Installing the Gamesurround Muse 5.1 DVD soundcard and XPS 510 speakers as a matched set is simplicity itself. The Muse 5.1 DVD easily loaded into both Intel Pentium 4 (i845D), and AMD (KT333) systems, and the drivers installed without an issue. A hardcopy manual for the Muse 5.1 DVD would have been nice, and when attaching the Front, Rear and Center cables, you might find yourself squinting at the backplate markings. Attaching the speakers was a simple task of following the instructions and making sure all the cables were in the right place. Hercules also includes a ton of speaker wire, so you're free to really use your imagination when placing the satellites. The subwoofer is quite large for the price range, but still compact enough to easily make room under the desktop.
Even when we attempted a flip-flop of the components (using a SB Audigy soundcard and Altec Lansing 641 (4.1) speakers), the results were excellent and the standard configuration of both the Muse 5.1 DVD and XPS 510 inputs/outputs make using other components a breeze. The Muse 5.1 DVD should be able to handle any standard speakers set, but just remember that in order to make use of all six XPS 510 speakers, you will need a 5.1-enabled soundcard.
Testing the performance of a soundcard is quite a bit different than a 3D video card, and involves a bit more subjective testing. In this area, we loaded the Muse 5.1 DVD and XPS 510 on an Athlon XP 2000+ gaming system and loaded a selection of games, music CDs and MP3 songs on for a door-rattling audio session.
The result? We have a whole new appreciation for the XPS 510 subwoofer unit, as it literally can pound out the bass, and can do so at very high levels without noticeable distortion. This is true in both games and music testing, and this level of subwoofer power is amazing in an $85, 5.1 speaker set. Unfortunately, the satellites speakers simply didn't impress us in the same way, and did not give us the same audio quality as the subwoofer. These units are more than capable, but tended to miss out on the high-end of sound spectrum, and if you're not careful with the settings, the bass will take over. Both music and DVD audio is quite impressive, as long as you don't crank the volume to the outer limits and overwhelm the satellites.
The gaming side of the equation is quite impressive. This is an area where ultra-high volumes aren't really needed, and the Muse 5.1 DVD and XPS 510 combo proved to be an extremely good one for 3D gaming. The effect is quite good in the first-person shooters we tested (especially when the speakers are well arranged) and really puts the combos overall value rating up quite a bit. We didn't notice any issues with game compatibility, but keep I mind we used a very standard, and limited, game selection for our tests.
When taken as a combination, the Muse 5.1 DVD soundcard and XPS 510 speakers are tough to beat for the price, not to mention that both products feature a 3-year warranty. With an online price of approximately $115, these make a perfect match and one that is sure to satisfy the budget-minded gamer. When viewed apart, the XPS 510 speakers are definitely the key component, and can match up with other products in the same price range. The Muse 5.1 DVD is a very good product for the money, but it is in tight with other low-cost products such as the SB Live! 5.1, as well as some of the other Hercules Muse and Fortissimo soundcards.
The Hercules Muse 5.1 DVD soundcard and XPS 510 speakers make a killer combination for gamers on a budget, and maybe even those just looking to save a few bucks. For just over a hundred bucks, it's tough to find a better deal, at least with such well-matched, updated components from the same company. The best part of the equation is that those with older PC audio systems will be able to experience games, DVDs and music all over again in their 5.1 speaker glory.