PCRECORDING.COM - Review of the Turtle Beach Montego II
Turtle Beach Montego II Home Studio
Turtle Beach Montego II Home Studio: $349.95 suggested retail
I received the Montego II packaged with the Turtle Beach Home Studio package from Turtle Beach as promised. The package included the Montego II soundcard and daughtercard, the software applications Digital Orchestrator Pro, AudioStation 32, MIDI Orchestrator, and AudioView 32. The software applications will be the subject of an upcoming review on recording software. Therefore, I am reviewing only the soundcard and the optional digital breakout card for this page.
My test system is a Pentium II 300, 64 meg RAM, running under Windows98 with a 20 gig Maxtor, 7200 rpm harddrive. I have a basic studio setup that probably reflects many other home-based DAW users. I use a Folio Notepad mixer, Audix OM-3xb microphone, Alesis RA-100 Monitor amplifier, Lexicon MPX-100 digital effects box and a variety of little doodads that help with connectivity and routing.
The Montego II features the following:
The card came with two 1/8" male plug to RCA female jack adapters, a MIDI/joystick interface adapter, an attached Cancun daughtercard, and a separate interface card for additional speaker support and S/PDIF connections.
I read the installation manual for the setup procedure and installed the card. A full install uses one PCI bus, two slots inside the CPU (with daughtercard), two IRQs and two DMAs. The installation started smoothly until I encountered a major conflict with my monitor. My system would hang when it got to the Windows 98 screen, necessitating a reboot in "Safe Mode." I would then have to go through a series of reboots before I was able to run at normal screen resolution. I was unable to find an answer in the very basic manual that came with the package. The installation program did indicate that a 300+ page manual (actually 389 pages) was available "on-line" in the Adobe .pdf format. However, I was reluctant to download over three hundred pages on my slow connection to the Internet.
(Addendum) I received and email and phone call from the Turtle Beach PR folks, (all very nice). They advised me that the previously mentioned .pdf was on the CD that came with the system. I got home and eventually found it in the directory for the applications, then the subdirectory for the Digital Orchestrator, then in the .pdf file. I stand corrected but wonder why they would use the phrase "on-line" rather than state it is on the CD? Nonetheless, I am pleased with the follow-through by Turtle Beach on this issue, the help information is on the CD. I would suggest that they reword their installation text to reflect the file's actual location.
So, I emailed Turtle Beach Tech support but did not get an answer by the next day. I emailed them again and finally did receive an answer containing a detailed explanation of the potential problem and specific directions on how to fix it. The tech support person even gave me his personal email address and asked for an update. As it turns out the information was in the on-line help information, if I had gone looking for it. The problem was that there is a SoundBlaster emulator driver included with the soundcard to accommodate older SoundBlaster-based games. This emulator conflicted with the monitor drivers. I was unsuccessful in changing the IRQ assignments determined by the Windows Plug and Play. I had to go into autoexec.bat and disable the emulator software. Once that was done, the system returned to a normal boot sequence and I was able to proceed.
I connected my microphone to my mixer and plugged the mixer into the Montego II via the 1/8" Line In jack and then via the S/PDIF connectors. I measured the "real world" noise floor for the card. (Keep in mind, I am using very typical equipment, cables, in a home-based office studio. This has an impact on the "real world" noise levels one can expect. However, I suspect that my setup resembles many of them out there). The input VU meters, at full rest, measured an analog noise floor of –60dB and a S/PDIF noise floor of –72dB. I then recorded music with the Montego II using several different multi-track software packages - - the Digital Orchestrator, n-Track Studio, and Cool Edit Pro – Special Edition. I mainly recorded acoustic guitar, vocals and some drum programming. In addition, I recorded some MIDI via my synthesizer. The card worked very well in each of these programs.
