How do you describe a color without using another color? Impossible almost so I'll give you my opinion on the TBSC vs. Revo 7.1 vs. what I recall when I had the Audigy 2. The SBlive is not in the same league. We're talking "top" banana's here.
First impressions: This card is small. Smaller than even the turtle beach Santa Cruz which is smaller still than the A2.. It seems to have "less" on the card. Certainly less than A2 that resembles a high end main board but even less circuits than the TBSC. Mine is marked at the top Rev 2.0 on blue PCB.
A word about even the latest drivers. Mine were buggy to install. When 2000 was supposed to shut down it hung, no BSOD just hung. I had to hard boot, system came back up and 2000 finished the Revo installation. My first thought was uh oh, here we go. After that hard boot the Revo drivers finished their thing and ask me to reboot again, this time no hanging, system came back up normally and put a small "M" in the icon tray. I was good to go. Whether having remnants of SBlive, TB, A2, and Soundstorm sound drivers residing somewhere hidden in the registry had a bearing on the install I don't know. I didn't use the cd. Got the latest drivers from the website before I stuck the card, then cancelled when windows 2000 found it and installed the latest drivers. Ok, system is up, drivers installed...maybe... let's play. Wanting to go straight to the guts first I went to the control panel.
My first impression: UI is simple enough as I clicked through the few tabs. I picked up the manual and gave is a quick look. Plain english regarding each tab. Nice. There was enough to read there but not too much to confuse, much like the UI on the control panel. So far so good. I like things simple.
Being an audiophile and not a gamer my main interest was in CD music. I slipped in Cirque du Soleil the "Collection" cd, opened up Media Jukebox and started to play the overture. What came out untuned was surprisingly good and equal or better to anything I had ever heard come out of this Klipsch system. I went into the control panel and started to tweak. I found the pull down tab for my specific speakers as well as many others including Creative, Monsoon, Altec, Logitech, Harmon Kardon, and Midiland speaker system sets. Each with different configurations and model numbers. As I let go and it defaulted my Klipsch 4.1 the sound shifted instantly. It actually did something! The sound became instantly brighter, the bass became deeper. Separation went to enormous. Each channel was distinct in carrying it's own tones. It was like turning on the light in a dark room! Anyone who knows Cirque du Soleil knows they are well mastered CD's of very high quality with very distinct and unique sounds with many past the limit of human hearing. The Revo did not disappoint as the entire room lit up with deep rich crystal clear sound.
After a few minutes just sitting there in awe, I became aware of something different still. The best way I can describe the sound from this card is like pouring milk to pouring cream. The sound is very very smooth and clear. Not harsh or brassy, yet completly FULL. Every note, every voice, crystal clear even midbass seems well seperated. Sub became punchy not boomy. I have heard this CD 100's of times. New notes started to appear and the musical "depth" was almost unreal. I thought maybe it was something else going on outside the house. It was not, it was coming from the speakers and off the CD! Chills ran down my spine. Rich, powerful, smooth, and creamy is about the only was I can describe it. I have a pretty well tuned ear for music after 40+ years of music listening and 1000's of cd's from around the world.
The control panel is miles ahead IMHO over TBSC. No confusing this and that's, no eq is installed which is a good thing. The software does not try to over-do anything or be everything. It's there to power and tweak power levels only. Not to modify frequency ranges. Your player should do that. Not only does it allow you to set up for a variety of specific and generic setups it allows you to balance each channels power setting via an EQ like bar. Want a little more right rear? No problem via the output mixer and you can "SEE" the bandwidth in DB's it's pushing and compares this to the other channels in db ranges and this includes even the sub. Very nice. Bass management can be enabled or not. Crossover frequency can be set. Even the distance from the listening station to the front speakers can be adjusted in feet. You have a plethora of settings to fine tune but not enough to overpower even the novice user. A very well thought out UI.
We don't buy high end cards for stereo mode. How about surround? Here again you have just enough. On the surround tab you have Sensaura/Game mode, no surround, SRS Circle Surround II are the choices. In the II mode you can change it from Cinema, Music or mono. There is also a slider for dialog Enhancement, SRS Tru bass and a slider for adjusting that to your preferences. Master volume always is available no matter what tab you are on. Next tab is inputs/other. Here you find line/mic levels, sample rates etc. Sample rates obviously up to 192000. While playing music the software detects what sample rate the music was recorded and sets it. 44100 in my case. If you try to change it, it defaults back to what is normal for your output. Smart. ASIO Latency buffer size is also set on this screen up to 2688 samples.
Now some subjective opinions:
Music, at least CD quality is beyond the words first rate. Software is intuitive and even a novice can get the most out of their system with just a little tweaking. I've only spent an hour or so with the card so far and not even an EQ. But it's clear this sound card is a real winner for audiophiles. Going from TBSC to Revo is like going from a Ford to a Lincoln Continental. They may call it a "consumer card" but the sound output is pro. Guess that's why even those with $20,000 HTPC's are going with this $99.00 card. It's by far and away the best sounding card I have ever heard including the A2, TBSC, SBlive, Nforce2. Frankly...I'm confident that the card is capable of more than my ProM's can put out. These "crappy" little speakers are holding the sound back now not the other way around and these Promedia's 4.1 are anything but crap. Excellent job M-audio and thank you so much, my PC has NEVER EVER sounded so wonderful!