Hercules Digifire 7.1 soundcard review


Hercules has been present in the PC soundcard market for a few years now, since the release of the first Fortissimo card in 1999, the company (then Guillemot) went after the same audience that was familiar to them, famous for producing high-end videocards meant for enthusiasts and gamers.

Fast forward to present time, we are about to review the Digifire 7.1 soundcard that remains as Hercules’ flagship card despite of the fact it was introduced about a year ago. Based on the Cirrus Logic CS4624 chipset, the Digifire 7.1 offers sound output for up to 8 channels like its name describes, that can translate in support for Dolby Digital EX decoding (7.1), up to par even with latest offerings from Creative Labs and M-Audio.

Perhaps one of the biggest selling points in the Digifire are the 3 FireWire ports which Hercules hints can be used to connect a DV camcorder and create “professional-quality videos” using the bundled PowerDirector Pro software. And that is indeed the difference between the Digifire and the Fortissimo III, both of which share the exact same components and can be used for gaming and surround audio however the latter lacks the connectivity and software, hence the lower price, even then you will want to know none of these cards will break the bank at $75 and $45, respectively.


Out of the box & Connectivity

The Digifire 7.1 features a Line/Mic Input, 4 Stereo Line Outputs, an Optical S/PDIF Output (no S/PDIF input) and a MIDI/Gameport add-on bracket. Additionally 2 FireWire ports are provided on the bracket (as opposed to one on the Audigy/Audigy 2) and a third extra port is available internally. Despite of the recent trend of removing legacy connections, the board did come with headers for CD-In and the like, in case you need them there although I’ve not used them for years.

Installing the Soundcard itself was no more hassle than any of the other Soundcards I’ve reviewed previously and just as before I did not bother installing the MIDI/Gameport bracket. Over the course of testing the Digifire I connected it to the Creative MegaWorks 510D, Inspire 6700 & Videologic ZXR 750 Speaker systems using available Line-Out's as well as conducted some testing using a pair of Philips headphones. For testing digital output the Optical S/PDIF Output was connected to a SoundBlaster Extigy.

The Digifire 7.1 comes with a printed manual and an html manual into the Drivers CD. As per norm, this covers basic hardware & software installation as well as a vague few paragraphs on the Control Panel.

In addition, the Digifire comes with a software bundle comprising PowerDVD 4 Pro EX, PowerDirector Pro, Yamaha XG Player, Hercules MediaStation II and Acid Xpress. The standout software is undoubtedly PowerDVD 4 Pro EX which supports a Dolby Digital Surround EX (7.1) decoding which I’ll cover more in the DVD section.
PowerDirector Pro will be of good use to those connecting a digital camcorder to the Digifire’s FireWire ports, allowing you to edit movies and such. The other 3 applications allow for various audio format playback &/or recording – personally I am happy enough with WinAMP for playback.


Technical Specifications

Data transfer PCI 2.1 bus
DSP Cirrus Logic SoundFusion CS4624
Audio quality · CD and professional audio quality
· 20-bit quad output and 18-bit dual stereo input codec
· upto 48kHz sampling rate
Game compatibility · Sensaura based 3D positional audio with support for Microsoft DirectSound™ 3D, EAX™ 1.0, EAX™ 2.0, A3D™ 1.0, I3DL2™, MacroFX™, MultiDrive™, ZoomFX™, EnvironmentFX™
· Sound Blaster®
Audio compatibility · Microsoft® DirectSound™& DirectMusic™
· Dolby Surround™
· Dolby Digital™ / Dolby Digital™ EX
Software wavetable synthesizer · DSP accelerated engine for an unlimited number of voices (64-voice hardware)
· 8MB General MIDI/GS™ sample set
· DLS 1.0 compatible
· GM™ (General Midi) and Yamaha XG™ compatible
· Yamaha S-YXG50:
- 676 instrument sounds and 21 drum kits
- Effects: reverb, chorus, variation …
External Connectors · Analog output connectors:
· Front speakers out
· Rear speakers out
· Centre / LFE out
· 7 & 8 channels / Headphones out
· Line in / Mic in
· MIDI / Game port (MPU 401™ compatible)
· Digital S/PDIF out (optical)
· 2 FireWire® ports
Internal connectors · CD-in; CD-in 2; Aux-in; S/PDIF in
· FireWire port


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