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 …
Congratulations on a review that seemed somwhat aimless.
You see, you start by saying that this card might stack up against the Creative X-Fi... but then you (subjective only) compare it to an Audigy 2 ZS. Heck, even my Audigy 4 is marginally better than a card several years old. You also close by stateing that the card has taken the fight to creative and the X-Fi.
Please get your review straight. Are you comparing the X-Fi to the X-Meridian or the Audigy 2 ZS to the X-Meridian? Some might see this as a minor thing... but the X-Fi blows the Audigy 2 ZS out of the water.
Your review also did not mention other very important facts. For example, with the digital out do you still get EAX? Previous C-Media chips did NOT do this.
What was the quality of the recorded sound like? What was the CPU usage like with this card?
You make this card sound like the best thing since sliced bread. And it does look quite good. It's just a pity that your review was a little flawed and only scratched the surface.
Steve Jackson raises a number of good points - shows he read the review too.
I compared the X-Meridian with an Audigy ZS as I was able to compare the two back to back. I use an X-Fi Fatal1ty in my own PC so I'm very familiar with it but it was too painful to rip it out of my working PC to plug into the test rig. A Creative sound card that works properly isn't something to be tampered with lightly and I consider that is a major failing.
The point I didn't make in the review, although I considered it, is that I noticed no improvement when I upgraded from Audigy 2 ZS to X-Fi. The biggest change is that X-Fi has far better software.
As for his opinion on sound cards, Audigy 4 is very similar indeed to Audigy 2 with 6dB improved signal to noise ratio. If you can hear this difference then you're an audio professional in my opinion.
Fair point about CPU usage. Granted I was using a quad core Core 2 Duo but it was zero, however CPU usage was also negligible with the integrated audio.
Digital caused me to have all sorts of thoughts but in the end I decided that high-end movie buffs would likely use digital to pass the signal to a receiver/decoder which means that the sound card becomes almost irrelevant.
It's a sweeping statement on my part but I don't see PC users using a digital connection to their speakers and instead it's analogue jacks all the way.
I'd be very interested if you decided to run a reader poll about their speaker set-up along with the type of connection.
Onboard sound = good, but STILL doesn't replace a good dedicated card
The fact remains that whilst onboard HD audio has come leaps and bounds, it's still (on the VAST majority of mobos) pretty limited, if you run a 5.1 system and want to use the mic and line in sockets you have to compromise because there's not enough physical sockets available to use at the same time.
Also, I have HD audio on both my motherboard and my (brand new!) Acer laptop. The former is AC97 (Gigabyte-branded) and the Acer uses Realtek. The laptop's output is pitifully quiet, and you can plainly hear interference from the other components inside the laptop... Noise whenever the CPU is working hard, slight noise whenever you use the touchpad... It's really annoying, and hardly 'HD' (unless the H stands for Horrible). I had to go and buy an external Terratec audio interface for my laptop just so I could get a decent-level, noise-free output. The PC's onboard fares better, but there's still constant interference-based noise, which seems to be endemic throughout just about all but the highest quality onboard sound chipsets. As it stands, I might spend £100, £150 - maybe even £200 - on a great mobo, but I'll still buy a separate soundcard.
My Audigy 2 still performs admirably after my several years of ownership, paired with the third-party kX drivers I have a near-realtime (3msecs good enough for you?) ASIO latency if I need it, which is CRUCIAL for anybody who uses their machine for audio and/or sound production, and I've yet to see onboard HD audio which can cope with low-latency audio work without grinding to a screaming halt (and loading up the main CPU with ASIO processing duties, which my sound card handles just fine on its own)... This article, by my estimation, is a pretty poorly-disguised effort for a Creative plug if ever I saw one (imho), it takes a competitor's product and then pretty much dismisses it, and just mentions various Creative products along the way. And a dedicated soundcard is STILL a necessary budgetary consideration for just about anyone save the most basic of computer users (and we're talking about the occasional-DVD-watcher-mainly-uses-PC-for-word-processing users here), especially if you're someone who needs discrete I/O sockets.
Hell, if you're someone who doesn't want to hear system noise through their speakers, you really need a dedicated soundcard. That mobo manufacturers slap 'HD' onto their audio chipsets and people STILL go all glassy-eyed when they see it - that really annoys me.
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.
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....
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.
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... :-
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!