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Bluegears b-Enspirer 24-Bit/192KHz 7.1 Sound Card

 

Bluegears’ b-Enspirer is a high quality PCI 8 channel sound that can be built into home audio electronics or personal computers to provide high fidelity sound playback and processing. b-Enspirer enables studio level audio performance. With support for 8 outbound streams, b-Enspirer can easily support the latest theater quality 5.1, 6.1 or even 7.1 surround sound systems. For enhanced playback, b-Enspirer enables the hardware that allows customers to experience the complete surround sound experience whether using four, or even two speakers.

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Introduction

Did you hear that?  In most cases, you probably didn’t.  This is because most computers being used today provide audio through integrated low-quality sound, or in some small numbers the computer may have a dedicated audio controller based sound card.  At a glance, the two most prevalent forms of audio quality in personal computers are poor and acceptable.  Although the industry tries to keep in step with Moore’s Law, there is one thing that is predominantly true: computer sound is the last item on the list for performance evolution.  This has been true, until now.

Bluegears is among the first companies to offer high-fidelity sound at a true 24-bit level of performance.  Their world class Oxygen 8788 based audio processor by C-Media supports most all industry standards for 3D computer sound; including EAX™ 1.0 & 2.0, A3D™ 1.0 and DirectSound™.  Other very large companies abused consumer trust and have made claims to having this level of sound, only to wind up in court disputes or offer subsequent products that boast 24-bit processing but haplessly renders at 16-bit.  Bluegears releases the real deal: the 24-bit/192KHz 8-channel b-Enspirer.

In this review, I will showcase the powerful features included in the b-Enspirer.  Rated to beyond 110dB, I will share the experience of clarity and definition in every melody that frolics on my eardrums.  Intended for the audiophile with a discerning ear, the hardcore computer enthusiast who demands the best, and the home theater buff who settles for nothing less then DTS, the b-Enspirer delivers at every level.

 

About the Company: Bluegears, Inc.

Bluegears is the forerunner of innovative products related with home entertainment and computer system. Bluegears Taiwan R&D office and BlueGears China factory has been established since 2000 and has been focusing on OEM and ODM market initially for many leading PC brands in the computer industry.  BlueGears USA was established in California, U.S.A. in March 2005, focusing on manufacturing and distributing top-quality consumer electronics products under BlueGears brand for worldwide market.
Currently our R&D and manufacturing facilities reside in Taiwan and China. Bluegears’ R&D has over 20 years experience in computer industry and vowed to develop the highest quality products with cutting-edge technology. In early 2006 Bluegears has quite a few newly developed products with patent pending and are very excited to introduce these products to the worldwide market by mid of 2006.

With its strong partnerships in Europe and Asia, Bluegears has met the ever changing needs and has been successfully distributing its own brand products worldwide.  Our team contains worldwide marketing capability and extensive sales network.  Bluegears has been active in all major Computer Trade shows, PC Gaming events, LAN parties, Internet Medias, and Print magazines worldwide.


Bluegears’ ultimate goal is not only to introduce top-notch consumer products but also to gain 100% customer satisfaction from our cutting-edge products and impeccable support.  Bluegears will be committed to build stronger and longer lasting business relationship with our global partners and distribute first-class service and products to our customers.

Features and Contents

Bluegears’ b-Enspirer is a high quality PCI bus 8-channel sound that can be built into home audio electronics or personal computers to provide high fidelity sound playback and processing.  The b-Enspirer enables studio level audio performance.  With support for 8 outbound streams, b-Enspirer can easily support the latest theater quality 5.1, 6.1, or even 7.1 surround sound systems.  For enhanced playback, b-Enspirer enables limited hardware resources to be used which allow customers to experience the complete surround sound experience whether using four or even just two speakers.

