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PCRECORDING.COM - Xitel Storm Platinum - Retail $79.95

I received several questions from my readers about the Xitel Storm Platinum card. In particular, the questions pertained to a comparison to the the Ensoniq AudioPCI card which I think highly of and which I reviewed on this site. I visited the Xitel website and based on that visit concluded that the card was primarily designed for gamers, in part based on the buxom cartoon character holding the card on their splash page. Nonetheless, the specifications looked quite promising. I called the Xitel representative and they agreed to send me a retail Storm card.

Several days later it arrived in a shrink-wrapped box at my doorstep. According to the manufacturer the card features:

  • PCI interface
  • Aureal Vortex 2 chip
  • Quad channel 18-bit Codec
  • 320 voice MIDI synthesizer
  • Optical S/PDIF (TOSLINK) output
  • 96 DMA channel support
  • Digital 10-band EQ
  • CD in
  • Aux In
  • Stereo Line In 1/8"
  • Mic In 2 stereo Line Outs 1/8"
  • MIDI Port
  • MIDI MPU-401 Mode
  • SNR Better than 95 dB
  • THD Less than .007%
  • 20Hz-20kHx Freqency Response
The card came with an informative installation manual that I read first. I installed the card in an available PCI slot in my system. I removed my AudioPCI to avoid any conflicts. Installation was extremely easy with the included drivers on the CD. I was up and running in minutes. My test system is a Pentium II 300, 64 meg of RAM, Win 98, Alesis RA-100 reference amp, Folio Notepad mixer Lexicon MPX-100 Processor, and various types of software.

First I played some commercial CDs through the card. It sounded very good rivaling my home CD player inside. I then recorded some music, acoustic guitar, bamboo flute, and vocals using n-Track Studio, Cakewalk 9, and Cool Edit Pro SE. In each program, the card worked well. I then used the MIDI interface and found it to very competent. I admit, I am not the most MIDI capable, yet this did not hamper me at all in accessing the cardís MIDI capabitities

The card advertises 18-bit capability but I was only able to get it to record in 16-bit. Whenever I asked Cakewalk to record at 18-bit it said this was not supported by the hardware. I have no explanation for this.

Positives: How did it sound? It sounded very good. It was every bit as good as the Ensoniq and quieter too. There was no discernible noise in silent sections of my recordings. The highs were crisp thoug a bit brittle. The lows were well-rounded and definable. I did note there was a bit of a rolloff of the low end signal at the extreme low end. Overall, I was able to distinguish different tracks and tones quite easily.

Comparisons: On a comparative basis, the card sounded nearly as good as the Turtle Beach Montego II when recording analog audio. This makes sense because it is based on the same Aureal Chip. However, the Montego II provided for S/PDIF that is a true digital I/O. The Storm's TOSLINK connection is output only. As a result, a user cannot take advantage of an S/PDIF input from another component on their system. This was a frustration, as I have an S/PDIF output of off my MPX-100 which I often use to test the digital path of cards I test. As a result, I give the nod to the Montego II because of this feature. The fewer A/D and D/A conversions a audio path needs to go through, the better. The Storm does not have a direct digital in.

The card has similar functionality to the Ensoniq AudioPCI and sounds as good. It is a bit quieter on the silent sections. Is it better enough to warrant the extra money? Maybe. It is quieter but overall it does not do "more" than the Ensoniq unless you are intending to download files to a minidisc recorder. If so, then the TOSLINK connection would be helpful.

Concerns: Connectivity is a concern. As with all multi-media based cards, there are limitations with respect to the connectivity of 1/8" stereo plugs. With the Storm, only two ins and four outs are available (assuming you use all four speaker channels). The TOSLINK is only an output primarily for downloading MP3s to a minidisc recorder. In my opinion, 1/8" plugs limit the ultimate audio quality of the card and its useability. The user will always have to terminate their high-quality 1/4" cables with an adapter. Simply, the 1/8" plug is not as good as RCA or ľ" plugs. Moreover, you must always change cord settings on the back of your computer which is not always easy.

The Storm comes with onboard effects and a 10-band graphic equalizer. I checked these out. The equalizer is extremely simple and would provide very basic equalization capabilities but certainly not enough for high-end digital recording. Similarly, the effects can be used only on MIDI applications. These may be more useful if one intends to extensively use the synthesizer on the card.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a card that does games very well and lets you load MP3s down to a minidisc recorder with ease, this card will work very well for you. It is also a capable, though simple recording card being limited by its connectivity options. This card is quite useful if you need an onboard basic MIDI synthesizer, provided you have an external MIDI controller. While I cannot recommend this card for serious digital audio recording it will work well for the gamer/recording hobbyist. It sounds good, installs easily and it is quiet.