More Than A SoundBlaster

Philips - Acoustic Edge, Continued

The Acoustic Edge Control Panel is split into seven tabs that run along the top of the Panel. These tabs are labeled: Utilities, Settings, S/PDIF, Effects, MIDI, Speaker Test, and Information. Each panel is well laid out and didn't seem to be missing anything that was obvious to me. One option that was of particular interest to me was located on the MIDI tab described as "H/W Wavetabe Voices" - it has two options - "Better Gaming" and "Better Polyphony." The default of "Better Gaming" is the option that we used to test with. I did find that, as you would guess, with the "Better Polyphony" option enabled, we did take a small performance hit, but I honestly didn't notice much a of difference between the two. The Acoustic Edge Control Panel was easy to use, and very visual in nature, which in my book is a good thing. I also liked the way Philips included several "DEFAULT" buttons on many of the pages, which helps you return that tab to its default settings with the click of a button. If you are new to tweaking a sound card, you will find this helpful, as you can do a lot of "before and after" testing very quickly.

Once you install the included software, you will appreciate the fact that Philips spent a lot of time creating customized Philips "skins" for much of the included applications and software. This customized Philips look is different from any other sound card in this review, except for the Creative Sound Blaster. In doing this, Philips attempts to achieve a look and feel that is very much the same between applications. It is different, and whether you like it or not is really up to you, but I found that it the more I used and tested this card it kind of grew on me. After the card was installed, I found the sound to be very rich and full. At times, I even found the sound to be overly clear, but I didn't consider this lack of distortion to be a bad thing. In positional audio modes, I found the separation to be excellent and the sound to be very good.

During my testing of the Acoustic Edge sound card, I discovered a problem with Windows 98SE, which would not allow AC3/DTS DVD pass through feature of the Acoustic Edge to operate. On their web site, Philips provides a link to a Microsoft Quick Engineering Fix that will apply a patch to resolve this issue as follows: QFE269601 applies a fix that permits operation of the Philips DVD AC3/DTS Passthrough feature when using Win98SE and Philips Sound Card WDM drivers. However, without this patch, this AC3/DTS DVD Passthrough feature is grayed out and is inoperable.

During the benchmark testing of the card using the newest drivers, we found some cause for concern. In both of the Quake III and UTBENCH tests, the Philips finished dead last. (So much for the Philips claim of the lowest CPU utilization.) Not so fast, though, because the Philips finished first on the MP3 test with lowest score of only 7%, which was very impressive. It seems as if the card does very well in non-gaming situations, but doesn't do well in gaming situations with the current driver set.

It was very hard not to like this card due to the impressive array of features included with the card. Other sound card makers could learn a few things from Philips in the packaging and bundling of the card. I found the sound to be down right incredible, but issues with the driver performance in gaming situations gives me cause for concern. The SAA7785 ThunderBird Avenger DSP does appear to be quite powerful and has a bounty of potential, but Philips really needs to allocate resources to improve the drivers, as I feel right now the performance hit is just too great for such an otherwise impressive sounding card.

Turtle Beach - Santa Cruz

Turtle Beach has been in the sound card business for many years. In some ways, Turtle Beach has been known as more of a software company due to their relationship with Voyetra, which acquired Turtle Beach in 1996, and became the company we know today, as Voyetra Turtle Beach.

Over the years, they have offered a variety of sound cards. Most of the more recent cards were based on the Aureal Vortex 1 and Vortex 2 chipsets. The Santa Cruz sound card represents the first new design from Turtle Beach that is not based on an Aureal chipset.

I consider the Santa Cruz sound card to be a more conservative approach to sound card design when compared with some of the competition. Santa Cruz has stayed away from break out boxes and Live Drives, and has produced a solid sound card targeted at the game markets, as well as audiophile PC sound enthusiasts.

It is important to note that through a co-marketing agreement the Santa Cruz is also re-branded as the VideoLogic Sonic Fury. Through this arrangement, Turtle Beach markets the VideoLogic line of speakers, while VideoLogic markets the re-branded Santa Cruz.

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Data Transfer SpecificationPCI 2.1 Bus Mastering
Audio Processor (DSP)Cirrus Logic SoundFusion CS4630
Audio Standards CompatibilitySensaura based 3D positional Audio with support for Microsoft DirectSound 3D, EAX 1.0, EAX 2.0, A3D 1.0, I3DL2, MacroFX, MultiDrive, ZoomFX, EnvironmentFX, Compatible with Dolby Surround.
Legacy DOS SupportYes, Legacy DOS/Sound Blaster Support
Wavetable Synthesizer64-voice hardware polyphony with up to 1024 software voices. 8 MB DLS synthesizer sample set.
External Connector ConfigurationMic In, Line In, Front Speaker Output, Rear Output, Game Port/Midi Connector. Versa Jack.
Operating Systems SupportedWindows 95/98/ME/NT 4/2000, DOS
Status Of Windows XP DriversXP Driver Posted On Web Site
Special Features1/8" stereo mini-phone jack that can be used as analog line output, headphones output, digital output or analog line input. Can be reconfigured from the Santa Cruz control panel. Wave Table header and Upgrade header for future expansion.
Software Included With The CardSanta Cruz Control Panel, Audio Station 4.0, Voyetra's Digital Orchestrator, MIDI Orchestrator 32, Sound Check For Santa Cruz, Audio View 32, Sensaura Player Demo, and Voyetra Product Demos.
Suggested Retail Price - US$80