Turtle Beach Audio Advantage SRM Review

Admin - 2007-03-03 00:26:39 in Sound Cards
Category: Sound Cards
Reviewed by: Admin   
Reviewed on: March 9, 2007
Turtle Beach
Turtle Beach
Price: $119.95

Introduction:

If you had an advantage over everyone else, would you use it? Whether it’s competing for the job you desire, getting the first PS3, or exposing your competitors’ weaknesses to win the big game - we all look for an advantage to achieve our desired results. The advantage I will be looking at today is the advantage of portability. What advantages does portability offer? The ability to go anywhere and have all the conveniences of home, or to have that one thing that might allow me to pwnd my opponents at a LAN party. We all take portability for granted. Most don’t even realize that portability is part of everyday life, yet every time you answer your cell phone, you are utilizing portability. It seems that lately with the many changes in my life, I’m looking more and more towards being able to take it everywhere I go. So I have my laptop, my cell phone and my external hard drive enclosure, so that I can watch those movies while I travel. So why not enjoy those movies or MP3’s, by listening to them as they were supposed to, by having a portable 7.1 Channel sound card.

Turtle Beach has developed such a product. Called the “Audio Advantage” SRM, this external 7.1 Channel USB audio interface allows you take it with you and it fits in the palm of your hand. The Audio Advantage connects to your laptop or desktop and includes both analog and digital inputs, stereo headphone outputs, a built in stereo microphone and support for surround sound headphones. It can be used for voice applications, PC gaming, listening to music, watching DVD movies or recording audio.

Founded over three decades ago, Turtle Beach has been on the forefront of music and audio technology. Along with their sister company Voyetra, they have developed a wide variety of music products, electronic synthesizers, software, sound cards, headphones and network audio devices to name but a few.

Will the “Audio Advantage” SRM pack a punch? Let’s take a look and find out.


 

Closer Look:

I have always been  big on packaging, but this time I can’t comment since the “Audio Advantage” SRM has not been released yet. It was sent in what I like to call a “white box” or a non marked package. What did the box have in it? Stuff. For me to play with of course!

When I took the Unit out of its bubble-wrapped package, I was a little baffled. It looked like a pager. On further examination I realized that the object was much more. The actual sound card is palm size and it came with a manual that included a driver CD.

 


Just holding it in your hand and looking straight down on it, the SRM looks like a shiny box. However, as you turn it, you will begin to see that the little black box has ports for input as well as output. The top of the unit has two outputs and one input. Stereo headphones/ channel 7 - 8 and 5.1 channel headphones outputs, from left to right. Then a stereo microphone input.


The bottom of the SRM includes one S/PDIF optical input/stereo analog line input, a USB connection socket and an S/PDIF optical output/stereo analog line output (front channels).

Closer Look:

The SRM‘s left side has a built in left microphone and an IR remote control sensor, which is for the optional remote control (Not Shown). The right side of the SRM contains the right side microphone and a volume mute control.


 


 


The SRM also comes equipped with two Optical S/PDIF adapters that plug into the Optical I/O on the SRM.

 


With cabling as expensive as it is, why would you purchase a product if it wasn’t included? All the cabling needed to use the SRM is in the box, including a 5.1 channel cable with Mini-Din connector, USB Cable and cable with 3.5mm stereo jacks.


By now you may be thinking that’s it, but no! Included in the package was a set of the Turtle Beach Ear Force Surround Sound Headphones.  The Ear Force headphones connect directly into the audio Advantage via a Mini Din jack. These headphones come complete with a detachable microphone, which if used, will automatically disable the internal microphone. The reason why headphones are included with the Audio Advantage SRM, is because this version of the SRM is called the "Audio Advantage"  SRM Home Theater combo.

 


Great - two products to test! After installing the hardware, software and looking at the specifications and features of both items I’ll put them through the gauntlet.

Installation:

Installing the Audio Advantage does not require a college education - attach the supplied USB cable to the SRM, then find an unused USB port on your Desktop or laptop, insert the driver CD into your CD/Rom drive and follow the on-screen instructions.


 



 

 

Once the physical installation of the sound card and the software are complete, I suggest you use the included demo before attempting to configure the sound card on your own. It will familiarize you with the many options you have.


Configuration:

Demo:

The supplied demo is interactive. When you click on the play button, it will auto play. Alternatively, you can test the different settings manually by clicking the icons in the sound source, moving path and environment areas. The right side on the screen can be manipulated with your cursor and you can change where you will hear sound, so that you can get a feel for the total experience.

 

 


Sound Control Panel:

The sound control panel is where you will actually set up your speakers. Since you can utilize multiple settings, I suggest taking the time to adjust them in order to take full advantage of the potential the sound card offers.


The first tab on the control panel is broken into three parts: settings summary, speaker configuration and volume control. Settings summary allows you to see what controls throughout the whole control panel are activated.


Speaker configuration, allows you to set what speaker mode you will be using, be it headphones, 5.1, 7.1 etc. You can also test your set-up by using the test and loop options.


The last option is the master volume toggle and the balances for your speakers.

Configuration:

The next tab is for your equalizer options. You have presets that you can choose from, or you can set your own preferences and save them using the user-defined option. There is also a toggle to turn the Equalizer on and off.


 



The effects tab is separated into three panels: speaker position, environment and sound fx. The speaker position panel allows you to move your speakers to different positions to adjust where the sound you hear will come from. This is most useful with the Ear Force headphones. By enabling the panel, you can set the positions manually, allow a random selection or rotate your speakers.


With the environments toggle enabled, you can set what type of environment you desire by using the drop down box. There are many options here, including padded cell, living room and forest. The L, M and S toggles will change the depth of the speakers to accommodate different room sizes and there are also toggles to raise the volume of the front and surround speakers.


The sound fx option allows you to modify the sound of digital music with effects processing.


The last tab on the control panel is the mixer. It has two panels’ playback settings and record settings. Playback settings allow you to set the playback volume levels or mute PC sound sources.


The record settings panel allows you to set the volume of the recording device you are using, whether it is a microphone or other source.


Now that the sound card is configured, it's time to do some testing.

Specifications:

 

 
SRM Technical Specifications
Sampling
16 bits/48kHz
Frequency Response
Line In / Line Out: 20Hz -20kHz +0.10dB/-1.66 dB
Mic In / Line Out: 20Hz -18kHz +1.22/-1.54 dB
Line In / ADC à DAC / Line Out: 20Hz – 19kHz +/-3dB
DynamicRange (A-Weighted)
Line In / Line Out: -81dBA
Mic In / Line Out: -78dBA
Line In / ADC / DAC / Line Out: -75dBA
SNR (A-Weighted)
Line In / Line Out: -82dBA
Mic In / Line Out: -81dBA
Line In / ADC / DAC à Line Out: -79dBA
THD
Line In / Line Out: 0.061%
Mic In / Line Out: 0.243%
Line In / ADC / DAC / Line Out: 0.066%
Crosstalk @ 1kHz
Line In / Line Out: -82dB
Mic In / Line Out: -70dB
Line In / ADC / DAC / Line Out: -79dB


Features

Status Light

Indicates device activity, including power, playing audio, muted and IR Remote Control signal detection.

Volume/Mute Control

Adjusts the master volume and lets you mute all outputs.

5.1 Channel Line & Headphones Output

Connects Turtle Beach Ear Force Surround Sound Headphones or 5.1 powered analog speakers with the included breakout cable.

Headphones Out

Drives stereo headphones. When using 7.1 speaker mode, channels 7 and 8 are routed to this jack.

Microphone Input (Stereo)

Accepts mono or stereo microphones. Power for an electric microphone is provided on both the ring and tip of the jack. When a microphone is inserted, the internal microphones are disabled.

