M-Audio’s Revolution 7.1 sound card

Manufacturer M-Audio
Model Revolution 7.1
Price (street) US$91
Availability Now
LAST YEAR, Terratec’s high-end DMX 6fire 24/96 opened my eyes to how good PC audio can be. In our audio card comparison, the DMX 6fire 24/96’s audio quality blew away every other card we tested. Not only did the card offer support for 24-bit/96kHz audio via ICEnsemble’s fabled Envy24 audio chip, it also produced incredibly clean, crisp sound with normal CD-quality audio. Against an array of sound alternatives, ranging from integrated VT8235/ALC650 audio to Hercules’ Gamesurround Fortissimo III to Creative’s Audigy, there was no contest; the DMX 6fire 24/96 was in a class all by itself. I didn’t know PC audio could sound that good.

Of course, the DMX 6fire 24/96’s price was in a class all by itself, too. At $250, the card is out of reach of many consumers, it’s not even widely available in North America. So where’s an enthusiast to get their fix of high-fidelity PC audio?

From M-Audio’s Revolution 7.1, perhaps. The Revolution 7.1 is a sub-$100 sound card that pairs a newer version of the Envy24 audio chip with high-quality DACs to ensure that the audio chip’s full 192kHz/24-bit precision is retained all the way to the card’s outputs. Available at retail outlets like CompUSA, the Revolution 7.1 has the potential to bring the kind of clean, crisp, high-precision audio that’s traditionally been reserved for audiophiles to the masses. Does the Revolution 7.1 have the fidelity to compete with a high-end audiophile card like Terratec’s DMX 6fire 24/96 and the gaming performance to take on Creative’s Audigy2? Let’s find out.

The specs
Deciphering sound card specs can be frustrating, because some manufacturers seem to go to great lengths to obscure the internal capabilities and precision of their audio products. I’ve done some digging to get at the real dirt on the Revolution 7.1 and its competition, and this is what I’ve found:

Internal precision Hardware channels Output channels Price
Audio chip ADC DAC DirectSound DirectSound 3D
Creative Audigy 16-bit/48kHz 24-bit/96kHz 64 32 5.1 $58
Creative Audigy2 24-bit/96kHz 24-bit/192kHz 64 32 6.1 $70
M-Audio Revolution 7.1 24-bit/192kHz 24-bit/96kHz 24-bit/192kHz none none 7.1 $91
Terratec DMX 6fire 24/96 24-bit/96kHz 32 16 5.1 $250

The most important specification to note is the lowest level of internal precision supported by each sound card—the weakest link. Fortunately, the Revolution 7.1’s weakest link really isn’t weak at all. The card’s Envy24HT audio chip has a maximum internal precision of 24 bits at 192kHz, which is better than even Terratec’s DMX 6fire 24/96. (The 6Fire uses an earlier of the Envy24 audio chip that tops out at 96kHz.) Though the Revolution 7.1’s DAC shares the same 24-bit/192kHz sampling rate as the card’s audio chip, the ADC is limited to 96kHz. The Revolution 7.1’s slightly lower maximum ADC sampling rate won’t hinder audio playback at all, and I would imagine that 24-bit/96kHz ADC precision should be enough for even picky audio recording enthusiasts.

The Revolution 7.1’s Envy24HT audio chip offers higher internal sampling rates than the vanilla Envy24 found on Terratec’s DMX 6fire 24/96, but the “HT” revision of the Envy24 doesn’t keep the original’s support for hardware DirectSound acceleration. With future titles like Doom III using software audio engines, DirectSound hardware acceleration may become less important for gaming. However, with today’s games that take advantage of DirectSound hardware acceleration, the Revolution 7.1 will have to lean on the CPU.

The Revolution 7.1’s hardware support for DirectSound hardware channels may be absent, but the chip does offer eight output channels for those who want to completely surround themselves with a 7.1 speaker setup. Support for 7.1 audio may seem a bit excessive, but quite a few new DVD titles support Dolby Digital EX, which will take advantage of thsee extra channels. Those wanting to maximize the Revolution 7.1’s output potential will, however, have to cobble together a set of 7.1 speakers. To date, I’m not aware of any manufacturer selling PC speakers in a 7.1 configuration.

Price-wise, the Revolution 7.1 isn’t exactly a bargain, but it’s not as expensive as its specs might suggest. The card uses an audio chip that’s very similar to Terratec’s DMX 6fire 24/96, which costs more than two-and-a-half times as much. OEM Audigy2 cards are cheaper than the Revolution 7.1, which is only available in a full retail package. However, since Audigy2 cards sell for over $100 at retail, the Revolution 7.1’s price will be lower on store shelves.

The card
To a casual observer, the Revolution 7.1 might look like a low-end sound card rather than one that supports high-precision output. The card itself is quite small, and could easily be mistaken for Hercules’ Gamesurround Fortissimo III 7.1.

Looks should be the least of one’s concerns when purchasing a sound card, but a quick glance at the board does reveal a few missing features that may be important to some. Unlike even many low-end sound cards, the Revolution 7.1 doesn’t have internal connectors for auxiliary devices like CD or DVD-ROM drives. Personally, I tend not to bother with internal sound card connectors, but some users may find the omission limiting.

Looking at the Revolution 7.1’s collection of external output and input ports reveals one area where the card’s lack of internal connectors could be potentially damning: digital audio recording. The Revolution 7.1 features a coaxial digital output port, but no digital input port, which limits the card’s recording capabilities unnecessarily. Even some integrated motherboard audio solutions feature digital output and input ports, which makes the Revolution 7.1’s absent digital input port especially disappointing. I wish the Revolution 7.1 had at least an internal connector where one could potentially wire up an auxiliary digital input.

