Razer Barracuda AC1 Sound Card Review

Admin - 2007-01-22 20:28:02 in Sound Cards
Category: Sound Cards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: February 8, 2007
Razer
Razer

Introduction:

    Can a sound card increase your Frame Rate? You must be wondering whether it is even possible. With the Razer Barracuda AC1 Gaming Sound Card, the Razer design team claims that by not utilizing system memory, this just might be that sound card that makes it possible. Later on in this review, I will test that claim and further explain the reasons why.

    Razer, a corporation conceived by Robert "Razer Guy" Krakoff, was formed in the mid 1990s. It is known mostly for production of "High End" gaming mouses, starting with the Boomslang 2000 dpi mouse in the late 1990s. Razer has since expanded its genera by producing a line of gaming peripherals, including mousing surfaces and the soon-to-be released "Mako" 2.1 THX certified speakers.

Closer Look:

    Razer has truly cornered the market when it comes to packaging. As always, the product is saying "Reach out and grab me."

 

 

 

    After looking at the outside of the box, my interest was stirred. I wanted to install it and see what the software was all about (had to be because of the side panel where it mentioned the Razer ESP). I wanted to know what ESP was, but first i had to get the box open and see the contents. Opening the box revealed an inner box with a new flap that contained even more inviting graphics.

    After lifting the inner flap it's contents were finally revealed. The box contains a sound card, quick installation guide, certificate of authenticity and a driver CD.

 

    The sound card itself looks different from any I have ever used before. It appears to have a protective cover, almost like a heat sink.

    Turning the sound card to look at the front and back, I noticed that there was an input that appears to be similar to a DVI connector and two S/PDIF ports. However, the back is even more interesting. The card has three more inputs, one for CD-ROM, one for an Auxiliary input and finally, a Front Panel Display.

 

    If I didn't already have a pair of the Razer "Barracuda" gaming headphones, I would not have known what this next piece of hardware was. Since the Razer sound card was built to use the headphones through the Razer HD-DAI connector which connects directly to the sound card, Razer needed to produce a connector to allow the user to connect speakers.

    Now that the contents of the package have been revealed, it's time to install the sound card and configure it.   

Installation:

   The "Barracuda" sound card is installed just like any other PCI card would be. Find an open slot and stick it in.

   After installing the card itself, you will have two options on how to receive sound. 

   If you have a set of the Razer headphones, all you will need to do is hook them up directly to the sound card via the HD-DAI connector.

   If you have speakers, you have two options. One option would be to connect them with the provided audio splitter cable. A second option would be the optical cables (not shown) if your speakers have support for that connector.

   Unfortunately, if you are going to use the Razer Headphones, the only way you can also have speakers hooked up is if you use the S/PDIF (optical) connectors.

   If your case has a side window, you will also notice that the sound card illuminates, revealing the manufacturer's name.

Configuration:

   Through the Razer configuration panel you can set up how you want your sound card to perform. There are many options and you might need to spend some time to get it perfect.

 

   Let’s take a look at the options. The first thing that should be set up is the type of output you are going to use, either analog or digital. The analog outputs range from HD-DAI (Razer Barracuda Headphone Direct Connect) to 7.1, while digital outputs include Dolby Digital Live through S/PDIF OFF. 

 

   After setting up the speaker configuration, there is a tab in the right upper corner that has options to change speaker modes, which includes Dolby Virtual Speakers, Dolby Pro Logic, DTS and environment settings.


 


 

    Once the modes are set, it is time to test your speakers with the 3D Test Box, Digital Volume and Speaker Time Delay options. 3D Test will test each speaker individually and there is also a check box to swap the center channel and sub woofer.  By clicking the Digital Volume option, you can set each speaker's volume individually. The speaker Time Delay option allows for setting how many milliseconds the actual sound will be generated from your speakers until you hear it.

 

    Continuing on to the left side of the configuration panel, you have all your settings for volume control and Razer ESP. Razer ESP allows you to set the range of how wide you would like to hear your surround sound. It can be set from near to wide by using the slider toggle. Depending on the game, I've found that for some games I like a wider range, and in ones where people can sneak up on you, I prefer a shorter range.

 

    Lastly, on the bottom right corner is your Advanced Settings Tab. Here is where the settings for the equalizer, bass, presets and user defined options are.

 

    Now that all of the settings are complete, it's time to test the card.

