DVD-Audio for under $300?

The trend of computers redefining the price/performance ratio for digital audio shows no signs of slowing down. A new PCI-slot soundcard has been released by Digital Connection that could help change preconceived notions about the level of sound quality achievable from a computer. The $295 DC Pro 24/96 enables a brand-new function for the PC, playback of DTS 5.1 music CDs, as well as support for 24-bit/96kHz playback and recording, currently available only on high-end soundcards such as the CardDeluxe from Digital Audio Labs and the RME DigiPro/8.

Current 24/96 linear PCM recordings on DVD, such as those from Chesky and Classic Records, can be played back now on most DVD-Video players. Through a future software upgrade, the company says that its D/A converter will also decode DVD-Audio discs. But according to Digital Connection, the card's IC supports up to 24/96 decoding of two-channel material, so 24/192 or multichannel (5.1) DVD-A software will not be supported. Of course, DVD movie soundtracks (Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS) are supported, and can be passed through the card's digital outputs. DTS 5.1 music CD signals are sent out the card's digital outputs while standard CDs can be decoded by the card's internal D/A converter, or sent out digitally at 44.1kHz. This potentially avoids the sonic degradation caused by many PC soundcards, which resample CD audio to the computer-standard rate of 48kHz.

The DC Pro 24/96 uses the Envy24 DSP chipset from IC Ensemble, and is manufactured for Digital Connection by a company in the digital audio-workstation market. In addition to analog stereo outputs, TosLink and coaxial digital inputs and outputs are provided. Unlike many mass-market soundcards, the DC Pro's coaxial S/PDIF output is protected by an isolation transformer.

A comprehensive software package is bundled with the card, including: DC Anvil Studio, used to capture and edit WAV audio and MIDI songs (with optional MIDI port); PowerDVD DC Pro 6, providing play for DD/DTS DVDs, 24-bit/96kHz MPEG DVD-Audio, AC-3 audio, VOB files, MPEG-1 and 2, MP3, WAV, and most A/V files; a suite of utilities, including MP3 encoders, CD ripper, and a MIDI player using MS DirectMusic; drivers for Windows 95/98, Windows NT, Mac Sound Manager, Mac ASIO, and Linux.

Patrick Megenity is the author of the monthly "PCinema" column in Stereophile Guide to Home Theater magazine. His online column appears on the SGHT website.