Apart from its lack of a digital input port, the rest of the Revolution 7.1’s port cluster is well-equipped. The card’s digital output is coaxial rather than optical, which is an interesting decision since optical S/PDIF ports seems to be all the rage with sound card and motherboard manufacturers these days. Since I don’t have home theater equipment or speakers that support either digital standard, I don’t really prefer one over the other.

I do, however, have a set of headphones, which means I am affected by M-Audio’s decision to have the Revolution 7.1’s headphone jack share a port with the front channel output. To use my headphones, I’d have to go crawling around in the tangled mess of wires under my desk just swap plugs. Because the headphone output is shared with the front channel, using something like a 5.25″ drive bay insert to move an audio port to the front of a case isn’t exactly a workable solution, either. I’d wager that few users are going to take full advantage of the card’s 7.1-channel audio support, so it would have been far more convenient for the headphone jack to share a port with the extra rear audio channel.

Under the hood, the Revolution 7.1 is powered by ICEnsemble’s Envy24HT audio chip. ICEnsemble is owned by VIA, and VIA is now marketing the several flavors of the Envy24 for different markets. The Envy24HT is the top of that line, with support for 24-bits of internal precision at 192kHz across 8 output channels.

Like other chips in the Envy line, the Envy24HT supports 3D audio standards like EAX, A3D, and Sensaura. Unfortunately, the chip’s impressive internal precision can’t help the fact that it’s limited to only 16 DirectSound 3D hardware channels. Clearly, when ICEnsemble designed the chip, they meant for it to be a solution geared more towards audio and video playback rather than 3D gaming. AKM’s AK4355 digital-to-analog converter (DAC) maintains the Rev’s 192kHz/24-bit precision all the way to its output ports. The AK4355 was originally indended for high-quality DVD audio playback. Since the DAC supports 24-bit audio at a maximum sampling rate of 192kHz, the Revolution 7.1 doesn’t need to downsample the Envy24HT’s digital output before converting it to analog signals for the card’s speaker ports.

The AK4355’s rated signal-to-noise ratio is actually a little lower (106 versus 110dB) than the AK4524, which is used on Terratec’s DMX 6fire 24/96. The fact that these two cards use different DAC chips suggests that they might not sound as identical as I had hoped.

The drivers
The Revolution 7.1’s drivers don’t offer any particularly new and exciting functionality, but M-Audio has put together a quick and relatively small (~8MB) driver package that’s quick to download and install. There’s even a nifty little control panel:

To make things easier for users, M-Audio’s drivers include QuickSwitch settings for different speaker configurations. It’s nice to be able to fiddle with settings for a particular speaker configuration, but users will still have to rummage around behind the backs of their PCs in order to switch between speaker and headphone connections.

Given the fact that no one really offers a 7.1 PC speaker package, users will likely restrict themselves to the driver’s 5.1 configuration settings.

Curiously, the Revolution 7.1’s drivers default to disabling the card’s support for Sensaura and 3D gaming audio standards. It’s not a big deal to click the checkbox and enable 3D audio, but it seems odd that M-Audio would require user input to unlock the feature at all.

Bundling it up
Since the Revolution 7.1 is available only as a boxed retail product, it’s worth checking the card’s bundle for extra goodies. M-Audio claims that the Revolution 7.1 is bundled with “over $200” in software, although there are only four full-version retail titles included with the card. Full versions of MixMan Studio and VJ Lite should give audio enthusiasts something to play with, while WinDVD 4 (Dolby Digital EX compatible) and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 should keep everyone else entertained. Unlike the games included in Creative’s Audigy2 bundle, which are specifically optimized for 3D audio, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of meaningful 3D audio support. The fact that M-Audio isn’t pushing 3D audio in its bundle hints that perhaps the card won’t be marketed on the strenght of its 3D audio capabilities.

Rounding out the Revolution 7.1’s bundle are trial versions of Propellerhead Reason and Ableton Live. There’s also a sample CD featuring songs by a number of artists that M-Audio has worked with in the past, including Los Lobos, if that gets your foot tapping.

A quick note on the competition
This review is meant to explore M-Audio’s Revolution 7.1, but since I’ll be comparing the card’s performance to a handful of other sound cards, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the competition. Our latest sound card comparison already details Creative’s Audigy and Terratec’s DMX 6fire 24/96, but we’ve yet to cover the Audigy2 we’ll be using in testing.

In many ways, the Audigy2 is what the original Audigy should have been: a real 24-bit sound card. Creative marketed the original Audigy as a 24-bit product, but the card’s only 24-bit/96kHz component is its DAC; the card’s audio chip and ADC are both both limited to 16-bit audio at 48kHz. With the Audigy2, Creative has upgraded the audio chip and ADC to support 24-bit/96kHz audio and even bumped up the DAC quality to support 192kHz output, giving the card a high-precision path from input to output that now measures up to Creative’s marketing claims.

Our testing methods
All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged, using the following test systems.

Processor AMD Athlon XP 2600+
Front-side bus 333MHz (2x166MHz)
Motherboard Asus A7N8X
Chipset NVIDIA nForce2
North bridge nForce2 SPP
South bridge nForce2 MCP-T
Chipset driver NVIDIA 2.03
Memory size 512MB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair XMS3000 PC2700 DDR SDRAM
Graphics ATI Radeon 9700 Pro
Graphics driver CATALYST 3.2
Storage

Maxtor 740X-6L 40GB 7200RPM ATA/133 hard drive

Operating System Windows XP Professional SP1

All tests were run with an Athlon XP 2600+ processor on a 166MHz front size bus. To provide some insight on the Revolution 7.1’s CPU utilization and how the card might perform on a low-end system, all tests were also run with our Athlon XP running at 866MHz on a 133Mhz front side bus.

