It's just not fair.
A little over 6 months ago, I set out on a perilous and virtually thankless mission ("the names have been changed to protect the innocent"). My mission, as I chose to accept it, was to obtain the most sophisticated and technologically advanced computer components my money could buy - said money totalling $1500. I thought I was fairly successful, too. With these new components of technological wizardry, I built Imhotep, my God Box, a killer 700MHz AMD Athlon based 28Gig HD monster! She's a beauty. Aside from not being able to use my USB ports, I have been pretty happy with Imhotep.
That is, until now.
The soundboard I used for Imhotep was the Aureal Vortex 2 chip-based board known by very few as the Xitel Platinum Storm. The Platinum Storm is a really good board. It has 4 channels so you can hook up 2 front and 2 back speakers, digital audio input, and is compatible with EAX 1.0, Microsoft's DirectSound 3D and A3D 1.0.
Again, a good board. But after checking out Guillemot's new Maxi Sound Muse soundcard, I started to question my initial decision.
Once again, we have a simple and painless installation. The Muse fits snuggly into any available PCI slot on the motherboard. When prompted to install the drivers, just pop in the supplied CD, point the installation process to the D drive (or whatever letter corresponds with your CD Rom) and you're set.
This is a great deal more than I can say for my Xitel Platinum Storm. The drivers that came with this $100 card were incompatible with my system, resulting in crashes and many foiled gaming experiences. Confound that sinister blue screen! Thwarted again! Finally, I ditched those dumpy drivers and installed the Aureal drivers which work much better with Vortex 2 chipsets. But I digress.
The software bundle for the Muse is robust, to say the least. It comes with Media Station, a multi-functional graphic interface with mixing panel, .WAV file player/recorder, MIDI player and audio CD player. Gamers and music enthusiasts alike will also be able to create, play and listen to MP3s and WAV files with Sonic Foundry's loop-based multitrack music creation tool. This tool allows you to easily create and edit your own music files and comes with 25 free music loops. If you are at all into music editing or creating, for any reason from email sounds to full-length musical performances, then you may want to check this one out.
Yamaha's Xgstudio, a digital interface for playing MIDI files, Kool Karaoke Lite, a fun, full-featured karaoke player, and Earjam IMP 1.0 round out this already nicely contoured software bundle. The Earjam IMP (Internet Music Player) is supposedly the world's first universal player/burner. This handy little program plays all music formats and boasts compatibility with all popular hardware devices.
The Muse supports Central Laboratories HRTF 3D positional audio functions. This makes a monumental difference in gaming - and music in general, for that matter. The support also allows for compatibility with several gaming standards like Microsoft DirectSound 3D, EAX 1.0 and A3D 1.0. Nothing new here, though. I would have been more surprised had it not supported these standards.
The Muse runs off of the new generation CMI-8738 audio processor that, regrettably, completely kicks the crap out of my highly-esteemed Vortex 2 processing chipset. Techno jargon and boasted features aside, the Muse sounds incredible. The sound is clear and the bass is sharp and deep.
The only problem I can find is that there is no digital-in for your digital stereo or other digital music device. People looking for a high-end card probably won't view the Muse as the perfect buy.
But they will find it the most affordable. I paid over $100 for that damn Xitel thingy. It came with stereo headphones that were inoperable after a week. Furthermore, I had to go through a month of blue screen hell before I realized I needed to jettisoned the faulty drivers. With the Muse, you get so much more bang for your buck.
Frankly, when it comes to value for quality, most other sound cards pale in comparison to the smile manufacturing $29 Guilletmot Maxi Sound Muse. Yes, that's right, $29. That's less than most console games. So sell a game, check under those couch cushions, or just shake a small child upside-down because thirty bucks for this board is an absolute steal.