|The absolute top of the line A3D equipped PCI sound card add-on from Diamond Multimedia is their highly regarded Monster Sound MX200. Replacing the original Diamond Monster Sound, the MX200 brings quite a few new toys to the table as well as improved legacy compatibility and a more down to Earth price.|
Out of the classic Diamond attractive packaging, the Monster Sound MX200 box contains the card itself, featuring a replaceable 4MB Dream 64 MIDI Processor daughter-card, a software installation CD, a fairly hefty game bundle, and a monster cable.
|In spite of the lack of any sort of real installation instructions short of "install the card in an open PCI slot" the MX200 had no problems being detected in the AnandTech test system. While Diamond has yet to announce any sort of Windows 98 compatible drivers for the Monster Sound series, the card worked perfectly fine under Windows 98. The only precaution you must remember to take is that you do not install DirectX over your Monster Sound drivers as it will cause a driver conflict, rendering your Monster Sound useless until you de-install DirectX and reinstall the Monster Sound drivers.|
The card itself is composed of a Diamond Freedom 5600 PCI controller, an Analog Devices 2181 Digital Signal Processor (DSP) for the sound processing, and as mentioned above, a Dream 64 MIDI daughter-card with 4MB of ROM on-board. While the memory on-board itself isn't upgradable, you can replace the MIDI daughter-card with something of your choosing, however it is doubtful that this should be much of a problem for most users.
|The DSP allows for up to 23 audio streams to be processed simultaneously entirely in hardware, meaning you can be playing an MP3 while listening to a wave file, running Quake 2 all while listening to your favorite CD without having to sacrifice even a split-second of audio as all of it, in spite of the odd mixture, will be pumping out through your speakers and surrounding you like a tiger on its prey.|
Supporting sample rates up to 48kHz, the MX200 supports a true surround sound configuration courtesy of its 2 Buffered Stereo Line-Level Outputs at the sacrifice of a standard Line-out. In essence, the MX200 doesn't have any more outputs than your standard sound card however it is packaged with utilities that allow you to make the most of those two outputs. There is a standard Line-in port on the back panel of the sound card, with CD, Modem, and Auxiliary inputs on the actual card itself.
The MX200 processes all game port signals on the board which should decrease CPU utilization when making use of a gameport joystick. However if you're planning on picking up a USB Joystick or Gamepad then you shouldn't really be concerned with this feature of the MX200.
The weakness of all PCI Sound Cards seems to be Legacy support for older DOS games. While running a game in a DOS window the MX200 will be detected and function as if it were a Sound Blaster Pro, unfortunately, for older DOS games that won't run in a DOS box you're probably out of luck using just an MX200. This is where that Monster Cable from the packaging comes in handy. Using the heavily shielded and extremely thick monster cable (the name does it justice) you can connect the MX200 to your current sound card so you can still run your older DOS games.
Under Windows, the MX200 fully supports DirectSound, DirectSound3D, and A3D as mentioned before. DirectSound is the new audio standard by Microsoft designed to phase out the term "Sound Blaster Compatible" for a new generation of sound cards, naturally the MX200 fully accelerates DirectSound and DirectSound3D games.
A major disappointment for many users will be the fact that id Software does NOT take advantage of Aureal's A3D Interactive Technology as of now, so Quake 2 advocates won't be too impressed by this pricey sound card ($149 MSRP). Fans of Epic Megagames' newest title, Unreal, will have a blast knowing that their brand new MX200 is fully supported and taken advantage of by this year's visual wonder to make it a total audio-visual masterpiece. If you have room for a second set of speakers do not pass this opportunity up as A3D definitely makes a difference when playing Unreal or any of the other games that offer support for it (see www.diamondmm.com for all supported titles).
Speaking of games, Diamond packaged the full version of Outlaws, a first person shooter that takes advantage of A3D as well as special editions of Jedi Knight, and Incoming. Also bundled with the sound card is your standard set of "filler software" consisting of: Intervista's WorldView 2.0, Midisoft's Internet Sound Bar 2.0, Microsoft NetShow, Midisoft Studio Recording Session, a Wave Editor & CD-Player, and of course, what filler software bundle wouldn't be complete without a copy of Microsoft Internet Explorer which is also provided free of charge.
If you appreciate high quality audio and love the feeling of being immersed in it (i.e. you are the type of person that likes to listen to their music a little louder than most, or likes to turn on every speaker in the house to watch the newest action flick on DVD) then the Diamond Monster Sound MX200 is probably the answer to most of your prayers. However, if you're the type of person that focuses on gameplay and doesn't really care about the sounds coming out of your speakers, or if you don't play too many (if any) titles that would benefit from a Sound Card with A3D support then the Monster Sound MX200 quickly turns into a luxury device that serves no purpose but to take up a precious PCI slot.