Although all tests were run on an nForce2 board, I had numerous problems getting the non-Deluxe A7N8X’s integrated audio to work properly, so an analysis of nForce2 audio performance and quality will have to wait for a future article.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

For our listening tests, we used the following tracks, all ripped directly to WAV with no compression.

  • Clint Mansell (featuring the Kronos Quartet) – Summer overture
  • Passengers (featuring Luciano Pavarotti) – Miss Sarajevo
  • Propellerheads – The sound of history repeating
  • Radiohead – Hunting bears
  • Tori Amos – Winter

Tracks were selected to represent a wide variety of musical genres and audio landscapes, with the boy band genre left out for obvious reasons. The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1024×768 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests. Most of the 3D gaming tests used the high detail image quality settings, with the exception that the resolution was set to 640×480 in 32-bit color.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

3DMark03
3DMark03’s audio component tests 3D audio performance with 0, 24, and 60 different sounds in a scene. Unfortunately, 3DMark03 identifies only the Audigy2 as capable of supporting the 60-sound test. Here’s how the cards stack up:

On our high-end system, the Revolution 7.1 is the slowest card of the lot with 24 sounds. The fact that all the cards perform identically with no sound playing should come as no surprise. It is, however, surprising that M-Audio’s Envy-based offering is slower in this test than Terratec’s. The two cards do use a slightly different version of the Envy24 chip, and of course have different drivers.

On our slower system, the performance difference between the cards is more pronounced. This time around, there’s a bigger gap between the Audigy cards and the Envy24-based offerings, suggesting that ICEnsemble’s audio chip needs to lean much more heavily on the CPU to perform 3D audio processing tasks. M-Audio’s Revolution 7.1 is again the slowest chip of the bunch, a full third slower than Creative’s slowest Audigy.

Quake III Arena
So how do the cards perform in a real-world game? Let’s see what Quake III Arena turns up.

On our Athlon XP 2600+, the Revolution 7.1 is barely behind the rest of the pack, and really only slower at lower resolutions.

The Envy24-based sound cards are a little slower than the Audigy cards in Quake III Arena on our low-end system, which is especially interesting considering Quake III Arena doesn’t use 3D audio at all. Based on our results, it looks like Creative’s drivers consume fewer system resources overall, not just in 3D audio applications.

Technically, the Revolution 7.1 again comes in last place, but for all intents and purposes it’s still very much in the running. Really, can anyone tell the difference between 110 and 120 frames per second?

Serious Sam SE
Serious Sam SE gives us the unique opportunity to test the Revolution 7.1’s performance across a number of different audio APIs. How does it perform relative to the competition?

On our fastest system, the Revolution 7.1 brings up the rear again, just behind the rest of the cards with Serious Sam SE’s Waveout audio setting.

The Revolution 7.1 stays at the back of the pack on our 866MHz system. This time, the performance gaps are a little larger.

Using Serious Sam SE’s DirectSound audio setting, the Revolution 7.1 is the slowest card again, a full ten frames per second slower than the Audigy cards at 640×480. Terratec’s DMX 6fire 24/96 is consistently faster than the Revolution 7.1.

On our slower 866MHz system, the cards spread out. The Revolution 7.1 comes in 15% behind the DMX 6fire 24/96 and a full 25% slower than the Audigys.

The Revolution 7.1 seems quite comfortable at the back of the pack, where it continues to sit with Serious Sam SE’s EAX audio enabled. Even at 1600×1200, the card give up nearly 10 frames per second to the Audigys.

On our low-end 866MHz Athlon XP, the Revolution 7.1 is way behind the competition. Even with its latest drivers (as of March 31, 2003,) the card is nearly 20% slower than the DMX 6fire 24/96 and more than 30% behind the Audigy cards.

Subjective listening tests
Listening tests are inevitably subjective, but really there are few other ways to evaluate a sound card’s performance with the equipment available to me. If you’re looking for fancy response curves and double-blind tests done in soundproof chambers, sorry.

My initial testing found negligible differences between the positional audio and in-game audio quality produced by these cards, so the listening tests were confined to music playback using WAV rips of off-the-shelf CDs. Because CD audio quality is only 16-bit/44.1kHz, our listening tests are designed to test overall audio clarity rather than the 24-bit audio capabilities of each card. For these tests, a sound card’s component quality, drivers, and even layout can influence its performance more than the absolute precision limits of its audio chip.

All music playback tests were conducted with a set of Philips MMS305 4.1 channel speakers with volume levels for each card normalized to within a decibel of each other and software equalizers turned off. To help with testing, I lured a couple of my friends over with promises of playing Raven Shield on Radeon 9700 Pro cards. Little did they know they’d be strapped to chairs and subjected to a set of blind listening tests.

During the listening tests, neither subject knew which card was being played or even what order the cards were being presented in. Overall, the Audigy2, DMX 6fire 24/96, and Revolution 7.1 were closely matched, but there were a few consistent differences between the cards. Our impressions of the audio playback quality for each track are below. You won’t find any mention of the original Audigy, which consistently sounded worse than the other cards. For a look at how the Audigy stacks up against cards closer to its price range, see our latest sound card comparison.

