Thermaltake BAHAMUT External Sound Card Review

BluePanda - 2013-07-02 18:24:21 in Input Devices
Category: Input Devices
Reviewed by: BluePanda   
Reviewed on: August 25, 2013
Price: $49.99

Tt eSPORTS BAHAMUT External Sound Card Introduction:

There are a few reasons why you might need or want an external sound card; two I find most rational. First, you have a laptop: most laptops (especially lower end models) have, pardon my French, shit for onboard amplifiers. If you are lucky you can obtain "loud", but it sure won't be quality sound. My second reasoning is the headset itself just can't be driven all that hard with your motherboard. A great example of this is the Pulse-R headset from CM I reviewed a few weeks back. It sounds great, but doesn't go very loud, though I think it could if I could drive it. There are plenty of other reasons why you might want or need an external sound card: too lazy to install an internal card, too afraid of an internal card, need more volume, need volume control at your fingertips, want to plug things in without getting up. I could go on for a while, but quite simply reasons exist that allow the Thermaltake eSPORTS BAHAMUT external sound card to show up at my door for this review.

Enough with the reasons, what really is this Tt eSPORTS BAHAMUT thing I speak of? It's an external USB sound card. What does that mean? It means you can plug it into any of your USB ports and acquire sound! Really it's a little more complicated than that; the USB really provides power to the little unit, which internally has a tiny soundcard inside (much like the headsets with built-in sound cards have). This card takes the output your motherboard would normally see and converts it internally to something your ears should enjoy, at least if the AND, OR, and NOR gates are all correctly connected. It's essentially the same concepts of a standard PCI sound card minus the PCI slot. The Tt eSPORTS BAHAMUT comes to us today promising an "external soundcard for the versatile gamer". Let's take a look at what's in the box and find out just exactly what this little piece of hardware can do. Also, if you haven't looked at the price, you may want to wait and look at the end of this one (sigh, as I feel you all just looked now).

 

Tt eSPORTS BAHAMUT External Sound Card Closer Look:

So the box; well, it's a box, and a typical Thermaltake eSoprts (or really Thermaltake alone) style box. It's a bit flashy, with lots of "things" going on. There's the image of the product itself infused by action of LASER! Okay, maybe not lasers, but pretend blue traces are lit up as power passes through. Techy, corny, and yet subtly neat, it's how all Tt packaging is done; slightly over the top. But, talking in a more serious manner for those of you who gawk at packaging in stores it is pretty. BAHAMUT is written out in one line letters (in the sense you'd write without picking up your pen) and as an odd font catches you coming back to read it at least a second time to ensure it's what you read. What I call the Tt red chicken is in the upper right corner and again pasted to each panel of the box. The back of the box rattles off features in the seemingly effortless list of 15 different languages. One day, I just want to see a made up language on there and see how long it takes someone to notice – perhaps it's already there?

Pulling things from the box there isn't as much bling as you might expect; simply an envelope of with the warranty and user guide stuff (toss to the side), and the BAHAMUT USB sound card itself. Nothing too fancy to get all worked up about, but at the same time exactly what you ordered. Now if restaurants could learn this concept (give me what I want) then I think we'd be on a good path. Back to the product, the DTS features of surround sensation headphones is publically plastered to the front of the controls; it's the first thing I see. I don’t know that I care really, but it does stand out. The next obvious is the glossy-ness of the entire body; it's calling for fingerprints. Neither of these things really bother me, but as first two words out of my mouth on the product: DTS and glossy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continuing along, we always have this shot of the back of a product, seemingly no matter what the product is. You can look here and gaze at the model number, the fact that it was made in China, read the barcode, or realize it's not trash worthy? Other than that, it's just a picture to look at and get a real feel for what "it" is. You can see the rubber feet, the red sources of lighting, the grooved backing for looks, and just a general idea of the product. So despite the "silliness" of this shot, it's rather revealing.

Taking a literal closer look you can see the obvious etching for the symbols on the rubber dome buttons. The left representing a mic mute and the right a simple volume mute. Each of these light up in a bright red color to match the rest of the scheme you'll see together later. The buttons are super soft and give a rather audible click when pressed. You know you've pressed the button, even if you don't hear the click.

 

 

Zooming back out and looking at the BAHAMUT as a whole it's quite the simple build. It's basically a rectangular glossy box with a spinning wheel, two buttons, two 3.5mm jacks, and some red lighting. The essence of chrome (though I completely and utterly despise chrome anything) feel at home here. Tt eSPORTS Gaming System is engraved neatly below the red chicken logo volume knob. The LED etching at the top grows with lighting as volume is increased and both the maximum and minimum are indicated by such lighting. I slowly got past my usual hatred for glossy products (thanks to a few cases) and really saw it bring the product together as a binder of quality.

