The Revolution is Heard
I compared the Revolution 7.1 to Terratec's DMX 6-fire. The DMX 6-fire is another Envy 24 powered soundcard, also using AKM DAC's, but higher in quality. I didn't compare the Revolution 7.1 to the Audigy2 or the eX, as both cards are not on hand for testing. But I think we can all agree, the Audigy2 can't play in this field anyway in terms of sound quality. The eX is a different beast altogether and its sound is good enough to play here. Sadly, the eX had to be sent back to the factory.
I used WinAmp3 for A/B testing, simply because it allows easy switching between sound cards. There are reports of a problem with the Revolution continuing to play when WinAmp is exited. I did not have any problems, but some of you might.
I was surprised at the similarity of the sound from the two cards. They both have a remarkably clean and very detailed sound, a heritage of the Envy24/AKM combination. Both cards produce punchy, dynamic sound that makes you jump around and look like an idiot to your neighbors. I think that only means I need to get curtains. Both have bass definition to get your groove on. Both cards will reveal poorly recorded CDs for crap, and will produce stunning sound with audiophile-grade CDs. It was also interesting to note that the Revolution 7.1 dealt with 'hot' CD's better than the DMX 6-fire.
Bass is very well defined and detailed in particular with the Revolution 7.1. On some recordings, such as Metallica's latest, St. Anger, the first track, Frantic, revealed a bass line that was so well defined you could follow it note for note. The kick drum nearly hurt when it enters on the title track, St. Anger. The 'sproing' of Lar's snare drum was better defined with the Revolution 7.1 than the DMX 6-fire, as was the aforementioned bass line. The Revolution 7.1 seems to be made for Rock'n Roll.
In recordings that have medium amounts of soundstage, like Little Wing by Jimi Hendrix, the reverb and echo effects were clearer and more steadily traced down to zero on the DMX 6-fire. The Revolution 7.1, on the other hand, seems to have a clearer upper midrange than the DMX 6-fire, as the bells in Little Wing were very well defined and easily heard in the mix. The DMX 6-fire does take the prize for its low-level detail and soundstage.
In Jazz, Classical, and Funk, where timbre and soundstage are more important, the Revolution 7.1 had a few problems. It tended to sound rather flat. That is, the sense of depth in the stereo image was not nearly as pronounced as with the DMX 6-fire. This might be due to the fact that I'm using headphones that provide a very close soundstage. However, something like Sennheiser headphones might work much better with the Revolution 7.1 than my Grado's. Nevertheless, this was an easily discernable difference that persisted through all A/B tests.
Overall, the Revolution 7.1 is easily one of the best sound cards I've heard. I cannot believe the quality and inexpensive-ness of this sound card. With the Revolution 7.1 you can cough up a $100 for a 24 bit/192kHz sound card and be very impressed with the quality of sound.
This is rather disturbing for DMX 6-fire owners that they can get 90% of its sound for $150 bucks less with the Revolution 7.1. Of course the DMX 6-fire does have a breakout box giving it much more utility, especially for recording. But altogether, the Revolution 7.1 is a very good sound show.