Today, OCA has the Philips Acoustic Edge sound card in the house for review. If you stop and think about it, there really aren't a plethora of quality soundcards out there to choose from. You have the SBLive series, the Hercules and Guillemot Maxisound and Fortissimo series, and then you have the Philips edge series of soundcards.
In the first pic, you see the standard line in, mic in and game controller port, but what's those 2 other inputs?? They are Line out (Lime DIN) and S/PDIF (Black DIN). This is where you hookup the cables that Philips included in order to run your 2, 4, 5 and 5.1 surround speakers and/or the Sony/Philips Digital Interface. Already, this is shaping up to be the most advanced sound card I have had in my possession.
Here's a shot of all the cables there were included in the box.
The bottom 2 cables are your standard CD, analog and auxiliary cables. Then you see the line out and S/PDIF cable up top. They are all very clearly marked so as not to mistake one for the other. Always a bonus. The quality of these cables were very nice. On par with audio/video type cable hookups.
Ok, lets slide the card into the PCI slot and see what she's got.
No problems getting it physically installed. I closed up the side and booted up the PC. I'll have to be honest. I'm running Windows2000 and was hoping I didn't see any trouble installing the drivers for the card and fortunately, Philips came through for us. When reading the press info, I noted there were actually beta win2k drivers included on the install CD. I checked the official site today and looks as if those drivers are final. They also have updated WinXP drivers as well. Something they had to do in order to keep up with Microsoft's' newest operating systems. Lets face it, if you don't have software to power your hardware, people just aren't going to buy your product. Well, you'll have no worries here. You can find all the Philips updated drivers HERE. And hats off to the Philips engineers for getting this updated software out. Previously, it was the only downside I had heard of regarding the "Edge" series cards.
Drivers were installed without a hitch, however, it doesn't appear that the latest drivers are officially approved by Microsoft. But now that I think of it, nearly every driver I have installed doesn't have the MS seal of approval! Nothing to worry about. Here's a snap of that.
Again no biggie. I had no troubles at all and was eventually brought to the Philips Audio Control Panel where I was given the option to change all kinds of cool stuff as seen below.
Here under the settings tab you'll see the option to run headphones, 2, 4, 5 and 5.1 speakers. Those poor fools like myself that only have 2 aren't left out in the cold however. Philips has included both QXpander and DVD Q Surround for your audio pleasure. QSound? Hmm, what might that be? Here's a snip from the official Philip's site:
"QSound algorithms will give you unmatched 3D audio realism for games and movies using any speaker configuration from two to six speakers."
What the QXPander does is widen the sound field of stereo music and provide 3D enhancement to 2D audio games when using normal stereo speakers. And I'm here to tell you. It works and it works well.
The Giants game included with the card was not only beautiful to look at. The immersive audio environmental sounds were simply incredible. The game basically takes place on an island and whenever you would move close enough to the shore, you could hear the sounds of the ocean just as if you were there yourself. If you moved closer and the water was to your left, you can hear watery sounds to your left, and vice versa. Also, streaming fire from enemies sounded very realistic whizzing by your head on either side. Unfortunately, Philips informed me this game does not come with the retail version of the Acoustic Edge, but it does a great job of showing off the excellent sounds the AE can provide . I have also tested this card with Quake3, NFS Porsche Unleashed, and the new Castle Wolfenstein Multiplayer test. All of them sounded better than with any other sound card I have used to date. There's nothing better than getting ready to pass another car in Porsche Unleashed and hearing it whiz by on one side or the other, then fading away as you pull further and further ahead. I actually heard sounds of sheep and birds with this card, that I had never heard previously. Very nice.
You can get more of the Q info HERE if you want to go take a look.
Another thing I really liked was the amount of documentation provided to get both the casual user, and serious audio aficionado started with this product. The CD has several videos showing, not only how to install the card into your PC, but even goes as far as showing you how to disable your AC97 audio in the bios (if you have that sorta thing) so you'll have a worry free install. There are also audio demonstrations of the different Q settings. Here is the menu for that.
It plays straight from the CD and shows you how each one works, while it is giving you a demonstration of sound. Very cool.
Ok, next up is Siren XPress which was included with the sound card as well. Not to take anything from the Acoustic Edge, but damn, this software is really nice! For a stripped down version of the FULL software, this package is very nice. Take a look at the "full view" while it's playing audio.
Checkout all those options! Media Library, Play/Rip CD, Explore, Internet Media, Internet Radio, Burn CD and Portable Player. I tried everything except the Burn CD option and it all works. I have usually reserved Winamp to satisfy all my MP3 and audio needs, but I think I may be replacing that with Siren. Heck, there is even a compact mode that looks very spiffy and downloadable skins are available as well. Take a look.
Hmmm, this skin look familiar to any of you overclockers??
All in all, a very nice program. Hell, it even has a transparent mode so you can vaguely see it as it's playing songs while it sits behind your other programs.
Finally, we are also treated to the latest Power DVD software by Cyberlink. You'll need this to take advantage of the DVD capabilities of the soundcard. Unfortunately, coming from an overclockers perspective, I did not have the resources available to test this option. But in keeping with the overall quality of this product, I'm sure it does what it needs, and does it well. When I get a better setup going here, I'll definitely be back to update the article.
Lets wrap this up shall we?
Alright. We've come to that part of the review that most of you are looking forward to. The end. What I'll do here is highlight both the high's and low's of this card, and let you all make your own decision if this is the right product for your particular system. Here we go.
Several speaker options, 2, 4, 5 and 5.1 (what more could you ask for?)
Great software package
Superb sound quality with many adjustable options
Great driver, customer and product support
Fully compatible with external sources such as DVD AC3 or DTS
What? No low's? Am I crazy? Well, possibly, but honestly, there is nothing bad I can truly say about this card. There were only 2 conceivable low points when I began this review. One being driver compatibility, that has been fixed, and done so with authority. Two, was the price. Yes, this card retails for around $99 at your local Best Buy, but upon further checking, the OEM's can be had for right around $60. And to get this type of sound quality, compatibility and support, that is a small price to pay in my book.
All around, this is by far the best sound device I have used in my PC and I've really enjoyed reviewing this product. Quite honestly, the Acoustic Edge may be more than the average user needs. But with Three sound solutions including the Acoustic Edge, Seismic Edge and Rhythmic Edge. You simply cannot go wrong. I also took the time to check the specifications of each, and even the low end Rhythmic Edge. and midrange Seismic Edge has several of the same features as their bigger brother. But if your looking for Top quality audio that won't totally break the bank. The Acoustic Edge gets my recommendation, and has the distinct honor of getting the very first Official OCA Approved Hardware award. Yessir!!!
Thanks for joining us here at the OCA. If you have any props, suggestions or flames, please send them HERE. I'd also like to extend our thanks to the Philips crew for giving us a chance to review this product.