Clint Mansell (featuring the Kronos Quartet) – Summer overture
This haunting track from the Requiem for a Dream soundtrack combines symphonic and electronic elements to produce one of the most disturbing soundscapes I’ve ever heard, making it an ideal track to see what kind of emotional response the Revolution 7.1 could incite.

In “Summer overture,” the Revolution 7.1 had excellent clarity, especially with the track’s string content. The strings and background instruments were less muffled on the Revolution 7.1 than the Audigy2, but the DMX 6fire 24/96 rose above both cards with a flawless performance. As one listener put it, “[the Revolution 7.1] sounds great, but [the DMX 6fire 24/96] makes me want to cry.”

Passengers (featuring Luciano Pavarotti) – Miss Sarajevo
“Miss Sarajevo” makes the cards adapt to wildly different sounds by contrasting mellow pop stylings from U2 with a booming performance by Luciano Pavarotti.

While Bono’s voice sounded just a little sweeter on the Audigy2, the Revolution 7.1 had a more even performance throughout the track and excelled with Pavarotti’s voice booming. Background instruments were again clearer on the Revolution 7.1 than on the Audigy2, though both cards bow to a slightly superior overall performance from the DMX 6fire 24/96. In “Miss Sarajevo,” the difference between the Revolution 7.1 and DMX 6fire 24/96 was less apparent, but the latter’s performance was still judged to be the most pleasing; it just had more punch.

Propellerheads – The sound of history repeating
“The sound of history repeating” has Shirley Bassey singing over a thumbing drum line that just begs to be turned all the way up.

With their heads bobbing, our listeners both agreed that the Revolution 7.1’s drums sounded great and hit hard, but the card’s performance with the vocal element of the track was disappointing enough to put it behind the Audigy2 and DMX 6fire 24/96. Despite being in agreement that the Audigy2 sounded better than the Revolution 7.1, our listeners were split on whether the Audigy2 or DMX 6fire 24/96 sounded the best. Those who dig the Propellerheads’ funky drum line will probably prefer the DMX 6fire 24/96’s playback of the track, but Shirley Bassey’s vocals do sound clearer on the Audigy2.

Radiohead – Hunting bears
“Hunting bears” is mellow, meandering instrumental track almost completely dominated by an electric guitar that stands out like a splash of color on an otherwise bleak black and white landscape.

Despite the relatively simple nature of song, it was surprisingly easy to hear the difference between each of the cards tested. The stark, raw nature of the track was most faithfully reproduced by the DMX 6fire 24/96. Both the Revolution 7.1 and Audigy2 sounded a little more filtered and “produced.” On the Revolution 7.1, the guitar had more body than on the Audigy2, but the subtle hint of fingers sliding over the guitar strings sounded better on the Audigy2.

Tori Amos – Winter
Tori Amos’s “Winter” is a soft vocal and piano performance that was a comforting comedown from the emotionally devastating “Summer overture.”

Overall, the Audigy2 handled the solo vocal elements of “Winter” better than the Revolution 7.1, but didn’t blend the piano and vocals together as well. The Revolution 7.1 balanced the track’s instrumental and vocal components well. While the Revolution didn’t feel quite as good as the DMX 6fire 24/96, it was closer to the 6fire than it was to the Audigy2.

Conclusions
I’ve been enjoying the DMX 6fire 24/96’s impeccable sound quality for a while now, so I had high hopes for the Revolution 7.1. Of course, thinking that the $91 Revolution 7.1 could compete with the $250 DMX 6fire 24/96 probably wasn’t entirely realistic. The DMX 6fire 24/96 is very much targeted at high-end audio enthusiasts, while the Revolution 7.1 is more appropriate for general PC enthusiasts looking for true 24-bit audio that sounds really, really good.

As far as playback goes, the Revolution 7.1 more closely approximates the audio quality of the DMX 6fire 24/96 than any other sound card I’ve heard, including the Audigy2. In fact, without being able to refer to the DMX 6fire 24/96 with back-to-back listening tests, I have a hard time telling the difference between the two. The Audigy2, however, is easier to pick out of a crowd because it tends to favor foreground vocals at the expense of percussion and background instruments.

Quite simply, the Revolution 7.1 delivers the best sound quality I’ve heard from a sub-$100 audio card, making it an ideal addition to any PC used primarily for audio, video, or DVD playback. Those with home theaters brimming with speakers should appreciate the card’s support for 7.1 output channels, too, although the extra rear channels may go largely unused by PC owners. Our listening tests also show that it’s not necessary to have a 24-bit audio source to hear the difference a high quality sound card can make. Even with off-the-shelf CDs, the Revolution 7.1 sounds much clearer than the original Audigy, and generally better than the Audigy2.

As well suited as the Revolution 7.1 is for media playback, the card still needs a little work. For starters, the lack of internal connectors and the absent digital input make it feel cheap, especially since the Audigy2 and even some of Hercules’ sound cards offer a wide array of internal connectors and Firewire ports. Those looking for an audio card to play back and record digital audio will have to pass on the Revolution 7.1.

Throughout our 3D gaming performance tests, the Revolution 7.1 was consistently slower than even the DMX 6fire 24/96, especially when paired with our slower 866MHz Athlon XP test setup. It’s possible that the situation will improve with new drivers, but it seems unlikely that the Revolution 7.1 will challenge the gaming performance of Creative’s Audigy cards, especially as developers incorporate more complicated audio engines in their next-generation games. Those equipped with powerful systems should have enough CPU cycles to spare for the Revolution 7.1, but hard-core gamers with low-end systems will be better off with an Audigy2.

