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M-Audio Expands Retail Offering

At CES today pro audio maker M-Audio will expand its line of consumer products when it unveils two new sound cards for the gamer and PC home theater markets.

The Revolution 7.1 and the Sonica Theater USB 7.1, shipping in January with suggested retails of $99 each, feature several improvements, compared with the company’s first retail product, the Sonica external sound card, said Jason Ivan, M-Audio’s product marketing director.

The Revolution 7.1 uses Circle Surround II technology to break any stereo, mono or 5.1 surround signal into eight channel surround sound. Dolby Digital EX decoding in the bundled WinDVD 4 DVD player effectively turns a PC into a home theater component, Ivan said, adding Revolution 7.1 is maximized for use with Windows Media Player 9. Both work with Mac and Windows platforms.

The Sonica Theater USB 7.1 is essentially the same product as the Revolution 7.1, but as an external device is intended for use with notebook computers. It is a USB 1.1 connection, Ivan explained, because not enough notebook computers come equipped with the newer USB 2.0 ports at this time.

The original Sonica delivered Digital DTS 5.1-channel surround sound with a $79 suggested retail price.

In addition to upgraded hardware, these products will ship with a new user interface. The on-screen control panel gives the end user a visual reference to how the speakers are operating. The software interrogates the computer to discover how many speakers are connected and the consumer can choose from a drop-down menu which brand is being used. The software than sets up the system to maximize the sound quality, Ivan said.

Other user-friendly changes include small diagrams on the back of the PC card and an external device indicating how the speaker wires should be organized to create the proper sound field.

Ivan said with the introduction of two new products, M-Audio will be well positioned to take advantage of an expected surge in sound card sales in 2003. Consumers have focused much of their PC upgrade efforts on graphic cards for the past few years and the company now expects them to turn their attention to improving their PCs’ audio quality.