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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [07.15.04]
Manufactured by: Philips

MSRP: $69.99

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Subjective Audio Quality

To determine which card sounds the BEST, I sat down for a few hours with all four soundcards installed, and swapped a pair of relatively (in terms of those who would be listening to a $100 soundcard) high end headphones (Sony MDR-CD580) between them while listening to various types of music. All effects were turned off, and EQ's set to flat.

Music ranged from the heavily layered, complicated sounds of NIN, to the sound pitches never thought possible by humans from Mariah Carey, to the fruity acoustics of The Eagles, to classic Bach. And everything in between. I jotted down notes as I enjoyed the music.

  • Audigy 2 ZS - Creates a bright, "lively" soundstage. Bass seems overly loud and sloppy. Vocals sound absolutely wonderful, but overall doesn't have a very 'accurate' sound.
  • Revolution 7.1 - Also a somewhat bright sound, and quite sharp. The Revo 7.1 seemed to be noticably more accurate than the other cards. If anything, it sounds technically superior to the others.
  • Ultimate Edge - A noticably warm sound compared to the other soundcards. Bass response not nearly as punchy as the Audigy 2, but more accurate. Vocals sound clear, but don't stand out in front of the rest of the sound. Seems 'subdued' compared to the rest, which may be a good or a bad thing depending on your taste.
  • Intel HD - VERY sloppy bass compared to the other cards. Extremely bright sounding, and not at all accurate. Sounds a lot like the Audigy 2, but without the wonderfully clear vocals. Noticably poorer performance than the rest of the cards.

Remember that these are purely subjective results based on my personal thoughts.

QRumble and QSizzle, fo shizzle my nizzle

What the hizzle? I explained what these features we all about in the coverage of the drivers. They attempt to 'replace' the high and low frequencies that are ripped out of music when you encode it at low bitrates. To test this, I ripped some of the tracks I listened to above to pure WAV files, then to low quality 128 kbps MP3 files. I listened to these tracks with the settings at various levels, and compared to their original quality.

The results? Not too great. While the Q features do what they say in adding bass and mid response when enabled, they do not make an MP3 sound like it was originally supposed to. Comparing an MP3 with Q enabled to a WAV with Q enabled is like comparing an MP3 without Q to a WAV without Q. It's still an overcompressed, messy, nasty sound that should not see itself outside a personal MP3 player.

The way I see it, music should be listned to as intended; don't take away sound by compressing it, and don't add anything to it with funky features and effects. That's my thought as a music lover, but yours may differ. If your main means of obtaining music is by downloading MP3's, chances are you're not too worried about audio quality in the first place.

For other sources such as TV, the Q features are a little more useful. I am using the Ultimate Edge in a HTPC (for our upcoming HTPC article), and using QSizzle and QRumble on a regular cable or satellite signal does make regular TV more enjoyable.

Gaming Performance

As you can probably tell from the introduction to this article, I was pretty turned off from Creative's products since they sued my favourite soundcard company to death. But for the purposes of soundcard testing, I was required to buy an Audigy 2 ZS (Creative doesn't work with online media). After testing with various games using various 3D technologies and implementations, I came to the following conclusion:

In terms of gaming performance, there is the Audigy 2 ZS and then there is everything else.

Truly, it's in a class of its own. Why is that? They all sound pretty similar when DirectSound is used, and the same goes for EAX and EAX2. So what's the deal?

EAX3. it will rock your Fn world. I swear it. I almost fell out of my chair when I turned on EAX3 in the middle of a level in Call of Duty. Words can barely describe the experience of playing a game in EAX3 compared to everything else... The effects are louder and more detailed, positioning works better, and.. oh my.. Just try it for yourself.

As far as the Ultimate Edge, well, it keeps up sound-wise with the Audigy 2 when anything less than EAX3 is being used. It is noticably better than Intel's HD as well. Overall, it does a 'good enough' job to be in the group of 'everything other than the Audigy 2 ZS', but nothing more.

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