Terratec Aureon Vs. AudioTrak Prodigy

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Terratec Aureon Vs. AudioTrak Prodigy
Two 7.1 24-Bit/192kHz Cards Under $150

by Jeff Bouton
September 18, 2003


Specifications of the Terratec Aureon 7.1 Space
Short and Sweet


Features and Specifications:

DirectSound/DirectSound3D, A3D 1.0, EAX 1.0, EAX 2.0, I3DL2
PC 2001, PCI specification rev. 2.1, 2.2
PCI Bus Power Management Interface Specification 1.0

Digital Audio
24 Bit / 96kHz recording
24 Bit / 192 kHz * playback
Extended full duplex stereo for recording & playback (mono/stereo)
Record and playback all audio sources

Audio Mixer
Individual level controls for all audio sources

Digital optical output, 44.1 kHz / 48 kHz / 96 kHz / 192 kHz * (TOS link)
Digital input, optical, 44.1 kHz / 48 kHz / 96 kHz (TOS link)
4 Line Outs, stereo (3.5 mm) 24 Bit / 192 kHz *
Line In, stereo (3.5 mm) 24 Bit / 96 kHz
Microphone In, mono (3.5 mm) 24 Bit / 96 kHz

Onboard connections
2 separate CD audio inputs, stereo (MPC3)
Aux In, stereo (MPC3)

Windows 98 SE / Me
Windows 2000 / XP


Software DVD Player
Musicmatch Jukebox
Emagic Logic Fun
Free- & Shareware

System requirements
One free PCI 2.1 compatible PCI slot and one other free slot
Intel Pentium III or AMD K6 III 500 or higher
64 MB system memory
Screen resolution of at least 800 x 600, 16 bit color
CD-ROM drive / DVD-ROM drive (for the DVD Player)
50 MB free hard disk Space
* 8-channel-playback requires Windows XP. Other Operating Systems support 6 channels. 192 kHz-playback requires Windows XP with Service Pack 1 (for free download visit www.microsoft.com).

The Card:

The Terratec Aureon 7.1 is a potent little card with a clean layout built around VIA's ICEnsemble Envy24HT processor.  At the top of the card are 4 connectors, two for CD inputs, one auxiliary and one CD-ROM digital input. 

On the backplate lie all of the external connections of the card.  A total of 8 ports are provided including an Optical digital input and output.  The optical connections provide the cleanest possible connection through the use of fiber optics, effectively eliminating resistance and noise associated with typical copper conductor cabling.  The card includes both a microphone and line-in analog input for recording purposes.  The remaining four green outputs supply outputs for front and rear speakers, center channel-LFE and Back Surround.

Overall, the Aureon is a clean card with a wide range of features in a small package, but that is only half of the picture.  As with any piece of PC hardware, the unit is only as good as the drivers it uses.  So let's take a quick look at the Aureon's installation and driver package.

The Drivers Behind The Aureon 7.1 Space
How Do You Do The Things That You Do?

The layout of the Aureon 7.1 driver interface is concise and easy to understand.  The designers at Terratec labored to bring a driver menu that is organized in a way that presents the card's different capabilities in a simple collection of submenus.  The main Playback screen offers volume and balance controls for each of the Aureon's outputs as well as a master output volume control.  The Sources panel provides output level controls for Wave, Synth, Aux, Line, CD and Mic inputs.  The Record menu handles all of the recording levels for the cards various inputs as well as a global Mix controller.

The Digital menu allows for the adjustment and setting of the various digital related settings.  For digital inputs, the card sampling rate can be configured to use the internal clock of the card or rely on an external input clock source.  The input range can be adjusted from 8000Hz to 192000Hz with a wide range of common steps in between.  This panel also offers SPDIF input and output options as well as ASIO sampling rates.  Lastly, the Speaker and Misc panels provide speaker configuration options and general information about the card and its drivers.

In general, we liked the breakdown of the Aureon 7.1 Space driver menus, making it easy to sort through the various options.  However, the drivers were not without their problems.  For one, in order to enable Sensaura, the system needs to be rebooted for the option to take effect.  While this isn't a tremendous issue, it is a drawback in our opinion.  Another thing to keep in mind with the Aureon 7.1 Space is that you must use Windows XP with Sensaura disabled to utilize 7.1 mode, which limits the capabilities of the card for some users with older operating systems.  We also experienced sound anomalies with various programs, where you can hear the drivers adjust to the correct clock rate.  For example, those of you familiar with MusicMatch, know that it has startup audio that plays when the software loads.  With the Aureon 7.1, that audio starts off as a high pitched screech for a split second before the drivers step the sampling rate to the correct speed.  One of the more disconcerting issues with the drivers was when we toggled between Line Output and Headphone Output.  We found that when we selected the Headphone output, the volume level would nearly double through the speakers, jolting both the hardware and the listener.  With such a setting possibly damaging speakers with this sudden surge, we feel there should be a warning that there will be a boost in output and adjust the volume accordingly or have the drivers offer a confirmation screen before applying these changes.

As we wrap this section up, we do feel that there were two features missing that would really improve the overall product.  For one, we found no way within the drivers to clone MP3 or CD playback through any of the other speakers.  By default the drivers only output to the front channel and rely on the application to offer any output options from there.  This seems to be a common feature on lesser cards that was definitely missed by this reviewer as was a graphic equalizer.

Now that we've acquired a clearer picture of what the Aureon 7.1 Space has to offer, let's give some air time to the AudioTrak Prodigy 7.1.

Next Up...The AudioTrak Prodigy 7.1


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