The Analog SoundMAX - Why?
I really wish someone would tell me why Analog Devices ever had to come up with this disaster...you can actually go too far trying to save money...and there is such a thing as too cheap.
(I'd also like to know why a company known for its decent and commonly used SoundPort "soundcard on a chip" solution would even try such a thing...)
I have read reviews of this integrated audio device, and many folks have good, if not astounding things to say about it. I must say that I disagree after much hands on experience with this solution. I know of one out of countless many SoundMAX systems out there that is actually working properly...it's in my grandmother's computer, where it does little more than produce the background sounds for applications, so I don't know if it truly works under intensive use like playing a DVD or listening to MP3 music. I'd bet (given prior experience) that it would not work where sound is used continually.
My first and foremost gripe with this "soundcard" is that it is totally dependent upon the host CPU in the computer to do everything for it...just like Winmodems do. But where a well designed Winmodem can usually work even when the CPU gets busy with other things, the SoundMAX fails to work correctly with even a moderately loaded CPU. Either audio breaks up or the pitch cannot be maintained. This isn't a problem with just one system or one chipset either--I've seen similar symptoms from different brands of systems using different CPUs, chipsets and operating software. The only common factor is the SoundMAX.
I have read that the the SoundMAX was developed because putting any sort of hardware signal processing on a sound card made things more expensive than they had to be. I cannot believe this when the "classic" ISA Creative Soundblaster uses a modified Intel 805x/803x microcontroller for its wave playback and recording. Those Intel microcontrollers are some of the most common ones in use. People have even used them to build MP3 players. They are not expensive or difficult to get. While I cannot speak from experience, a part that common shouldn't be hard to write code for either.
I would also like to note that the intregrated audio solutions from Realtek, C-Media, VIA and possibly others that are built similarly to the SoundMAX do not suffer from its problems. While I am not fond of the host signal processing that is used with any of these chips, they do at least work properly. The drivers for these non-SoundMAX chips are also good at just doing their job quietly. (See below.)
Looking at the dialogs in the SoundMAX device drivers reveals a lot of advertising and links to purchase add-on products...and few useful adjustments. (I'm beginning to wonder if that's why the SoundMAX was developed...so that Analog Devices would make money not on sound systems that actually work, but instead would make money selling advertising space in their device drivers.) This belief is further reinforced by the fact that hyperlinks in their drivers A) exist and B) don't work, at least for the Sensaura products.
Long story short, do yourself a favor. Don't even bother with the Soundmax if you have one. If you don't, buy a motherboard without onboard audio. If you build your own computers for yourself or as a job, skip the SoundMAX. If you must use integrated sound, try to pick a chipset from any other vendor. Or if you want to "do things right" and please yourself or your customer, just pop in any halfway decent PCI sound card. Even something simple, like the $20 (or less) SoundBlaster PCI will provide much nicer sound that's more reliable and won't place as hefty a demand on the main system CPU.
The SoundMax produces the best sound when it's set to "disabled" in System Setup. :-)