Onboard Audio: QuantumWave Weighs In
We don't normally spend much time on motherboard audio, but MSI has put a fair push behind its QuantumWave Audio. The XPower's advertising claims that QuantumWave's support for THX TruStudio PC and EAX 5 (licensed from Creative) gives it the "most powerful and realistic gaming audio performance available from any motherboard."
The actual chip behind all the lights and magic is a thoroughly pedestrian Realtek ALC889. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but one normally doesn't think of Realtek when envisioning awesome audio solutions. Has MSI's special software sauce sparked sensational sounds?
Let's have a look. We tested the EVGA's Realtek ALC889 chip against the MSI board's and tossed in a Creative X-Fi ($49.99 at NewEgg) for comparison. Testing was conducted by looping an audio cable from the speaker output to the line-in jack in all three cases. Prior to testing, audio levels were adjusted to produce the cleanest test signal possible.
We tested sound quality at both 44KHz / 16-bit and 96KHz / 24-bit. RMAA runs a variety of tests, ranking each test on a scale of 1-6, where 1 = Very Poor and 6 = Excellent. The test than gives a "General Performance" statistic, which we've reproduced here.
All software-side adjustments and dB tweaks were disabled.
We weren't able to hear much of a difference between the EVGA and MSI boards when we compared their audio output, although the Creative's overall sound was sharper, with better response when playing high and low frequencies. The difference was noticeable, but not enormous—motherboard audio has come a very long way in the past 6-7 years.
When we increased audio quality, the EVGA solution dropped back a notch, while the Creative X-Fi kept its position. The features of the Big Bang's QuantumWave—specifically its EAX and THX goodies—may be reason enough for HTPC fans to buy the board, but the card's audio doesn't sound any better (or, to be fair, any worse) than the other major solutions on the market.