The SonicVortex2 utilised
the reference panel design of Aureal. The control panels were all very functional, if not
as slick as the Live!'s (esp after the major interface overhaul with LiveWare 2.0). But
they served their purposes adequately. By grouping most of the 'multimedia' related stuff
together, it is the one-stop shop for you to tweak those settings.
More screenshots of the panels:
Apart from the panels, I found the tray icon to be very
useful. It allowed me to toggle between headphones, normal satellite speakers, monitor
speakers and quad speakers modes. Something which, when using my SBLive!, required me to
dig into the Speakers applet of the AudioHQ to change.
However, there was a strange quirk when I switched from
quad speakers to headphones mode. You have to unplug the rear speakers as well or you'll
hear sounds from both your headphones and rear speakers!
Digital Audio & MP3s
Listening to audio CDs
weren't a letdown at all, although the connection between the CDROM drive and the
soundcard was an analog audio cable. MP3s too, played almost as beautifully as they did on
my Live! I'm no audiophile but while they played cleanly, there was indeed better fidelity
on the Live! Crispier sounds. But I'm certain most users would be more than satisfied with
what the SonicVortex2 is capable of pumping. You wouldn't have enjoyed it more.
The 10-band graphic equalizer worked well
enhancing different genre sounds with presets like Rock, Classical, Jazz, Pop and Dance.
You are also offered one user preset to suit your taste and whims. These, however, are far
from matching the powess of the Live!'s DSP. The ability to shift pitch, inject flanger,
reverb, chorus, wah-wah effects on-the-fly indeed demonstrated Live!'s flexibility and
sophistication. Then again, novelties will wear off after a while.
Next, the card was a tat louder than the
infamously soft SoundBlaster Live! card. I didn't have to tune up the volume knobs of my
SoundWorks or PCWorks as insanely high as with the Live! (AGNHardware's review said
otherwise, but I use volume 6 and 8 for my fronts and rears respectively instead of 8 and
10 in the past).
When I used the card to play the samples found
on CakeWalk Apprentice, I found the instruments sounding fake-ish and the quality
lacklustre. Loading up Yamaha S-XYG50 SoftSynth made up for all the difference, or so I
could tell. The piano played, drums rolled, and trumpets sounded with gusto and vibrance,
though it is said to chew up CPU cycles to perform these.
Anyway, if you are a real MIDI enthusiast, the SBLive!
would probably be a better choice with 1024 polyphony voices (with LiveWare 2.0) instead
of 320 found on the software-enhanced Vortex2 cards. Moreover, the SBLive! ships with a
daughtercard equipped with MIDI connectors and more.
Whereas if gaming is your life, you wouldn't be bothered
since MIDI is taking backstage these days. MIDI performance is just something
'good-to-have' but no more necessary. =)