In the Package
Opening up the box, you find a neatly packed sound card, wrapped in a silver anti static bag and cushioned by cellulose packing peanuts. I'm not sure if the silver anti-static bags are functionally superior to the regular clear ones or not, but they sure look cooler. I could tell the packing peanuts were cellulose because they dissolved in water, that's good for the environment. Drivers for the card are packaged on a CD-ROM. There is no real software bundle to speak of, as the Hoontech is target towards experienced users who only want to pay for the hardware, as they already have better software than what is included with consumer sound cards.
Looking at the sound card itself, it doesn't look like Hoontech cut any corners with the construction of the board. The PCB looks fairly thick, and the components are well spaced out. Placement of components is a very important design factor that can have audible differences, more on this later.
SoundTrack Digital XG, naked
The 2D sound quality of the Hoontech is very competitive. These days, almost all of the "better" sound cards on the market have pretty decent D/A converters and will produce clean sound. The 18bit D/A converter on the Hoontech is the same D/A converter as on Vortex2 boards. Hoontech's sound output isn't identical to the Vortex2, however. It's better. In terms of signal to noise ratio, or how much background static is apparent in the output signal, the Hoontech is much quieter. This can probably be explained by the path that the signal takes before and after reaching the SigmaTel D/A converter.
Other qualities used to describe 2D audio, such as imaging and dynamics, the Hoontech sounds pretty similar to a Vortex2, although the reduced background noise really does a lot to improve the listening experience. You may get used to a little hiss in the background, but once you get used to having no background hiss at all, there is no going back. Here is where the board construction becomes relevant. With very similar components, the difference in quality comes from design decisions that were made.
Although the MIDI music in rarely used in games today, it is still a very popular format for musicians. The YMF744 chip offers the best MIDI support in any gaming accelerator today by offering a software-hardware hybrid implementation of Sondius-XG. The XG MIDI format offers 676 different instruments and enables additional music filters and effects such as distortion, overdrive, reverb, chorus, and flange. Traditional wavetable synthesis uses a handful of recorded samples of musical instruments and then modifies the pitch to generate the full-range of audio. The Stanford University designed Sondius physical modeling synthesis instead uses mathematical model of the instruments to simulate the nuances and resonances that are generated when air flows through the flute or horn. An early version of this technology was first implemented in Creative Lab's AWE64 series of sound cards under the Sondius name, and Yamaha also marketed this under "Virtual Acoustic."