Sorting through the audio market
So, you’re ready for a new sound card in the New Year and you want something good. You play a lot of games with 3D positional audio, so our recommendation of the Acoustic and Seismic Edge for 2 channel digital out is no good. You’ve read our Hercules round-up
and decided that while they’re good, you’re willing to spend more but the exotic prosumer cards from Terratec or M-Audio are out of your range. This leaves just two high-end gaming sound cards left: the Creative Labs Audigy 2 and the NVIDIA nForce2 MCP with SoundStorm.
The $150 Audigy 2 Platinum is the flagship product from Creative Labs. Sporting 24/192 DACs on all six channels and true 24/96 analog playback and recording, the Audigy 2 is the gaming sound card that comes closest to the prosumer sound cards. 64 3D positional audio channels are accelerated in hardware and tweaked through EAX Advanced HD. The Audigy Drive completes the package for front I/O for your system. As a media processor, two 6-pin IEEE-1394 ports are also included.
The equivalently priced $150 nForce2 platform represents NVIDIA’s flagship platform processor. It also promises 64 hardware accelerated 3D audio streams, but claims to support 256 2D audio streams. Behind this processing power is Sensaura’s HRTF algorithms for positional 3D audio, considered by many to be the reference standard. Indeed, Microsoft considers the nForce MCP as the reference DirectX8 audio setup.
With its roots in the Xbox, the nForce2 SoundStorm features real-time Dolby Digital Interactive Content Encoding. Dolby Digital ICE is exclusive to NVIDIA at the moment since no other manufacturer has put the engineering effort to compete with NVIDIA at this level. Just like the Audigy 2, the nForce2 features IEEE-1394 connectivity. Our ASUS A7N8X one ups the Audigy 2 by offering a 4-pin Firewire connector for greater flexibility. Oh yeah, one more thing: The $150 nForce2 happens to include an ATA133 controller, USB 2.0 controllers, an AGP8X slot, and the world’s fastest dual-channel DDR AMD SocketA interface.
In a departure from our typical article format, we’re going to throw up all the numbers first and then talk.