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Whizzing through the usual Right Mark Audio Analyzer tests gives excellent results for a soundcard in this price bracket, almost matching the Audigy 4. And yet when I use my utterly un-scientific method of just looking at the noise floor of the card using software such as Audacity, it reads a high -54dB which suggests rather noisy inputs. If you’re looking for heavy duty recording on a budget, this may not be the card for you.
This card would be particularly attractive to the home theatre or media PC market. Dolby Digital encoding on the Xbox was so successful because it made the process of watching a DVD or playing a game in surround sound seamless, avoiding a spaghetti junction of cables.
The Dolby Digital Live works as advertised although it’s not without its quirks. One of the limitations of the Terratec mixer is that for the digital connection to be enabled, the speaker setting must be on stereo or headphones. For DVD watching, this isn’t a problem since the SPDIF connection simply passes the Dolby AC3 signal coming from the disc into the decoder and amp, seamlessly switching between mono, stereo or 5.1.
For games however, the Windows mixer must be set to 5.1 speakers but the Terratec mixer left on stereo, in order to keep the Live option active. This is completely counter-intuitive, made more obscure by the lack of any proper instructions for the card. One further anomaly was switching between the Dolby Digital 5.1 and PCM option whilst playing audio, caused the kiss of death on my test machine.
As a budget soundcard you can’t go far wrong with the Aureon 7.1 PCI. With its quality audio output and the convenience of Dolby Digital Live (only useful if your amp has a S/PDIF (otherwise known as Toslink) input), it could be an ideal, as well as tidy, solution. However, if you intend to use the card for audio recording or heavy game playing, you should expect to pay more for a better suited solution.