Features:

• DTS® Interactive – a real-time 5.1 channel encoder that takes 2 or more channels and encodes them into a DTS bit stream
• DTS® NeoPC – an up-mix matrix that turns any 2 channel audio into 7.1 channel surround sound
• Dolby® Digital Live(AC-3) real time 5.1 channel encoding bit-stream to facilitate the connection with CE AV receiver
• Dolby® Pro-Logic IIx surround processor, spreading stereo audio into 7.1 channel surround sound
• Renowned Dolby® Headphone technology, conveying 5.1 surround and 3D gaming audio over stereo headphones
• The latest Dolby® Virtual Speaker solution, creating amazing virtual surround sound from a generic two-speaker configuration
• C-Media FlexBass™ – configurable LFE channel crossover frequency(from 50 to 250Hz)
• C-Media Magic Voice™, a popular feature for disguising voice in online chatting
• C-Media Xear3D™ 7.1 Virtual Speaker Shifter technology
• C-Media’s unique Karaoke functions: Microphone Echo, Key-shifting
• Individual 10-band EQ for each channel
• 27 global reverberation environments
• Play 3D demo program
• Supports most industrial standards of 3D sound for PC gaming, including EAX™ 1.0&2.0, A3D™ 1.0 and DirectSound™
• Supports 7.1 CH digital audio playback for WinXP, 2K, ME, 98SE(Microsoft® DirectX V.9.0 and above is required.)

Contents:

• Bluegears b-Enspirer Audio Card
• TOSLINK Fiber Optic Digital Cable
• English Owner’s Manual
• Drivers/Applications Installation CD
• Warranty Card

Closer Look: b-Enspirer

To say that the Bluegears b-Enspirer looks as good as it sounds is an understatement. The colorful array of I/O plugs and race-car red PCB all make this sound card stand out. Even the expansion blade at the end of the card catches the light with a polished anodized gold finish. You notice that there are dozens of capacitors on the b-Enspirer, which indicates that this card means business. Nestled in the lower center of the PCB is the renowned Oxygen audio processor, with a true 24-bit logic. Finishing it out in modern day fashion, the Bluegears b-Enspirer is fully RoHS compliant; which means that when it is finally retired it won’t pollute the ground water supply with lead or other harmful byproducts.

C-Media manufactures the Oxygen High-Definition sound processor using the CMI 8788 processor on the Bluegears b-Enspirer. What does this really mean to you? Well, to begin with it produced a true 24-bit audio stream, delivered at up to 192KHz on eight channels (7.1). The Oxygen sound processor is one of the best in the business, if it isn’t the best. Encoding and converting functions are enhanced by the power of this processor.

Look at that I/O panel! Talk about a rainbow of plugs! There are enough mini-audio jacks to support any of today’s 7.1 sound systems, but still very impressive on other systems (like my Logitech X-530 5.1). There are input and output TOSLINK Fiber Optic Digital Cable receptacles, which will ensure that this card is as future-proof as they get by today’s standard. About the only thing that this card lacks on the I/O panel is an RCA-Digital output connector, which is not going to be missed by many users due to its aging application.

Turning the Bluegears b-Enspirer over to the underside reveals a long list of approved audio standards supported on this card.  Also notice the build date stamped in the upper-left corner of the PCB.  Overall the b-Enspirer maintains a very clean and symetrical finish.

Software & Installation

The b-Enspirer maintains a very slim profile; something most HTPS builders will appreciate. Installation is very standard: remove power from the system, install the b-Enspirer into an available PCI slot, and fasten down to the case. The software provided by Bluegears on CD-ROM was also the most current version available at the time of this writing, so no additional downloading will be necessary. I installed the Bluegears b-Enspirer into one of my Windows XP workstations at first, but later decided to fit it into a new Windows Vista Ultimate Edition project system specified below.

