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MADDOG Entertainer 7.1 DSP
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Date: Feb 17, 2004
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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MADDOG Entertainer 7.1 DSP - Page 1

MAD DOG Entertainer 7.1 DSP Sound Card
8 Channels of Chest Pounding Sound

By Tom Laverriere
February 17, 2004

Many of today's motherboards are equipped with more than ample integrated sound solutions, which has made aftermarket sound cards a bit of an afterthought for some users.  While some will correctly argue that add-in sound cards offer much better sound quality, this "improved" sound quality does come at a price.  Thanks to companies like MAD DOG Multimedia, that price can be a very reasonable one.  Today in the HotHardware labs, we have the MAD DOG Entertainer 7.1 DSP sound card.  The Entertainer 7.1 incorporates VIA's Envy24HT-S audio controller, which offers up to eight channels of digital sound with Sampling rates up to 192 kHz.  Yes, this card "sounds" promising, but the big question still remains - Is an add-in card worth the upgrade over today's high-end integrated sound solutions?  After testing the MAD DOG Entertainer sound card in a variety of situations, we drew our own conclusion.  Read on to see what we found...

Specifications
We Hope you have some good speakers!

Features
24-bit Digital Signal Processor (DSP)

Sampling rates up to 192 kHz

PCI 2.2 Interface with Bus Mastering and Burst Modes

3 Synchronous I2S/AC-link Output Data Stream Pairs

2 Synchronous I2S/AC-link Input Data Stream Pairs

Multi-channel AC-Link supported

Integrated S/PDIF Transmitter with IEC958 Line Driver

Digital Loop-back and Stream Routing Mechanism

ACPI and PCI PMI Support

I2C Subset Interface Peripherals Control

Windows® WDM drivers

3.3V Operating Supply (5V Tolerant I/O)
 

On-Board Connectors
Front Speakers (L/R)

Rear Speakers (L/R)

Center Speaker / Subwoofer (C/Sub)

Headset Out / Alternate (L/R)

Microphone

Line In

S/PDIF Out (Optical cable)

S/PDIF In (Optical cable)


 

Speaker Recommendations

In order to experience immersive and heart-pounding 8-channel sound, you must use an 8-channel (7.1) capable speaker system.  To experience 6-channel sound you must use a 6-channel (5.1) speaker system.  This card also supports 2-channel and 4-channel speaker configurations.

Compatibility

Windows XP, 2000, ME, 98, 95, and NT 4.0

Windows NT 4.0 functionality may differ from box specifications due to

limitations in Windows NT

 

Minimum System Requirements

Intel Pentium® II class processor or higher

AMD K6-2® 266MHz processor or higher
PCI 2.1 or higher expansion slot
64 MB system RAM
CD-ROM / DVD-ROM / CD-RW Drive
10 MB available disk space
Windows
® 98 / ME / NT / 2000 / XP
To experience surround sound, you must use 4, 6, or 8-channel speakers
 

Box Contents

ENTERTAINER 7.1 DSP Sound Card

Quick Setup Guide

Installation and Information CD

One (1) Optical S/PDIF Cable

 


     

        

  

 
At first glance, the MAD DOG Entertainer DSP 7.1 is an impressive looking card.  The myriad of connectors on the rear gold plated bracket hint at the 7.1 surround capabilities of this card, which means it can drive up to 8 distinct audio channels.  Don't worry if you don't own 8 speakers, however, because the MAD DOG Entertainer also supports 2, 4, and 6 speaker configurations as well.  The software / accessory bundle included with MAD DOG Entertainer DSP 7.1 was bit slim, which is part of the reason why this card is positioned at a lower price point.  Inside the box we found an optical S/PDIF cable for digital sound, along with a driver CD and a quick installation guide.  Not the most inspiring bundle, but all of the essentials were included.

Setup, Installation and  Software

 

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MADDOG Entertainer 7.1 DSP - Page 2

MAD DOG Entertainer 7.1 DSP Sound Card
8 Channels of Chest Pounding Sound

By Tom Laverriere
February 17, 2004

 
Installation and Software
Like Taking Candy From a Baby!

