Impressions & Conclusions
The Diamond Multimedia Xtreme Sound 7.1 with Dolby Digital Live is an affordable sound card that performs well in quantatative and subjective tests. In games, it can keep up with the more expensive Sound Blaster X-Fi with minimal effect on frame rates. The Xtreme Sound has similar performance results as the integrated Realtek ALC850.
Subjective listening is where I found some differences compared to the Sound Blaster X-Fi. The Xtreme Sound 7.1 produced a wider sound stage (compared to the X-Fi) as it seemed to favor the use of the front left and right speakers rather than using the center channel, but I found this effect varied depending on the source media. The bass on the Xtreme Sound did sound less defined than the X-Fi, but I was only able to notice this subtle difference because I was making critical listening comparisons.
CPU scaling was interesting as the Xtreme Sound perform well with the CPU at 2GHz instead of the 2.4GHz default. At 1.6GHz, the results were poor and this implies that you will need a reasonably fast CPU to take full advantage of the Xtreme Sound 7.1 in games. Many of you may already have a decent CPU, so slow downs will not affect you much, but budget and aging systems may lose a bit in performance. Hardcore gamers may find this unacceptable, whereas casual gamers or customers who mainly listen to music or watch DVDs may find the performance drop insignificant or a tolerable compromise for features and price.
The Xear3D effect (enabled through the software) was critical in improving the sound quality. Without it music and movie effects sound flat and unimpressive. The overall effect on audio is similar to the X-Fi’s 24bit Crtyalizer, but the two technologies are very different different.
The major feature of the Xtreme Sound 7.1 with Dolby Digital Live is obviously the DDL 5.1 support. This feature is great for music and movies as the upsampling of non-5.1 sources is excellent and the use of optical interconnects makes wiring a breeze. For gamers with 7.1 speakers should probably use the analog connections and not use DDL as it only supports 5.1 channels. So you will lose any effects that would have been produced on your rear speakers would be lost. If you play games on 5.1 speakers (which is a majority) you should feel free in using them if your speakers support Dolby Digital.
After using the Diamond Multimedia Xtreme Sound 7.1 with DDL for a few weeks, I felt impressed by it and felt confident in its abilities. The price is affordable in the $50 – $60 USD range on PriceGrabber (at time of publishing) which puts it $20-30 less than the BlueGears X Mystique which uses the same C-Media codec. This makes the Xtreme Sound a great solution for the HTPC or a casual gaming computer without breaking the bank.