Surprise: PowerColor Makes A Sound Card, And It Sounds Good

When we walked into PowerColor's booth at Computex 2015, the company immediately dismissed its lineup of graphics cards, despite the GTX 980 Ti having just launched. Instead, the representative drew our attention to a new product, of a kind that it had never made before: a sound card. It is called the PowerColor Devil HDX Sound Card and goes by the part number SCM888-DHDX.

The sound card is driven by a Cmedia CM8888 audio processor, which is linked to a Wolfson WM8741 Digital-to-Analog converter. This DAC is then wired to a headphone amplifier that is capable of driving headphones with impedance of up to 600 Ohm. The frequency response ranges from 20 Hz through 20,000 KHz, and the signal-to-noise ratio is 124 dB on the RCA (Tulip) out and 120 dB on the 6.3 mm jack. It is a little lower on the jack because the signal goes through the headphone amplifier, while it does not do so for the RCA ports. The OP-Amps are swappable.

For outputs, the card has the 6.3 mm jack, RCA ports, coaxial port and an optical output on the mainboard. The card comes with a daughterboard, which is mounted in a separate expansion slot and adds 7.1 analog connectivity with four 3.5 mm jacks and a microphone input -- all-in-all, a complete set of I/O connectors. The card interfaces with your PC through a PCI-Express 1x connection.

At the show, PowerColor had prepared a demo using two identical systems. One was using their sound card, and another was using the Purity Sound II sound card on an ASRock motherboard. This is quite a bold move, as ASRock's Purity Sound II hardware already sounds on paper quite good to start with.

Unfortunately, PowerColor was clumsy enough to have these systems connected to a pair of gaming headsets made by Razer. I therefore offered to grab my own headphones, as I was coincidentally carrying my Audio Technica ATH-M50x set on me at the time.

To test the difference, our very own Editor-in-Chief Fritz Nelson had a listen to the two systems and was asked if he could hear a difference. With Fritz being a bit less of an audiophile than myself, I wasn't expecting him to hear a difference, but the moment he moved from the PowerColor Devil HDX to the ASRock sound card, he heard a difference. Fritz described that the bass was more controlled, the mids were warmer and more prominent, and the high frequencies were less shrill on the Devil HDX sound card. I also had a listen, and agreed completely.

Oh, and yes, I did ensure that there was no adjusted equalizer to make the difference more apparent, and that the same audio file was used.

PowerColor will be releasing the card over the coming months and slapping a price tag of $159 onto it. According to the PowerColor representative, that is about $50 lower than similarly-equipped products from competitors.

Follow Niels Broekhuijsen @NBroekhuijsen. Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

This thread is closed for comments
14 comments
    Your comment
  • jimmysmitty
    Even with the newer nicer onboard audio chips, a discrete card will always be better. I have a Asus Maximus VI Formula and the onboard audio is good but my Creative SB-Z is just better by far. Better sound quality, can be louder and more control.
  • sudz
    Does a dedicated sound card also assist with better quality over digital output? or just analog?
  • liquidpower
    just Analog if you send out a digital signal what ever takes that is going to do most of the work (receiver or DAC for head phones or that fiber jack). but you can most of the time with sound card software change like the eq and what not. but better quality it wont don any thing for that