Diamond XtremeSound - 5.1/16 bit Sound Card Review

Admin - 2007-12-13 10:24:19 in Sound Cards
Category: Sound Cards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: February 7, 2008
Diamond Multimedia
Diamond Multimedia
Price: $19.99

Introduction:

Sound is one of the things most enthusiasts take for granted when building a new rig. These days on-board sound has improved leaps and bounds from just a few years ago. Users are content with just running on-board sound for most tasks. When the dust settles from the new build and you start breaking in the PC by gaming, watching movies, listing to music, you might think there is something missing. It's not apparent at first, but you need to upgrade your sound experience. It is one of those things that is not noticeable until it's gone/upgraded.

Diamond Multimedia offers a few different options for sound cards. The XtremeSound 5.1, which we are looking at today, XtremeSound 7.1 which we looked at here and XtremeSound 7.1 with Dolby Digital Live cards.

Closer Look:

The retail packaging was not available for this review. So a press shot of the box will suffice. Typical red/black Diamond color scheme, highlighting the features of the sound card. The card itself is the length of the PCI slot, so there should be no issues installing it in even the tightest of setups. The input/output jacks on the card are as follows from left to right: Line In, Mic, Front Out, Rear Out, Center/Bass, and last is a Game/MIDI port.

 

 

 

The C-Media CMI8738 6 channel chip does the heavy lifting on the Xtreme Sound 5.1 with HRTF-based 3D positional audio, support for 24-bit SPDIF IN/OUT, and EAX/Linux/BeOS support as well.

 

The XtremeSound 5.1 has connections for two CD-in and one Aux-in cables. The only other jumpers on the card are to switch output for the Center/Bass channels.

 

 

Included with the sound card is the driver CD and Installation Manual.

 

Installation:

 

If you are replacing an existing sound card, before shutting down, navigate to the Control Panel/Add & Remove Programs and uninstall any previous sound drivers and programs. Once that is complete, power down the system and remove the existing sound card (if any) and plug in the Diamond XS 5.1 in to an available PCI slot. If the onboard sound was being used, make sure to go into the BIOS and disable the onboard sound controller before starting to avoid any conflicts.

 

 

 

 

 

With the hardware installed, pop the install CD in to load the drivers. The install is automated for the most part, with user prompts where needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Configuration:

The first tab of the 3D Audio configuration software used with the XS 5.1 is for the Main settings. Here is where the speaker settings are set (headphones, 2, 4, 6 channel) as well as the auto sensing for the jacks on the card are to make sure the jacks are configured correctly. Also the DSP mode where you can confirm and adjust the positional audio.

 

 

The Mixer tab is next where the master volume and balance reside, as well as individual sliders for the Wave, Synth and CD output volumes.

 

The Effect tab gives the options for different environments and enviornment size. The equalizer can be set independently, or there are preconfigured tabs for various settings.

 

Karaoke/Magic Voice is used for microphone settings for echo, pitch, and voice cancellation.

 

The final information tab shows driver version, and hardware information.

 

Specifications:

Features:

Input/Outputs

Testing:

Testing will be done by comparing the XtremeSound 5.1 to the onboard Realtek ALC883 on the ECS A770M-A. We will be looking at the sound performance in games, movies, and music being output from Creative 5.1 speakers, and Altec Lansing Headphones. We will be commenting on clarity, quality, and overall performance. We will also compare the output signal with the input signal and examine them for noise and distortion using a loop back test in SoundCheck.

Testing Setup:

 

Applicaitons:

 

Stranglehold:

Very rarely do reviewers actually get to play games, mostly it's running benchmarks gazing wearily at the screen. Stranglehold is my current game of choice, and is very entertaining with a different game play for a First Person Shooter, and good story line if you are a fan of John Woo films.