Specifications:

Technical Specifications

The Razer Barracuda™ AC-1 Gaming Audio Card, powered by Razer Fidelity™ delivers optimized audio signals directly from the computer game to the gamer, creating the most realistic gaming environment. The Razer Barracuda AC-1 features proprietary Razer audio technologies including the patent pending Razer Enhanced Sonic Perception™ (ESP) architecture and Razer’s 3D (720°) Positional Gaming Audio Engine™ to allow gamers to pinpoint exact location of enemies more accurately than before.


Testing:

Testing Setup


I realize that the Razer Barracuda AC1 is considered a gaming sound card, but not everyone games as some might listen to music or watch movies. So before I tested the sound card in-game I decided to crank up iTunes and listen to some music. I played with all of the settings and tried many different combinations until I found the choices that best fit my preferences. The sound filled the room and surrounded me. By adjusting the speaker time delay, I was even able to develop what I would call an echo. I tend to listen to a lot of techno and ambient music, so being able to adjust the sound in this way was a plus. It truly relayed the eeriness and reverberations of many songs in my playlist.

Next, I tested a movie. I chose XXX - with Vin Diesel - because of the many background sounds that accompany, Action Movies. I could honestly say that if I didn't know any better, I would have thought I was in a theater.

Okay, on with the gaming. I tested the sound card in two ways: with my speakers and with the Razer Barracuda Headphones. With the speakers, the sounds in-game were crisp and it was very easy to hear my opponents coming from around corners. I truly felt that I had an advantage. Lately, I haven't been into purchasing and using add-on sound cards since many motherboards come with what I would consider decent on-board sound. I guess I forgot what advantages there were when you used a stand-alone card.

Using the Barracuda Sound Card in conjunction with the Barracuda Headphones proved to be a whole new experience. The entire game changes. I was immersed in the battle and felt as if I were actually there. With the Razer ESP set to wide, I could hear bombs dropping from what seemed to be miles away. This is something I haven't experienced before, at least not while playing Call of Duty 2. I had one problem though. It was hard to hear footsteps with all the background noise, so I lowered the range of the Razer ESP until I got it to the perfect range to hear my attackers. Unfair? They didn't know what hit them. My kill ratio went up from 14 kills and 1 death to 22 kills and 1 death. I was now playing the game not only using my visual acuity, but my auditory senses were working with the visual more than I had ever experienced before. I knew they were coming, whether it be from the left, right, front or back.

While interviewing Robert "Razer Guy" Krakoff, he mentioned that the Razer Barracuda sound card will actually increase the framerate in a game. He explained that unlike other sound cards (on board and stand-alone), the Razer Barracuda does not utilize system memory, thereby increasing your framerate in-game. I tested this theory and below you will find screen shots of memory usage and a list of the difference in FPS.

There is definitely a difference is system memory usage. I took these screen shots immediately after exiting the game and the difference was clear.

Using my on board sound card, my available memory was 614,844 KB, and using the Barracuda it was 839,512 KB. That's over 200,000 KB of available memory.

Now what difference did I have in game? I used Doom 3 and calculated FPS with Fraps at three different resolutions: 800x600,1024x768 and 1280x1024. Below are the FPS differences. Even though I did have 200,000 KB more of available memory, my FPS in all but 1280x1024 only went up by two frames, whereas with 1280x1024 I had a 3 FPS difference.

Doom3


 

 

Conclusion:

    The Razer Barracuda AC1 Sound Card is the first stand-alone sound card I've used since I had a Diamond Monster MX300, which, at the time, I feel blew the others away. I have friends who use Creative sound cards and to this day, I am not that impressed with the sound quality that I had with the MX300. I'm aware of the new Xi-Fi technology that Creative has but have not had the opportunity to test one out yet. Since the Razer Barracuda Sound Card is the only card on the market that uses real time Dolby Digital encoding and full Direct Sound/EAX support, I'm positive these factors are what made my listening expierence enjoyable. I can say it's time to throw my old friend the MX300 away; the Barracuda eats it up and spits it out.

    Since I have been using on-board sound for more than three years now, it is a pleasure to really hear highs and lows that are crystal clear. I was encircled by pure sound, whether listening to music or playing a game. This sound card can be used with or without the Barracuda Headphones, but while in-game, I would recommend that if you have them to use them as the total gaming experience seems to come right together. The only setback that I found in the sound card was that the FPS difference didn't exactly turn out how I thought it would. I was expecting at least five to seven points and only received two to three.

My overall impression of the Razer "Barracuda" AC1 Sound Card is excellent. With the many tweaks that it has and its ability to control what you hear in your gaming environment using the Razer ESP, I have found a new sound card to replace my old MX300. Razer has done their homework.

Pros:

Cons: