M-Audio Revolution 7.1 Review

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The M-Audio Revolution 7.1
Viva la revolución!

"Burned in" by Robert Maloney
June 23rd, 2003


 

M-Audio's goal is simple: to provide high-quality technology and features, but at accessible prices for the consumer.  How can you combine the best audio with a bunch of features, and still come in under $100?  Their approach was to look for the one of the best audio chipsets out there, and provide some powerful, yet easy to use software.  Let's see if it stacks up.

Installation and Setup 
Quick and easy

Installation of the card was straightforward, and after hearing about earlier problems with the drivers on the CD, we opted to download the latest version from M-Audio's website.  The download was quick (about 8MB) and it's all that you need.  A quick check of Creative's website showed close to 20 downloads of various types and sizes for just the Audigy 2 alone, never mind their other cards.  Kudos to M-Audio for keeping it simple.

Windows XP started up, and as expected, a new multimedia device was found.  We cancelled out of this, and ran the installation of the new driver set, which then prompted us to shut down the system, ostensibly to install the card.  It struck us a bit odd, as if the drivers should be installed before the card, which we have seen with some hardware from time to time.  At any rate, we proceeded to shut down, and then reboot the system.  Again, a multimedia device was found.  We chose to automatically install the drivers this time, and were up and running.

     

The color coding of the ports makes attaching most modern speaker sets a breeze.  The Logitech Z640 speakers we were using had green, orange, and black cables which match the ports for a 5.1 speaker setup.  The last silver port would be used for an additional 2 speakers in a 7.1 setup.  Rounding out the connections were the microphone jack (red) and line-in (blue).  At the top of the bracket was an RCA jack for digital output, but unfortunately there was no jack for digital input.  We also noticed that no MIDI port was on the card either.  For a card touted to support high-end recording, we found these to be noticeable absences.

After a quick look at the card, we noticed that the typical CD-IN connectors were also missing, but this shouldn't cause any concern.  Actually, the card was quite clean with few traces mostly surrounding the AKM DACs.  M-Audio explains that this layout was designed in such as way as the keep the audio signals as clean as possible.  Placing components too close together could introduce noise into the signal, thereby degrading the quality of the sound.  This knowledge stems from M-Audio's long history in producing professional audio components, which they have brought into the consumer market.

At the heart of the Revolution is the VIA Envy24HT chip, also known as the ICensemble ICE1724.  With support for 8 outbound streams, it can easily support theatre quality audio in 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 surround sound systems.  The Envy24HT even enables hardware down-mixing, which allows users with 2 or 4 speaker setups to enjoy a complete surround sound experience.  The Envy24HT also supports 24-bit performance and 192kHz sampling rates for all 8 channels.  This brings the highest audio playback and recording quality to the mainstream PC enthusiast.

A closer look at the drivers
Bringing it all together

All of the best hardware in the world won't do much for you, unless you've got some decent drivers to get it working right.  M-Audio provides a fully functional control panel that provides the user with quick and easy choices to get up and running quickly, but also provides some fine-tuning for audiophiles.  Unlike some other companies, whose drivers have become somewhat bloated and arcane, here everything is presented in an easy-to-read graphical format.

     

   


The speakers can be set up from the first screen using pre-defined quick-switch settings at the top, but for more precise setups M-Audio has provided specific configurations obtained from a drop-down menu.  Scrolling through the list, I was able to choose my Logitech Z640 speakers, which then correctly set the size of the speakers in the original setup screen.  This leaves less guesswork to the user, and the list of speaker sets is fairly comprehensive.  At the bottom of each of the screens is a quick and handy slider for controlling the master volume.  The output and input mixers allow fine tuning for each of the speakers or input sources.  When testing your setup, you have the option of muting each device, or listening to that device only by clicking on 'solo'.  One section that we felt may have been missing here, especially considering the background of M-Audio, was an equalizer.  While general levels for input and output can be determined, the audio source itself cannot be manipulated.   

In the Surround Sound section lie some of the really intriguing options.  For optimal game compatibility, Sensaura/Game mode should be turned on.  This is mostly for games with 3D support, otherwise 'No Surround Processing' can be selected which can save some CPU cycles.  The last choice is labeled SRS Circle Surround II, and it is the same technology you can find in high-end receivers.  Basically, it takes a stereo signal, and translates over multiple speaker setups, thereby enriching the sound.  The sound can be further enhanced using the Dialog Clarity and TruBass sliders.  One note, however, is that with CS II enabled, a maximum sampling rate of 48 kHz is supported.  At higher rates, you are dropped back to stereo output only.

Some CPU Utilization benchmarks

 

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