M-Audio Revolution 7.1 Review

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The MAudio Revolution 7.1 Review - Page 3

The M-Audio Revolution 7.1
Viva la revolución!

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

So the early outlook is that the Revolution might not be the perfect gamer's card. The lack of DirectSound hardware acceleration appears to limit your frame rate to some degree.  But what about music and DVD playback?  What kind of quality can we expect here?  We ran one lest test, using RightMark's Audio Analyzer, and then went to our ears for the final word.

Audio Quality
How does it stack up?

RightMark Audio Analyzer is an independent audio measurements open-source project developed by iXBT.com/Digit-Life team.  The test suite performs various tests of electro-acoustical performance of sound cards and other real-time audio devices.  Testing is accomplished by playing the test signals and recording them after they pass through the testing chain.  These tests were performed in loop back mode, where the same card was used for playback and recording.  We ran two tests at two different bit rates/sampling rates.



This is where the Revolution really shows its true colors.  As you can see in the comparisons to the Audigy 2, the Revolution typically has a lower noise level, a much better dynamic range, and less crosstalk between the speakers.  This results in a cleaner sound when listening to music or DVDs.  A quick way to check these results with your ears is to turn up the volume on your speakers while playing back music.  We didn't hear anything but the music with the Revolution 7.1, but static was noticeable with the Audigy 2.

Sometimes, you just have to trust your ears


It was important to find games that truly took advantage of 3D audio to really make a good decision here.  As we mentioned earlier, Tony Hawk Skater really doesn't have any advanced audio setup, which made it a non-choice.  We settled on two popular games, both of which have EAX support; Neverwinter Nights and Enter the Matrix.  We found that we weren't overly impressed with the sound effects in Enter the Matrix.  Although we did hear sounds from the rear channels, they were sometimes muddled, although this could be more of an issue with the game itself than the Revolution.  On the other hand, Neverwinter Nights, was greatly enhanced by the surround sound support. An immersive game in its own right, the proper spatial placement of attacks and parries made battles seem more realistic.  The soundtrack came through beautifully from the front channels, with the melodic mix of tracks that NWN is known for.  We didn't notice any playback problems in either game that could be attributed to the Revolution, and on higher-end systems the CPU utilization complaint will most likely by a small issue.


We listened to a number of MP3 tracks in WinAMP 3.0, and CD Audio in Windows Media Player 9, which supports 24bit playback.  For the MP3s we tried to find a good mix of music, choosing tracks from Enya, Pink Floyd, and White Zombie.  We also tossed in a few CDs by Blues Traveler and Prodigy. It should be noted that MP3s and CDs are played back in stereo - not surround sound.  We listened using two speakers and while they sounded fine, it was hard to say that it truly sounded better than on the Audigy 2.  It was only after enabling the Circle Surround Sound II, and choosing the 'Music' option, that we were truly impressed.  The upsampling from 2 speakers to 5 speakers plus subwoofer added a new life to anything we listened to.  We cranked up the volume and then sat back as the room really came alive with music.  I highly suggest to any music lover to give the CSS II a listen, as it made any track more symphonic and enveloping.  While the Audigy 2 also offers a similar technology, it didn't impress us the way the Revolution did.


Using the bundled WinDVD 4.0, we searched through our collection, and played back a few scenes from Star Wars Episode II - Attack of the Clones, Lord of the Rings - Fellowship of the Ring, and Pearl Harbor.  All three of these movies have received commendations for audio excellence, and the DVDs offered Dolby 5.1 playback.  First, a quick switch in the drivers back to "no processing" was needed.  Then, the correct choice must be made in the audio setup from the DVD menu.  As with games, the 3D placement of the audio added to the overall impact of the movie.  Nothing was compromised, as the music tracks played through clearly from the front channels, while the sounds of battle rang true from the correct location on screen.  Laser shots and flying planes rotated around our heads from the extra speakers.  Once you have used such a setup, it's near impossible to go back to a 2 speaker setup.  

M-Audio set out to provide the best audio card on the market for the right price, and our gut feelings are that they have done an almost perfect job.  From games, to music, to DVD playback, we were continually impressed by the sheer quality and liveliness of the playback.  The drivers that we downloaded from their website were a quick download, and were easy to use.  The only option missing there would have been the equalizer, but this could easily be fixed in a later release.  CPU utilization was higher than comparable cards, but this too may be solved with newer drivers. The audio quality would normally be found on expensive professional cards, but M-Audio has made it available to even mainstream consumers, listing the card at a sub-$100 price point, generally cheaper the the Audigy 2. 

One other note is that a soundcard is helped or hindered by the speakers attached to it.  Obviously, without a 5.1 or better setup, the Revolution 7.1 isn't able to live up to it's strengths.  True, the sound will be clear and crisp from two speakers, but it was when we were able to experience the surround sound capabilities of the Revolution 7.1 that the card really put a smile on our faces.  In a perfect world, we might have full DirectSound hardware support, easy to use drivers, and the best audio quality out there, but for now we'll settle for two out of three.  The M-Audio Revolution 7.1 audio card is a great solution for those who want to look outside the Creative camp, and we give it a 9 on the HotHardware Heat Meter.

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