Diamond's Xtreme Sound XS71HDU looks good but how does it sound?

Subject: General Tech | August 14, 2014 - 03:00 PM |
Tagged: audio, diamond multimedia, Xtreme Sound XS71HDU, usb sound card, DAC

The Diamond Xtreme Sound XS71HDU could be a versitile $60 solution for those with high end audio equipment that would benefit from a proper DAC.  With both optical in and out it is capable of more than an onboard solution, not to mention the six 3.5-mm jacks for stereo headphones, 7.1 surround support with rear, sub, side, mic, and line in.  The design and features are impressive however the performance failed to please The Tech Report who felt that there were similar solutions with much higher quality sound reproduction.

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"We love sound cards here at TR, but they don't fit in every kind of PC. Diamond's Xtreme Sound XS71HDU serves up the same kinds of features in a tiny USB package suitable for mini-PCs and ultrabooks. We took it for a spin to see if it's as good as it looks."

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: MSI

Redefining Price/Performance with AMD Motherboards

Motherboards are fascinating to me.  They always have been.  I remember voraciously reading motherboard reviews in the mid-90s.  I simply could not get enough of them.  Some new chipset from SiS, VIA, or ALi?  I scoured the internet for information on them and what new features they would bring to the table.  Back then motherboards did not have the retail presence they do now.  The manufacturers were starting to learn to differentiate their products and cater to the enthusiasts who would not only buy and support these products, but also recommend them to friends/family/the world.

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Today motherboards are really the foundation for any PC build.  Choosing a motherboard is no longer just picking up some whitebox board that has a 440 BX chipset.  Now users are much more active in debating what kind of features they need, what kind of feedback has this manufacturer received from consumers, what kind of ratings the board has on Amazon or Newegg.  Features like build quality or overclocking performance sway users from company to company and product to product.

In the past 15 years or so we have seen some pretty rigid guidelines for pricing of motherboards.  The super cheap “PC Chips” style motherboards existed below the $90 range.  The decent, but unexciting motherboards with the bare minimum of features would go from $90 to $150.  The $150 and beyond products were typically considered enthusiast class motherboards with expanded features, better build quality, and more robust power delivery options.  Thankfully for consumers, this model is being shaken up by the latest generation of products from AMD.

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MSI insures that everything is nicely packed and protected in their black and red box.

I mentioned in the previous Gigabyte G1.Sniper.A88X review that AMD and its partners do not have the luxury of offering a $150 and above FM2+ motherboard due to the nature (and pricing) of the latest FM2+ APUs.  I am fairly sure the amount of people willing to spend $200 on a motherboard to house a $179 APU that seemingly overclocks as well on a cheap board as it does a more expensive one (meaning, not very well at all) is pretty low.  If there is one bright side to the latest Kaveri APUs, it is that the graphics portion is extremely robust in both graphics and OpenCL applications.  The hope for AMD and users alike is that HSA will in fact take off and provide a significant performance boost in a wide variety of applications that typically require quite a bit of horsepower.

Click here to read the entire MSI A88X-G45 Gaming Review!

Turtle Beach goes long with the Ear Force Z SEVEN Gaming Headset

Subject: General Tech | July 21, 2014 - 05:39 PM |
Tagged: turtle beach, gaming headset, Ear Force Z SEVEN, audio

At some time in the very near future, if this naming trend does not reverse itself, the wraparound portion of headphones will have to be enlarged to be able to display the entire brand name legibly.  The latest lengthy moniker is the Turtle Beach Ear Force Z SEVEN Gaming Headset with removable unidirectional microphone and Audio Control Unit.  The mic is self explanatory but the ACU is an external sound card with voice morphing and headphone equalizer presets and has outputs for PC, Mac and Xbox; it is not a booster amp.  Overall Legit Reviews found this headset to be a great generalist but not as good for specific usage such as taking advantage of positional in a game.  Read on to see if they peak your interest.

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"Turtle Beach is perhaps a name better known amongst console gamers since you can easily find their Ear Force lineup of headsets somewhere close to where the boxed console games are in certain stores. Most Turtle Beach Ear Force headsets are compatible with computers or any electronic device with a 3.5 mm jack nonetheless because most gamers or even most people make due with one set of headphones for all their devices. The Turtle Beach Z SEVEN we have for review is actually part of a much larger family of SEVEN headsets. Read on to find out more about it!"

