Many years (6? 7?) ago I bought an Audigy sound card to replace the onboard sound and was astonished at the improvement in games. It was a completely different sound, the whole experience became way more immersive. As the time has passed however the card has become old. The support for the latest Windows versions is declining and newer technologies have definitely been developed.
So I was starting to wonder - what newer hardware exists? Sure, there is the Sound Blaster X-Fi, but that's quite expensive and I'm not entirely thrilled by past policies of Creative either (like the whole affair with Daniel_K). But are there any alternatives? EAX is a patent by Creative, so it's doubtful that any other manufacturer has implemented it. And I haven't heard of any competing standards either.
To clarify, what I would like is something like a "sound accelerator". A sound card that would offload sound processing from my CPU while at the same time giving astounding effects that would be impractical to do on CPU in the first place.
I'm not interested in absurd sampling rates (for the most time I can't tell MP3 and a CD apart) or uncountable channels (I'm using stereo headphones). But I am interested in special effects in games.
Are there any alternatives or is Creative a monopoly in this market?