Page 12 - Subjective Listening and Conclusion
I lost count how many times I got around in saying this, but I always had this feeling when reviewing sound cards. When it comes to subjective listening, it is always interesting on how to retain the objectiveness in subjectiveness. Okay, I realize it sounds like a paradox. The reason of its subjectiveness can extend beyond because pulling the objectiveness out of this subjective aspect is very hard. Typically, I see results from 95% of audio reviews stating how (Insert whether it is a headphone, speaker, sound card, MP3 player, or something related to audio output)'s the bass is so awesome, it shook the house so much that I had to get my house's structural integrity checked and the midrange is so awesomely clear that it sounds the person is really in the room, I swear someone touched me on my shoulder during that time... so I ran three blocks outside and it is so clear I can still hear every single detail half a mile away, as well as the treble is so freakin awesome it's so high yet natural the percussion instruments sounds soooooo fantastic. While there are undeniable truths to these observations, personally I feel that there are things beyond this. But regardless, I will try to express my feel on this subjective matter to the best of my capabilities. By the way, if this paragraph sounds familiar to you, I never copied and pasted... I mean, what copy and paste? I can assure you I just wrote that, haha!
If you think I am simply going to reiterate on the basic sound characteristics of the Auzentech X-Fi Bravura that I have asserted in the past with the X-Fi HomeTheater HD and X-Fi Prelude, funny thing is that it is certainly not the case. Before we get into that, however, I am just going to quickly cover the digital output capabilities of the Bravura, as reviewing the signal integrity of a digital signal does not have much practical readership value. But since I have just touched on this topic, generally speaking, the coaxial and optical out is refined and perfected in this area thanks to the coaxial transformer to minimize output jitter.
As the Auzentech X-Fi Bravura doesn't sport a 'true' X-Fi processor, it should not be particularly surprising that it behaves quite differently in various aspects as well. For one thing, I was not able to get the card to work properly with the X-Fi Crystalizer and equalizer enabled, as aforementioned in this review. It will end up having noticeable volume fluctuations when playing music (Mainly due to the Crystalizer enabled), which is quite annoying. With standard Creative X-Fi based cards, I could mess around with the bass/treble volume, fire up the equalizer to some ridiculous frequency setting combination, and pump the Crystalizer up with absolutely no problems (Not that doing so is particularly beneficial in completely knocking all your music completely out of acoustical balance, but just saying, haha). In the end, if you have relatively lower end computer speakers and need to make the most out of it, your best bet is probably running it with the equalizer only due to hardware limitations.
That said, the Auzentech X-Fi Bravura is certainly not the neutral type. The Creative CA0110 processor with JRC5532 for the front, rear, and side channels in conjunction with JRC4580s for the center channel and subwoofer output creates sound that emphasizes heavily on bass. On the topic of such, the bass output is very clean, rounded, and solid, so much that I actually needed to dial it down a bit since there is a huge quantity of it out of the box haha. The midrange and treble output is relatively decent across the board; with the former doing a fairly commendable job in producing clear voices for vocal performances or watching TV and movies. The treble is overall acceptable, but not necessarily the strong point of the X-Fi Bravura in this regard because it is a bit recessed and lower in magnitude compared to the rest of the frequency output. Based on this, I still wouldn't call the Bravura 'dark' sounding as a departure from the punchy characteristics of most Creative based cards; I would assert that it simply big on bass. From my subjective listening, I felt that the Auzentech X-Fi Bravura produces relatively clean sound across the board. Depth, definition and detail are also decent, but still have good amounts of room for improvement for picky users like myself haha. Seriously, if you have ever heard the HomeTheater HD, it is impossible to go back. Blame Auzentech themselves for making such an awesome flagship that even made their own Bravura a 'meh' card to my ears, despite the fact that this card is certainly no 'meh' product! The overall experience is simply not nearly as saturated and immersive as the company's X-Fi HomeTheater HD; of course that is not really a fair comparison since that card costs nearly twice as much (And rightfully so). Generally speaking, I believe that you will see significant performance gains in audio performance if you replace the operational amplifiers in the Auzentech X-Fi Bravura. The JRCs aren't exactly the electronics of choice for most audiophiles out there anyway! As far as gaming is concerned, keep in mind that the X-Fi Bravura does not provide basic hardware acceleration. It is certainly better than your onboard sound as far as the listening experience is concerned, but it will not give you higher FPS.
