As for music, I think this is the area that the Santa Cruz excels in and completely blows away all of the other cards. In terms of taxing the CPU and quality of the output, the Santa Cruz is in a class all by itself. I considered the SoundBlaster Live! On Windows 2000 to be a great solution for audio but the Santa Cruz on WindowsXP completely surpasses it with a cleaner and crisper output. I am under no terms an audiophile but I know what sounds good and what doesn't sound as good and in my humble opinion, I would say that the Santa Cruz, with the Cirrus Logic chip, has much better audio quality than it's competitors. In games, however, the distinction shrinks as the 3D audio sounds similar because of the common API's. On another note, one of the preset effects the control panel has for games is Turbo 3D performance; I found that to be quite nice in games.
I tested this card with a 2 speaker setup with Klipsch 2.1 speakers and the sound was great, especially with 3D stereo enhancement turned on, it emulated immersive sound and that made even a little 2 speaker setup sound like gold. But I realized that this sound card was not made for a 2-speaker setup, and then I moved to the better-known 4-piece ProMedia's, that's when the fun started. With 4 speakers, the sound card finally does the Klipsch's justice. The audio quality in my opinion was better than what I have ever heard out of computer speakers before and a huge upgrade to what I was using before, even with the same speakers.
As for the 5.1 experience, I needed some 5.1 speakers but more on that later. The Santa Cruz supports Dolby Digital and 5.1 setups, which sound great for music and DVD's but the Santa Cruz doesn't support 5.1 audio in games, at least not natively. Instead of supporting true 5.1 gaming, the Santa Cruz uses an algorithm to convert a stereo stream into a virtual 5.1 stream. Although it sounds good, it really doesn't sound all that impressive, it just sounds like someone turned on the 3D option, the sound get blurred and you don't end up really saying anything like "wow, that was amazing," it was more along the lines of "wow, I'll keep that feature off". As for movies, the quality was amazing but not really comparable to expensive DTS or DD decoders that are available for home component and theater systems. But it does make the computer DVD viewing experience better.
>> Pros & Cons/Conclusion