In the end, the Revolution 7.1 has the fidelity to bring a grown man nearly to tears, but a price tag that might make him smile. With sound quality that flirts with high-end audio enthusiast gear like the DMX 6fire 24/96, the Revolution 7.1 is an affordable fit for any PC tasked with audio, video, or DVD playback. The Revolution 7.1 works well for games, too, but in that realm Creative has a competitive and perhaps more tempting alternative in the Audigy2.

Comments closed
    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    Your review was very helpful.

    However, one thing that I found is the glaring omission of the assessment of the RECORDING capabilities of the sound card.

    Did you checlk if the recording feature actually worked?
    Thanks.

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    I saw the update and didn’t understand why you still haven’t edited info about the Audigy ADC being 24/48 and more important, why you haven’t updated the number of DirectSound3D voices in Audigy2. I provided two links to similar articles when you asked for sources.

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    Awesome right up. One question, however. In your previous roundup you gave the Editor’s Choice to both the Hercules Fortissimo III and and the DMX 6Fire DMX, yet you only chose to use the 6Fire in this roundup? Why is that, might I ask?

    • Terribatronic
    • 17 years ago

    The Revo is a great card hardware wise but as far as the driver goes .. there are few well recorded bugs that are unique to it .They may not show up at first . Sound quality is certainly way above anything Creative ever released.

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    This review was biased towards the Terratec DMX from the beginning. It was obvious from the first page and on every following page.

      • hmmm
      • 17 years ago

      Yeah, probably because it sounds the best…

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    Audigy2 DSP still works at 16/48 fixed. So whenever you use EAX or any effets by the DSP you lose all the24/96 quality.

      • Anonymous
      • 17 years ago

      Its the Audigy DSP that is 16/48. The Audigy2 DSP is 24/96.

      The Audigy2 also has 64 hardware DS3D channels. Look up the specs reported by Sandra.

        • Forge
        • 17 years ago

        The Audigy 2 does indeed have only a 16/48 effects processor. Any EAX usage, and you are at 16 bit, though it downsamples input and upsamples output to 24bit. Not an ideal solution.

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    Great review. If there ever was a review I was looking forward to, this was it. It only missed the Terratec Aureon 5.1 Sky and 7.1 Space line. They both have 24-bit/192KHz playback so their chip should be the same (Envy24HT). A couple of minor points:

    1. You keep stating the Audigy’s ADC as 16/48 while it’s actually 24/96. Not that it matters too much anyway but it’s incorrect. Refer to these 2 links on Creative’s website to see for yourself:

    §[<http://www.soundblaster.com/products/audigy/compare.asp<]§ §[<http://www.soundblaster.com/products/audigy/specs.asp<]§ 2. Audigy2 has doubled the number of DirectSound3D voices played back at the same time from 32 in Audigy to 64. That's why 3D Mark 2003 can only run the 60-sound test on Audigy2.

      • Dissonance
      • 17 years ago

      According to the linked comparison chart, the Audigy’s “Recording” value (which suggests ADC to me, but could refer to the audio chip’s limitation) is 16-bit/48kHz. The specs page, however, says the following about the ADC:

      q[<24-bit Analog-to-Digital conversion of analog inputs at 48kHz sample rate <]q At best, it appears that the ADC may be 24/48, but not even Creative is claiming 24/96. Do you have a link that details the Audigy2's hardware DS3D channels? I'd be interested in seeing if the card's vanilla DS channels have been doubled, too, and Creative's product page doesn't make any specific mention of channel specs.

        • Anonymous
        • 17 years ago

        OMG you’re right: it’s 24/48 (I also just looked at the PDF file coming with my Audigy). Truly sorry, please edit my post.

        I’ve seen the doubling of DirectSound3D voices mentioned (64 DirectSound/64 DirectSound3D) in these 2 articles:

        §[<http://content.guru3d.com/article.php?cat=review&id=30<]§ They review the DMX-6Fire [and compare it to Audigy2]. It's actually very interesting how they post the same subjective remarks about the sound of 6Fire and Audigy2. Also check the interesting comparison between the ADCs of the two cards when recording at 24/96 from vinyl. §[<http://www.digit-life.com/articles2/creativeaudigy2/<]§ There's specifically a picture in there (RMAA DirectSound/RM Audio Analyzer) that shows this info.

          • Anonymous
          • 17 years ago

          I meant the same subjective remarks *[

    • Forge
    • 17 years ago

    Farfolen – Jimmy with the settings. Somewhere something is either muting or setting the linein volume to zero, but recording overrides that.

    AG #48 – What drivers/system hardware/etc? While I only get stereo in GTA3, that’s the game’s fault for forcing stereo… I’m not getting sync issues in UT2K3, though.

      • Anonymous
      • 17 years ago

      Forge,

      I’m using an Intel D845GERG2 with a P4 2.53 and 1GB Samsung PC2700. I was swapping out between a Ti 4600 and a 9700 Pro. This is running Windows XP Pro w/and w/o SP1. I could go on. I work for a system builder and have been trying this card with multiple platforms and have had a few different driver builds from M-Audio. I’ve had the sync issue with every platform I’ve tried (are you using EAX? probably not). It’s VERY subtle, but annoying. Stereo is not GTA3’s fault. I’ve never had this problem with GTA3 using an Audigy or Fortissimo III in any system – Intel or AMD – whatsoever.

      The M-Audio is not a very good gaming card – that’s all. It’s “okay,” but nothing to get excited over. As a HTPC or straight-up DVD or music-listening card, it’s awesome.