When paired up with midrange audio equipment, the X-Fi Bravura may prove to be a bottleneck over analog on the multi-channel output until you swap for some higher end OpAmps as previously suggested. For users planning to use headphones, now that would be a completely different story. Judging by our electronics overview page, it should be clear that the headphone output is far superior to the multi-channel output. This is certainly held true in our tests! You will certainly be impressed by the sound card's discrete amplified headphone circuitry. It is fairly close in character to the X-Fi HomeTheater HD due a similar circuit design and electronics implementation -- other than the processor of course -- but it still has the excellent National Semiconductor LME49720NA OpAmp on this channel, resulting in brilliant performance in frequency output, balance, and definition across the board. Other than that, a general advice is that if you are using higher end computer speakers with digital in such as Logitech's Z-5500, you are probably better off connecting them to the X-Fi Bravura via analog if you have upgraded operational amplifiers, because it will have a better analog conversion stage with the Cirrus Logic CS4382A DAC found on this sound card. Remember, all digital audio has to be converted into analog signals at some point -- doing it at the most optimal location with the most capable equipment will yield the best audio output in the end. Unless you have some explicitly cheap cables, of course.
All in all, the Auzentech X-Fi Bravura is a very well designed sound card, as we have grown to expect from the company. It delivers decent audio quality over the analog multi-channel output, but where it really shines is the discrete amplified headphone circuit for audiophiles preferring to listen to music with the cans. Although the stock operational amplifiers providing its 7.1 analog output aren't exactly audiophile grade by any means, all five OpAmps for their respective channels are installed in their own sockets, so the end user can easily upgrade the OpAmps to higher quality units if deemed necessary. I would actually highly recommend you to do so, haha. The Auzentech X-Fi Bravura also packs a boatload of innovations by Auzentech such as their Pointing Ground Design with user selectable ground source, User Mode Switches, preamplified microphone input, a quality Cirrus Logic CS4382A DAC, and excellent audio grade MUSE ES capacitors. In the end, my biggest complaint is that the Auzentech X-Fi Bravura is not a true X-Fi sound card with its CA0110 processor despite being marketed as an X-Fi card, and lacks the number crunching prowess to deliver hardware accelerated signal processing to a completely different level. For around $130 at press time, personally I would try to find an Auzentech X-Fi Prelude instead if still available at your favorite retailer, given that you have a free legacy PCI slot on your motherboard, and you aren't interested in the discrete headphone circuit. Plugging in some LME49720NA OpAmps to replace the stock ones aren't expensive, but it will certainly bring your sound card closer and closer to the HomeTheater HD in price as you upgrade more and more -- not to mention that you still don't get a CA20K2 X-Fi APU/DSP for full fledged performance. The question many of you might be asking right now is probably regarding whether the Auzentech X-Fi Bravura is worth your money or not. In my opinion, there is no straight 'yes' or 'no' answer, but instead you should ask yourself whether you fit into the market niche that the Bravura addresses, and if you are looking for specific features that it provides!
Special thanks to Stephane over at Auzentech for making this review possible.
APH Review Focus Summary:
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.0/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
The Auzentech X-Fi Bravura is an innovative product that will appeal to users looking for high performance amplified headphone output, and customizable performance thanks to swappable OpAmps on all output channels.
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1. Introduction, Specifications, Bundle
2. A Closer Look - Hardware
3. A Closer Look - Software
4. 16-bit/44.1 kHz Frequency Analysis
5. 16-bit/48 kHz Frequency Analysis
6. 16-bit/96 kHz Frequency Analysis
7. 16-bit/192 kHz Frequency Analysis
8. 24-bit/44.1 kHz Frequency Analysis
9. 24-bit/48 kHz Frequency Analysis
10. 24-bit/96 kHz Frequency Analysis
11. 24-bit/192 kHz Frequency Analysis
12. Subjective Listening and Conclusion