|Price:||£44 inc VAT|
|Review Date:||Nov 2005|
Verdict: Sounds better than any on-board audio codec, but it can't match the two X-Fi cards
The increasing capability of on-board audio has meant that far fewer companies now produce audio chips for discrete sound cards. One of the few to arrive in the last few years is the VIA Envy24HT. For the Gamesurround Fortissimo 4, Hercules has partnered the Envy24HT with the Wolfson WM8776 Codec and WM8766 DAC. This combination gives it a very commendable 108dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) when converting digital audio to analogue audio, and 102dB for analogue to digital.
These SNR ratings aren't far off those of the Audigy 2 ZS, or the two X-Fi cards, and music playback was very good. Enable the X-Fi's Crystalizer and powerful SRC technology, though, and the Fortissimo 4 sounds pretty poor. It can record 16- and 24-bit audio up to 96KHz, and output up to 192KHz in 24-bit. Eight analogue playback channels are available, plus an S/PDIF output, but there's no digital input. The Fortissimo 4 also has DirectSound, and EAX1 and EAX2 support, which work through its QSound engine for virtualisation through either six or eight channels. Using the supplied PowerDVD 5 software, DVD movies can be watched in Dolby Digital EX.
The Fortissimo 4's performance in games is surprisingly good too. In stereo and surround-sound mode, the Fortissimo 4 kept pace with, and even sped past the Creative cards in Doom 3, but, without EAX4 support, the sound isn't as immersive. The same is true of Battlefield 2, as it achieved the same frame rate as that of the X-Fi cards, without any of the bizarre artefacts we heard from Intel HD Audio. However, only the two X-Fi cards can run the scintillating ultra-high audio quality mode.
The Fortissimo 4's low price makes it excellent value for money, as it sounds and performs better than Intel HD Audio or any other integrated audio codec. Its low SNR and decent gaming performance make it an entertainment workhorse. With no ASIO support or custom MIDI bank technology, the Fortissimo 4 isn't suitable for musicians, but if you don't intend to sequence your own drum and bass track, then it's a cheap way of pepping up your system's audio fidelity.