We were so in love with the old Diamond Monster Sound that it wasn’t until our recent move that we finally sent the unsupported, driverless card to hardware Valhalla.
Well, a reincarnated Diamond Multimedia is back, pushing a soundcard dubbed XtremeSound that sports real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding. Based on C-Media’s CMI 8768, the chip does away with external audio codecs by having those capabilities integrated directly into the chip.
C-Media claims some DSP capabilities, but we’re a little skeptical. And we’re damn sure the Dolby Digital Live encoding is host-based.
But people who care about Dolby Digital Live—the ability to encode a surround sound source on the fly into Dolby Digital—probably don’t care whether it’s done on the CPU or soundcard, as long as they have the feature.
The XtremeSound performed quite well in analog mode during our gaming tests. In fact, in both 3DMark and FEAR, the XtremeSound turned in significantly better frame rates than our motherboard’s integrated sound. And shockingly, the XtremeSound performed on par with Creative’s X-Fi. We suspect we’re at the point where a dual-core 3.46GHz Pentium Extreme Edition 955 beats a dedicated DSP, even one as powerful as the X-Fi’s. Of course, your mileage will vary based on your CPU.
All that performance goes out the window, however, when you turn on Dolby Digital Live. With the heavier load on the CPU, the XtremeSound drops into third place with its frame rates dropping from 141fps to 114fps in FEAR. You’d think that with a dual-core CPU, the Dolby Digital encoding would off-load to the idle core, but it didn’t work that way.
Frame rates are pretty pointless if the card sounds like crap. Using a set of eargasmic Etymotic Research ER-4 earphones, we listened to the XtremeSound render audio in Battlefield 2. The short verdict is that the X-Fi still annihilates all comers with its subtle audio cues and excellent occlusion effects. While the XtremeSound performs better than integrated sound, it can’t hold a candle to the X-Fi.
So where does that leave the XtremeSound? It’s a capable soundcard for gaming and is one of the few ways to hook up your PC to your Dolby Digital system via a digital output, something even the X-Fi can’t do.
Month Reviewed: August 2006