It's all coming together
In the world of mainstream sound cards there are only two big boards, Creative Lab's Sound Blaster Live! and the Diamond Monster Sound MX300. The SBLive! uses the EMU10K1 DSP while the MX300 uses Aureal's Vortex2 chip. While you can only find the EMU10K1 in Creative's Sound Blaster Live! product line, several different manufacturers such as Turtle Beach
and Xitel produce Vortex2 boards. ESS also has a Canyon3D chip, which you can find on TerraTec's SoundSystem DMX
Following in the footsteps of 3dfx, Aureal is shifting away from the fabless semiconductor model, and has begun shipping it's own cards with a little help from I/OMagic. That doesn't mean, however, that Aureal is going to stop dealing with other sound card manufacturers, but I'd be a bit worried if I was a board maker and one of my main suppliers decided to produce their own boards on the side. That's why it wasn't surprising when Diamond announced two weeks ago that it was partnering with ESS. Here's a snip from the press release:
Through the strategic alliance agreement between Diamond Multimedia and ESS Technology, Diamond Multimedia becomes the exclusive retail provider of ESS-based audio solutions in the Western Hemisphere. This partnership will be a key component in enabling Diamond to provide top-of-the-line, high-quality 3D audio solutions under its Monster Sound and Sonic Impact brands.
It appears that Diamond, still stinging from the loss of 3dfx on the Monster 3D side, decided to play it safe and snap up ESS to support the strong Monster Sound brand built on Aureal's technology. It's a smart move on Diamond's part when you consider that Aureal is almost ready to strike out on its own with that nice A3D/Vortex brand.
Aureal's first venture into the retail market comes in the form of two sound cards, the Vortex SQ1500 and the Vortex2 SQ2500. The SQ1500 is the entry level A3D 1.0 card. We're sure the SQ1500 is a nice board, but we're more interested in the Vortex2 powered SQ2500. The SQ2500 isn't the average Vortex2 board. Read on to find out what Aureal has introduced into the Vortex2 mix.