The installation instructions included with the MAD DOG Entertainer can't be called a manual because it's really just a simple insert, but nevertheless, all pertinent information is included.  Installation of the card is quite typical of any PCI device.  Locate an empty PCI slot on your motherboard and insert the card there.  After securing the card to the case with a screw, close up the case and power on the machine and install the drivers.  We are using Windows XP so a few seconds after the OS had finished loading a little note popped up in the system tray notifying us that XP had found a new piece of hardware.  Simply cancel out of that screen and launch the included driver CD.  A window will pop up with a few options.  Clicking on Setup will load the drivers for the card.  Once the drivers are loaded the system requires a reboot.  Once the machine is rebooted the installation is done.

  • Setup: Installs the drivers for the sound card
  • Register: Walkthrough of how to register your product
  • Manuals: Manuals in PDF format
  • DirectX: Installs the latest version of DirectX onto your machine
  • Warranty: Document stating the warranty coverage of the sound card

With the drivers installed, the system tray contained a new icon.  Clicking on it revealed the sound card's configuration panels.  You will notice that there are seven different tabs for the various output and input settings of the card.  Across the top of the screen, above the tabs are five icons that are used to set the speaker configuration.  As you can see we have chosen 6 speakers which is equal to 5.1 surround sound.  Once the speaker configuration is set, the appropriate controls are visible and adjustable on each tab.  Since we tested our speakers using an analog signal, the tabs related to a digital signal were grayed out and did not display any useful information.

Playback

Record


 


 

Speaker Configuration

Device Info

The Playback tab allows you to set the volume level of all the speakers you have connected to the system.  The Record tab allows you to set the volume of your recording device, and more importantly what input source you will be using when recording.  The Speaker Configuration tab tests each speaker individually, which comes in handy for a couple of different reasons.  One reason is to make sure each individual speaker is working and secondly to hear the volume of each speaker separately.  This is very useful for fine-tuning the overall sound of the system.  Finally, the Device Information tab simply displays the driver versions and some system information including OS and DirectX versions.  Overall, we found the sound card's control panels to be straightforward.  The average user should be able to have their speakers set up properly in a matter of minutes.  Now that the sound card is setup and ready to go, let's get to some performance numbers for the MAD DOG Entertainer DSP 7.1 sound card.
 

Performance & Benchmarks

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MADDOG Entertainer 7.1 DSP - Page 3

MAD DOG Entertainer 7.1 DSP Sound Card
8 Channels of Chest Pounding Sound

By Tom Laverriere
February 17, 2004

For the next benchmark we used the DirectX 9 based Aquamark 3.  We ran through the benchmark at a setting of 640x480x32 with both audio enabled and disabled.  Let's see how much of an impact on performance enabling audio had on the game's frame rates.

 

Aquamark 3
CPU Utilization in 3D

In both cases there is a small drop in frame rate when audio is enabled, but in each case we're only looking at a 2% decrease.  When it comes right down to it, even the most discerning eye will not notice such a degradation in performance while playing a game.  Besides who wants to play a game without sound?

Comanche 4
More In-Game Action

Using Comanche 4 we again ran a set of benchmarks at 640x480 with and without audio enabled.  We can see above that the MAD DOG sound card required a little more processing power to reproduce the sounds in Comanche, as there is a 5% decrease in performance here.  The NVIDIA SoundStorm, on the other hand, caused only a 3% decrease in performance when audio was enabled.  To wrap things up we ran the card through a round of Quake 3 and Serious Sam.

Quake 3, Serious Sam & The Ratings

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MADDOG Entertainer 7.1 DSP - Page 4

MAD DOG Entertainer 7.1 DSP Sound Card
8 Channels of Chest Pounding Sound

By Tom Laverriere
February 17, 2004

For our next set of benchmarks we used a couple of older games, namely Quake 3 Arena and Serious Sam: The Second Encounter.  In any event, they will give us a feel for how our audio subsystems affected performance.

