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Like last year’s ThunderBolt audio/LAN combo card, the 2012 ThunderFX is an exclusive addition to a Formula motherboard – this time the Maximus V Formula.
The ThunderFX is an external sound device that is designed to provide cleaner audio and can amp headphones up to 300Ohm. It can be plugged into PCs or notebooks via USB, or, consoles such as the PS3 or Xbox 360 with RCA inputs. This means that instead of being forced to use the standard console headset, you can use your favorite headset – with amp’d audio – instead. Akin to other ROG features such as ROG Connect or ProbeIt, the idea is to have all this hardware external to the PC, specifically for people who want to have immediate hands-on control (in this case, volume tweaking) without having to quit and play with software settings.
Keeping the audio processing hardware outside the case means it also suffers less potential EMI and gives more space, which equates to better SNR and more hardware in design, such as the inclusion of relays to de-pop the audio.
For PCs exclusively there’s environmental noise cancellation (ENC) that we further explain below, and also audio profiles that provide extra tweaks to certain game types, so you can better hear gunshots or footsteps, for example.
Firstly, let’s run-down the features:
- PC, PS3, Xbox 360 selection
- Master Volume
- LED selection confirmation
- 3.5mm headphones
- 3.5mm microphone
- 2.5mm Xbox 360 voice input
- External microphone and ENC activated LED
- RCA audio input jacks
- USB 2 port
Using with a PC
Simply plug in the provided USB cable into the ThunderFX and a PC or notebook. Ideally via the rear ports as there is sometimes voltage drop to the front I/O ports on a PC case.
Next plug in your headset to the front ports and install the software. This will install the drivers and ThunderFX software. The software provides the additional functions such as ENC, Xear 3D and smart volume normalizer (buttons in the top right-hand corner). Exiting the software will shut down these features, but the ThunderFX will continue to work as a normal audio device.
Clicking the status panel switch unlocks another function of the ThunderFX: audio profiles. The FPS, racing and RTS profiles have been pre-tweaked by ROG audio engineers to enhance specific elements typical to these games, while the Hi-Fi profile focuses on music.
To tweak the audio settings, this requires a trip to the Windows sound control. Right click on the sound icon in your taskbar, select playback devices and then select ThunderFX. From here the sample rate and amplifier can be tweaked. If you prefer manipulating the effects from here it’s also possible as well and the custom profile (shown above) will be ticked to show this.
What is ENC (Environmental Noise Cancellation) and how does it work?
ENC is the process of comparing the ambient ‘environmental’ noise around you – keyboards, fans, background chatter etc – to that received via the intended source. In this case, it compares the microphone on your headset that records your voice plus ambiance, to another placed within the ThunderFX itself that records just the environmental noise. The ThunderFX then compares the two recorded samples and then subtracts what matches in real-time, leaving only your voice transmitted. ThunderFX is therefore designed for team players at LAN events or just simply if you play online in a noisier place (maybe in a large room that echoes?). Simply plug in your headset and click the ENC button in the ThunderFX software.
Using with an Xbox 360
Bundled in the box is an Xbox 360 adapter, while PS3s already come with RCA cables to plug straight in.This sends the audio to the ThunderFX, which you then plug your favorite, premium headphones into, rather than the very average standard console fair. Remember the USB cable also needs to be plugged into a spare console port to provide power.
While software functions such as ENC and audio profiles are missing (it’s impossible to install this software into a console), you still get with a pair of amped headphones and crisper audio thanks to the hardware inside. Below shows it plugged into an Xbox 360.
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