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

The Hot Hardware Test System
How We Get It Done

AudioTrak Prodigy 7.1 Audio Card

Terratec Aureon 7.1 Space Audio Card

ASUS A7N8X Deluxe Motherboard Rev. 1.3
AMD AthlonXP 2500+ (Barton)

512MB Kingston HyperX PC4000 (2-2-2-5-2)

2 IBM ATA100 7200RPM 80GB HD (RAID-0)

ATi Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB

Standard Floppy Drive

Windows XP Professional SP-1

DirectX 9.0b

ATi Catalyst 3.6

nVidia 2.45 Chipset Drivers

Logitech Z640 5.1 Surround Sound Speakers

Audio Quality With Right Mark 5.1
Comparing Capabilities

RightMark Audio Analyzer is an independent open-source project developed by the iXBT.com / Digit-Life team.  The tool takes a variety of audio measurements and displays them for comparison.  To complete this test, we used a loop back wire running from the speaker out to the line in.  We then set the program to run the tests at both 44kHz and 192kHz.  Below are the results.

With the cards running at 44kHz, the Aureon 7.1 had the edge over the Prodigy 7.1 across the board.  While both cards were good, the Aureon's quality was better overall, with the Aureon turning in lower crosstalk and noise levels.  While the Aureon did put out the best overall results, the Prodigy was quite good in its own right.  But what about 192kHz?  Unfortunately, we had no success getting any version of RightMark, either 5.1 or 4.3, to run properly at 192kHz.  When we first launched the loop back test, a screen appeared for adjusting the levels to approximately -1db.  While this worked fine on the 44kHz test, when we selected 192kHz, we only got audio out of the left channel while the right remained anywhere from -50db to -70db.  On our test machine we experienced this with the Terratec Aureon 7.1, yet the AudioTrak Prodigy 7.1 had equal levels.  Consequently, the reverse was true when we installed the two cards on a separate test system, where this time the Prodigy levels were off balance.  RightMark does state that the higher the audio quality the more instability may be encountered, but in this case we're simply not sure.  A post on the Right Mark forum has resulted in no leads, leaving us to draw our own conclusions.

General Audio Performance
Can You Hear Me Now?  Good.


To get a good idea of how well the sound cards performed during game play, we loaded a couple of familiar titles.  For starters, we loaded one of our all time favorites, Medal of Honor - Allied Assault.  MOH was one of those games that got its teeth into virtually everyone here at HH.  There is a good reason for that, it's a phenomenal game.  With all of the audio qualities set to their highest, we loaded the scene where you storm the beaches of Normandy. This is one of the most disturbingly realistic scenes in the game.  As we worked our way up the beach, the sound quality with each card was excellent.  The explosion of mortars hitting all around us was positioned quite well and the head on machine gun fire had us ducking for cover as if our monitor was firing at us.  Overall, the playback was very good and believable.  Another title I chose was Combat Flight Simulator 3.  For this test we set all of the audio settings to maximum and jumped right into a dog fight.  As we approached the battle zone, explosions from antiaircraft guns appeared all around us.  As they exploded, a deep distant thud was heard and felt in front of us and when we flew through the explosion, the audio traveled along either side as it should.  As an enemy pilot shot at us from behind, we had a little difficulty trying to discern which direction he was coming from, but the flak sounded very real, as was the sound of the bullets ripping through the plane as we spiraled to the ground in a ball of fire.   

All in all, each card performed well in both games and since their basic design is virtually identical, so was the playback.  However, from a purely subjective standpoint, the Prodigy 7.1 seemed to have a slight edge over the Aureon.  For example, when shooting in CFS3, we could hear effects simulating the mechanics of the planes gun after firing a burst of rounds.  This was not heard with the Aureon.


With Music playback, we used both Windows Media Player 9 and MusicMatch 8.0.  Being used to a Hercules Game Theater XP for the last year and a half, I thought the difference would be obvious, but it wasn't.  The bottom line is that CDs are recorded at 44kHz and that is the best you are going to get, regardless whether we are talking about CDs or MP3s ripped from CDs.  We loaded a broad spectrum of artists from Static-X, Radiohead and Stabbing Westward in both CD and MP3 format.  In the end, the quality was good, but it was really hard to tell the older Hercules card from the new ones.  Where you should really hear the difference is with Audio DVDs which are recorded at 96kHz.  Unfortunately we did not have one on hand to test, but from what we've heard, the quality is amazing.  The bottom line is that if you are planning to collect Audio DVDs, these cards will be able to play the audio at its fullest quality.


Using PowerDVD XP, we loaded the Revolutionary War epic, The Patriot, and advanced to several battle scenes.  The first scene has Mel Gibson's character and his two sons sneaking up on some redcoats in the woods.  As Mel runs around the perimeter of the redcoats position, the audio realism was true to form.  It seems as though what ever we were witnessing was happening around us.  Later on we forwarded to one of the grander battles where Cornwallis was having his way with the revolutionaries and again, the realism was terrific.  Regardless of which card we had installed, the quality was great all around.

Benchmark Performance
Efficiency is the name of this game


While the jury is still out on whether synthetic benchmarks are all that useful with today's video cards, we were surprised to find they are very useful for other applications.  For example, 3DMark03 offers a Sound test that can be run independent of the graphics test to demonstrate the effects of DirectSound processing on frame rates.  This benchmark runs three rounds of the test, first with no audio and then with 24 and 60 sounds to demonstrate impact on game play.

With no audio both cards returned frames in excess of 35FPS.  Naturally as the sounds increased the performance was affected accordingly.  With 24 sounds the FPS dropped roughly 7FPS while we saw an additional drop of 5FPS with 60 sounds.

More Benchmarks and Conclusions



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