Testing was performed with dual mono tympanic membranes, located approximately 15 cm apart. This apparatus was placed approximately 60 cm from the speakers. Heh. (I used my ears). The speakers used were Logitech z-640 speakers. I also took the liberty of hooking the card up to my THX certified receiver to really crank up the volume. Why would I do this? Well, anyone who has hooked up their computer to a receiver before has probably noticed that if the audio on the card is cranked up, then the output has an annoying hum. Back in the beginning of the review I discussed SNR. With an older card that was a LOUSY SNR in action. Card manufacturers weren't expecting the signals to end up being routed through a 500 watt receiver and were not too concerned with SNR OR THD. The card did not have an audible hiss up to extremely high volume levels on the amp.
This is what will generate the most flames. I do NOT have an anechoic chamber or a microphone capable of capturing the subtle differences needed to produce an accurate THD or SNR. I am also a firm believer in throwing out the charts and +- %'s. If something sounds good, and you do a side by side comparison. Good Nuff. The human ear has notoriously bad long term 'sound memory'. An identical piece of music played on two different speakers will sound the same providing a bit of time elapses between listening sessions. When comparing output, side by side comparison is ideal.
Lets state a cold hard fact to make sure that no one has any illusions about this: Once you hit a certain quality of output, and you are using multimedia speakers, the limiting factor is the speakers. Any comments I make about the card will be 'coloured' by the speakers used for listening. For that reason, I will limit my comments to functionality rather than audio quality.
Firstly, my 'baseline' soundcard is a Hercules GameTheater XP. It has served me well for several years and the added connectors have come in handy. One thing that was nagging me was that occasionally when playing an mp3 the audio would 'hiccup'. I updated the drivers several times, and the hiccup remained. I assumed it was something in the computer rather than the sound card. I am not one of those people that has music playing 24/7 in front of the computer so this was not a real deal breaker for me. Since installing the revo card, I have not had an audio break-up during mp3 playback at all.
Second area of focus has to be DVD playback. This card offers an affordable way for anyone to get into the surround sound home theater market. The card currently offers 7.1 channels of audio, and the playback is crisp and clear. One complaint I have is the rather convoluted method of enabling Dolby Digital if you want to output through the analog outputs. It is covered in the manual, but it involves clicking on a tiny tab in Win DVD while hopping on one foot and singing the star spangled banner or something like that. If M-audio wanted tech support calls, this feature will surely generate a bunch.
The DVD playback was impeccable. I always like to test using the beach scene from 'Saving Private Ryan', as the dynamic range and sound stage are extremely varied. The audio was crisp with no fuzziness.
Gaming? Well, it worked as well as anything on the market. Again, this card supports most major positional audio formats. Panning, reverb, occlusions all were handled well by the card.