Diamonds Little Monster Sound MX300

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January 12
 

A3D - The Old And The NEW - Vortex 2 vrs. Vortex 1

 

Diamonds Little Monster Sound MX300

For this little spotlight I would like to take a close look at how technology advances, specifically in the field of 3D sound. For me, and historically for a lot of folks, sound cards are sometimes an afterthought. As long as the sound produced is in stereo and is free of noise and hiss, I was satisfied with my good old Sound Blaster 16 ISA card. Then, just like the evolution from 2D SVGA graphics to 3D Enhanced, trilinear filtered yadda, yadda, yadda... came the birth of 3D Positional Audio. The visual gaming experience just got more lifelike, so let's make it sound like the real thing too! First came A3D1 of the Vortex 1 chipset from Aureal Semiconductor and it was good. Then came A3D2/Vortex 2... Is it better? Should you run out and replace that old legacy card for this new hip 3D Sound Biscuit??? Let's take a look...

Althought I am in the Semiconductor Industry and live and breath this stuff, I am not going to get into the specific chipset differences between A3D1 and A3D2. I don't know enough about Aureal's chip level technology and you'd be sleeping on me if I went into Delta Sigma DACs and all that happy b.s...:-) If you want, go check out Aureal's White Papers and Technical Briefs. They'll give you all the bits and bytes your little propeller head can stand! So what are the main differences between the old and the new technology that we PC Gamers really care about? Check it...

  • Vortex 2 support more 3D sources, higher sample rage, bigger HRTF filters
  • Aureal Wavetracing & Trade: real-time acoustic reflection, reverb and occlusion rendering
  • A2D: host CPU based A3D emulation mode for non-accelerated PCs
  • Advanced resource management features
  • A3D authentication protection

(all information from Aureal Semiconductor)

What does this mean in terms of performance? IT SOUNDS BETTER... supposedly. Well, in other words, better 3D positional effects. HRTF stands for Head Related Transfer Functions, so things will sound more realistic with respect to the virtual positioning of objects and sounds as they relate to your position to the speakers. Better sampling rate (which is like saying higher resolutions in video terms) for higher fidelity, and resource management means lower overhead to the host processor.


So how does Aureal's grand daddy A3D1 differ physically from their new baby A3D2 chipset? A picture says it all. Both the Aztech PCI 338A3D and the Monster Sound MX300 are your basic "reference designs" around their respective Vortex 1 and Vortex 2 chipsets. Take a look...

Diamond's Monster Sound MX300


Aztech's PCI338 A3D


Yes, I know, not much to the A3D1 card but then again the MX300 really only has a few extra components. What amazes me is that the entire Vortex chipset on both models still fits neatly into a 144 Pin TQFP package! That stands for Thin Quad Flat Pack. I think Creative's SB Live is a multichip soluonti. By the way, sorry for the lousy pictures here folks. They don't do the boards justice. I've got to get me a digital camera fast!

Ok, so now for the sound. This is the subjective part. As you know, Sound Cards in many ways are like speakers when it comes to what makes one better than the other. My opinion may differ greatly from the next person's. Having said that, there is also a point in which there is a general consensus of opinion on a given product. I think that's what we're talking about here... I ran a few games both with and without A3D support. However, there are darn few right now that support A3D2.0. One that does is Half Life and it is spectacular! I also ran both with a two speaker setup, at least initially.

The 338A3D only has two speaker output so to compare apples to apples, I set the MX300 up that way as well. The difference in Half Life between two cards is quite dramatic. The Aztech card gave a good sense of left, right, and spatial positioning. When a monster was approaching from either side, I had a sense of depth and distance etc... Also, the reverb and echo effects were very impressive.

When playing with the MX300, however, I was propelled into a real sound environment. I was absolutely shocked when one of those annoying little crawling creatures in Half Life jumped up from BEHIND me and smacked me in the head. The effect with even two speakers was quite pronounced. The sense of depth and spatial perception was MUCH better with the Diamond card as well. When I set up the card with four speakers, the sound was simply AMAZING. In the true sense of this word, I was amazed at how well the technology actually worked! It was as if I was hearing the game. for the first time, the way it was intended to be heard. At times, I was unnerved by the uncomfortable feeling I was getting when being exposed to some of the creepy and grating sounds Half Life produces. The card IS that good... :-) This little gem is staying in my machine.

Now for the "bells and whistles." I'm a bells and whisles fan. Love to have the gadgets! You probably are too, if you are reading this. The Monster MX300 has some nice utilities for tweaking the sound and playing different media, etc...

 

Monster's Multimedia Rack!
Nice Rack!!!



 

Graphics EQ for tone control


Speaker Config Utility


Midi Config Utility



One final note, I did some benchmarking on the MX300 just to see what kind of hit A3Dsound put on the CPU when running Apps in A3D1, A3D2 mode and with no A3D at all. Here are some very basic numbers from Half Life. These numbers may be Half Life dependant, so make your own assumptions. This is a good reference point however.

All scores taken at 1024x768 on a PII-333 Oc'ed to 515 w/ 160MB PC100 RAM and an STB V4400 AGP card (Half Life Build 738)

 

No A3d

A3D1

A3D2

29.4

27.2

25.5

As you can see Ladies and Gents, both A3D1 and 2 hit the CPU somewhat. No big deal for me. The sound quality and experience is worth it. The difference between Vortex 1 and 2 performance is probably a driver maturity thing. Also, the above scores look a little low because I am still using the initial release of Half Life. Your scores could be significantly higher. However, if you have a low-end machine, this may or may not be the kind of performance hit that could make things unplayable. On that note however, A3D1 and 2 are very accessible APIs. That is to say, you can turn on and off different effects with console commands or option adjestments from most well written games that use A3D.

All in all kids, this is great stuff from Diamond. I highly recommend this card. It is such a value for the money! $99 or less on most online sites! Such a deal! Now, go get one. Would I ever steer you wrong?

-Davo

       

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