- PII 300 MHz, 512K cache
- 64 meg of SDRAM
- Quantum Ultra DMA 4.3 gig
- STB Velocity 128 3d 4 meg
- Creative Labs 3d Blaster V2 8 meg
- JAZZ 3d Speaker System front
- Hitachi Speaker System rear
- VOXON 17
- Quickshot Masterpilot
- TM F22 Pro and TQS
Remember a few years back when the Sound Blaster was the only game out there? Then along came a few upstarts like Media Vision and Turtle Beach. These days choices are a little more complicated, and overall quality and reliability has increased greatly. Diamond has released a new PCI based sound board (M80), and recently Turtle Beach beat them to the punch with their new Daytona! Creative Labs will release their new sound board this fall.
PCI vs. ISA
Moving to the PCI bus and DirectSound under WIN95 means fewer hassles. In fact, if your sim of choice is a true WIN95 game, installation and use becomes virtually painless, and sound quality improves. Since Plug'n'Play is far more reliable with PCI boards than with ISA boards, this definitely is the wave of the future!
But thats not all. A sound board sitting in an ISA slot is talking to your CPU at.. would you believe 8 MHz? That means where a game uses sophisticated sound... multiple channels in stereo with CD quality, for example, it takes more CPU power to keep things moving on that bus, power that sim fans desperately need to reserve for gameplay.
Practically speaking, moving to PCI means fewer pauses while accessing speech or midi files, and in some cases even a slight increase in frame rate since the CPU spends less time monitoring the applications' interaction with your sound board. This is good news for sim fans since our applications are about the most demanding out there. Any processor time we can free up means better game play: more fun, more suspension of disbelief.
Furthermore, a resident DSP (digital signal processor) on boards like the Daytona means on board channel mixing and processing; thats another saving on the CPU and it gives software designers even more flexibility in the sound department, with speech, multiple sounds and multiple sound channels all happening at the same time WITHOUT the sim having to pause while the CPU does the sound work at the price of video or AI. And all this in multiple channels, surround sound, and CD quality. Need I say more?
Welcome the Turtle Beach Montego, an entry into the market that will compete directly with Diamonds latest release of the Monster Sound. Turtle Beach sent me their newest sound card and I promptly installed it into the system above.
The Montego installed painlessly in WIN95 when I removed my Game Theatre 64. Like the TB Daytona, the Montego is bus mastering. Bus mastering ability means less CPU dependence and less load on your games, especially where you might be using music and sound effects simultaneously.
While installation was painless, with no missing files and no crashes, it wasn't quite as simple as I had hoped, requiring swapping my WIN95 CD in twice, and then replacing it with the TB install CD. And typically, I had to type in the location of my CD twice, possibly because my system has three logical drives. But really, it was simple enough.
As for compatibility, the Montego will emulate the Sound Blaster Pro standard in a WIN95 DOS box. Real mode DOS support can sometimes be tricky so you may have to keep your old sound board in its ISA slot, exactly as required by Diamonds Monster sound product.
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Naturally, the Montego also supports full duplex operation, but it goes beyond the Daytona in offering the full Aureal A3D standard. The latter means that you will have excellent spatialized and located sound with a two speaker system, and even better results if you run the board through a four channel amplifier. Its amazing how well this works in Battlezone or Jedi Knight, and I can't wait to see more of this in coming sims. Maybe Fighter Duel 2.0 or EAW will offer full A3D support.
Subjectively, the Montego is the cleanest sound I have ever heard on the PC. I know that that is a fairly dramatic statement. The TB Daytona was the previous leader in my ears. The Montego is as clean or cleaner, producing no noticeable distortion running some of my favorite music CDs. It actually sounds almost as good as the 400 watt Yamaha stereo in my living room!
Turtle Beach does have a reputation for clean, and it looks to be quite secure! For the techo-literate among you, here are some specs:
- 18 bit ACD and DAC with sample rate conversion
- Stereo Crosstalk: 100Hz (-89db); 1kHz (-90db); 10 kHz (-87db)
- THD: Better than -92 db (0.005%, A weighted).
- SN Ratio: Better than 92dB (A weighted)
- Freq. Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz
- 16 digital hardware mixers
- 16 hardware based sample rate converters
- Wavetable: 64 voices, 32 hardware + 32 software
- Synthesizer daughter board connector
- Midi interface
- S/PDIF Expander port (for DAT etc)
- Digital joystick port
- 4 MB instrument sample, chorus and reverb
The Montego uses A3Ds chip on board which allows 32 voices in hardware and 32 more via software synthesis. Channelized reverb and chorus is also supported on MIDI wavetable instruments. The MIDI interface is through the joystick connector, which unlike the port on the Daytona is fully digital.
Digital Joystick Port
Last week we posted a review of PDPIs Lighting 4, a stand alone digital joystick port of the highest quality. Since then I've been deluged with mail, mostly asking if anyone can really get 50% better frame rate in F15! = ) While some may get substantial frame rate increases, not everyone will, and certainly not on every simulation. But what you do get with the L4 is rock solid stability. In most cases the L4 will also give some frame rate increase, especially in complex and active scenes.
But if you purchase a board with a digital joystick port, its a tough decision whether you should also add the L4. If you want the absolute best, then go for it. If stability is a consideration, you can't do any better.
Otherwise, a board like the Montego is an excellent choice. It will give you 66% the speed of the L4, greater stability than an analog port, and in most cases it will also give you a frame rate increase over your old analog port by offloading your CPU from the time consuming task of polling your joystick (on average 32 times per second on an analog port). However, some users have had trouble with digital sticks and pads...
In case you are also a music buff, software includes a nice package like MIDI orchestrator Plus, Audiostation 2 (CD, WAV and MIDI controller), AudioView (Digital editor), Jam Grid music maker, AudioCalendar, SayIt! (audio notes program) and some music games for kids.
Summary: the Ultimate Sound Value?
The sound board market has never been better for gamers. Diamond has just released a new version of their Monster Sound for about $99, and the Turtle Beach Montego is even cleaner and a great value at $119. If you happen to also be into music production on your PC its an incredible value, with the ability to directly connect MIDI and your DAT.
About the only limitation of this board is that it uses a software solution for DirectSound acceleration. Until Aureal releases the new version of their chip this fall the Montego is an excellent choice. See our