 

 

Stepping aside for a moment, let us take a look at how this thing connects to your machine. If you hadn't figured it out from the numerous times I've mentioned it, the BAHAMUT is a USB soundcard; it plugs in, you guessed it, via USB! The USB plug is gold plated with a red and black body sporting the Thermaltake "Tt" logo in red. The rest of the awesome braided black cable can easily be wrapped up with the built in Velcro strap. It also bears the "Tt" logo.

 

 

Bringing the focus back to the front it has some pretty red lighting. As much as you've heard me bicker about the color red and how I want blue, etc., this isn't that bad. The lighting actually serves a purpose and looks kinda cool while doing it. Plugging it in, the chicken lights up red in the center of the volume knob; the volume indicator lights up at the lowest volume setting beyond "off". Turning up the knob the volume indicator grows in red lighting, providing a physical increase to the infinite spin knob. Unfortunately there isn't a stop to find maximum with the knob, but the volume indicator fills with red as a visual, at least. The mic mute and volume mute buttons glow red when pressed "on" and display no color when "off". So all in all, glowing red at least provides physical feedback for what is (or should be) going on.

 

 

 

Overall the BAHAMUT soundcard from Thermaltake eSPORTS looks pretty awesome. It's small enough to place on your desk and gives you the infinite volume control compared to the discrete notches of your keyboard. It tucks nicely between two of my monitors on my desk, making it always just an arm's length reach away. The red lighting is rather subtle, so even in a dark room it doesn't interfere with my vision or distract me from gaming or working. I guess the most important part of all isn't how it looks at all though, it's rather how it works. Keep reading to find out more. If you really want to know how it works, just skip the "boring" stuff and head to page four now!!

Tt eSPORTS BAHAMUT External Sound Card Installation & Driver Setup:

Setup for the BAHAMUT External Sound Card is pretty easy. Plugging in the USB dongle allows you to use it right away; it works without drivers or any updates straight from the box. However, if you go to the eSPORTS website there is both a firmware update and some software for download. Download and update the firmware with the BAHAMUT plugged in first, then download the software (this is how the eSPORTS recommends an order of procedure). The software is quite simple and is shown below. I will say as a precautionary, don't shit yourself when you plug it in. Tt eSPORTS thought it would be a good idea to waste a little bit of components and include a speaker on the little guy; it plays an engine startup noise when plugged in, which if you aren't ready for it well... it can scare you a bit. 

The software itself is quite, how can I put it, interesting. It's a simple one page view with all your controls for the BAHAMUT all in one place. You can control the left and right independently with the buttons on the top right or both at the same time. There's a section for DTS, Gaming, and the area effect change space. A full Equalizer can be tuned to your liking in the lower left corner.

 

Discussing the software a bit, though this would normally go with testing; let's get it over with here while your options are fresh in mind. Starting with the DTS option I was rather surprised; it made everything sound like I was wearing tin cans on my head. Voice clarification only makes that worse. The Bass enhancement actually gives some bump (not a ton) but you still have to enable either music or movie DTS, which means tin can. So I wasn't really jumping to turn the DTS option on, rather jumping to turn it off. I honestly couldn't find a good example of when these options were a benefit. Movies again just sounded very hollow with the default DTS options (meaning I didn't play with the EQ, just toggling the DTS on or off with DTS options). Playing a little more with the DTS, I wanted to see how well the "movie" option worked, and to no improvement, it was actually almost worse. The Matrix almost benefited from the hollow, tinny, sound at the bank vault shoot up scene, but what really killed it was the complete loss of surround. The movie itself had a bit of directional sound built in targeting left or right to give a feel for where something is coming from. The DTS option removes the surround completely making everything flat and literally up front. It's quite contradictive in that manner; DTS, the surround sensation for headphones equaling a surround removal.

The gaming effect, on the other hand, does provide a little something for you if you're playing a game that doesn't have very good in-game surround or doesn't have very balanced effects. The FPS options, or MMO, RTS, and ARPG options available tailor the EQ to give you the slight upper hand. It doesn't overly modify what you are listening to, rather it gives you the peaks where you need to hear more. I wouldn't say it's a huge improvement, but at least it was improvement. As for special effects, if you want to sound like you are playing a game or listening to music in the bathroom, or the forest, or what have you, go for it; I don't find this any useful other than to toy with. Honestly, I'd be okay without ever installing the software; the amp works without it well enough.