Internal Microphones (Stereo L & R)

The two internal microphones operate in the same manner as an external microphone.

Line In L/R S/PDIF Digital In

Operates as either an analog Line Inputfor recordingfrom CD players, cassette players, etc.. or as an optical S/PDIF input for recording digital audio from external sources.

Line Out L/R S/PDIF Digital Out

Operates as either an analog Line Output to drive powered speakers or inputs on external recording devices, or as an optical S/PDIF output for playing digital audio. This allows for pass-through of Dolby® Digital and DTS® multi-channel DVD sound to external A/V receivers or digital speaker systems.

IR Remote Control Sensor

Aim the optional infra red (IR) remote control at this sensor when using the remote control functions.



Ear Force HPA2 Technical Speifications

 


Product
Ear Force HPA2
Description
 

Form Factor

Over-the-head

Ear Cup

circumaural

Folding Portable Design

~

Audio Channels

5.1 channel surround sound (8 speakers)

Amplified/Passive
8 Amplifiers

Primary Application

PC Gaming

Speaker Frequency Range

 

Front L/R

20-20,000Hz

Rear L/R

20-20,000Hz
Center
50-20,000Hz
Subwoofer/Vibrator
20 - 200Hz

Speaker Size

 

Front L/R

40mm

Rear L/R

40mm
Center
30mm
Subwoofer/Vibrator
30mm

Speaker Sensitivity

 

Front L/R

120dB+3dB/mW

Rear L/R

120dB+3dB/mW
Center
120dB+3dB/mW

Speaker Impedance

 

Front L/R

32 Ohms

Rear L/R

32 Ohms
Center
32 Ohms

Maximum Spkr Power

 
 
30mW

Microphone Type

 
Removable/Fixed
Removable
Type
Omni directional
Size
6mm

Freq Response

50-16,000Hz

Active Noise Reduction Level

 
 
~
Cable
 
Length
xx ft (xx meter)
Connectors

 (4) x 3.5mm Stereo jacks on cable - (Front L&R, Rear L&R, Center, Sub & Mic)

Adapters included

Stereo adapter cable for use with stereo audio jack

Controls

Front, Surround, Ctr, sub & Master volume controls

Power Source

 
Transmitter
7.5VDC/500mA DC Power Adapter

Testing:

I will be testing the SRM on desktop. Normally when I test sound cards or headphones it is mostly by ear. This time I will not only conduct my normal testing, but I will use RightMark, which is an audio testing benchmark. I am very interested in how the Audio Advantage stacks to on-board sound.


Testing Setup:

Desktop:


Benchmarks and Apps:


iTunes (Test):


Speakers:

Since I listen to a wide range of music, it's very important to me to be able to hear highs and lows as clear as they were meant to be. I want sound that will fill the room and allow me to feel the ambiance and bass - I want it to surround my senses. I will be honest in that up until a short time ago, I was very satisfied with on-board sound and believed it came a long way from the days of the Pentium computers. Recently my mind has changed. The advantage of using add-on sound cards is by far more beneficial, even if there is a small difference in sound quality. Add-on sound cards as I have tested, do not eat as much system memory as on board sound.


Realtek AC97 Sound:

Was I able to experience the highs, lows and ambience? Yes, but nowhere near the quality of my home entertainment system. There was a lack of bass and when I left the room, the sound didn't travel with me - it became less distinguishable, as I was only really able to make out the words and hear the repetitive beats. I adjusted many controls and was still unable to get the quality I preferred; the sound was either too tinny or too flat. At times, the bass was non-existent or too heavy. The Realtek control panel has great options, but I knew what I was expecting and didn't get the results I was looking for.


Turtle Beach Audio Advantage SRM:

Was there an advantage when I used the Audio Advantage SRM? Yes. Immediately, without even tweaking the control panel, there was music - music with depth and purpose. I could sense that I had speakers behind me and the room became full. Leaving the room, the sound followed me and didn’t start to fade until I got much farther away from the room than with the on-board sound.


