After massive success with the ever popular Diamondback, Copperhead and the recent DeathAdder gaming mice, there's little for Razer to prove of its position as a celebrated manufacturer of quality input peripherals. After all, this is the very same company Microsoft chose to collaborate for its Habu gaming mouse. If you thought Razer only produces input devices, you are in for a big surprise as they have since expanded its portfolio to include gaming soundcards and headphones. The big question however, is can the new Razer’s AC-1 soundcard based on C-Media Oxygen HD CMI8788 chipset hold its own against the venerable Creative’s X-Fi gaming soundcards?
Ideally, in-game sound should be rendered in real time to assist gamers in locating subjects within 3D environments, just as how sound waves behave in the real world. These exacting requirements have had game developers and sound card manufacturers working very closely to make games sound as lifelike as technically possible. In this area, Creative has had a good head start, with a sizeable pool of game developers creating environmental audio for EAX 5.0 standards. Unlike Creative solutions, Razer’s AC-1 does not feature the newer EAX standards. Hence, games such as the recent Battlefield 2142 with EAX 5.0 support will not sound exactly as what the game developer had intended. For its shortcoming, Razer has its own gaming sound technologies such as Razer 3D (720 degrees) and Razer ESP (Enhanced Sonic Perception). As their names imply, Razer 3D technology works by creating audio environment very much like Creative’s CMSS 3D to give you the impression that you are really in a 3D world. Razer ESP on the other hand, helps gamers pinpoint sound from anywhere in the staged 3D audio setting. Another gaming benefit of the Barracuda AC-1 is that it can generate up 128 voices under DirectX standards.
On the hardware side, Razer differentiates itself from its competitors by adding EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) shield that protects the sensitive electrical components (such as the capacitors on the soundcard), thereby eliminating electrical 'noise' from nearby components such as the graphics card, to preserve a cleaner signal.
What we like most about Razer’s Barracuda AC-1 is its ability to up-mix stereo (2.1) to surround sound via digital connection. Supporting Dolby Digital Live (AC-3) and DTS NeoPC, the Barracuda is able to process stereo sources such as CD audio into AC-3 format in real time for receivers (via optical) with multi-speakers setup. This is especially useful for watching stereo DivX or Xvid video files.
Coming from a company whose forte is input technology rather than sound, the Razer Barracuda AC-1 is a very decent and professionaly packaged to say the least. Though our tests proved its competence where games were concerned, the fact that it did not have native multi-channel audio support programmed specifically by game developers meant it was always going to be hard recommending the Razer Barracuda AC-1 to hardcore gamers. Razer still has a lot of catching up to do in an area that's still dominated by Creative Technology.
It's a different story altogether for those looking for great surround sound for movies and music. Having proven its surround technologies, the US$199.99 Razer Barracuda AC-1 is an ideal (but expensive) audio solution for HTPCs. Our one gripe is that it doesn't have a coaxial connection directly on the soundcard for interfacing with newer graphics cards which feature a coaxial audio pass-through to output digital audio (and video) via the graphics card's HDMI connection. Also, the Barracuda AC-1 has no OpenAL support, further limiting its ability to impress.