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(Pocket-lint) - With gaming becoming ever more demanding on your PC, it's not just the graphics cards that are being pushed to the limit. Sound is now more important than ever to give that impression of realism. Gone are the days of clunky audio and 8-bit theme tunes, now games have scores composed and performed by orchestras. Ambient noise in the background brings that add dimension of fear - was that someone around the next corner or am I just imagining it.

Realising the demand and need for better sound - Hercules has released the Digifire 7.1 audio sound card capable of offering support to 8 speakers including the sub-woofer. Surrounding you in sound the set up allows you (in an ideal world) to have a centre speaker, a front left, front right, surround left, surround right and rear left and rear right plus the sub on the floor in the corner. The card also offers line-in, optical out, two firewire ports for camcorders or external CD-drives and a MIDI joystick slot on a separate PCI bracket.

Once installed, configuration is straightforward and simple as the card goes through the process of making your system sound the best that it can. In addition to the control panel that allows you access to the audio settings, the Digifire 7.1 also comes with a host of bundled software to make the most of your multimedia machine - PowerDVD allows DVD playback, ACID Xpress 3.0 lets you create your own original music, Hercules Media Station II allows you to record music and video, PowerDirector Pro 2.5 ME lets you edit your video and Yamaha S-YXG50 to create the accompanying soundtrack.

In testing the card performed well. Sounds where atmospheric while playback of effects on DVD’s very good. Casing shells could be heard with the up most clarity in Black Hawk Down, while the Airplane in the Original Die Hard movie made us feel like we were living at the end of one of the runways at Heathrow.

Fairing against the Creative Audigy 2, this card performs well - the sampling rate and overall ouput rates are lower offering 48kHz compared to the Audigy’s 96kHz and 20-bit quad again compared to the Creative’s 24-bit.


Having seven speakers connected to your computer could be seen as somewhat excessive and to anyone but hardcore audiophiles getting a 7.1 speaker system will be wasted on them.

For this system to give you your monies worth and work effectively you need a big room and the ability to surround yourself in plenty of speakers. This is the flagship model for Hercules audio range and it certainly proves that here. The card is very good and the bundled software cache huge. If you're looking to get a new soundcard this will certainly offer you plenty for the price. However, while this card offers support for one more speaker and performs well on its own, up against the slightly more expensive Audigy 2, it still just doesn't quite beat it. That said, this card is around £40 cheaper than the Audigy 2 from Creative and so if money is a factor this will offer you a lot for your cash.

Writing by Stuart Miles. Originally published on 14 November 2003.