Quake 3
OpenGL Gaming Performance

In the Quake 3 time demo we're seeing barely any drop off in performance when audio is enabled.  This is more of what we'd like to see when it comes to performance from our audio subsystems. NVIDIA's SoundStorm integrated audio and MAD DOG's Entertainer 7.1 sound card both performed well here.

Serious Sam: TSE
More in-Game Action

Our last test was run with the Serious Sam: The Second Encounter Demo using the Little Trouble level.  This game takes a much bigger hit in performance with audio enabled.  The MAD DOG Entertainer card caused almost a 4% decrease in performance, but this is right in line with what we've been seeing all along.  The NVIDIA powered on-board sound again doesn't seem to effect the score quite as much as the MAD DOG Entertainer sound card. 

 

Subjective Listening
Ears Wide Open

GAMES: UT2003, Quake 3, NHL 2004

Gaming with both the SoundStorm on-board sound and the MAD DOG Entertainer was a very pleasing experience.  We give the edge to the MAD DOG Entertainer, however, since it better reproduced the little sounds that made the games feel more immersive.  Our on-board sound solution, was a bit flat and less impressive, in our opinion.  In UT2003 and Quake 3, the footsteps were strikingly clear with the MAD DOG Entertainer while the on-board sound made those types of sounds harder to discern.  Overall, we liked the MAD DOG Entertainer for our gaming needs.


WinAMP v3.0 & Windows Media Player 9:

For testing music quality on both of these sound cards we took our Metallica "Load" CD and ripped all the tracks from it into mp3 format at 192kbps bit rate.  We also listened to a wide variety of music CDs to see how diverse each card was in reproducing different music genres.  Again, in this testing we feel the MAD DOG Entertainer had an edge over the on-board sound.  The highs were crystal clear and the bass seemed to hit harder with the MAD DOG Entertainer.  It seemed that in order to get the same feeling from the music with the SoundStorm audio, higher volume levels were required.  This is not always a bad thing, but in our minds being able to produce accurate audio at any volume level is key. 

After running the MAD DOG Entertainer sound card through a round of benchmarks and listening to it subjectively, it's safe to say that we were fairly impressed with this card from a subjective standpoint.  Its paper specs and features were impressive as well,  since the card offers up to eight channels of digital sound and uses a reputable codec in the Envy24 series.  Additionally, this card definitely may delight you where it matters the most - your wallet.  The MAD DOG Entertainer can be found on various search engines for around $50.  However, while the Entertainer won't take a huge chunk out of your savings, it doesn't offer as much incentive to make the switch from a quality on-board sound solution.  When listened to subjectively, both the on-board sound and the MAD DOG Entertainer sounded very comparable, neither one really stood out that prominently.  Clearly however, we gave the Entertainer strong competition in our test scenarios, as nVidia's "Sound Storm" technology is better than the standard CODEC solutions you find on many Intel chipset based motherboards.  Performance wise, the benchmarks show that the MAD DOG card uses a bit more processing power when compared to NVIDIA's SoundStorm, which itself uses more CPU resources than cards like Creative Lab's Audigy or Hercules' Fortissimo III.  So it all boils down to what you really need.  If your motherboard currently doesn't have on-board sound then the MAD DOG Entertainer DSP 7.1 sound card is a great addition to any system.  If you're already satisfied with your on-board sound, then we find less reason to upgrade unless, of course, you have 8 speaker setup, which is obviously not commonplace .  We're giving the MAD DOG Entertainer DSP 7.1 sound card a HotHardware Heat Meter rating of 7.5.

  • 8 discrete channels
  • Digital and analog ins & outs
  • VIA Envy24HT-S codec
  • 24-bit Digital Signal Processor
  • Affordable
  • Slightly higher CPU utilization when compared to the competition

Discuss this or any other Hot Hardware Review in the PC Hardware Forum!

 

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