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Re: Best Sensaura Implementation

Postby ZanQuance » 2018-4-15 @ 18:49

Thanks I posted it as a CS4630 card by mistake, the Canyon3D was stated to accelerate Sensaura but was later understood to only handle crosstalk cancellation in the hardware for 4-speaker HRTF. The CS4630 soundcards upload all the Sensaura features to the DSP for acceleration.
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