The soundcard market can sometimes resemble a one-horse race, with Creative Labs riding their popular Audigy-based products to the finish line. The Audigy 2 remains the standard for pure gaming power, but companies like Hercules have made a name for themselves by offering soundcards for a wide range of budgets. Even integrated audio has experienced a resurgence, and with upgraded specifications and features (i.e. SoundMax), many users have foregone the expense of a dedicated soundcard and simply make use of their motherboard's onboard audio. The key is that audio is a required element of today's multimedia and gaming PCs, and there seems to be enough room for viable competition.
The M-Audio Revolution 7.1 is a relatively new competitor in the audio arena, and although the brand name may be new, Midiman (M-Audio's previous company name) may be recognizable for their professional audio product line. This same professional attitude is present in the Revolution 7.1, and in addition to offering 7.1 speaker support, the specifications of the card itself are very impressive. This represents another move by M-Audio into the near-professional consumer audio market, which attempts to meld high-end hardware with the demanding requirements for movies, DVDs and gaming.
The Revolution 7.1 soundcard uses the Envy24HT 24-bit, 8-channel audio controller, coupled with support for 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1 surround sound configurations. It also features a very high 192 kHz playback/sampling rate (192 kHz requires Windows XP SP1), along with a max recording rate of 96 kHz. These specifications are among the highest in the industry, and should translate into unparalleled audio reproduction.
Where the situation gets a bit cloudy is in gaming performance, as VIA decided to forego DirectSound and DirectSound 3D acceleration in the Envy24HT. This is stranger still because the original Envy24 did feature hardware acceleration. The Envy24HT certainly does have the high-end audio specifications, but we'll have to see if today's higher-clocked processors can make up for the loss in 3D audio acceleration.