TerraTec DMX 6-fire

Soundcards and Speakers 104 Page 6 of 10 Published by


Page 6

Sound Evaluation 

Its never easy to subjectively evaluate a sound card.  On different days you can hear different things even in a well known piece of music.  And there are no steadfast tools to evaluate sound with, besides the ears.  The comparison between the TerraTec 6-fire and the Creative Audigy2, was over in about 2 seconds after I switched output devices in WinAmp3.  If you prefer not to hear subjective evaluations, you can skip on to the next page.


I used a pair of Grado SR-125 headphones for the output, and as you guessed, WinAmp3, because it allows easy switching between sound cards.  I try to include sound samples so ya'll can play along at home, but due to bandwidth considerations we can't.  So there isn't.



There are two things that I noticed immediately about the sound of the 6-fire.  First is presentation, in which the sound seems to be coming from farther away.  This is not to say that it is quieter, but it conveys a great sense of depth.  Second is the detail and the extension.  The sound is very clear, bright-ish (it is not at all harsh), uber-detailed, and very extended.  Its audible enough that when compared with the DMX 6-fire the Audigy2 sounds rather thick and instruments dont have as much of a sense of clarity.


For a more in-depth example, lets take James Brown: Papa Dont Take no Mess from the Make it Funky, The Big Payback: 1971-1976 best-of album.  Im looking at subtle differences here.  The reverb on James voice is interesting in that you can hear the vowel sounds as it falls.  All I can say is wow.  Now that's detail I can use.  The Audigy2 required high volume to reveal that kind of detail.  Another bit was about the bass: the bass with the 6-fire is excellent.  At first I was confused, as you would think that such an extended frequency response would create a thin sound, but the 6-fires bass is deep, clean, and punchy.  The Audigy2 by comparison, seems more compressed and not nearly as deep (the word I think of is constipated).  As far as this example goes, judging by the decay of the notes, I believe the bass guitar is fretless.  Another point with this example is the cymbals.  In the example you can hear when the drummer strikes on different cymbals and each has a different fundamental pitch.  Both cards conveyed this quite well, but the 6-fire is so well defined, with so much detail, that its easy to differentiate pitches and timbres.  The Audigy2 reproduced the cymbals very well, nicely tuneful and have excellent timbre, but without the extension or a sense of air around them.


Another example is with Beastie Boys Intergalactic, off of the Hello Nasty CD.  The big-ass marching drum (well, its probably a drum machine) that kicks off the track is a great bass test for any sound card.  Both sound cards put the punch in the bowl, so to speak, but through the 6-fire its poundingly deep.  Earth shaking.  BOOM-BOOM-BOOOOM!  I had to check to see if my subwoofer was off.  Remember, Im using headphones.


Yet another example is Jimi Hendrixs Little Wing from the purple double CD.  I dont know if its even authorized, because I dont see it in the official catalogue.  Anyway, this little 2-and-a-half minute masterpiece is one of the jewels of Hendrixs music.  Many a guitarist has spent a good portion of their lives learning the licks contained within.  The Audigy2 gets a big win for a guitarist trying to learn a lick or two because the Audigy2 can slow down playback without changing pitch.


I heard several new things in this well trodden song.  First is the echo on Jimis voice that gets panned to the right channel.  The guitar also has echo that is panned right, but also goes dead center, and straight away from you and back.  You can almost watch the echo travel back and forth.  His voice is also running through a Leslie speaker effect so his voice bounces from channel to channel.  Also of importance is how clear the bells ring out.  Sometimes the bells are not so clear with other sound cards, but the 6-fire nailed all of em.  I also get the sense of what Jimi was listening to while he was playing, and thats where the bells come from: the overtones of the guitar were already making the bell tones.  Logical, if you ask me, and damn brilliant.  Also listen for when the bass hits the low notes.  It was an event through the 6-fire, producing head rattling and hair standing on the back of the neck.  The Audigy2 also had fine detail in the echo and bells, but required high volume to get at.  And forget about hair standing on the back of the neck.


Just so the classical freaks dont freak, Ive included a little classical on the listening test.  Classical music is great for its high demand for dynamic range.  Its a little indulgent, but the "Three Asian Chicks and One White Boy Quartet" perform Beethovens String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op. 131 in a live concert at San Francisco's Old First Church.  The string quartet, in general, is considered a composers ultimate form of expression.   Beethoven was quite deaf at this stage of his career, but still turned out one of the greatest pieces of music ever written.  Opus 131 is a warhorse for any quartet.  Two violins are on the left, the second violin (if you're interested) is a Stradavarius, the cello is in the middle right, and the viola on the right.  The first movement opens with a fugue, a single melody (well, a subject) gets passed from instrument to instrument until all have played it, and then begins the development.  The Audigy2 cant really compete here.  The 6-fire has so much extension, detail and clarity that anything with strings is going to sound superb.  Each instrument is surrounded in space with air, that is, the space between the microphone and the musician, have depth and are easy to 'watch' in the stereo field.  The subtle changes from tasto to ponticello (sweet to bright) that the musicians put into the notes remain intact going through the 6-fire, which believe it or not, the Audigy2 subdued to a degree.  Dynamics were also compressed a bit, making the 6-fire a little more 'exciting' to listen to.  While the it is really pleasing to listen to, the 6-fire simply exposes some shortcomings in the Audigy2, whether it lies in upsampling 44.1kHz wave files to 48kHz or in absolute resolution.

For music playback, the TerraTec is the best sounding card I've ever heard.  It has a very clean, high-resolution sound, extended high frequencies, and a kicking bass.  While I am a fan of the Audigy2 and its Crystal DACs, the 6-fire simply outperforms it in every category I could think of, save for some cases of instrumtal timbre (cymbals).  Let's see how they work for converting analog LP records.

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