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A decent option for surround-sound fans on a budget.

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Price: $80
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C-Media CMI-8738 LX chipset; 16-bit mono/stereo 4KHz to 48KHz in full duplex; EAX 1.0 and 2.0, A3D and DirectSound 3D via Sensaura; three stereo audio outputs: front, rear and centre/sub; Mic and Line In inputs; Game/Midi MPU-401 port; three year warranty; Software bundle: PowerDVD 4.0, Hercules MediaStation II and Acid Xpress (trial)

To please audiophiles on a budget at $80 its one of the cheapest surround-capable cards available.

Itching to upgrade your soundcard but youre low on cash? Hercules new Muse 5.1 DVD aims to please audiophiles on a budget at $80 its one of the cheapest surround-capable cards available.

Hercules has taken a barebones approach with this card to reduce cost. Theres no digital output, (5.1 is provided through three analog outputs) so its only really compatible with multimedia speaker sets, and its C-Media audio chipset wont set any records for sound quality. On the plus side, it does allow you to play back DVDs and games on your PC with the full surround experience.

The cards support for DVD surround is through software: it relies on programs like PowerDVD to decode Dolby Digital 5.1 signals. It is therefore a little more CPU intensive than the external SoundBlaster Extigy (reviewed April 2002, page 72), which comes with its own hardware decoder. DVD playback was flawless on our Athlon XP 1700+ testbench, but youll want a fast CPU and plenty of RAM to avoid any issues.

Game support is also excellent, with full compliance for all the main 3D sound formats (EAX, A3D and Direct Sound 3D).

We used RightMark Audio Analyser 3.4 (http://audio.rightmark.org) to compare the output quality of the Muse against a SoundBlaster Live! 5.1. Its no huge surprise that the Muse played second fiddle to the SB Live! in most tests: it produced almost 15% more background noise not a huge margin, but enough to be noticeable at moderately high volumes. There was also a perceptible difference in audio clarity, with the Hercules sounding slightly muffled on the whole.

If you want ultra-high quality sound, then this isnt the card for you. If, on the other hand, youre after a cost-effective 5.1 card that also offers reasonable performance, the Muse should be right up your alley.

Dan Gardiner

This Review appeared in the September, 2002 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

See more about:  hercules  |  gamersurround  |  muse  |  51  |  dvd

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