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Board layout
On the surface, the Entertainer looks like, well, a sound card. What did you expect?

The Entertainer comes decked out on a dark brown board that's just a shade away from black. Mad Dog even gives the card a little bling appeal with a gold-colored PCI back plate header.

The gold back plate is a little gaudy for my tastes, but it's loaded with more than enough ports to keep me happy. In addition to TOS-Link digital S/PDIF ports, the back plate provides access to analog mic and line-in input ports, and all four analog output ports. In a perfect world, the Entertainer would also have coaxial S/PDIF ports and hardware to move mic and headphone jacks up to the front of a case, but the card should have more than enough inputs for most users as-is.

For whatever reason, Mad Dog chooses to mask the Entertainer's audio chip under a sticker bearing its own name. Peeling the sticker back reveals VIA's Envy24HT-S audio chip, which is the heart of the card's capabilities and limitations.

As far as I can tell, this Envy24's "HT-S" moniker is little more than a branding exercise to differentiate it from the Envy24PT, whose capabilities are nearly identical. VIA is targeting the HT-S at consumer sound cards, and it looks like they want to keep the PT name associated with motherboard audio and information appliances.

From a branding perspective, it might not be a bad idea to reserve the HT moniker for discrete sound cards, but it seems sort of silly considering the Envy24HT-S and Envy24PT's similarities. Those similarities extend beyond the audio chips themselves and reach all the way down to the codec and DAC chips used in PT and HT-S implementations.

VIA's VT1616 codec

Wolfson's WM8728 DAC

VIA's VT1616 codec and Wolfson's WM8728 DAC are frequently paired together in Envy24PT motherboard implementations, so it's no surprise to see them sharing the stage on the Entertainer. Now that VIA's Envy24 drivers support stereo output through the Wolfson DAC, the WM8728 could definitely be the Entertainer's ace in the hole. Even if users don't utilize the WM8728's 24-bit capabilities, the high-end DAC should provide superior output quality to the VT1616 for basic CD audio playback.

We've whipped up a number of audio quality and listening tests to throw at the Entertainer's two analog output options, but before we get into that, let's have a look at how the drivers handle switching between them.