    • farfolen
    • 17 years ago

    I have this card too. wonderful little thing to use in a Shuttle box. The only bad thing is that I can’t seem to listen to audio being run from my AIW to the Audio-In jack whiel watching cable. If I record, I can playback and hear the sound, no problem. It’s just when I’m trying to watch the show while it’s on. Just gets to me.

      • russb
      • 17 years ago

      line in jack apparently has no pass through to output. meanining it can’t be monitored in real time. you can open the control panel and check the “enable monitoring” box, but that introduces significant delay (your audio will be out of sync)

        • GodsMadClown
        • 17 years ago

        Yeah, quite a few HTPC owners were upset by this. They can’t run thier TV audio through Circle Surround in real time. I’m not nearly up to that level yet. All I’m looking to be able to do with my future HTPC is digital passthrough of DVD soundtracks, or strictly audio stuff. (Was there any mention of the promises of a DVD audio player for the Revo?) I refuse to buy cable or satalitte for as little TV as I watch. Still, while the line-in monitoring isn’t a big deal for me, it is a legitimate gripe.

          • Forge
          • 17 years ago

          Wow! I am SHOCKED.

          I hadn’t fired up my TV tuner since I got my Rev7.1, and now that I have, I’m…. baffled? irritated?

          I’d been thinking of forking my TV capture/timed recording off into a TiVo-like machine, and this will probably make me do it, but having to do it to work around the limitations of the Rev7.1 is bothering me greatly.

          This is the first truly sour note for me. The honeymoon is over, I guess.

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    The review was good, but could have been better and more accurate by including some real-world (as opposed to performance) gaming observations. I’ve tried this card, and while the performance hit was indeed noticable, especially with any 3D audio enabled in current games, 3D audio wouldn’t work properly at all in some games: no rear speaker output (GTA3), sound and visuals everso slightly out of sync (UT2003), and miscellaneous issues in a few others, though I can’t recall the details, so I won’t go on.

    The card’s sound quality was phenomenal, but I’m a gamer who likes his positional audio, and I’ve never had a problem with my Audigy2 or Fortissimo III in this regard. I wish this card had better hardware support for 3D audio.

    • Forge
    • 17 years ago

    RightMark Audio Analyzer does interesting tests/numbers by looping lineout to linein and checking out the results. I can run that if there’s interest.

    • absinthexl
    • 17 years ago

    Recording tests might be fun, especially for those of us trying to run cheap home studios.

    Maybe rip a CD (or preferrably DVD) audio track, record the same one through Line In and compare the two?

    By the way, nice choice for the last song, I learned how to play that this week…

    • EasyRhino
    • 17 years ago

    Good writeup Diss. Good idea on crippling the cpu speed to put more strain on the overhead.

    Mayhaps the additional slowdown of the Revolution compared to the DMX is due to the 192khz vice 96khz processing of the ship? Course, using 44khz sounds, I don’t really know.

    Also, one typo in there, “strenght” on page 3.

    ER

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    I’m starting to lose my regret for purchasing the Audigy 2. Now that the reviews are out on the new VIA card, I see that it is about on par with the Audigy 2 in most situations. The performance impact is important to me, so I am happy to hear that my current card ranks up at the top in that department. =)

    -eckslax

    • russb
    • 17 years ago

    card sounds great! i am using it on a kt266a and haven’t had any pops or clicks. the only problem is the broken line in. i bought it to record electric guitar, but without being able to monitor the line in (in real time) it’s kind of useless.

    • thomasj
    • 17 years ago

    This card is very recommended over at avsforum.com, so if you are into home-theater pcs this is certainly a card to consider.

    • sativa
    • 17 years ago

    Great review.

    1 question: in the future can you do an MP3 test that uses a decoder that supports 24bits? Such as Winamp 2.81 with the MAD plugin?

    Also you’d better get started on those double blind soundproof chamber tests! kidding…

      • Dissonance
      • 17 years ago

      I’d considered doing MP3 playback, but lossy compression is going to degrade quality no matter what decoder is used. I am, however, looking at doing some DVD-Audio tests to exploit the 24-bitness with really high quality source media.

        • sativa
        • 17 years ago

        even though MP3 is a lossy compresion-scheme, i’ve heard great things from users who have switched to 24bit MP3 playback using MAD. Too bad I don’t have a 24bit card to test it with. But you guys do ;).

        Also, I’m not sure I follow the logic of not wanting to test the sound cards with a lossy compression, since MP3 is the VAST majority of sound files people listen to. Thanks for testing the sound cards with a wav file but I don’t know anyone who keeps wav files of songs on their hard drives.

          • absinthexl
          • 17 years ago

          I do!

          Here’s an extra line since there’s a 10-character minimum on posts

        • Khopesh
        • 17 years ago

        LAME VBR with 32-bit decoding by MAD is not too shabby.

        §[<http://www.mars.org/home/rob/proj/mpeg/mad-plugin/<]§

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    #25: I wondered the same thing when I got my Revo 7.1 (about onboard inputs) and was frantically searching through the manual trying to figure out where to plug in the audio cable from my DVD drive. Simple answer to set your mind at ease – you don’t need to. Unplug that audio cable and throw it AWAY. When you install the drivers for the card, it asks you if you want to enable Digital sound – it’s recommended, and you want to say Yes. The card gets digital sound through your 40 or 80-pin ribbon cable and you no longer need the analog audio cable. Sweet, huh? After hearing this card for a week, you couldn’t pay me to go back to Creative. It’s that good.

