The quarter-inch headphone jack has a separate 70W amplifier chip to the RCA stereo out ports, although confusingly both chips seem to be the same, raising the question: why? Still, plug in a pair of cans and it's a potent experience. There's an enormous amount of power in the mid-to-low range – nice if you're a fan of death metal or rock music.
The somewhat muted treble response is only the beginning of the aim SC8000's problems, though. We can overlook the fact that there's no support for the Dolby standards or in-game effects like EAX in the driver, and no analogue surround out isn't a deal breaker. Stereo speakers are generally better for games, and if we want to go 5.1 we can use a digital connection and decoder.
What makes it absolutely impractical as a PC expansion is the fact there's no mic or line in ports. There's also no header for connecting up jacks on the front of the case.
You can work around this by leaving the on-board sound card enabled and using that for recording, but even if all you want to do is listen to music, we'd recommend the Xonar D2X or any of Auzentech's cards instead. Not only do they have more features, the aim's drivers are just not as mature and we're fairly sure they caused the occasional stutter and distortion in MP3 playback.
This isn't a question of sticking with tried and tested brands, there's just no stand out part of the SC8000 that overcomes its shortcomings.
It's not snake oil. It's just not very good.
Competition is a good thing, and more sound card manufacturers will bring top end components like some of those found on the aim SC8000 down to affordable levels. We like the raw power of the SC8000, even if lacks finesse in the high frequencies.
Oh, where to start... Dodgy drivers that need you to manually select the source quality? No front port header or Blu-ray passthrough? Nope, it's the lack of any kind of inputs which is a real bummer. What, exactly, is the point?
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