On-Board Realtek ALC883:

Speakers:

The on board audio is surprisingly good. The XS 5.1 has its work cut out for it. In Stranglehold the clarity was very good. The enemies footsteps and voices were easy to pick up to get a lock on their position. Output and and background noises were easy to distinguish.

Headphones:

Using headphones when gaming is where most people will use their sound cards. The on-board Realtek provided good sound through the headphones. Again, the enemies were easy to pick up, and the sounds were clear.

 

XtremeSound 5.1:

Speakers:

Switching to the XtremeSound 5.1 provided good sound output. The sound was crisp and the positional audio worked very well. The on-board Realtek ALC883 is not going to give up easily.

Headphones:

Gaming with the headphones on while using the XtremeSound 5.1 provided no discernible difference in sound quality. Clarity was very good, and the XtremeSound provided and immersive gaming experience.

 

TeamSpeak:

On-Board Realtek ALC883:

Headset:

While in TeamSpeak using an Altec Lansing Headset after mic levels were set sound quality was clear. Speaking into the mic boom was not a problem, and there were no complaints on levels.

 

XtremeSound 5.1:

Headset:

As with the on-board sound, output levels were crisp and clear. Mic levels were good, and there was noticeable difference.

 

Kill Bill 1 & 2:

Kill Bill has good range of sounds to test output quality and clarity. From Elle Driver whistling down the hospital hallway to Black Mamba taking on the Crazy 88 in the the House of Blue Leaves, the movie just rocks.

On-Board Realtek ALC883:

Speakers:

Every unsheathing of the katana and every squirting artery were heard with the on-board sound. Unbelievable output from the Realtek ALC883.

Headphones:

Listing to this movie using headphones is almost criminal. Again the Realtek audio shines.

 

XtremeSound 5.1:

Speakers:

The XtremeSound fell flat on the audio playbak of the movie soundtrack. I wasn't as immersed in the film and it seemed as if something was missing.

Headphones:

Again, through the headphones the XtremeSound 5.1 just wasn't as crisp and clear as the on-board HD audio.

 

CD Audio, iTunes:

On-Board Realtek ALC883:

Speakers:

Music sounded clear and quality was good. All notes were played where they should be, and there was no muddiness in the playback.

Headphones:

Finally a downfall in the on-board. Headphone output in music wasn't as vibrant as it was with the XtremeSound 5.1.

 

XtremeSound 5.1:

Speakers:

Seems as if the XtremeSound takes a sweep in the music testing. There was more pop and life in the music with the Diamond XtremeSound 5.1. Looks like it won't leave empty handed today.

Headphones:

Again, the quality of the music experienced from the XtremeSound reverberated through the headphones. Great experience.

 

SoundCheck:

SoundCheck allows us to compare the output signal to the input signal and view the results via output and input wave forms. We are looking for matching wave form patterns between input and output. Any anomalies are distortion in the signal.

 

On-Board Realtek ALC883:

 

 

 

Again the Realtek ALC883 puts in a good performance. The test above shows that the input waveform closely matches the Sine wave form of the output test pattern. In the Square wave form test output, we see some distortion on the leading and trailing edges of the wave.

 

XtremeSound 5.1:

 

 

 

The Xtremesound 5.1 input on both the Sine wave and Square wave outputs are less than desirable. There is visible distortion, and the sine wave input looks like the square wave output where there is considerable cutoff of the wave form.

Conclusion:

 

The Diamond XtremeSound 5.1 would have been a good card a year ago. With today's chipsets and the quality of on-board sound there is no reason to run this card, except to save a few CPU cycles. Their highlight was music playback, but other than that, the card just did not stand up to the HD on-board audio. There is still hope, with the inexpensive price tag on the XtremeSound 5.1 there are plenty of motherboards out there that are running older on-board sound options (AC97, ALC650, etc) that could benefit off loading sound duties to the XtremeSound 5.1. With Dolby EX and DTS formats for surround sound DVD playback and EAX 2.0, multimedia and gaming will show improved performance.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: