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The Aureon PCI 7.1 is the latest in the extensive Aureon line up from Terratec. The 7.1 is similar to the Aureon 5.1 but with a couple more channels, just in case six weren't enough (in soundcard land 5.1 equals six). The headline feature of the card though is the inclusion of Dolby Digital Live, which means that any audio signal can be encoded into Dolby Digital in real-time. This doesn’t mean that you’ll get surround sound from any signal only that you’ll get Dolby Digital, which can be anything from a mono up to a 7.1 channel signal.
Installation threw up no surprises but it should be noted that the manual is pretty pathetic and offers no additional information other than installation instructions (including a diagram which is incorrectly marked). Given that many people may not be aware of the capabilities and limitations of Dolby Digital, a help file, even as a PDF, would have been useful. In addition, it would also have been considerate to have included a suitable S/PDIF (Toslink) cable as it’s not the kind of thing one necessarily has lying around. Most likely this would have adversely affected the price of what is, by any standard, a budget soundcard, but as Dolby Digital is the main selling point it’s an unwelcome omission.
The software on the CD is similarly spartan with only Terratec’s standard mixer included. I’ve previously moaned about Creative’s overkill when it comes to bundled software and eye candy, but the Terratec mixer goes the other way. It’s pig ugly and an overhaul is long overdue, preferably one that also includes level metering.
The card comes with a separate joystick port bracket, I’ve not seen one of these for a long time since the adoption of USB as the preferred solution for gaming and MIDI devices. The board itself sports a similarly old-school dip switch to alter the first audio output between line level and headphone level. Many cards don’t feature a headphone option so it’s a useful addition but it would have been much more preferable for this to be selected in software. Once the card is installed and the computer case closed, you’re stuck with whatever option was chosen. I for one regularly move between headphones and speakers.