Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 sound card
At last, a real rival for Creative's X-Fi?
Review The vast majority of modern motherboards have integrated HD audio, and if you do fancy an sonic upgrade, most likely for gaming, the obvious candidate is a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi. So where the heck does Auzentech hope its X-Meridian 7.1 sound card will fit in?
Integrated HD audio is fairly impressive and while the exact specification will vary from one motherboard to another you can expect to get mini jack support for 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound speakers. You may also get some sort of digital S/PDIF output. Taking the Intel D975XBX2 motherboard as an example - as we happen to have one on the test bench - there are five mini jacks plus coaxial and optical digital outputs.
Intel backs up the SigmaTel 9274D HD audio chip with its own Audio Studio 2.0 software, which is a model of clarity and design that will help you set up your speakers and select ambient settings to enhance your music or game play. You also get one of those handy pictorial guides that help the bewildered check which of the many, many cables they’ve just plugged into the back of their PC are in the correct port.
What you don’t get with integrated HD audio is EAX environmental audio so while you’ll hear the thud of your enemy’s boots behind you, you won’t be clear whether they are walking on a steel floor or rock. And you'll miss the nuances when characters in games move around in a room as the sound won’t reflect off the walls correctly.
Gamers, then, will certainly benefit from an upgrade to a decent sound card, but as I say, the vast majority will undoubtedly opt for some sort of Creative SoundBlaster.
The case for a sound card for other applications isn't so clear cut. A few years ago it was easy to tell the difference between basic AC’97 integrated audio and a Terratec DMX 6fire 24/96, Videologic Sonic Xplosion, M-Audio Revolution 7.1 or a SoundBlaster Live! A dedicated sound card had far more punch and precision, as well as a better range of connectors. Integrating HD audio, however, has changed all that.
For example, I plugged an Audigy 2 ZS into the Intel D975XBX2 and was unable to hear any difference when I played music or watched a movie. What is different is the stack of software that Creative bundled with its sound cards which is a whopping great pile of bloatware. It’s taken Creative many years to come up with some decent software and I reckon only now has it come up to the standard of Intel Audio Studio 2.0 software. That said, the Creative mixer and mode switcher are very good indeed.
I have a X-Meridian, and can i say DTS rules... :-
Hey mate, just tried out a DVD (enemy at the gates DTS...) through Power DVD using SPDIF, and found that yes it does a straight pass through... as adjusting the main volume it made no difference to the output volume.
Apart from playing back DVD's adjusting the main volume always adjusts the SPDIF output volume.
So maybe the card isn't for you?
To be honest tho, the cards other abilities i think make up for the in-abilty in your case to adjust volume during DVD movie playback (my view).
Also as much as i like the DTS i have found a new love with the analog outs especially the Dolby Headphone... Fear (pc game) with dolby headphone turned on (whilist wearing headphones of course) was well... Lets say Fear with onboard sound was scary... With DTS interactive semi Horror... With Dolby headphone...
I could hear all my footsteps but like to a point where your own footsteps kinda scare you ( hard to explain ).
You know those invisable guys (like predator) you can hear them buzing long before they come out of hiding and with the surround sound in the headphones... you can quikly determine where they are going to come from - that actually took away a bit of the scaryness, but it also gives you a bit of satisfaction as you can say to yourself "I heard you coming long before i saw you... try again next time noob!"
anyway good luck, shame about the asus mobo not really doing DTS... real shame!
I'd love to have an onboard solution like the auzuntech!
I've recently purchased an Asus P5B-Deluxe motherboard. This comes with a built in SoundMax audio controller that nominally supports DTS interactive. However, the drivers are absolute rubbish, and from my own experience and what I've read in various forums, Asus have not yet managed to release a stable driver build that supports the DTS. Lots of crackles, pops, and machine hangs etc.
So, I'm looking to upgrade to a _real_ sound card! From the comments above, it sounds like this card is a good candidate.
