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Manufacturer: M-Audio
Min OS X: Any Version    Requires: Free PCI Slot

Revolution 7.1
May 23, 2003 | Greg Gant

Pretty on Paper?
The Mac internal audio out isnít bad, but is not great by any means. Even with lower end speakers, thereís an audible difference between the built-in audio out and the Revolution. Overall, it provides considerably better sound with less noise. It is also crisper and more fluid.

So what does 192-kHz/24-bit sound mean to the average Mac user? Not much. Right now, consumer audio is preparing for a state of transition with the mega corporations supporting new formats such as DVD-Audio and SACDs (Super Audio CD). The highest sampling rate and bit depth any current consumer audio equipment reaches is 48-kHz/16-bit, which is the standard for DVD audio (not to be confused with the DVD-Audio disc format). There is simply a lack of 96-kHz/24-bit media, let alone 192-kHz material. The ability to play back high-resolution audio doesnít necessarily mean improved sound quality; simply playing lower sampling rates/bit depth at higher sampling rates/bit depth wonít improve the audio quality.

Trying to test out high-resolution audio was an adventure in and of itself. I wanted to test out the quality jump between 96-kHz/24-bit and CD audio (44.1-kHz/16-bit), but due to the lack of 24-bit/96-kHz material available, the only things I could test were projects I had created in Propellerheadís Reason. This presented a problem. Most of my music is heavily sample based, meaning the instrument sounds I use in my songs are all pre-recorded. The pre-recorded sounds are all at 44.1-kHz/16-bit sound, but they do realize minor benefits since any sound processing applied to them can be rendered at a higher resolution. Synthesized sounds, on the other hand, are computer generated, thus they are rendered at whatever bit depth and sampling that is designated. I was able to find a few projects I had made that were heavily synth based.

Also, I encountered a brick wall with Mac OS Xís audio support. I noticed that Reason 2 and Bias Peak 3.0 were the only applications in my possession able to play and manipulate 24-bit / 96-kHz audio. After a quick trip to Appleís CoreAudio mailing list, I learned that all applications that are based on the Carbon Sound Manger (including QuickTime and iTunes) are limited to 65-kHz/16-bit sound. The only shareware/freeware applications I could find for download that supported high-resolution audio were Spark Me (freeware), Peak LE (demo) and MacCsound (freeware). On top of that, I encountered an input/output problem in a few programs. Applications such as Spark Me, required the input and output to be the same setting which prevented the Revolution from capturing any audio.

After I was finally able to perform tests with various speakers and headphones, I found that 96-kHz/24-bit does exhibit very audible differences. However itís highly dependent on the test material. My test conditions were far from ideal, but the higher resolution audio felt more fluid and natural. I did find a few examples where the difference was night and day. CD quality audio just canít pack the same level of detail.


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