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Old August 6, 2007, 11:48 AM
BMWDriver BMWDriver is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: Montreal
Posts: 56
Default Sondigo Inferno 7.1 Sound Card

INTRO (to be updated with pics)
Firstly, I’m not that knowledgeable of sound technology, so I will limit my reviewing mostly on my ears’ impressions. So, there’s no audio science from me here. I should point also that I’m going from an AC97 (ACL655) audio integrated chip to a card for the first time in years, and so know nothing of the performance of X-Fi’s and the likes. I switched my ASUS mobo with a more recent MSI and more powerful CPU, and killed the latter’s AC97 while switching PSU (two times for defectives), but finally upgraded its case with an Antec PSU included case.

I’m a bit of a rebel and somewhat courageous, which means I like to get off the beaten path and try new things. So, going out of the mainstream cards and buying the Inferno was a natural thing to me, especially with the mitigated comments of Creative products I keep reading here.

Here’s my system:
MSI PM8M3-V
Intel PIV 3.2GHz
1 GB Kingston @ 400MHz
ATI AIW X800XT
Sondigo Inferno
LG DVD & LG DVD-RW
Seagate 200GB SATA
Antec SOLO case

So, here we go:

OVERVIEW – SONDIGO
Sondigo is a Vancouver based company (Sondigo | set your audio free.) and makes 3 products related to audio (it designs them and has them built overseas). I was intrigued upon visiting NCIX looking for an audio card, when I saw the high review ratings.

Finding out that Sondigo only makes one audio card, that the founder of the company is one of the people behind Dolby Headphones, I thought it to be a good start. They concentrate on one audio card, and surely this must be in the product’s best interest because it gets all of their attention right down to the last detail.

OVERVIEW – THE INFERNO SOUND CARD

For full specs of the card, you can go on their website (Inferno | Sondigo | set your audio free.). No need to be redundant here.

It is packed nicely and simply. The box is actually big for what was inside. There are two CD-ROMs, one for the drivers, and one with a DVD player (enough with the media players already!). Lo thee, an optical S/PDIF cable is within!

The card comprises many output jacks, so you can hook up an analog 7.1 speaker system to it, and still put a microphone on it because it has a fully dedicated microphone input. And you have one optical S/PDIF input and one optical S/PDIF output. Enough for you?

INSTALLATION – HARDWARE
So then, in “she” goes. Uh oh! You can hook up your CD/DVD unit to it, but alas, it does not have the regular socket that you find on motherboards of today, but pins only. So, which side is which? I gambled this time, but had a good guess that one of the pins is singled out on the card’s white writings.

There is no way of getting front audio out of your case from it. But why would you want front audio anyway. In my case, I can simply plug my headphones into my receiver. And when was the last time I did that. If I want to do a video conference though, I would have to use headphones. When was the last time...

In getting this kind of card, surely you’ve got a quality speaker system that you’ll hook up only once, and want to use all the time; that’s the bet Sondigo made I should think, or is it compromise or cut cost. Short version: if you need front audio, you’ll need an extension.

Okay, it’s in. I put the digital cable through to my Sony receiver. The latter handles DTS and Dolby I and II, and is a 5.1 system.

INSTALLATION – SOFTWARE (DRIVER)
A breeze, it was just a breeze. Foregoing the CD, I went straight to the website and got the latest driver. Mine shipped with version 1point-something06, and the website has 1point-something13. Thirty seconds later, I reboot.

The audio control panel is nice and simple I find. Very user friendly, and not unlike the NVidia Mixer I had used to run the AC97 (I had problems with Realtek drivers driving me mad because freezing up my system… so my NForce 2 mobo could handle the NVidia audio drivers… cool!) But it has more features, and you can individually adjust the volume of every single speaker of your system. DTS, Dolby, PCM… take your pick !

MAGIC
It took me a while to figure out what input to select on my Sony receiver. Alas though, there was no sound as I opened the Oxygen audio control panel to test and adjust sound. Digital output is set by default at PCM. So I finally figured out that my receiver has to either get DTS or Dolby to play. As I set the output to DTS, the magic began.