Headphones:

Luckily I have many sets of headphones to choose from. Since the Audio Advantage has a Mini Din connection, it's easy to plug in the Ear Force set directly into the module, but what do I use in the Realtek ports? Since my Razer headphones are very similar to the Ear Force headphones being 5.1 surround, I chose to use them.


Realtek AC97 Sound:

The quality was somewhat better than it was with the speakers, but it didn’t seem like I was part of the music. I couldn’t get the speakers to truly separate the sound, so to take effect of the different channels.


Turtle Beach Audio Advantage SRM:

Since the control panel has so many options, I was able to tweak the setting so that I was able to actually hear the separation of the music I was listening to. The effects settings were a great help and I moved the virtual position of the speakers to different positions, to acquire a perfect listening environment. Some eighties music I listen to switches channels from left to right and front to rear. I guess that was an attempt back then to give the effect of surround sound. Well get rid of those old 4-way speakers - I almost felt as if I was spinning because of the way the music circled throughout the headset.


Team Speak (Test):


I used team speak with headphones only. What I wanted to find out, was how well the microphone transmits my voice. Will whomever I was chatting with be able to hear me clearly or will I sound broken up? Both the sound cards performed similarly, but the Audio Advantage had an extra perk - a built-in microphone. The built-in microphone picks up sound so well, that I actually had to move the SRM five feet away from me, because I was told that I was screaming. Finally, I did have to attach the headphone mic, when the dog started barking. By attaching the microphone to the headset, the microphone on the SRM is disabled. Again, I had no problems with having everyone hearing me clearly.


Call of Duty 2 (Test):


I love to game and when I do, it is usually Call of Duty 2. What I expect out of a sound device when gaming, is clarity and the ability to hear my opponent before they turn the corner and get me first. Call of Duty 2 is a FPS which contains a lot of background noise due to it being it of the WW2 genre. So if I could hear footsteps which are usually quite low, I’ll have an advantage over my opponent.


Realtek AC97:

Speakers:

I really cannot comment too much on the quality. There was mostly a bunch of noise and at times it seemed that only my center speaker was working - there was no separation of sound.


Headphones:

Using the headphones was definitely better. I was able to separate sound and at least hear my opponents better. Not as well as I would prefer, but on the whole, it was better. Most gamers use headphones. Why? We don’t want to disturb our families at four am for a start. Voice activation worked well. My team-mates and I were able to communicate, but at times I had a hard time understanding them due to the abundance of background noise in the game.


Turtle Beach Audio Advantage SRM:

Speakers:

Was there a big difference? Yes and No. Yes, because using the control panel, I was able to tweak the speakers to separate sounds more evenly. This did help because the background noises were more focused to my side and rear speakers. And no, because it was still a little hard to hear my opponents footsteps as I would prefer, although it was an improvement over the on-board sound card.


Headphones:

Tada, I got what I wanted: clarity, separation and the ability to communicate and hear my team-mates. My kill ratio went up approximately seven percent, since I was expecting my opponent; it was also nice to be able to know in what direction they were coming from.

Testing:


You Me and Dupree (DVD Movie):

On occasion, I do like to watch movies on my computer; I can close the door and not worry about the volume being too loud. I can just sit on the couch, kick my legs up, relax, laugh and not let any worries bother me for an hour or two.


Realtek AC97:

Speakers:

I tried to duplicate the same settings between both sound cards, enabling the equalizer, setting 5.1 surround, setting my environment to a medium room and setting the effects to theater. Well, the sound was flat using the Realtek AC97. In order for me to actually feel the sound, I had to rearrange my speakers so that they were closer to me, in order to get close to how it feels to be in an actual theater. The sound did not encompass the room.


Headphones:

As with gaming, it was better, but something was still missing. Could the sound card be bad, or is it the quality of the sound being output?