Test System

• Motherboard: ABIT AB9 Pro BIOS v1.4
• Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 1.86GHz
• HSF: Thermalright HR-01 Aluminum heatsink with 120mm fan with duct
• Memory: 2 GB (1,024 MB x2 modules) G.Skill DDR2-800 Dual-Channel SDRAM
• Video Card: ATI X1600 PRO by HIS
• Hard Disk 1: Western Digital WD360GD 10,000 RPM SATA
• Optical Drive: Toshiba SH-S162L DVD R/W
• Enclosure: Ultra Aluminus ATX Case with 120mm front intake fan
• Operating System: Windows Vista RC1 Build 5728

With the b-Enspirer in place, I found that Windows Vista RC1 Build 5728 did not automatically install a reference driver for the device, which I expected. So I used the CD-ROM to install the driver without any problems. There were some noticeable differences in the installations between Windows XP and Windows Vista. One difference is that Windows Vista requires you to right-click on the setup.exe file in order to run it as an administrator, and then proceed with the Windows Vista recommended installation procedure. Once installed, a small Xear 3D icon appears in the system tray.

Software

Most people may not need much more then the default settings for their audio equipment. Those people are also the same bunch that suffer from hearing loss and think that onboard audio is as good as it gets. Bluegears borrows from the refined C-Media toolbox to utilize the 3D Audio Configuration software (version 1.0.48.5). With the Oxygen HD Configuration software you can customize the settings to your ears’ content.

In the Main Settings page, you can adjust settings to best suite your system equipment. In this configuration, I have selected a 6-channel system with 192KHz digital audio output. Even beyond this first step, I am afforded the opportunity to raise and lower the gain from +12db to -96db on each channel. There is also a test sequence and sample music available at the bottom of the page to sample each channels configuration. During this process a simple bar graph will be drawn in the Audio System Status window showing audio peaks and valleys.

Even headphones are given special treatment, since Bluegears and C-Media are aware that not everyone has the ability or desire to mount eight speakers in their work environment.

The Mixer page is very similar to the Windows Audio advanced properties page. The one thing I noticed it that the volume knob displayed on this page will show the volume level, but it will not allow you to move the dial. I though this was a bit meaningless in a sea of feature-rich functions.

On the Effect page, you can customize and save 10-band equalizer settings to unlimited profiles. The Environment tool is a creative feature to disguise sounds or alter their presence and location. The Environment Size tool allows you to scale the sound reverberation based on your listening environment.

The FlexBass page allows for specific frequency crossover ranges to be programmed into your system. In my application, I noticed that enabling this feature cut-out my subwoofer channel and put the rear speakers in its place. I have this feature disabled so that the channels will not be affected by software separation of the channels.

Conclusion

If you are even slightly inclined to appreciate good, high-quality sound, then you owe it to yourself to move up to professional grade sound; and if you are already part of the growing population who insist on only the best, then the BlueGears b-Enspirer is clearly the sound card for you. I can’t say enough about the sound quality served up by the Bluegears b-Enspirer. Even my new Logitech X-530 5.1 speaker system seems outclassed by the quality I receive from the b-Enspirer, so it might be time for me to step up to the full range 7.1 systems I would normally show off in the entertainment room. The b-Enspirer easily receives the prestigious Bjorn3D.com Golden Bear Award; which is not often given to most products.

At the time of this writing, the BlueGears b-Enspirer has just begun hitting the market. Available for $109.99 at some major online retailers such as ZipZoomFly (shipped free), NewEgg, and FrozenCPU, the b-Enspirer out-performs all competition at a reasonable price. Even the TOSLINK Fiber Optic Digital Cable is included, so it’s a single purchase solution.

 

PRO:

+ Unparalleled sound quality
+ True 24-bit audio processing 
+ Digital 192KHz output into 8 independently controlled channels 
+ Excellent compatibility with upcoming Windows Vista 
+ Feature-rich software interface 
+ Reasonable package price

CON:

-  Software interface would benefit from a help file or balloons
-  Should utilize solid state capacitors

Overall, I was highly impressed with the Bluegears b-Enspirer, which received a final rating of 9.0 out of 10.  There were very small drawbacks to the current version of interface software, which may be improved in the future.  Additionally, the lack of solid state capacitors keeps this product from appearing as modern as it truely is.

I would like to sincerely thank the kind people at Bluegears for generously offering the b-Enspirer to me for review.

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