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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.