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Attitude One's colourful Alamz headsets

Subject: General Tech | July 4, 2014 - 03:32 PM |
Tagged: audio, gaming headset, Almaz, Attitude One

Attitude One joins the crowded headset market with their new foldable Almaz headset with a detachable microphone which is designed to be lightweight enough to carry with you everywhere.  The bundled cables are compatible with both Android and Apple devices as well as one you can plug into your PC and simply leave for when you arrive home.  The price of €110 quoted by TechPowerUp seems a bit high but the two year warranty somewhat alleviates that investment.  If you need a portable lightweight headset with earcups this might be worth investigating as an option.

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"Attitude One is a new player on the gaming scene, and today, we take a close look at their first headset, the Almaz. The Almaz can be configured to act as either a headphone or headset because of its detachable microphone and multiple cables."

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Source: techPowerUp

Sound like a pro with Blue Microphones' Spark Digital Lightning

Subject: General Tech | June 18, 2014 - 05:45 PM |
Tagged: audio, blue microphones, spark digital lightning, microphone

The Spark Digital Lightning condenser microphone contains its own DAC which means that all the signal processing is done before the audio is sent to the device which you are recording to or broadcasting from.  That saves processor cycles on a PC but also means you can use this with a phone and other mobile devices and still produce audio of a decent quality.  It comes with a shock mount and your choice of either USB and Lightning cords or USB and the old style 30-pin Apple connector.  You can control volume, gain and mute directly on the mic as well as switch on a Focus option which alters the bias voltage of the condenser capsule similar to a low frequency filter.  Check out Benchmark Reviews full look at this ~$200 microphone that can almost compete with studio mics bearing a much higher price tag.

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"The Spark Digital from Blue Microphones is an all-in-one solution for high quality digital audio production. All the signal processing is done inside the body of the microphone, and the interface to your computer is through one of several available serial connections. The Spark Digital supports USB 1.1/2.0, the relatively new Lightning connection, or the older Apple 30-pin interface, through the use of separate cables for each connection type."

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Subject: Motherboards
Manufacturer: Gigabyte

FM2+ Has a High End?

AMD faces a bit of a quandary when it comes to their products.  Their APUs are great at graphics, but not so great at general CPU performance.  Their products are all under $200 for the CPU/APU but these APUs are not popular with the enthusiast and gaming crowd.  Yes, they can make excellent budget gaming systems for those who do not demand ultra-high resolutions and quality settings, but it is still a tough sell for a lot of the mainstream market; the primary way AMD pushes these products is price.

Perhaps the irony here is that AMD is extremely competitive with Intel when it comes to chipset features.  The latest A88X Fusion Control Hub is exceptionally well rounded with four native USB 3.0 ports, ten USB 2.0 ports, and eight SATA-6G ports.  Performance of this chipset is not all that far off from what Intel offers with the Z87 chipset (USB and SATA-6G are slower, but not dramatically so).  The chip also offers RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 support as well as a 10/100/1000 Ethernet MAC (but a physical layer chip is still required).

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Now we get back to price.  AMD is not charging a whole lot for these FCH units, even the top end A88X.  I do not have the exact number, but it is cheap as compared to the competing Intel option.  Intel’s chipset business has made money for the company for years, but AMD does not have that luxury.  AMD needs to bundle effectively to be competitive, so it is highly doubtful that the chipset division makes a net profit at the end of the day.  Their job is to help push AMD’s CPU and APU offerings as much as possible.

These low cost FCH chips allow motherboard manufacturers to place a lot of customization on their board, but they are still limited in what they can do.  A $200+ motherboard simply will not fly with consumers for the level of overall performance that even the latest AMD A10 7850K APU provides in CPU bound workloads.  Unfortunately, HSA has not yet taken off to leverage the full potential of the Kaveri APU.  We have had big developments, just not big enough that the majority of daily users out there will require an AMD APU.  Until that happens, AMD will not be viewed favorably when it comes to its APU offerings in gaming or high performance systems.

The quandary obviously is how AMD and its motherboard partners can create inexpensive motherboards that are feature packed, yet will not break the bank or become burdensome towards APU sales?  The FX series of processors from AMD do have a bit more leeway as the performance of the high end FX-8350 is not considered bad, and it is a decent overclocker.  That platform can sustain higher motherboard costs due to this performance.  The APU side, not so much.  The answer to this quandary is tradeoffs.

Click here to read the entire review of the Gigabyte G1.Sniper A88X!

