For typical music use, such as CDs or MP3s, the SoundMAX implementation was absolutely no different from our testbed’s SoundBlaster Live! in terms of sound quality, while it was quite superior to typical on-board AC’97 audio. One notable exception is that our SoundBlaster Live! features both a treble and bass control, while the SoundMAX drivers include only a bass boost option. We’d like to see full treble and bass controls in later driver revisions.
SoundMAX supports MIDI playback in either General MIDI (GM), or Yamaha XG and XG-Lite formats. The drivers ship with support for DLS, or DownLoadable Sound sets, which allows users to download larger MIDI instrument banks should they be desired. The DLS sound sets that are included in the drivers consist of a 4MB set for GM playback, and a 1.2MB set for XG(-Lite) playback. MIDI sound was miles ahead of anything we’ve heard from AC’97 sound systems, but still pales in comparison to professional MIDI cards.
Naturally we explored SoundMAX’s DVD capabilities as well, and were quite pleased. Using the optical digital output, paired with a set of S4 MidiLand 8200 speakers, our favorite movies sounded excellent. Sound was clear and accurate, without popping or hissing, as can sometimes be observed with on-board audio solutions. In this case, SoundMAX’s digital nature keeps the signal extremely clean and noise free.
As mentioned, SoundMAX 3.0 features support for A3D 1.0 and EAX 1.0 extensions. Sensaura provides a set of algorithms which are used by the host processor to produce A3D and EAX effects. We tested various games, including Quake 2, Unreal Tournament, and Half-Life, and once again, A3D and EAX effects sounded no different than those from our reference SBLive!. Common AC’97 audio does not support either A3D or EAX. We should note, however, that somewhat strangely, the SoundMAX drivers caused visual artifacts to appear in Unreal Tournament. The artifacting was apparent in Unreal only, and at this point, we are unable to determine the cause, although it most certainly lies in the SoundMAX drivers.
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