Turtle Beach Audio Advantage SRM:

Speakers:

The sound filled the room and my body shook when something dropped - I could feel the movie. I enjoyed just sitting there and relaxing. I noticed I wasn’t leaning forward just to try to put myself in the path of the sound waves.


Headphones:

Can you say dizzy? Well, not really, but with the headphones on, you are taking full advantage of the SRM. I felt enclosed, in a sense. The sound came out of the speakers as intended - if something happened behind someone in the movie, the rear speakers were where the sound was coming from. With so many different sounds coming from different areas, I almost felt dizzy until I got used to it.


RightMark Audio Analyzer 5.5:

Right Mark is a benchmark program used to test sound.

"RMAA suite is designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio devices, be it a sound card, an MP3 player, a consumer CD/DVD player or an acoustic set. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms."

In the screen shots that I will supply you will see different names used as in crosstalk or frequency response. Below I will supply some definitions to help understand what it all means.


Frequency response is the measure of any system's response at the output to a signal of varying frequency (but constant amplitude) at its input. It is usually referred to in connection with electronic amplifiers, loudspeakers and similar systems. The frequency response is typically characterized by the magnitude of the system's response, measured in dB, and the phase, measured in radians, versus frequency. The frequency response of a system can be measured by:



Once a frequency response has been measured (e.g., as an impulse response), providing the system is linear and time-invariant, its characteristic can be approximated with arbitrary accuracy by a digital filter. Similarly, if a system is demonstrated to have a poor frequency response, a digital or analog filter can be applied to the signals prior to their reproduction to compensate for these deficiencies.

Frequency response curves are often used to indicate the accuracy of amplifiers and speakers for reproducing audio. As an example, a high fidelity amplifier may be said to have a frequency response of 20 Hz - 20,000 kHz ±1 dB. This means that the system amplifies all frequencies within that range within the limits quoted. 'Good frequency response' therefore does not guarantee a specific fidelity, but only indicates that a piece of equipment meets the basic frequency response requirements.

Dynamic range is a term used frequently in numerous fields to describe the ratio between the smallest and largest possible values of a changeable quantity. Audio engineers often use dynamic range to describe the ratio of the loudest possible undistorted sound to the quietest or to the noise level, say of a microphone or loudspeaker. In digital audio, the maximum possible dynamic range is given by the bit resolution (see signal-to-noise ratio). Dynamic range of an audio device is also sometimes referred to as the dynamic window.

Signal-to-noise ratio (often abbreviated SNR or S/N) is an electrical engineering concept defined as the ratio of a signal power to the noise power corrupting the signal.

The total harmonic distortion, or THD, of a signal is a measurement of the harmonic distortion present and is defined as the ratio of the sum of the powers of all harmonic components to the power of the fundamental.

Crosstalk (XT) has the following meanings:





Now that that is out of the way lets take a look at the results of the test. To the left are the results for the Turtle Beach Audio Advantage SRM on the right are the results of the Realtek AC97. The results I achieved are either equal to or close to the technical specifications that Turtle Beach achieved themselves.

 

 

Testing:


RightMark 3D Sound Benchmark:


First a screen shot of what options I chose to use. I used the same settings for both cards.


The Turtle Beach Audio Advantage clearly used less of the CPU's memory than the Realtek AC97. Even when being tested the average mean of usage didn't rise as much as the on board sound did.

 


So is using an external sound card worth it? I've made my decision, now you need to make yours.


Conclusion:

I would recommend the Turtle Beach Audio Advantage SRM to anyone who desires to have the portability of an external sound card. I would even suggest it as an option for someone who wants to get away from their on-board sound. The quality of the sound generated by the Audio Advantage was excellent. As a matter of fact, my girlfriend who has never used anything but on-board sound, really enjoyed the clarity and quality of the experience and she dubbed it an “it’s all that”. Unfortunately my laptop is broken, because I would have loved to hear the difference. The Turtle Beach Audio Advantage SRM is truly a listening experience that I will treasure.



Pros:


Cons: