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  Hercules Digifire 7.1 soundcard review

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Gaming

The Digifire Drivers support DirectSound, DirectSound3D, DirectMusic, A3D 1.0/2.0, EAX 1.0/2.0, I3DL2, Sensaura Macro FX, Zoom FX, MultiDrive, Sensaura 3D & Sensaura Environment FX. For more in-depth information on the supported Sensaura extensions & their features check out the Sensaura's White Papers page. For what it’s worth, if the following paragraphs seem familiar then it’s because my experiences with any Soundcards that use Sensaura for gaming generally don’t differ all that much and usually raise the same issues.

As you might be expecting, as with every other non-SoundBlaster Audigy/Audigy 2 Soundcard, EAX Advanced HD is not supported. That said new Sensaura versions do claim EAX Advanced HD compatibility, something over which there appears to be some wrangling currently – whether this will mean you’ll see the Digifire (or any other such Sensaura Soundcards for that matter) supporting EAX Advanced HD in the future is as such debatable, not to mention that Hercules haven’t changed their Sensaura version in a long time. No OpenAL Driver is included either, though the only non-Creative Soundcard I am aware of which does include one would be in the NVIDIA nForce Drivers. According to Creative Labs featuring an OpenAL Driver can provide improved CPU utilization in supporting titles, e.g. Unreal Tournament 2003 & Soldier Of Fortune 2. Of less relevance, A3D (Via conversion to DirectSound 3D) & I3DL2 are supported, which may be of some use to those of you who like playing legacy titles, e.g. Jedi Knight.

Of most importance is that MultiDrive 5.1 is still not supported, which means that “true” 3D hardware positioning can only be done for Headphones, 2 or 4 channel outputs. Other Sensaura soundcards that lack MultiDrive 5.1 generally provide a virtual output mode for 5.1 – 7.1 speakers, whereby the additional channels are generated as a mix of others, e.g. the front centre will be a mix of the front right/left channels. Such virtual output modes aren’t particularly recommendable for gaming given this mixing of channels adversely affects 3D audio positioning and thankfully the Digifire doesn’t appear to support this either.

The Sensaura Information utility reveals the following on the Digifire Drivers (Note the standards supported):

The Sensaura version used in the Drivers is an old build (As hinted earlier), though for sake of comparison other manufacturers aren’t necessarily using much newer Builds either, e.g. the SonicXplosion uses Version 2201, whereas the Revolution 7.1 uses Version 3506 & the latest nForce Drivers use Version 2311.

To test out the Digifire 7.1 in games I used Operation Flashpoint, Unreal Tournament 2003, America’s Army, Enter the Matrix and a few others. Three-dimension positioning is for the most part excellent with Sensaura’s strength lying in front/rear transitions and side positioning.

Two-channel 3D audio output is also good, much better than what the Audigy 2 is capable of. Four-channel output is another great area, though whether you prefer it over Creative’s will be somewhat dependent on your positioning preferences, e.g. Creative Soundcards provide more obvious rear speaker placement than Sensaura does, though Sensaura features better side placement. Overall though 3D positioning with the Digifire is highly favourable albeit it with the limitation of true 4 channel output at most, which does put it at a disadvantage to those capable of true 5.1 or greater output in DirectSound 3D, e.g. Audigy/Audigy 2, Revolution 7.1 & nForce.

With regard to EAX, the Digifire like all Sensaura soundcards (bar the nForce) compare less favourably against the quality and support offered by Creative’s soundcards. Performance wise the Digifire performed well, not particularly better or worse than the Audigy 2, though it did perform noticeably better than the Revolution 7.1 when it came to Battlefield 1942 (which chugged along a lot more with the Revolution).

Audio quality in games was good enough and wasn’t noticeably different to other soundcards I’ve used recently, bar the generally weaker application of EAX where used. Overall gaming with the Digifire 7.1 was decent enough though clearly the drivers could do with some updates to add an OpenAL Driver & MultiDrive 5.1 support to make it more competitive with other gaming Soundcards. Improved EAX quality/compatibility would be nice too of course.



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