Product Review (October 2003)
M-Audio - Revolution 7.1 Sound Card

There was a time when PC audio was so bad that no respectable audiophile would even consider listening to music coming from a computer. Certainly times have changed and so have the PC-based audio products currently on the market. M-Audio, known for their professional audio line, has introduced the Revolution 7.1 PCI sound card capable of providing full 7.1 surround sound with 24-bit/192kHz performance. As more consumers use their PCs for multimedia, including watching movies and playing games, the need for multi-channel audio becomes apparent. The Revolution 7.1 sound card creates a sound space that rivals many of the home theater systems currently on the market. The performance numbers look impressive with claims of a dynamic range of 106 dB and a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 107dB. Total harmonic distortion is said to be 0.003%.

Installation
The installation of the Revolution 7.1 card was painless on our Sony Vaio PCV-RX550, 1.5GHz Pentium 4 machine. Once the card was in place, we booted the machine and were prompted by the Windows Hardware Wizard to insert the CD with the drivers. It's not a bad idea to check the M-Audio website for the latest driver release. Once the files were loaded and the PC rebooted, we did discover that the existing sound card needed to be disabled for the Revolution 7.1 to work properly.

The Revolution 7.1 side connector plate has 4 stereo line outputs for the 7.1 audio, a line input, a microphone input, and an S/PDIF RCA connector. There's really no more room for any other connections on this card, although it would have been nice to see an S/PDIF input. InterVideo's WinDVD 4 (Dolby Digital Surround EX version) is provided along with full versions of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 and VJ Lite. Trial versions of Propellerhead Reason and Ableton Live are also included along with some music samplers.

Design
The Revolution 7.1 sound card is loaded with some of the latest chips from AKM (Asahi Kasei Microsystems Co., Ltd.) for both digital playback as well as capturing two-channel audio. The front two output channels use an AKM AK4381 stereo DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) for high quality audio. The remaining 5.1 channels use the AKM AK4355 6-channel DAC. All of the DACs are capable of 24-bit/192kHz performance. Analog audio is sampled with the AKM AK5380 ADC (Analog-to-Digital Converter), providing full 24-bit/96kHz recording capability. The card uses the VIA Technologies Envy 24HT 8 channel audio controller, which has a PCI 2.2 compliant bus interface and data/control interfaces for the DACs and ADC. The Envy 24HT greatly simplifies the board design by providing standard digital audio interfaces to and from the PCI bus. In addition, the Envy 24HT has a built-in IEC958 line driver for the S/PDIF output.

Setup
The setup software included with the card is impressive. We first connected a rather inexpensive 5.1 speaker system (Logitech Z-640) for testing the sound card. The software for the card has a large number of commonly found PC speakers in the configuration database. This is a really nice feature for the average person who doesn't want to understand how to configure their specific speaker setup with the sound card. However, for those interested in doing so, the software allows the user to configure the speaker settings for all channels including the subwoofer. Even the speaker distance can be adjusted to compensate for time delays dues to non-ideal placement. The built-in SRS Circle Surround II technology worked well and created a spacious sound from our two-channel source material. Although we are not big computer gamers, it should be mentioned that the Revolution 7.1 card does support Sensaura, EAX (not EAX HD), DirectSound, and A3D. Once we verified the card was working correctly with our inexpensive speakers, we quickly moved to a higher-end audio system for some real critical listening.
We tested the Revolution 7.1 sound card using our reference 5.1 system that consisted of a Parasound AVC-2500u A/V controller and HCA-2205AT five-channel power amplifier. Audio was sent to the 5.1 analog inputs on the AVC-2500u. Our front speakers consisted of three M&K S-150 THX ULTRAs and a pair of SURROUND 250 MKII Tripoles™ in the rear. A pair of MX-350 MK II THX ULTRA subwoofers handled bass. Now was the time to hear the real capabilities of the card.

The included WinDVD 4 (Dolby Digital Surround EX version) that comes with the bundled software does not support DTS or DVD-Audio. To take full advantage of this powerful sound card we installed the latest version of InterVideo's WinDVD 5 Platinum along with the DVD-Audio pack. WinDVD 5 Platinum offers many additional features including full 5.1 DTS decoding. The DVD-Audio pack allowed us to play back high-resolution DVD-Audio discs for true 96kHz/24 bit audio from DTS Entertainment and Warner Music Group. In addition, full navigation is possible with DVD-Audio discs so that users can enjoy the extra features these discs have to offer such as slide shows, lyrics, pictures and more.

Performance
We started with some of our favorite DVDs that we've become familiar with over the years. However, this was the first time we watched and listened to these DVDs using a PC as the source. We started with Toy Story because it has some great surround material and we were very familiar with the spatial queues. The fidelity was excellent with no apparent harshness one might expect from a PC-based sound card. Dialog was crystal clear from our center channel speaker. We then exercised the dynamic range of the sound card by playing the beach scene in Saving Private Ryan. Bullets whizzing by our ears and deep bass from the explosions made us forget we were listening to a PC sound card.

