Herculean sound on a peasant's salary.
Considering all the available bells and whistles in PC cards, it's nice to see that some manufacturers still respect the fact that not everyone wants to go out and spend a fortune on silicon implants for their computers. I, for one, have high expectations for what I spend my hard earned cash on, and the Gamesurround Muse XL is music to my ears.
Opening the package, I was most surprised at the inclusion of a set of stereo headphones with built-in mic. I never figured that a card that retails for $29.99 would have such a cool bonus.
Installation is a cicnh. The drivers go in like a breeze; they'll even remove your old drivers automatically to ward off any IRQ conflicts. And the driver disk is even chock full o' demos, but more on that later. Let's talk sound.
The Gamesurround Muse XL
Running on the latest chipset from CMI, the Muse XL can handle everything from basic Windows sound schemes to pro audio with plenty of all the clarity. The Muse XL supports 4-channel surround, a microphone, line in and a MIDI/game port. Its only real shortcoming is the omission of digital output for newer speaker sets. The other gourmet ports that the high-end cards offer simply fill a niche for developers or audiophiles and seem unnecessary for the average Joe Gamer that uses their PC for gaming, MP3s and maybe watching a DVD or two.
With all of the new audio formats hitting the market, it's nice to know that the Muse XL comes fully prepared for this latest wave. You'll have no worries when you run the latest games because it supports Sensaura 3D positional audio, D3D, EAX1.0 & 2.0, A3D1.0, and everything else down to Legacy support for those old DOS games in your closet.
Whether you're gaming or jamming to your favorite CD, the sound quality is rich and full. The bass is low and strong while the highs are bright and crisp, and everything in between is nicely balanced. Development obviously went into sound quality, not frills.
Unfortunately, the praise comes to a screeching halt when you peruse the included software bundle. Accompaning the Gamesurround Muse XL are trial versions of Acid Express, Musicmatch Jukebox, Siren Jukebox Express, Kool Karaoke, Power DVD, Storm Hercules SE and Game Commander 2 SE. All of these applications have great audio editing potential as full versions, but the trial editions don't offer very much at all. If you actually want to use them, you have to upgrade to the full versions, meaning spending more dough. Or should I say, Doh!
Besides, doesn't the name Gamesurround sort of allude to gaming? Maybe a game bundle would be a better idea than a half-assed music editing bundle.
Of course, there are always the more expensive high-end cards like Creative's latest incarnation of their fabled Sound Blaster Live or even Hercules' own impressive Game Theatre XP. Both offer more options and better sound overall. But with the modest price tag and rock solid performance, there is absolutely no reason why you penny pinchers shouldn't consider this card.