THE MUSIC
The sound is richer than anything I ever got out of my receiver. It’s unreal. Not even my CDs played that well directly to the receiver from the DVD player I have. The bass is fuller than ever, the details are crisper, and everything is coming out of every speaker. I was expecting the audio to go out on two channels only, like the AC97 did through the coaxial. AC97 only went 5.1 when I played DVDs.

The bass is so rich that I have to lower the woofer’s control from half to about one quarter. This is great to my ears, because the bass is more refined this way. I get bass, not thuds or booms or something too aggressive.

THE MOVIES
I still have to crank up the volume to about 45 when I play DVDs, and then back down to 35 after the movie so I don’t jump when I shut down my computer and hear the XP exit music. Mind you, I also had to boost volume when listening to DVDs from the DVD player I had hooked to my (now gone) television.

Again, at the same level as before, the sound is richer, and the rear channels really come through, better even than my DVD player did. I’m surrounded by sound. I was before, but now it’s not as faint as it used to be in the rear channels.

Listening to Bullit, there seems not to be much difference. It’s an old movie though, so “garbage in -> garbage out” mono/stereo if you get my drift. Apocalypse Now is an audio experience in itself. The movie was designed that way and paid more attention to it. In the opening as you hear the choppers going around the front and back, circling around, the Doors kick into this dramatic opening scene with The End.

So you can imagine the thrill of it, and of hearing Star Wars ships zooming by your ears. I have a new system, I think. Cranked up at 45, my receiver delivers better.

THE GAMES
I had no access to 5.1 for gaming before. I had expected 5.1 of the coaxial option from the replaced ASUS A7N8X. Thus I was using my 4.1 speakers from Logitech on analog instead – bummer! Even so, I decided on going back down to 2 channels with my receiver because there is hardly any difference when gaming with the AC97. I had not the sense of immersion I expected, nor did I hear things coming from behind.

So now it’s a different game.

What can I say: 5.1 gaming at last! A great experience. Well now it’s coming from all sides. Now I can sort of distinguish sounds from behind me as Combines come.

Again, the sound is more present, fuller and richer; though this time I don’t hesitate to crank up the volume up to 45. Somehow, the sound is more decent at this level than intrusive. I can’t quite explain it, but it’s as if the peaks are more balanced between bass and highs.

CONCLUSION
I use my machine more as a multimedia than gaming machine, listening to music and watching DVDs. I can play last generation games like Half-Life 2, F.E.A.R., Quake IV, Doom 3 (read: shader 2.0 only). But now I’m tempted to replay my games some more to enjoy the sound – I still get a kick out of replaying Half-Life 2, and I can’t wait to see the Black Mesa mod come out.

The Inferno is an incredible upgrade for the music already, and the DVD playing is also more enjoyable as is the gaming. You might wonder why wait for such an upgrade, but like anything else, you don’t know what you’ve missed until you’ve experienced it first hand. But gaming is still second in regards to my choice for sound. I’ve no care for EAX 3.0 or 2.0 for that matter; I decided I could expense with the extra pizzazz. Having a good receiver certainly helps, and I end up getting more quality out of it.

The driver is simple enough; there’s an equalizer to mess with if you want, you can set up many things which I haven’t mentioned here, and it doesn’t take much of my system’s resources. But, Half-Life SMOD 2 has crashed a couple of times while I played it, so I’m not sure if it’s SMOD related or a sound driver issue. I haven’t “gamed” enough yet to say.

Again I stress I’ve gone from an onboard AC97 to a top notch (in my mind) sound card, so I have no clue if you could possibly get equal or better performance from a Creative product. But from what I read, Creative software is a mess and driver support is something left to be desired, so I’m glad to strike Creative off my list. Hooked up to my receiver, a simple card like that fit my budget and need.

I’m totally satisfied and beyond.
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