HDA X-Mystique 7.1 Gold Distributed by BlueGears.com
By Brian Gray - May 8, 2005
Before we get into the review, I want to take a moment to explain the lengthy name for the sound card. Instead of directly distributing the X-Mystique 7.1 Gold, HiTec Digital Audio, HDA, chose to select partners in different regions and markets to handle distribution of the X-Mystique. For the United States, the distributor is BlueGears.com, a recent start-up stationed in Fremont, California. So bear with me as I use the HDA db BG tag a few times through the review. These guys deserve the recognition for bringing this card to our market.
I am sure that companies cringe whenever another product, one other than one made by the same company, is mentioned prior to the review unit's introduction, but in this case, it is justified. You see, when the NVIDIA SoundStorm MCP was released, it ushered in a new era of game sound capability; real-time Dolby Digital encoding, or Dolby Digital Live (DDL). For many, this was not a big deal. Most PC surround speaker systems included discrete channel inputs as they do not have the intelligence to decode an AC-3/Dolby Digital audio stream. However, I did not and still do not have such inputs. In fact, my speaker system was selected based on using SoundStorm going forward as the Dolby Digital Live capability would allow me to have one single cable from the S/PDIF out to the audio controller of my MidiLand 4200 5.1 surround system. Fewer cables, by any means necessary, is a good thing...
Then came the release of the nForce3 chipset. I was initially psyched to see the new specs, with native SATA capability, hardware Firewall, Gigabit Ethernet and SoundStorm2. Wait a minute. Where is Soundstorm2? I know it has to be in this pdf file somewhere. No Soundstorm?
Doom3 had been out for about a month when I made the switch to an Athlon64 platform. I thought I could live without Dolby Digital encoding of the nForce2 based system I was leaving in return for the performance jump in processing power. I could live with it, I could deal. Unfortunately, Doom3 went from ultra creepy audio fright fest to a flat Pro Logic see it/kill it. I still loved Doom3, don't get me wrong. It just wasn't the same.
HITEC DIGITAL AUDIO
HiTec Digital Audio has been making audio products for some time now, mainly accessories like coax to optical S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface) converters and I/O boards for Sound Blaster based cards. HDA saw an opportunity, though, with the latest chip from C-Media, the CMI8768/PCI-8ch+. C-Media is probably best known by the NVIDIA crowd for their AC97 audio chipsets on boards not equipped with the SoundStorm MCP in OEM-style products, such as the non-Deluxe Asus nForce and nForce2 motherboards as well as interface chips used by SoundStorm MCP equipped machines. And while the CMI8768/PCI-8ch has been available to motherboard manufacturers and add-in card makers for some time, it is the plus symbol that is important.
With that plus added, the audio processor has the capability to encode the audio information inbound to the card into a Dolby Digital stream. Dolby Digital Live is back and, now for the first time, it is available in an add-in card, the HDA X-Mystique 7.1 Gold, distributed by BlueGears.
Dolby Digital Live Returns
The only trouble was finding one in the US. There were online stores in Australia, and ebay store that had a good rep, but lofty price tag, etc. So I decided to throw some of my mighty online press muscle around and demand a contact for a US distributor. Actually, I requested additional information on HDA's website and navigated through a few turns to get in touch with BlueGears. Through the good graces of BlueGears, nV News was able to procure a review unit. So without further ado, let's get started.