I've read a fair number of reviews of other sound cards (including the X-Fi) that talk about "passthrough" of DTS and AC3. In these cases it appears that the sound card is not doing any processing on the digital stream at all, and you can't even change the volume using the PC. This isn't what I want because I really want to be able to change the volume from within Media Center, and not have to touch the volume on my external amp which is bundled away in a cupboard!
Does the X-Meridian behave in the way I want? Or does it switch to some sort of passthrough mode if supplied with e.g. a DTS DVD source?
Any thoughts or comments much appreciated! :)
I have a X-Meridian, and can i say DTS rules...
I bought the X-Meridian direct from Auzentech. I received it four days later in Australia.
Installed the card in the lowest PCI slot as the manual suggested, installed the drivers from the CD even though there are now more recent ones on their site. Restarted the PC, disabled the shizen Realtek on-board crap. (i haven't touched creative since their live sound cards). Jumped into the config and set the output to be DTS interactive. I used the SPDIF optical out to my Yamaha TSS-10. Set the Yamaha to be on DTS.
Not a single issue installing from drivers to the card itself.
And now the sound quality, Awe inspiring... You will have to re-listen to all your mp3's... even ones encoded right down to 56kbit (i don't know how they got into my collection...). Now gaming i played BF1942 + Forgotten Hope Mod... ( Market Garden Bomber Map ) maxed out the bots, It was like i was in a movie ( to a point ) no hicks and crackles as with the on-board with SPDIF. Battlefield 2 same deal. So far i have only played these two games... as i get side tracked listening to my mp3 collection in DTS.
If your wondering about all the other setting like DDL, Dolby Headphone, etc... They're all great but my pick of the litter is the DTS.
Now i have this card in my PC i want to replace my chipped xbox, that i mainly use with XBMC as a HTPC, with a standalone HTPC, with another one of these cards!
If you were wondering about my pc...
ASUS AMD 939 mobo, 3800 dual core, 1.5GB ram, 320GB sata II Drive (Sata II rules as well with NCQ), Leadtek PCIe 6600GT, and now a Auzentech X-Meridian - most satisfying purchase i have made.
Could take the top spot
I know quite a few people who have replaced their X-fi, Both fatal1ties and even elites for this card and they enjoy better sound quality and improved digital support. People hug EAX like it's a crutch as they have been conditioned to do so. This card simply sounds better than a X-fi and has awsome digital support. EAX is coming to a end soon enough with the release of Vista. Then we will be going to OpenAL. The Auzentech people are working on OpenAL drivers. So, if you are still on the fence go and listen to your friends X-Meridian. They sound better than anything thus far that includes X-fi's....
Leo, it does rather worry me that you couldn't hear any difference between the Audigy 2 and the X-Fi. The X-Fi uses some higher quality components than the Audigy and also no longer forcibly resamples all output to 48KHz using a really bad resampling algorithm (as the Audigy 2 did); the difference should be apparent on any reasonable equipment.
For your survey, I use a Turtle Beach Audio Advantage USB sound adapter as an optical transport to a Firestone Audio Spitfire DAC - http://www.firestone-audio.com/cgi-bin/product.asp?pdtseqnm=4 - which outputs to a Firestone Audio Cute Beyond dedicated headphone amplifier - http://www.firestone-audio.com/cgi-bin/product.asp?pdtseqnm=1 - which finally outputs to a pair of Grado Labs HF-1 headphones (no website since it was a special limited edition, but quite similar to http://www.gradolabs.com/product_pages/sr225.htm ). I don't think this is *completely* representative of the average Reg reader, though. :)
You might have done well in your review to focus more on the Dolby Digital Live feature of the card you mentioned. This sounds like it has the ability to convert non-standard multi-channel audio - which normally boils down to games - to Dolby Digital or DTS on the fly. This is a feature that is highly sought after by the audio enthusiast / gaming crossover market, as it's nice to be able to connect your PC to your high-end home theater receiver via a digital link and get surround sound from movies and games. With most cards you end up having both a set of analog cables to get the surround sound from games and also a digital link to get surround sound from movies (which is inevitably in DTS or Dolby Digital), and that's not very convenient or elegant. There's still no Creative cards that have this feature AFAIK.