      • Grey Area
      • 17 years ago

      I’m not quite sure I follow; is the driver option different from the standard Windows digital CD playback? (Device Manager->CD-ROM->Properties->Enable digital CD audio)

    • Zenith
    • 17 years ago

    So the lesson is, stick with onboard nForce2 unless you need 7.1 speaker support. ^_^

      • GodsMadClown
      • 17 years ago

      Hey, I use my onboard Nforce audio for games, and Revo for music. Multiple soundcards isn’t all that hard.

    • Craig P.
    • 17 years ago

    Stupid question: With no internal connectors, how does CD playback from a CD or DVD drive work?

      • GodsMadClown
      • 17 years ago

      Digital extraction, and transfer across the IDE cable. It sounds better than the Analog connection anyway. It might be nice, however to have some internal spidif connections so that you don’t have to put the bits through Windows too many times.

        • Craig P.
        • 17 years ago

        OK, that sounds good, except for likely problems with extraction-protected CDs.

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    It’s too bad the folks at Maximum PC and PC Gamer magazine (who are under the same umbrella, incidentally) will never ever admit that there might actually be better audio solutions out there than what Creative Labs has to offer. They know where their bread and butter is coming from with the full page color ads that I see in their magazines. Creative was awesome back in the ISA days, but they needed to buy out someone else to get into the PCI market. Since then, their products have suffered from driver issues and PCI latency issues. Oh, and let’s not forget Digital Rights Management. I haven’t used Creative Labs’ sound cards in my computer for quite some time now and have no regrets dumping them.

    By the way, what’s with Tech Report trying to break through my firewall each time I post? I got the following two messages from Zone Alarm: Tsk Tsk.

    The firewall has blocked Internet access to your computer (TCP Port 8080) from §[<http://www.tech-report.com<]§ (205.177.13.112) (TCP Port 48645) [TCP Flags: S]. Time: 4/2/03 9:01:50 AM The firewall has blocked Internet access to your computer (HTTP) from §[<http://www.tech-report.com<]§ (205.177.13.112) (TCP Port 48646) [TCP Flags: S]. Time: 4/2/03 9:01:52 AM

    • GodsMadClown
    • 17 years ago

    The other big feature of the Revolution? Bass Management. You can se individual crossovers for any and all of those 7 speakers, or just tell the Revo what kid of speaker you have, and it will set the crossover for you. Show me the Creative card that does that. For an HTPC application, the Revolution is unmatched.

      • GodsMadClown
      • 17 years ago

      blah. How do I edit?

        • Forge
        • 17 years ago

        You don’t… Yet.

      • Anonymous
      • 17 years ago

      The Audigy 2 has bass management that allows you to set the crossover.

        • GodsMadClown
        • 17 years ago

        To each individual channel?

    • nonegatives
    • 17 years ago

    q[

      • crazybus
      • 17 years ago

      I believe a high-end video card is significantly more expensive to develop and manufacture. Think about the ram costs, the extremely high transistor counts and the 10 layer pcbs.

        • nonegatives
        • 17 years ago

        Have you looked at “high-end” audio products? M-Audio’s own Delta 1010 will run you $800. There are similar costs to manufacturing quality audio equipment (noise shielding/rejection, timing, synchronizing, multiple format conversions (in and out), processing latency. Creative is so proud that they get >100dB SN (one way only), it took them how long to reach that?
        – But these cards don’t have 3d DSP game support, SB compatable mode, a joystick port, or many other integrated ‘features’ of a $30 soundcard.

        Cards like the Revolution and DMX are just starting to combine the high-end sound quality with the feature filled consumer market.

      • meanfriend
      • 17 years ago

      What is it about Creative soundcards that gets everyone so hot? I’m aware of the problems with VIA chipsets, but that cant be the only reason (I’m not familiar with the Audigy line)? Not defending CL, just curious why I see so much animosity towards them…

      FWIW, the last CL card I bought was a Live! Value 3 years ago but I had no problems with it.

        • meanfriend
        • 17 years ago

        whoops, that wasnt meant to be a reply to #17. Dunno why it did that….

        • Buub
        • 17 years ago

        Creative has simply the absolute worst driver support in the entire industry, and I’m not exagerating.

        Even current products don’t get fixes for common things very often (SMP was a major issue until recently), and that’s for cards that are still selling. Once a card drops off the charts, forget about any kind of driver updates at all.

        Combine this with the inability to get entire installable packages of current software and/or drivers. Like someone’s going to run their software/drivers on a competitors sound card. ROFL yeah right. Frequently they only offer upgrade packages, which require you installing your original CD first then updating it. This can be a major pain in the ass if they’ve gone through several major revisions since the update.

        Or imagine this: your CD is old enough that it doesn’t install on XP (Creative didn’t embrace anything but Win9x in the Win2K days), but you need to install your old sound card in your new XP box. The latest drivers/software you download is only an update, though. You can’t update a complete new package. This requires you to install the CD first, which doesn’t work on your system, then updating it. Anyone see the conflict?

        My girlfriend’s Creative Jukebox never worked right after we upgraded from Win98 to XP. No matter how we installed/uninstalled, etc. it would fail to get recognized most of the time when you plugged it in. I finally had to call them and ask them to send me a current driver CD (you can’t get most of the stuff on the CD off the web site). At least this one was installable, but it didn’t fix the problem.

        I finally just bought her an iPod and she’s never been happier with her mp3’s.

    • Forge
    • 17 years ago

    CircleSurround? For mixing up an MP3 soundtrack or song to 5.1 it works great. The one thing bugging me… The nForce2 could upmix, too… automatically. If I leave CircleSurround on and fire up a 4 or 5.1 speaker source, ONLY the simple stereo gets processed. A major irritation, when you can’t figure out why all the dialog on your movie is missing…

    As for the virtualization, I like it better than what nForce2 did, and that was my previous high mark.

