Pack Ins, Sound Quality
Opening up the box, you find a neatly packed sound card, wrapped in a clear anti-static bag and two CDs. Drivers for the card are packaged on a CD-ROM. Included in the software bundle is Sonic Foundry's Acid DJ which is a music creation tool.
The sound card itself, is well designed and the components are well spaced out. The huge voltage regulator actually gets warm when in use.
The Guillemot Fortissimo is almost identical to the Hoontech SoundTrack Digital XG we reviewed earlier. With gamers in mind, Guillemot decided to omit digital input functionality and to make digital output standard.
Just to refresh your memory, Hoontech offers the standard version with CD digital input only for $40, and the a version with complete digital input and output for $60. The Guillemot Fortissimo is in the middle at $50, and offers TOSLINK digital output. Most gamers will be using the digital out for DVD and MiniDisc recording only and the Fortissimo handles this beautifully. Although the Fortissimo has an internal digital CD-input connector, Guillemot does not include the necessary cable (Hoontech does). Both cards use Yamaha's reference drivers.
2D Sound Quality
These days, almost all of the "better" PCI sound cards on the market have pretty decent D/A converters and will produce clean sound. The 18bit D/A converter on the Guillemot is the same D/A converter as on SuperQuad Vortex2 and Hoontech Digital XG. Like the Hoontech, I found sound output to be better than Vortex2. In terms of signal to noise ratio, or how much background static is apparent in the output signal, the Guillemot is much quieter. This can probably be explained by the path that the signal takes before and after reaching the SigmaTel D/A converter.
Although the MIDI music in rarely used in games today, it is still a very popular format for musicians. The YMF744 chip offers the best MIDI support in any gaming accelerator today by offering a software-hardware hybrid implementation of Sondius-XG. The XG MIDI format offers 676 different instruments and enables additional music filters and effects such as distortion, overdrive, reverb, chorus, and flange. Traditional wavetable synthesis uses a handful of recorded samples of musical instruments and then modifies the pitch to generate the full-range of audio. The Stanford University designed Sondius physical modeling synthesis instead uses mathematical model of the instruments to simulate the nuances and resonances that are generated when air flows through the flute or horn. An early version of this technology was first implemented in Creative Lab's AWE64 series of sound cards under the Sondius name, and Yamaha also marketed this under "Virtual Acoustic."