Diamond’s Xtreme Sound External digital HD 7.1 Sound Card review
External PC Sound cards have been around for quite awhile. Starting with 2.1 stereo years ago, they have been upgraded to 7.1 for BluRay. Diamond Multimedia has also been around for a long while, since the early 1990’s continuously putting out the latest in graphics cards, TV tuners, USB display adapters, video capture devices, sound cards, modems, and electronics accessories. They make a very bold claim about their new Diamond Xtreme Sound 7.1 USB Sound card – “The Diamond Xtreme USB 7.1 Sound Device Will Improve Your Computer’s Sound Experience for MP3s, Games, Movies, Music and more!”
Considering that it retails for only fifty dollars, that is a pretty bold claim and we will test it out for you today. Using the Diamond Xtreme Sound USB Sound card, you can use your Notebook, PC or MAC USB 2.0 port to send full 7.1 audio to a speaker system equipped to handle it. And of course it handles 2.0/2.1 stereo and everything in between.
Probably one of the very best uses for this sound card is in conjunction with Diamond’s BVU1000 Multi-Media USB to HDMI adapter that allows you to turn your notebook into a home theater PC (HTPC). It is just like watching your movies from the DVD/BlueRay player but using your notebook instead. Senior Editor David McOwen reviewed it here.
Watching HQ YouTube videos, TV, and Netflix all from your notebook on the big HDTV screen is awesome.
Believe-it-or-not, the next standard for BluRay is 11.1 audio. However, the very best audio systems in the world – genuine audiophile systems – are stereo. This editor used to be an audiophile with extraordinary hearing who got to evaluate and own many high-end systems in the 1970s. My favorite stereo system included two pairs of stacked, mirrored and imaged Dahlquist DQ-10 speakers, a Mark Levinson modified Harmon-Kardon Citation tube pre-amp, Great American Sound amplifiers bridged to 1000W per channel, a Thorens turntable and a Grado Signature cartridge. Many years ago, this kind was kind of system was far more affordable; nowadays a similar system might cost a hundred thousand dollars.
Working as a consultant in high-end audio, this editor soon found that most specifications for audio are ridiculous over-exaggerations as most speakers and other audio components never come close to their advertised specifications and he soon came the belief that most audio engineers are deaf, considering the low quality of the mass-produced products that they put out. A genuine audiophile system has no tone controls – the preamp is a straight wire with gain and neither are there balance controls which would add distortion to the pure sound. CD audio is still quite deficient sonically when compared to analog vinyl records according to audiophiles.
There are no shimmering transients to hear from CD as there is with analog, as CDs are under-sampled and much of the sound is simply left out; and the imaging is gone. From listening critically to a high-quality analog recording of a good live performance played back on a high-end system, you can not only tell where the piano is, you can tell its orientation and size as the sounds become fully 3-Dimensional. And MP3s are disgusting to the audiophile as the compression is annoying, exhibiting aural artifacting and “breathing” – even at the very highest bit rate. Only DVD audio has finally caught up with the analog recordings of decades past.
Eventually this editor lost some of his ability to hear the extreme high-frequencies and I sold my audiophile audio system and most of my vinyl collection. I resigned myself to playing music in the background and no longer listened critically. I bought an inexpensive Cambridge SoundWorks quadraphonic system just for gaming when I traveled to Hawaii for 3 months in 2001 and I ran it off of my old notebook’s integrated sound. It is still my portable system that I use in this way connected to my notebook because the tiny built-in speakers are absolute garbage. Sadly the Cambridge speaker system doesn’t sound great running off the headphone jack and a Y-adapter is used to get sound to the rear speakers as shown below:
It sounds so poorly that it is rarely used for playing music – not even in the background; it is mostly used for listening to video on YouTube and for light PC gaming. And the Klipsch ProMedia 4.1 v200 system that this editor has sounds even worse, magnifying the deficiencies of the notebook’s integrated sound. It sounds like the sub-woofer is damaged – the bass is flabby, missing the experience that this particular Klipsch multimedia system is known for. Therefore it is never used with the notebook at all as it is reserved just for gaming on the desktop although it was used to evaluate this Diamond soundcard. And to be fair, desktop audio is noticeably better than the average notebook audio although the sound quality for anything over 2.1 is still seriously lacking.
Well, enter the Diamond Xtreme Sound external 7.1 sound card. This editor had expected this evaluation to be short and full of synthetic tests. After a few moments spent installing the card, its driver and rebooting, there was a real surprise. Instead of the same old distortion, there was a “wow” moment with the sound card; music just sounded noticeably better – and this is with the cheap Cambridge system!
Fact: decent speakers just sound better with a sound card than with the integrated audio, not to mention the flexibility of being able to hook up 8 speakers for 7.1 audio for a full home theater PC experience from your notebook. All you would need to listen to BluRay 7.1 audio and watch HDTV movies on your big screen from your notebook is this Diamond Xtreme 7.1 USB sound card and the Diamond Multimedia BVU1000 USB to HDMI converter that ABT Senior Editor McOwen reviewed here. And it now looks and sounds amazing!
There is absolutely no comparison with what comes out of the same speakers that were playing from the notebook’s integrated sound. The difference is between music reproduced by the sound card and the noise belched out by the notebook’s integrated sound card.
The Diamond Xtreme Sound 7.1 USB Sound card is a fairly small at approximately 5 x 2.5 x 1 inches (the specifications listed on Diamond’s site are wrong; they are listed twice for the packing dimensions). It gets its power from the USB port, so it doesn’t need an external power supply. Before we check out the specifications, read about Diamond MultiMedia.
About Diamond Multimedia
For over two decades, Diamond Multimedia has been widely recognized as a pioneer in the graphics, sound and communications industries and a key player in launching the multimedia revolution. Our mission is to provide our customers with the latest quality technology combined with outstanding service and support.
Diamond offers a complete multimedia solution featuring ATI Radeon graphics cards, TV tuners, USB display adapters, video capture devices, sound cards, modems, and electronics accessories all from one convenient location.
Diamond video cards use the latest technology to offer the best solutions for gaming, home media and business applications. Powered by ATI Radeon Graphics from AMD, Diamond is continuously striving to manufacture the highest quality video cards to ensure reliability and stability in your computer system.
Diamond products are available to the public throughout North America and Europe through retailers, resellers and systems integrators as well as top technology product distributors. Diamond products stand for performance, quality and value. Our corporate headquarters are located in Chatsworth, California.