Mention sound cards to anyone and the first name they'll probably mention is Creative Labs. But Creative isn't the only soundcard manufacturer out there.
Aureal has been running since 1995, its goal to produce the best hardware for sound on the market today. The company believes that 3D video cards have taken centre stage, and one of its own is the Aureal Vortex2 Superquad. But at only £35, can this card compete? In a word, yes.
Fitting into any standard PCI slot and with Windows detecting the Vortex2 via plug and play, installation is a breeze. As long as you connect the CD-ROM audio cable to the sound card, you'll be able to listen to normal audio CDs.
The Vortex2 produced clear and crisp sound and this particular model allows you to enhance this by configuring four speakers to achieve true 3D sound. There are two outputs on the rear of the card, each one for a pair of speakers. Placing one pair in front and the other pair behind produces an impressive surround sound effect.
Some simple example programs are included that demonstrate this effect - motorbikes and helicopters, for example - and they allow you to set up your speakers accordingly. With a quad speaker configuration, it really does work. To a lesser extent it works with only two speakers, a kind of enhanced stereo.
A3D and DirectSound3D support mean games that use this standard are audio enhanced. While DirectSound3D is the standard, A3D is Aureal's own version and games written to use this technology specifically should perform better. Imagine playing a Quake-style game and being able to hear a monster approaching from behind, or to be playing a racing simulation and hearing the cars approach, pass down one side and then pass behind you.