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With the purchase of my laptop I was offered a upgrade to a Soundblaster X-fi for my laptop for 20$. I have a 5.1 surround sound set up in my basement and when I plug in my laptop (with the soundblaster card) with an HDMI cord to the receiver, all the music I play on youtube only goes through the 2 main speakers I have.

Is this because the music I play has to support the surround sound? What is the purpose or add of this card? To improve sound quality? Or just for that extra equalizer stuff?

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You are correct. –  kinokijuf Mar 2 '12 at 22:53
    
I think the music does have to support Surround for your other speakers to work –  Nate Koppenhaver Mar 2 '12 at 23:29

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By default, a surround sound card will only send those channels contained in your music or video (youtube, etc.). Other than games and movies that is most often stereo.

But there exist some solutions to benefit from your surround speakers and help fill the listening space.

  • Some soundcards offer a function called "Speaker fill" that will "upmix" stereo content and "copy it" to rear speakers, sometimes with some pseudo-3D effects. "Bass redirection" is a similar function to send the bass to the subwoofer. Do check your X-Fi software for similar options and try it out. However, these may only work when using analog outputs, and not digital (HDMI) - see next point.

  • In the digital world (HDMI), it is generally expected that it's the receiver's job to deal with this stuff, rather than the playback device (the computer, the cd player, the ipod). Check the options in your receiver to see if it allows channel configuration.

  • This will not work for youtube, but some music players can modify the output to send a stereo file as surround (by copying the channels to the rear). The ones I know are Winamp when using the A3D plug-in, as well as foobar2000 which has an built-in DSP plug-in called "convert stereo to 4 channels" (there's no 6 channel option, however). This is your best bet when listening to MP3s.

The common benefits of having an optional sound card is usually the analog --does not apply to HDMI-- sound quality (less noise, better clarity), more connectivity, software features (equalizer, etc.) and hardware acceleration (less CPU usage in games).

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"By default, a surround sound card will only send those channels contained in your music or video (youtube, etc.). Other than games and movies that is most often stereo." By that you mean that the surround sound will only send what the music and such has to offer? And by games and movies being stereo, meaning that that would have an option for surround sound? Correct? –  Robolisk Mar 3 '12 at 19:29
    
@Robsta Surround sound is merely having more than 2 channels of audio. It's not an effect or an option; it has to do with what the source contains. A stereo mp3 or youtube video contains 2 channels, and a surround movie contains 6 channels. The job of the soundcard is to send those channels to your speakers. If your content have 2 channels, 2 speakers will have sound. If you play a movie that contains 6 channels, it will play on 6 speakers. Simple as that! The solutions I proposed are for when you want 2 channels to play on more than 2 speakers. –  mtone Mar 4 '12 at 1:10
    
Well then. Thank you for you responding. Great information, learned a lot :D –  Robolisk Mar 10 '12 at 21:29

"Yes" in a way. Its not just music, its your source.

In general Music tends to be recorded for 2 channels (stereo), though there were 4 channel, 8 channel and ambisonic recording formats as well - most of these are uncommon however. Most music is Stereo, though there's some music specific to headphones, recorded using binaural recording techniques.

In 2.1 (and 4.1, 5.1) sound, you have 2 (left, right) 4 (left front, right front, left rear, right rear), or 5 channels (same as 4 +1), with the subwoofer playing low frequencies seperated out by a 'crossover' filter.

Surround sound is fairly common in movies and games, and you should get the full effect off DVDs that support surround sound, or games.

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okay. That makes sense. So most music on youtube won't have this surround sound option, right? –  Robolisk Mar 2 '12 at 23:57
    
OP is surely referring to playing stereo music on all his speakers, which is a common thing to wish. –  mtone Mar 3 '12 at 0:05
    
True, but i was going for a more comprehensive answer than just 'youtube'. –  Journeyman Geek Mar 3 '12 at 0:08

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