When we reviewed Asus’s Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim in November 2009, we described it as a necessary evil for home-theater enthusiasts because of its unique ability to send Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio bit streams from a PC’s Blu-ray drive to an A/V receiver over HDMI. By the time you read this review, you should be able to do the same thing with any videocard equipped with a Radeon HD 5000-series GPU. How much value will Auzentech’s premium-priced X-Fi Home Theater HD retain under those circumstances?
The answer depends on how fanatical you are about audio quality. Auzentech’s PCI Express card features Creative’s awesome 20K2 audio processor and all the great software features that go with it, including the X-Fi Crystalizer for music playback, ASIO 2.0 support for audio recording, and EAX 5.0 and OpenAL support for gaming. The onboard Cirrus Logic CS4382 DAC boasts dynamic range of 114dB, and the stereo operational amplifier plugs into a socket, so you can swap out the stock National Semiconductor model for something stronger. There’s an onboard headphone amplifier, and a combo TOSLINK and S/PDIF connector on the mounting bracket, so you can use either optical or coaxial cables for digital audio connections.
Analog audio connections are handled by a D-Sub connector on the mounting bracket. This connector mates to a proprietary analog audio I/O cable with four 1/8-inch stereo line-level outputs, one 1/8-inch MIC input, and one 1/8-inch line input. There’s a 1/8-inch headphone jack on the mounting bracket, too. Internally, the board has an Intel HD Audio–compatible front-panel audio header, plus the proprietary connections to accommodate Creative’s X-Fi Titanium I/O Drive.
Who’d have thunk it? Long considered a dead zone, soundcards are making a resurgence. Driven by an outcry for audio that doesn’t sound like a box of snap, crackle, pop every time you access your USB ports, manufacturers are releasing new soundcards that surpass the free audio that comes with your motherboard. This month, we test an Auzentech card that uses a Creative Labs chip and Asus’s new entry into PC audio.