    • Forge
    • 17 years ago

    Nothing audio/video is happy on Via. Apparently even the new PCI on the 8235 south has some serious quirks that only the 4in1s can ameliorate, and those aren’t a 100% fix. I was on a KT400 this last week… The Rev7.1 would pop and crackle a very little bit, but the Audigy was just unlistenable. The onboard Via-powered junk sounded better than the Audigy. For the older 8233A and below souths, just forget about it. No high end sound card could be happy in such a PCI Hellhole. Get a GTXP, as they work around Via very nicely, though at the expense of not sounding as good as current cards, and having their own quirks.

    As for the Rev7.1 consuming more resources and being ‘bad’, I didn’t find that to be an issue here. I never bashed CL for that, and I don’t think it’s an issue for most folks. I’d trade another 5% of my 3D speed to keep my Rev7.1, without any need to deliberate. It sounds THAT good, decoding AC3 into 5.1 32bit packed float, or even just playing a good MP3 through CircleSurround.

    Doesn’t mean the performance gap between the 6fire and the Rev7.1 escaped my notice, though….. M-Audio – Fix that ASAP!

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    I’ve been keeping tabs on the M-Audio Revolution 7.1 card for a few months now and this is the first review I’ve seen in the PC hardward enthusiast sites. The review is great because it compares the new card with the others and gives a clear view where the new kid stands in respect to sound quality and gaming performance.

    One of the unique features that the Revolution offers is SRS Circle Surround II which coverts stereo sound to surround sound. I would have liked to read some comments on how well it worked.

    Thanks for the review!

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    I guess the ‘burning question’ is:
    Does the damm thing get along with a VIA chipset board better than a Creative soundcard?
    I find it interesting that this was not tested……………of course first you have to admit that VIA chipsets and Creative soundcards have ‘issues’.
    I also find it interesting that the thing is a ‘resource hog’. In your original review this was noted against Creative cards and compared to a Creative card this one sucks up more resources, but now that is OK.
    Hey….don’t get me wrong, I’m all for variety/choice, but aren’t these reviews getting a bit less review like and more a listening test?

      • Dissonance
      • 17 years ago

      This review has more performance tests than any other audio article we’ve done; the reason the last comparison didn’t see as great an impact from sound cards that were more “resource hogs” was that that article tested with an Athlon XP 2100+ exclusively. This time around, I crippled the test system with a much slower processor to highlight any CPU utilization by the sound cards, and that made a big difference.

      Does the “resource hog” nature of the Revolution 7.1 matter? For media playback, no. For games, yes, but only on a low-end system with few CPU resources to spare. On our Athlon XP 2600+ test system, the performance hit is minimal.

        • Yahoolian
        • 17 years ago

        Hehe, what about the folding hit?

    • Forge
    • 17 years ago

    CompUsa is carrying it for 99.99$ nearly everywhere. For once they have a good product, at a normal price….

    • Grey Area
    • 17 years ago

    This sounds like a great card, and I’ve been thinking about getting a decent sound system for my box. Hopefully it will be available from local dealers…

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    Heh sorry AG7, but $96 shipped is sub $100… what you bitching about =)

      • Yahoolian
      • 17 years ago

      Heh, ever heard of a button called ‘reply’?

    • Anonymous
    • 17 years ago

    Is it just me, or is it mildly annoying when people claim something is Sub $100 because you can find it for a $1-$5 cheaper than $100? The cheapest I found it on pricewatch was $96 after shipping.

      • andurin
      • 17 years ago

      I’m not going to say it is just you, but I find that price meets the definition.

      • Anonymous
      • 17 years ago

      oici[<<]ii[<<]i

    • srj0808
    • 17 years ago

    I haven’t had the pleasure of listening to the Terratec but the Revo 7.1 is easily the best sounding sound card I’ve ever heard. If I had to do it again, I’d still buy it – in a NY minute!

    • Rakhmaninov3
    • 17 years ago

    Good review! My hearing is so bad that I still think an original Audigy 1 sounds fantastic, though, so it probably wouldn’t make that big a difference:)

    • Forge
    • 17 years ago

    I have a Rev7.1 and I adore it utterly. It replaces/succeeds the nForce2 audio very nicely, winning out in every category I care about, with the possible exception of positional/3D game audio… They’re real close there, at least.

    Lastest ALSA adds support for the ICE1724 (Envy24HT), to supplement the older ICE1712 (Envy24) driver. Mine isn’t working ATM, but I’ve only had one chance to download and try the CVS, so I’ll wait for a few weeks before grouching. I got the OSS driver for a test and it works well/sounds very good, but I’ll be damned if I’m paying 45$ for a Linux driver for my 100$ sound card…. I’ll keep restarting the OSS demo module till ALSA gets up to speed and makes a release.

    • andurin
    • 17 years ago

    I think I’m in the same boat as Damage: wanting to upgrade sound. This card looks pretty good, since I’ll also have to buy better speakers to get any benefit out of a new sound card. Excellent write-up again.

    • yokem55
    • 17 years ago

    The alsa support chart shows support for midman/m-audio’s other envy24h based stuff, but I didn’t see the revolution listed on their at all. Any idea if this card will end up being win only, or can frends of the penguin partake in reasonably priced 24-bit/96k goodness?

    • Dposcorp
    • 17 years ago

    Hmmmmm, finally a good reason to go back to non-integrated sound.
    After what Creative did to my system, i stuck with on board stuff.
    I’ll also keep checking on how this card and drivers play with various dually systems.

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