So, I picked up the Chaintech AV-710 (Envy24 HT-S), $27 off newegg. As always, newegg was great.
First, build quality. The card is essentially built nicely, except for the jacks on the back. They are of decent quality and have a nice feel to them, but they were put on kind of sloppily, so the back-plate doesnt sit flush with them. Also, I had to unscrew and adjust the back-plate as it protruded a bit too much and was getting in the way of installing the card. Also, the back-plate has a funny extrusion on it that bumps up against the back-plate of the card next to it. Annoying, but not life threatening. The card is in, just not perfect. I was also annoyed by the gold coloring that they decided to use on the back-plate. Everything else is silver colored on the back of my case, and then I've got this one ugly gold piece in a slot. Glad I dont have to look at the back of my case all the time.
Software and drivers. I love them. They are so utterly plain that it's shocking. None of this gimmicky crap that you find in most other audio drivers like Circle Surround, Sensura, EAX controls, or any of the crap that I have no use for. I want all of my sound to be output exactly as the designer intended. I firmly believe that 2-channel sources should stay 2-channel untouched and the like. The drivers do the job that they are supposed to, and nothing else. How many speakers do you want? What level do you want them? SPDIF on or off? What do you want routed to SPDIF? That's it. It's refreshing to see a driver that doesnt suffer from sever bloat. The only thing I wish they did do that they dont is downmix multi-channel DirectSound sources (games) to Pro Logic II. That would be a desirable close second to a real-time DD encoder, while still staying in the boundaries of "keep the sound as it should be".
Audio quality. I have no issues whatsoever with the SPDIF output I am getting from this thing, and that is exactly what I wanted. Like everything else with thisi card, it does it's job as is should, what more do you want?
So, my ending thoughts? For the $27 I spent on it, I am quite pleased. Definitly better than any card I've seen Creative put out since the liquid-great AWE64. Are there better cards? Sure, get a Revo for $75 more. The only thing I would like on this card for future possibilities is an SPDIF input, but the MadDog Entertainer seems to be the exact same card with that feature added for $30 more. The $30 wasnt worth it for me, but it's good to know the option is there. So, if VIA adds Pro Logic IIx downmixing in a future driver update to meet Azalia requirements, I will be one happy camper. Otherwise this will be a well spent $30 to hold me over until somebody comes out with a good PCI real-time DD encoder capable soundcard.