DVD-Audio discs sounded great with our setup. We had absolutely no problem playing any of our DVD-Audio discs. We played the Foreigner 4 disc, which has some great tracks from the 80's. Track four; Waiting for a Girl Like You was an impressive demonstration of the Revolution 7.1 capabilities. The 24-bit/96kHz data revealed incredible detail DVD-Audio discs are known for. Full navigation was also possible with InterVideo's WinDVD 5 Platinum software. We would highly recommend getting this software if you plan to use this sound card with DVD-Audio discs. We also sampled some of our 5.1 DTS CDs including Gary Mraz's Studio Voodoo: Club Voodoo disc. The DTS decoder built into the InterVideo software worked great. We were amazed how good the card sounded with this material.

Conclusion
The Revolution 7.1 is not cheap ($99) for a sound card, but given the performance of this product and the bundled software that's included, you'll probably think it's a steal. We were thoroughly impressed with the features and sound quality produced by the Revolution 7.1 and when combined with a good performing audio system, the sound quality really shines. I've heard many standard PC sound cards in the past and there's absolutely no comparison in sound quality. The Revolution 7.1 is actually "revolutionary" in terms of features, performance and ease of installation. Given its price, we think it is money well spent on a multi-channel audio system built around your PC.
- Kevin Nakano


Review System #1

Desktop PC - Sony Vaio PCV-RX550, 1.5GHz Pentium 4
Display: Viewsonic G810
21" Monitor

Logitech: Z-640 5.1 Speaker System


Review System #2

Desktop PC - Sony Vaio PCV-RX550, 1.5GHz Pentium 4
Display - Mitsubishi - PD-5010 50" High-Definition Plasma Display (ISF calibrated)
Preamplifier/Processor: Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Preamp/Processor
Amplification: Parasound HCA-2205AT THX-Ultra Five Channel Amplifier
Bass Management: Miller & Kreisel BMC Mini 5.1 Bass Management Controller
Front Speakers: Miller & Kreisel S-150THX (L+R) and S-150AC (Center) Speakers
Rear Speakers: Miller & Kreisel SS-250 Tripole® Surround Speakers
Subwoofer: Two Miller & Kreisel MX-350THX MkII THX-Ultra Push-pull Subwoofers
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box #1: Samsung SIR-T165 Terrestrial HDTV Receiver with DVI
Set-top Box #2: RCA DTC100 HDTV/DSS Satellite Receiver
HDTV Receiver/Controller: Mitsubishi HD-5000 Receiver
D-VHS VCR #1: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
D-VHS VCR #2: Mitsubishi HS-HD2000U D-VHS High-Definition VCR
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
DVD Audio/Video Player: Kenwood Sovereign DV-5900M 400-Disc DVD Changer
A/V Cables: Ultralink Platinum and Advanced Performance Series Cables
DVI Cable: Monster Cable M Series M500DVI DVI-D Cable
Power Conditioning: Panamax MAX® 5510 ACRegenerator


Review at a glance
M-Audio
Revolution 7.1 Sound Card

Features

  • PCI solution for high-quality surround sound up to 7.1
  • Supports DTS output and Dolby Digital 5.1/EX (6.1 DVD) decoding
  • High-resolution audio output up to 24-bit/192kHz
  • True professional 24-bit/96kHz recording
  • Incredible 107dB signal-to-noise ratio
  • Real-time stereo-to-surround conversion
  • SRS Circle Surround II technology delivers realistic surround sound from any stereo source
  • Simple control panel for Bass Management and other features
  • Supports all popular media players including Windows Media 9
  • Includes software bundle worth over $200
  • Specifications

  • 24-bit/192kHz audio playback on all output channels
  • Supports all speaker configurations from stereo (or headphones) up to 7.1
  • Analog line in supports recording up to 24-bit/96kHz
  • Analog mic in supports recording up to 24-bit/96kHz
  • Coaxial digital output
  • S/N Ratio A->D: 100dB
  • S/N Ratio D->A: 107 dB (eight channel/two channel)
  • Driver-Level Bass Management
  • Windows Media 9 Compatibility
  • Very low CPU utilization
  • Dolby Digital Decode (Windows)
  • Supports both CircleSurround II and TruSurround XT
  • Package Includes

  • Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 (full version)
  • VJ Lite (full version)
  • WinDVD 4 (Dolby Digital EX version)
  • Propellerhead Reason (trial version)
  • Ableton Live (trial version)
  • Over 100 sounds and loops
  • Free M-Powered Artists CD sampler
  • Windows ME / 2000 / XP

  • W/O CSII , P 200 MMX, 64 megs RAM
  • W/ CSII (5.1), PIII 500, 64 Megs RAM
  • W/CSII (7.1), PIII 700, 128 Megs RAM

    OS 9.2.2 or Higher (OS X compatible)

  • W/O CSII , G3 350 (native), 64 Megs RAM
  • W/CSII (5.1), G4 350(Native), 64 Megs RAM
  • W/CSII (7.1), G4 500, 128 Megs RAM

    Revolution Drivers

    Revolution 7.1 Manual

    Revolution 7.1 QuickStart

    Company Information
    M-Audio
    45 East Saint Joseph Street
    Arcadia, CA 91006 USA
    Phone: (800) 969-6434
    Phone: (626) 445-2842
    Fax: (626) 445-7564

  • Source: Manufacture Supplied
    MSRP: $99, Street:
    URL:
    www.m-audio.com
    Information: info@m-audio.com
    Sales: sales@m-audio.com

    Any comments or questions regarding the LAAF Web Site should be forwarded to laaudiofile@socal.rr.com

    Copyright © 1985-2003 L.A. Audio File.