Soundcards, like videocards, tend to have cookie-cutter designs; products that use the same chipsets look virtually the same.
That wasn’t the approach Auzentech took when it put down the traces for its Auzen X-Meridian 7.1 card. Auzentech says it carefully crafted a custom PCB and added components to get the best possible audio from the card, which is based on C-Media’s top-shelf CMI8788 Oxygen HD “audio processor.” We believe it, too. The board’s traces, layout, and components are vastly different than those of the Razer AC-1 soundcard, which also uses the CMI 8788 Oxygen HD chip.
Optical SPDIF lovers will appreciate separate input and output ports, and we particularly dig the industry-standard front-panel header. Unlike Creative’s cards, which force you to build a custom harness for front audio jacks, the Auzentech card allows you to just plug your case’s audio connector into the card and voilà, your front headphone jacks work. But the unique feature of the card is its upgradeable operational amplifiers. Op-amps can have great sway over the flavor and timbre of the analog sound that pumps out of your card. This board comes with a stock set of AUK S4580P op-amps, which can be popped out and replaced with different ones.
Sound good? Mostly. While we appreciate many of the loving touches taken with the card, we did hear slight distortion during our close listening tests using 24-bit material and Etymotic Research ER-4 earbuds. The transience occurred only when listening at very high levels, and for the most part, our subjective taste tests found the X-Meridian to be the equal of the Razer AC-1, which claims a 117dB signal-to-noise ratio. That’s a bit better than the 115dB SNR of the X-Meridian card. SNR isn’t everything, though. We actually found Creative’s X-Fi card to have more low-end response.
The X-Meridian’s biggest weakness, however, is in gaming. Using the latest drivers from Auzentech, the card consistently performed more slowly than the other two cards we reviewed. While the frame-rate hit isn’t fatal, we would look to the other products for gaming needs. The X-Meridian 7.1 is probably best left to home media center work. With its real-time Dolby Digital encoding capability, dual optical ports, and upgradeable op-amps, the card’s real forte is home theater.
Replaceable op-amps, FP Audio headers.
Oddly slower than the Barracuda AC-1, which uses the same chip and drivers. Works only with five-volt PCI.
Fear 5.1 Min (FPS)
Fear 5.1 Avg (FPS)
Fear 5.1 Max (FPS)
Fear Dolby Digital Live Min (FPS)
Fear Dolby Digital Live Avg (FPS)
Fear Dolby Digital Live Max (FPS)
3DMark03 2.1 0 Sources
3DMark03 2.1 24 Sources
3DMark03 2.1 60 Sources
3DMark03 DDL 0 Sources
3DMark03 DDL 24 Sources
3DMark03 DDL 60 Sources
Best scores are bolded. Our killer rig consisted of an Athlon 64 FX-60, 2GB of DDR400, 400GB 7,200rpm, and a GeForce 7950 GX2 running Windows XP Professional.