Tt eSPORTS BAHAMUT External Sound Card Specifications:

Color:
Black
Connector:
USB
OS Compatibility:
Windows XP/Vista/7/8
MAC OS X
Audio Jacks:
Microphone and speaker
DTS Certified:
YES
Channel:
5.1 Surround Sound
LED Indicators:
- Speaker/Microphone Mute
-Power ON/OFF
-Volume Up/Down
Audio Specifications:
-8/16-Bit DAC Channels
-Supports 44.1 and 48 kHZ sampling rates for both playback and recording
-3.5mm output connectors for stereo

 

Tt eSPORTS BAHAMUT External Sound Card Features:

 


Information courtesy of: http://ttesports.com/productPage.aspx?p=53&g=ftr

Tt eSPORTS BAHAMUT External Sound Card Testing & Results:

Unfortunately I don't have any audio testing equipment at my finger tips to show off the real effects of a sound card or even an external soundcards improvement to sound; but I do have RightMark Audio Analizer to at least give you a comparison from onboard sound. Beyond the subjective review of the sound card – I've provided you with some real number data to feed on.

Testing Setup: 

 

For the numbers I tested a couple scenarios here after seeing some rather disappointing Stereo Crosstalk through the BAHAMUT itself. I decided it was important to see what things looked like if you used your motherboard as the mic source; perhaps the BAHAMUT doesn't have the greatest setup to use with a mic. The numbers, while improved, were nothing to be over zealous for. The frequency response across the BAHAMUT and motherboard was unbelievable, but unfortunately didn't show much improvement anywhere else. The huge increase in the Stereo Crosstalk still wasn’t enough to bring it on par with just a simple motherboard. So the numbers have a lot to say versus what our ears may hear, but perhaps numbers aren't everything?

 

 
MSI Z87-GD45 Mobo
Tt eSPORTS BAHAMUT
BAHAMUT w/mobo input
Frequency Response dB
+0.24, +0.14
+0.21, -0.18
+0.06, -0.13
Noise Level dBA
-90.1
-62.1
-61.2
Dyanamic Range dBA
90.1
62.1
60.5
Total Harmonic distortion %
0.0066
0.196
0.213
Intermodulation distortion + noise
0.012
0.447
0.345
Stereo Crosstalk, db
-86.5
-12.5
-61.4
Intermodulation distortion + noise (Swept Freq) %
0.019
0.423
0.769
Frequency Response (Swept Sine), db
+0.0, -0.0
+0.1, -0.2
+0.1, -0.1

 

Listening to my Pulse-R headset from CM on the amp, there was much to be pleased about. Despite the little static sound (shown in dynamic range and noise levels) with nothing playing, I was overly impressed with how much harder I could push my headset. This headset is rather quiet even at its full level from the motherboard, but the BAHAMUT was able to push it a lot louder without any noticeable distortion, even at full levels. I would recommend using your rear USB ports to avoid any extra noise through the case (this tends to be an issue with my setup).

A lot of my complaints for the BAHAMUT go back to the software available with it and I already discussed that a page back. Ignoring those issues and using it without the software there really isn't a lot to complain about. It plugs in and is ready to go without any drivers or effort required. It surprisingly just works. The volume cranks up your Windows slider as you would any other manner, just now it is a knob to turn like one normally might think. With the low Stereo Crosstalk values one would expect horrible experiences when playing games and talking with friends. Despite the low number, even with sound cranked on my end and music blaring, my friend on the other end had no problem hearing just me (not what I was listening to). So I was a bit surprised; numbers say one thing, but actions mean a bit more. Movies, music, and games sound as good as they normally would with the headset on its own; the big bonus is the ability to drive them louder. It won't make things sound "better", as that's left to what you are driving with it.

Tt eSPORTS BAHAMUT External Sound Card Conclusion:

Overall, the BAHAMUT isn't going to make your shitty headphones sound good; it's just going to give them the ability to go louder if they can handle it, as that's how it works. The BAHAMUT is a great quick fix for a headset that just can't play loud to be able to play a bit louder (for example my Pulse-R headset is rather quiet; the BAHAMUT is perfect). The numbers lie a little, or really your ears can lie a little back on what is heard from this external sound card. The numbers say we should expect some feedback from the mic and some serious off balanced noise response; however, in testing I found neither to be extreme enough to have any real effect.

You can't really buy a decent sound card at this price range nor can you buy even a decent amp to make your headset play louder for this price. The price is actually the winner in this case, unlike so many others (usually price is the con). The stupid car engine noise when plugged in is a definite waste of components, but not much you can do about that at this point. This piece of hardware is by no means some ingenious work of art nor scientific breakthrough, but it will get your headset to play just that little bit louder where you need it. It also provides quick volume control at arm's reach and with an intuitive volume knob at that. In the end, the BAHAMUT is no magical hardware piece to make your crap Logitech headset sound good, but it will play loud at the right price for your wallet.  

 

Pros:

 

Cons: