The sound card really did transform the sound to my ears. You don't have to install the software for it to work with Windows 7, or even uninstall drivers from your onboard sound, and it immediately worked by default and sounded better. But it comes with some really nice configuration controls (which I show in the video), better than my onboard driver software. However, after I installed the drivers it came with on CD, it sounded significantly worse. The reason was a default speaker setup setting that assume 5.1 surround sound. So in its configuration tools, there is a speaker setup selection so you can turn it back to stereo, and it sounded great again. There are lots of really nice things in the configuration tools it gives you enable/disable enhancers and sliders to fine tune things. For example, mic volume & mic boost (both of which I needed to hear well from the mic), surround sound, crystalizer (which makes instruments & voice stand out), bass boost (which I prefer to leave disabled), and many more. One really cool aspect was the microphone "focus" slider from narrow to wide. It really did isolate a narrow cone in front of the mic if not sitting right in front of it. The noise cancellation for the stereo microphone was amazing.
INSTALL & JACKS
Installing was a breeze (which I show in the video). It comes with an optical input instead of the standard minijack input of most onboard sound. Of course you can just overuse the mic input if you had something you needed. But it is meant to be able to plug an xbox or other high end output device into it to share the speakers. It comes with 3 unlabelled output jacks (just numbered and colored), but they are really the same purpose as the same color for other cards. But I believe it will probably let you reassign them, which I could do on my onboard sound anyway even though they were labelled. One thing that you might not notice, is that the card has an internal header for "HDA FP", which is for your HD audio front panel cable (shown in the video). It wasn't stated in the quick start instructions. But on a PC, you probably want your headphone jack on the front of your case so you don't have to reach around for a headphone port in the back under your desk. Many cases have a front panel headphone port, so if you do, this card does support it.
I was pleasantly surprised that this card only drew an extra 1.4 Watts according to my Kill-A-Watt meter. I was worried it would chug power like a high end video card. Before the card my PC drew 50.2W and with the card it draws about 51.6W while idle, playing audio, or playing video.
I liked my onboard sound from my Intel motherboard. But I was really surprised at its transformation. Sound is a matter preference. Some people say vinyl records sound better than CDs, or love songs for how they sounded in the car stereo, so the particular mix is still a matter of preference. For me, I preferred my music about 80% of the time more on this card's mix than the default mix on my onboard sound. To be fair, it is largely the difference in the mix and enhancement that each offer their own flavor of and default settings that differ, and vary by how they sound on your speakers. This is no lazy card, and I think it delivers an honest effort to make a claim for its value. But whether this control, enhancements, and particular flavor is the perfect value for you is a matter of preference. Of course the microphone is something special I have never seen before, but a novelty if you don't use the mic a lot to communicate.
Check out the video review.