M-Audio – Revolution 7.1 PCI/USB sound card review

7.1-channel Dolby EX PCI/USB sound card
Photo of M-Audio – Revolution 7.1 PCI/USB sound card
£88.11 for the Revolution 7.1 and £99 for the Sonica Theater

In years to come Dolby EX will displace the 5.1 Dolby surround sound that we are all familiar with. That means we’ll see 6.1 and 7.1 speaker systems that add either one or two speakers behind the listener to completely immerse you in the audio environment.

We already seen Dolby EX sound cards from Creative and Hercules, and here’s a new contender from M-Audio. M-Who? you may wonder. Until recently M-Audio has concentrated on the professional musician market but now it’s pushing hard into the mainstream and it has launched two sound cards built around the ICEnsemble 1724 Envy24 chip which is a step on from the 1712 that is used in the Terratec DMX6fire 24/96. The 1712 chip is also called the Envy24HT and the big improvement is the addition of 7.1 support.

The M-Audio Revolution 7.1 is a regular PCI sound card with mini jacks for the speakers as well as microphone input, line in and coaxial S/PDIF output. The back plate of the Revolution 7.1 has been printed to aid speaker set-up and Terratec in particular could learn a lesson from M-Audio. Of course you can use 5.1 or even stereo speakers if you don’t have a Dolby EX set-up.

Technically this is a very high quality sound card with 24-bit/192KHz recording and playback depth and a signal to noise ratio of 101dB. The only quibble here is that we would have preferred to see optical S/PDIF output rather than coaxial, just to keep Minidisk users happy.

M-Audio has included a decent software package with the Revolution 7.1 consisting of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3, MixMan Studio, Vjay Lite and WinDVD 4 Dolby Digital EX version, so there’s something for everyone there.

The second version of this sound card is an external device with a USB 2.0 interface, and yes, the cable is supplied. You pay slightly more for the Sonica Theater USB 7.1 which weighs in at £99 including VAT. Of course you would upgrade a PC with the Revolution card, but notebook owners with the inevitably very basic audio could find the Sonica Theater amazingly useful for DVD playback. When you fancy a movie, just plug it in and hook up your home theatre speakers. When you’re done you can be ready to hit the road in moments.

Company: M-Audio

Contact: 020 8941 4337

At a retail price of under £90 this is a relatively expensive sound card but it's very high quality and you are sure to find at least some of the software adds value too. In a sense the 7.1 speaker support is a gimmick today, but in time it will doubtless be a very useful upgrade. We feel that the USB 2.0 Sonica Theater is a niche product for notebook users, but it fills that niche superbly.