Titanfall Ear Force Atlas! Titanfall Ear Force Atlas! Titanfall Ear Force Atlas!

Subject: General Tech | June 6, 2014 - 05:55 PM |
Tagged: audio, gaming headset, turtle beach, Titanfall Ear Force Atlas, branding gone wild, forehead

If your obsession over Titanfall, regardless of platform, has taken over your mind and you need a way to physically display that fact, then Turtle Beach has the headset for you!  Titanfall Ear Force Atlas! Apply directly to the forehead!

Branding aside these headphones are quite stiff, which may become uncomfortable after time but presented an unexpected benefit for the Kitguru tester who happens to have an Occulus Rift; they do not shift or creak as your head quickly moves in reaction to an in game event.  The bass is a bit strong for some purposes but will make your Titan sound even more impressive; the sound is perhaps a bit muddy but not enough to ruin your experience while gaming or watching movies.  Check out the full review here.

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"If you find yourself jumping from rooftop to rooftop, wallrunning your way between kills and blasting away at 30ft tall metal behemoths on a regular basis you are either playing Titanfall or need to reduce your meds. Either way though, you will probably appreciate the style of Turtle Beach’s latest headset, the Titanfall Ear Force Atlas headset. It’s compatible with the Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC, with adapters, cables and connectors galore – but does it sound good? That’s what’s important and that’s what we are here to find out."

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Source: KitGuru

Is the X2 Saturn 5.1 Gaming Headset for you?

Subject: General Tech | May 16, 2014 - 03:19 PM |
Tagged: X2 Saturn, gaming headset, audio, 5.1 headset

The X2 Saturn headset has multiple drivers in each earcup to try for real 5.1 surround sound as opposed to virtualizing it as many gaming headsets do.  The front, rear and sub speakers each have different frequency responses which Legit Reviews were kind enough to list in their review.  The omni-directional microphone can be muted via the inline controls and you can actually set the volume of each speaker separately.  Overall the headset was judged to fall in the middle of the pack with good features and some design choices which could perhaps be improved.  As well, if you love LEDs then the red lights on this headset might just interest you enough to pick up a pair.

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"X2 has sent us a true 5.1 USB gaming headset to try out and it’s not relying on virtual surround sound to get the job done. Each earcup on the Saturn headset has multiple drivers which outputs different surround channels for better positional audio compared to two channel stereo headphones and headsets. Read on to see how it performs!"

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The sweet sound of Silverstone's Op-Amps

Subject: General Tech | May 5, 2014 - 06:45 PM |
Tagged: DAC, op-amps, Silverstone, EB01–E DAC, audio

If you go out and buy a high end pair of headphones and plug them into your onboard audio you are essentially doing the same thing as buying a 4K monitor and plugging it into onboard video; sure it will work but you certainly won't get the full experience.  For audiophiles a Digital Analog Converter, specifically a headphone amp is required to actually hear what your earphones are capable of.  Using the XMOS XS1 TQ128 USB decoder, a TI PCM1798 Digital/Analog Converter and the famous TI NE5532 Op-Amps the specifications of this headphone amp are quite impressive as is output impedence of less than 1 ohm on a connection rated to handle up to a 600 ohm load.  If you recognize any of those components then head to Benchmark Reviews for the full article.

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"The Silverstone EB01–E DAC is the companion product in both form and function to the SilverStone EB-03 headphone amplifier. Together, these two components make up the current SilverStone Ensemble Series audiophile grade audio components."

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ASUS Xonar U7, dump your onboard audio for an external solution?

Subject: General Tech | April 14, 2014 - 06:00 PM |
Tagged: audio, asus, Xonar U7, usb sound card

ASUS has an easy way for you to upgrade your sound without needing to crack open your case, the Xonar U7 USB sound card.  Capable of delivering 7.1 surround with a Cmedia 6632A processor and no less than three different Cirrus signal conversion chips this is a high quality device for $90.  Connectivity is equally impressive, on one side an amplified 3.5 mm headphone output and shared line-in/microphone3.5 mm jack, on the other are Side, Center, and Rear channel outputs, an SPDIF output and the USB jack.  Read Legit Reviews' full article to hear how they felt the Xonar U7 performed.

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"We got an early look at an upcoming affordable USB powered sound card from ASUS called the Xonar U7. Its compact form makes it easy to setup or use with laptops which normally can’t have their audio solutions upgraded."

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