A3D 1.0: SB Live! vs. Aureal Vortex 1 quality

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

A3D 1.0: SB Live! vs. Aureal Vortex 1 quality

Postby johnsirett » 2019-2-04 @ 16:32

Hi, everyone!

I have a Windows 98 retro Gaming PC, which I bought off eBay a couple of months back.

When I originally bought the PC it was advertised as coming with a Aureal Vortex card, which turned out to be a AU8820 (Vortex 1) based Aztech ASC338A card. I later installed a surround capable SB Live! card (model SB0060), both for digital output support and better DOS compatibility. I understand that both these cards support A3D 1.0: the Vortex 1 card supports it natively, and the SB Live! supports A3D via an emulation driver (commonly called 'a3dx5'). I'm soon planning on getting an Aureal Vortex 2 SQ2500 which I understand will support the whole of A3D 2.0's feature set.

So basically I have two questions:

1) Is Creative's SB Live! A3D 1.0 emulation any good, or am I better off keeping my Vortex 1 installed until I get the Vortex 2 card?
2) In the eventual future, will I be able to simultaneously install the SB Live! and Vortex 2 cards, using the analog output of the SB Live! card, and the digital S/PDIF output of the Vortex 2.I've had no unworkable issues so far running both the SB Live! and Vortex 1 cards together, other than needing to disable the Vortex 1 DOS compatibility hardware.
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Re: A3D 1.0: SB Live! vs. Aureal Vortex 1 quality

Postby ZanQuance » 2019-2-07 @ 17:47

Welcome!

A3D 1.0 was only a basic software HRTF implementation with some distance filtering, AU8820 Vortex 1 ASIC's do no have any hardware HRTF to accelerate A3D 1.0. Every other card that offers A3D 1.0 should be using the same algorithms Aureal licensed out at the time and should sound about the same depending on how they decided to utilize their own DSPs.
The AU8830 Vortex 2 ASIC has hardware FIR filters for accelerating the A3D 1.0 and 2.0 HRTF and should be the optimal representation of A3D.
The EMU10k1 on the Live! is a decent DSP design but doesn't offload A3D 1.0 at all, instead their wrapper converts all A3D 1.0 HRTF to DX5's DS3D.

The S/PDIF support on the Vortex cards is known to have some issues due to driver bugs, so test and see. Where the Vortex will be desired is for the broader non-EMM386 DOS compatibility across more systems, but I hear the Yamaha YMF7x4 chips are a better contender all around and have real OPL3 rather than Aureal's software emulation. Neither the Vortex 1 or 2 have hardware OPl3 in them.

Chips such as the Crystal CS4630 DSP use Sensaura's algorithms for offloading/accelerating A3D 1.0 and some features of A3D 2.0 in their hardware and do a great job on both, but the OPL3 emulation in DOS is seriously flawed.

In general, and this goes as a general rule of thumb now for every user who comes across this post in the future:
Use Creative cards for EAX and MIDI.
Use Aureal Vortex 1 cards only when you cannot get hold of the better Vortex 2 for everything A3D 1.0 related.
Use Aureal Vortex 2 cards for everything A3D related.
Use Sensaura based DSP's like the CS4630 as a Jack of all trades for EAX 2.0, A3D 1 and 2, and really good MIDI support. (BUT NOT FOR DOS!)
Use original ISA hardware or Yamaha's YMF7x4 cards for better OPL3 support in DOS.

Hope this helped.
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Re: A3D 1.0: SB Live! vs. Aureal Vortex 1 quality

Postby gdjacobs » 2019-2-07 @ 18:07

As for your last point, I'd add that all PCI cards with decent OPL3 implementations and good audio quality are worth looking at for DOS (of which the YMF-PCI family is one of a handful of options), but your best option depends heavily on motherboard compatibility.
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Re: A3D 1.0: SB Live! vs. Aureal Vortex 1 quality

Postby johnsirett » 2019-2-08 @ 01:18

Thanks for the advice.

I use this mostly machine for Windows 95/98 gaming and aren't too worried about having perfect DOS sound compatibility. I'll look into ISA cards with real OPL3 if I ever want to add that capability, as all 3 ISA slots on the board are still free.

I don't remember the exact board model off the top of my head, but it's a Slot 1 QDI-made board, with a 700 MHz PIII installed.

From what you're saying, while good single card solutions like the CS4630 exist, I'm not going wrong with keeping the SB Live! Card for EAX support and installing a Vortex 2 card for A3D (my vortex 2 card is already on order).

I'll experiment to see what mileage I get vis-a-vis S/PDIF output. AFAIK HRTF is meant to simulate a 3D effect when using headphones, but I mostly use a discrete 5.1 speaker setup.
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Re: A3D 1.0: SB Live! vs. Aureal Vortex 1 quality

Postby johnsirett » 2019-2-08 @ 01:21

As for MIDI support, I have a MIDI breakout cable for my SB live! and a real working condition SC-55. Not sure I can get better quality than that ;)
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Re: A3D 1.0: SB Live! vs. Aureal Vortex 1 quality

Postby ZanQuance » 2019-2-08 @ 06:09

You already have a pretty ideal setup it sounds, no need to change anything then :)
A3D works with speakers as well, but Sensaura's 5.1 speaker multidrive HRTF on the CS4630 is pretty awesome as well. The Vortex 2 only does the Crosstalk cancellation on the front 2 speakers and basic panning on the rear in the 2041 and 2048 drivers (Superquad mode) but still sounds just fine.
Quad speakers just expand the sweet spot for center HRTF positioning, 2 speakers is actually all that's required for good HRTF.
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