Like most multi-media based soundcards, this card is limited to recording two tracks (stereo) at a time. In addition, you cannot use the line in and the microphone in simultaneously. The user will have to "multi-track" by recording one instrument at a time in stereo or two at a time in mono (panned hard left/right). Playback of multiple tracks will always be mixed down to stereo. Depending on the software one uses, there is no limitation on the number of tracks that ultimately can be recorded and played back. This is limited only by the particular power of your computer system.
How did it sound? Well, very good - - this is the best-sounding recording multi-media soundcard I have heard. I was impressed with how quiet the card was. I could hear virtually no noise in the quietest portions of the recording. I was unable to detect the "hiss" often associated with 16-bit recording on multi-media cards. The AD/DA converters did a faithful job of converting the analog sound to a digital equivalent and vice versa. The sound was full, representing the entire audio range. I noticed a bit of low-end roll-off on the extreme low-end of the audio spectrum. In addition, some of the transient audio harmonics from the acoustic guitar were absent. The overall sound quality of the card was a noticeable step up from the Ensoniq I have reviewed on this site. In listening to a commercial CD, the card sounded very good. The dynamic range/fidelity of the CD rivaled that of my home CD player absent a bit of the low-end. All in all the sound was very good.
This is in essence a multi-media soundcard that attempts to do it all, albeit quite well. In addition to its support of audio recording, it supports gaming applications and surround sound effects like the best multi-media soundcards. In comparison to the SoundBlaster Live, it is much more flexible and tuned more to the needs of the digital recording artist. However, the all-in-one character of this card may be a weakness as it applies to true studio-level recording.
The reason is that the wiring connectivity required for gaming differs from audio recording. Typically, pro-audio applications/devices use XLR, S/PDIF and ¼" connectors, among others. In this regard, the stereo 1/8" analog jacks used by the Montego II, limit the ultimate quality of the recording you will be able to achieve. Simply put, 1/8" connectors cannot compete with ¼" connector quality or compatibility. In addition, the S/PDIF connectors are limited to transmitting at 16-bit resolution. In an audio world rapidly evolving towards a 24-bit/96kHz "standard", the use of 18-bit/48kHz converters puts a mathematical limit on the ability of this card to compete with dedicated recording soundcards.
As you know, I adhere to the ‘bottleneck" theorem, in that you are only going to sound as good as the best sound your worst component can produce. If the cabling is sub-par to the rest of your system, you will be limited to the ability/capacity of the least capable cable - - the 1/8" jacks. Moreover, the included 1/8" adapters did not appear to have significant shielding. In addition, the lack of a breakout box means the user must be reaching behind the CPU constantly to make changes to the connections, or just leave everything connected all the time.
On the other hand, the combination of the MIDI capability, the S/PDIF connections, and the 18-bit converters make the Montego II a powerful home studio solution that allows the home user to make music with a variety of different instruments and devices. This card represents a very capable combination multi-media card/recording card system. It is about as far as this combination can be taken. The daughterboard, the S/PDIF connectors for digital devices and the use of 18-bit converters result in more user options for connecting different devices and better sound than other multi-media soundcards. For instance, it is a much more advanced soundcard than the Ensoniq and more flexible than the SoundBlaster Live, doing what those cards do and sounding better. In comparison to dedicated recording soundcards, it is limited by the technology and connectivity designed into the card.
I was curious as to why the help information location was not clearly stated. After a tip from Turtle Beach I was able to find it. However, it is not intuitively clear from the installation text that it was there, much less where to find it. I would suggest that in their next installation software all of the "help" .pdf files be placed in one spot on the CD. I would also suggest employing better quality cable connections. It seems to me that RCA connectivity would be appropriate for this card. At least then, the user can get very high-quality shielded cables to hook up the system. A breakout box with RCA connectors would be a good option.
Assuming you can get around the SoundBlaster emulator problems as easily as I did, (and you don’t intend to use them), the Turtle Beach Montego II card is well worth the money. It serves as a great multimedia gaming card and records well too. The sound quality is a definite step up from other multi-media soundcards. If you do not want to or cannot make a leap to a dedicated more expensive soundcard, the Montego II is a very good option.