funkyfresh computers and accessories

Digital Audio Labs Card Deluxe Review


The Digital Audio Labs CardDeluxe is one of the highest fidelity 24/96 sound cards you can buy at any price for your PC. The card looks unassuming with it's compact size and clean design. It includes balanced 1/4 jack I/O and supports both simultaneous analog and digital I/O inputs and outputs. For the complete list of features and specifications visit Digital Audio Labs.

Over the years we have tested literally dozens of sound cards at funkyfresh. Up until recently our all time favorite was the Onstage 20bit card from Applied Magic. Applied Magic discontinued the Onstage and never offered anything beyond the original NT drivers. It was an incredibly quiet and transparent card. It also cost about $1300 when it was introduced. Ouch!

Since we do a lot of audio production work at funkyfresh our next audio card was likely to be a purchase and not just a review. We've had all the usual suspects installed in our systems. Aardvark, Echo Audio, DigiDesign, Digigram, Terratec, M-Audio..the list goes one. Most of these cards are quite good with strong points for various applications. But in terms of sonic quality the CardDeluxe meets or beats them all.

This card is for users that need the cleanest possible sound in and out of their PCs. It's not a game card. It's not a MIDI card. And it does not have native drives for all the lastest and greatest software synthesizers. It's for moving analog and digital signals in and out of your computer without adding or taking anything away from the signal.

The CardDeluxe plays well with others. We installed it in our XP system which already had a built in Analog Devices solution without a hitch. The motherboard audio is still used for system sounds and such and the CardDeluxe is used for all of our audio applications. And so far we haven't experienced any strange behavior from any of our apps.

We hooked the outputs up to our Mackie mixer, put on the AKGs and cranked up all the outputs. We heard air and that's about it. No buzz or PC noise whatsoever. On other channels of the Mackie we connected a couple of other computers with moderately priced cards and even the built in audio from an 850MV Intel motherboard. The difference bordered on disturbing. With the other cards it was like listening with a stethoscope to the internal organs of the PC. Of course depending on your application cheaper solutions may work just fine. But for serious recording a noisy signal path is no place to start.

Satisfied that the card was indeed as quiet as Digital Audio Labs claims it is we started the real test, actually using the thing to record audio. At funkyfresh we don't care much for benchmarks and specifications. In everyday use all that data goes out the window. What really matters is compatibility and real world performance. And the CardDeluxe delivers.

We recorded drums, guitar, vocals and various sounds to see how accurately the CardDeluxe reproduced our sources. Impressive is the word that comes to mind. We overdubbed some vocals and the chorusing effect was very effective because the two signals were as identical as possible. Also, because the card is so clean it's not necessary to push the levels so hard when recording. And the extra headroom makes for more dynamic and accurate recordings.

Digital Audio Labs won our respect with it's original CardD Plus and now they've won our praise with the outstanding CardDeluxe.

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