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.
For the most part, I am simply going to reiterate on the basic sound characteristics of the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD that I have asserted in the past with the X-Fi Prelude. I am not going to waste too much time in covering the digital output capabilities, since 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, it is refined and perfected in this area. The X-Fi HomeTheater HD provides a full range of digital outputs for modern digital setups, as well as providing an excellent array of encoding methods. It is capable of playing Blu-ray audio with no downsampling, as mentioned earlier in this review; as well as having a coaxial transformer to minimize jitter. I have no problems in getting Auzentech's X-Fi HomeTheater HD working my Yamaha receiver, and for users with Denon receivers, Auzentech has since updated the firmware on this card to fix previous compatibility issues.
I have always appreciated the flexibility and scalability of this X-Fi processor based cards in the past, even for everyday usage. The X-Fi processor is generally capable of customizing the way you want things to sound; and though these settings the perceived sound can vary greatly depending on your settings -- much unlike the mostly non-customizable settings (Non-EQ responsive) neutral type that most become used to in C-Media based chips. They are excellent audio chips providing excellent capabilities in many areas, but they can't really 'push' specific frequencies to accommodate components that do not excel in certain areas; for example, bass. Instead it simply suppresses the volume of other frequencies. Auzentech's X-Fi HomeTheater HD exhibits no such characteristics, which is definitely expected, but still worth mentioning.
Containing a Creative DSP/APU, the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD certainly retains the traits of a Creative card with the capability of giving the user very vivid, colorful and punchy sounds, yet it is just as capable of working on a neutral basis to allow other components to handle the original signal -- typically used with higher end home theater setups that works best with unaltered and non-after-processed signal. Generally speaking, if you use lower end computer speakers, the X-Fi HomeTheater HD can be customized to unleash some potential of those speakers -- there's certainly no lack of bass, midrange, or treble either way. Overall, this combination with base characteristics of the National LME49720NA OpAmp, and fine implementation of Cirrus Logic's CS4382A DAC (Although there are certainly better choices out there in my opinion), gives the X-Fi HomeTheater HD excellent detail, accurate frequency response and bright sounding output. The bass, midrange, treble, and pretty much everything in between are clean and distinct, but also fine and saturated for an overall immersive experience. All in all, sound detail is present with excellent output definition for excellent clarity across the board. You will not be disappointed whether your purpose is for building a high performance home theater setup or gaming system -- the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD is more than capable of handling both without breaking a sweat. Music and movie performance is simply a given. My only complaint is the slightly lower spec JRC NJM4580 OpAmps used in the surround channels.
When paired up with high end components, the X-Fi HomeTheater HD in conjunction with its excellent onboard hardware will certainly not be a bottleneck until some point up high in the ladder. Of course, if you are spending upwards of $250 on a sound card at press time, I would expect that you would already have a fairly decent sound setup, haha. For users planning to use headphones, you will certainly be impressed by the sound card's dedicated headphone circuitry. I am extremely impressed by its optimized performance for headphones. 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 HomeTheater HD via analog, because it has a far superior analog conversion stage. 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.
When the company introduced the X-Fi Prelude several years back, it brought a lot of excitement for PC audio enthusiasts. And while many products failed to live up to its hype, the Auzentech X-Fi Prelude delivered everything as promised and beyond. I still remember describing the X-Fi Prelude as an "X-Fi on crack". Fast forward to today, it is clear that Auzentech has done it again with this product! The Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD is a brilliant sound card that really does it all for audiophiles. Combining arguably the best audio processor available in the market today, and an array of high performance and properly implemented components both on the analog and digital side, all consolidated in a well engineered package, this sound card has pretty much everything a user can more than reasonably ask for. Every digital interface? Check. Fully featured digital interfaces? Check. Every analog connector? Check. Discrete amplified headphone output that performs as well as it is advertised? Check. The X-Fi HomeTheater HD is extremely capable and versatile. What we have here is something that certainly looks good on paper with our RightMark Audio Analyzer tests as posted, but delivers even more impressive sound in my real life performance tests. The company can certainly implement better OpAmps for the surround channels, and possibly a more ideal DAC, and the internal audio connectors can be relocated to a better location. That said, in the end, if you are a true audiophile looking for the best available PC audio solution in the market today, the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD is the only sound card you need to consider!
Special thanks to Stephane over at Auzentech for making this review possible.
APH Recommended Award | APH Review Focus Summary:
8/10 means Definitely a very good product with drawbacks that aren't likely going to matter to the end user.
9/10 means Excellent product with very minor drawbacks that does not affect the overall product.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 8.4/10
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.
There is only one word to describe the Auzentech X-Fi HomeTheater HD: Awesome. It will run you some cash, but it is awesome.
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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