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The Non Empiricals Strike Back

It's amazing that Chipp wrote a couple of his recent blogs on something that I've been testing for the last couple of days myself. His thoughts have centered on perceptions and the apparent dominance statistical "objectivity" over sensory subjectivity.

I would like to push the point further.

I've been swapping out various sound cards in my primary gaming rig, trying to find that elusive sweet spot of good gaming performance (specifically, positional audio effects in a FPS like Battlefield 2) and eminently satisfying audio quality for music and movies. For the longest time I'd had an HT Omega Claro in my gaming rig, and had been tremendously happy with it. A Klipsch ProMedia THX 2.1 set and a Hewlett-Packard USB headset completed my audio package.

While I truly love the Claro in most aspects, its lone weakness is the way it handles positional audio; in a FPS like BF2, sound cues are a huge asset, and the Claro's handling of positional sounds leaves a little to be desired. It is sometimes tough to tell where the bullets whizzing by my character were coming from. In a FPS, that means, quite literally, death.

Consequently, I decided to swap out the Claro and install my old venerable Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic. After downloading just the basic drivers (the latest versions thereof) from Creative's website, the XtremeMusic seemed to be bland-sounding in music and movies. I was also disappointed with its performance in games, so I bit the bullet and installed the full suite of software from the driver CD (sans the AOL poop Creative packaged in there). Doing so unlocked the card's full potential; suddenly, my music sounded fuller and richer and more meaty. Gaming positional audio also improved markedly. My only complaint was that, while music and movie sound output was noticeably bigger than the HT Omega Claro's output, the Claro seemed to perform with much more finesse. Where to my ears the XtremeMusic was like a thick glob of syrup, the Claro's output was more akin to whipped cream. Both sounded sweet, but one was endowed with more finesse and sophistication (the Claro, in case you weren't clear).

Not too long after deciding to keep the XtremeMusic in my gaming rig, I suddenly started getting BSODs. The error codes specifically referenced the Creative software. I did my best to uninstall the drivers completely (using both CCleaner and DriverCleaner Pro in concert), then reinstalled the Creative software. Alas, the BSODs persisted, so I decided to make the uninstallation permanent, especially after research revealed that there were compatibility issues with the sound card family and some nForce4 SLI x16 motherboards.

I decided to try a third sound card, a Razer Barracuda AC-1 I bought from an OCN member recently. It's a close cousin to the HT Omega Claro, so in some ways I was dealing with a known quantity. I uninstalled the X-Fi and put the Barracuda AC-1 in.

I put the card through some tests, and I must say that, despite being essentially the same card as the HT Omega Claro, it sounds different in FPS gameplay situations. I actually expected that it wouldn't be different at all to the Claro in gaming, but it was. I cannot really explain the difference, to be honest. Maybe it's in the software package Razer used. Whatever the case, I found myself smiling after a couple of rounds in BF2. Moreover, music and movies all sounded rich and full again, but sans the sledgehammer-like punch and heavy treacle of the X-Fi.

The Barracuda AC-1 has a different software interface compared to the Claro, but there's got to be more than just a GUI change to account for the noticeable differences in gameplay performance. I won't pretend to know what that unknown something is, but my ears tell me that there is a difference.

Sometimes stats are just numbers. Almost always, though, your senses and your mind will tell you what you like and dislike about things. We all should trust these more than benchmarks and other metrics, I think. Even if we don't agree with each other, that's okay.

Just as long as you agree with yourself.

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