Hardware Report by Sean Murphy
The Monster Sound MX300 is the first sound card to hit the market with Aureals new high-end A3D 2.0 positional sound. It is not just a tweaked version of the previous Monster Sound cards, it is an entirely new beast. The card now supports Aureals A3D positional sound, Direct Sound, Direct Sound 3D, and it has rock solid Sound Blaster Pro compatibility.
Game players will enjoy the DOS sound support for some of the older games that still may be lurking on their hard drives unlike the MX80 and MX200 predecessors without an older ISA or on-motherboard card for the golden oldies. Another real MX300 boost above the MX80 and MX200, is the genuine Aureal Vortex 2 processor not an A3D compatible chip. If you already have the Monster Sound MX200, the MIDI daughter card can be migrated to the MX300 which also will work with the Roland SCD-15 and DBXG50 MIDI cards. Although MIDI is not very common in newer software, musicians may find this upgrade grade indispensable.
Some of the new features in the Monster MX300 card include:
As mentioned above there will be a digital output daughter card available soon. The Monster Sound MX25 will enable a true digital output to a stereo receiver or surround processor for Dolby Digital 5.1 sound from your games and, perhaps more importantly, DVD sound tracks. As this technology becomes more widespread the availability of games and multimedia software with Dolby Digital soundtracks which will launch your computer to a whole new level.
The software included with this card was bundled using a whole new approach. There is not a lot of junk. Unlike most cards which come with piles of "fluff-ware" like talking parrots or some new way to play sounds that you dont want to hear, most, if not all of the software included in the MX300 was useful for the average user. Included are several MP3 digital audio format tools that enable encoding, decoding, and managing of all of your MP3 files.
Diamond stresses in their software and on their web site the legal uses of MP3 files and discourage the "other" uses of MP3s. In addition to the sound utilities included was the OEM version of Half-Life and the full version of Recoil. Zoran SoftDVD is also included which will enable you to watch DVD movies if you do not have a separate decoder board and other DVD software.
The A3D API is used in over 100 games (some
still in development) and patches for many others will be available soon. Included in this
list are titles like Unreal, Incoming, Decent, Freespace, Battlezone, and Jedi
The MX300 card, like almost all Diamond products, installed very easily. The whole process took less than 5 minutes and shockingly required NO re-boot (boy will Bill Gates be surprised). The only catch I had in my install was with the Sound Blaster Emulation. Because almost every IRQ and DMA on my system are taken up, I had conflicts n the setup. I called Diamond's toll free support line and in less than 4 minutes (including hold time) I was fully operational. The support personal are truly a class act.
The MX300 is controlled by a control panel type applet that is launched by double clicking in the clock tray. There are 6 tabbed screens available for controls and demos of the cards capabilities. The first screen is the status screen, which shows output levels and digital processor load in a nice graphical box. This display would have been a neat thing to be able to float over your applications to constantly get the little light show but unfortunately it was not in the cards. Also included on this screen are shortcuts to the windows sound recorded and volume controls.
One of the most convenient features in this control is the second tab, which is an equalizer. This 10 band EQ offers control of your CD and digital sound sources. There are four presets; Rock, Classical, Pop, and Jazz, plus two user programmable buttons. The equalizer also gave a nice level output like the first tab but this one showing levels at each frequency range. The EQ did a good job fine tuning the system but I felt that the levels did not have the dB range at each frequency that it should have. The presets were convenient, for most of us we will put it on the rock setting and forget that it was ever there.
The configuration tab lets you set up what you would like the speaker outputs to do. With the two outputs from the card, you can run them in the 3D 4-speaker setup or send the same signal through both outputs if you want to run a set of PC speakers and an output to a stereo receiver. There is also a useless speaker configuration test with a recorded voice playing from each speaker in the system sequentially.
There is a MIDI tab where effects and voice limits can be setup. The 5th tab, A3D Demos, plays through 4 demos of the positional sound processing. These are highly entertaining but show one of the faults I the claims of the Aureal chip. The manufacturer and Diamond claim that they can portray true 3D sound, left right, front back, and up down. The latter is a stretch. I tried everything I could with several speaker placements and could never quite get the up down thing.
The final tab is preferences, I hope you dont have a lot of preferences because you dont have a lot of options. You can turn on and off the task bar icon, tool tips, and DirectSound hardware acceleration. Slim pickings compared to some of the 3D competition cards.
In conclusion, this is a great card and a great upgrade. Compared to the other 3D sound cards on the market, the Diamond MX300 is one of the easiest to install and use, the tech support is superb, and the sound quality is superior to the average OEM sound card. Although there is definitely a lack of control and customizability compared to competing Creative Labs and Turtle Beach cards, this card will still meet your needs for 3D sound and digital output. The three-year warranty and outstanding software and technical support will make you sleep well at night.
Check out Upgrading and Repairing PCs, a popular and highly recommended book!
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