Page 2 - A Closer Look - Hardware
The Auzentech X-Fi Prelude is a rather busy printed circuit board that packs a long list of features into the same physical size as most standard X-Fi offerings from Creative. Packing the Creative CA20K1 DSP/APU (Basically, Creative's flagship X-Fi audio processor) onboard behind a small heatsink, it somewhat resembles the X-Fi XtremeMusic that I previously owned -- all the way from the heatsink to the PCB dimensions. Software support-wise, it features everything that Creative supports the X-Fi for -- EAX 5.0, as well as Creative ALchemy for hardware accelerated audio in Windows Vista. That's where the similarities end, however. At least from first glance, it becomes apparent that the Auzentech X-Fi Prelude is with the market trend and uses 100% solid state capacitors.
Flipping the Auzentech X-Fi Prelude PCI sound card on its back reveals sharp "Auzen X-Fi Prelude 7.1" towards the middle of the board, along with several other things such as a ROHS compliancy logo and, surprisingly, "Made in Korea"!
A little gripe about the board itself -- the PCI connectors are placed a couple millimeters to close to the PCI bracket; this card fits a little too tightly inside my case. Other than that, my only other wish is that it had a PCIe edition -- which I am sure Auzentech would have heard by now from their website poll -- but other than that, it's good to go.
As mentioned earlier, the Creative CA20K1 DSP/APU -- Creative X-Fi audio processor -- is packed behind a small heatsink. This Creative processor has and still is a favorite amongst audio enthusiasts and gamers alike for incredible gaming audio performance, as well as being a very powerful audio processor by itself. Support for Creative ALchemy brought back hardware acceleration to Vista by translating DirectSound requests into OpenGL audio signals for the X-Fi DSP/APU; and proprietary EAX 5.0 support is definitely another welcomed feature along with a full set of home theater technologies with Auzentech's latest driver release.
Shown above is the Exilinx XC9536XL high performance CLPD (Complex Programmable Logic Device) on the Auzentech X-Fi Prelude.
Atmel's AT89C2051 CMOS controller chip is used on the X-Fi Prelude. It is an 8051-based, fully static chip that operates at 24MHz. Other features include 15 I/O lines, 2 timers/counters, 6 interrupts/2 priority levels, analog comparator, LED drive outputs, UART, two-level program memory lock, 2KB flash memory, as well as 128 bytes on-chip random access memory.
Right next to it on the right is a green LED that blinks when the card is functioning correctly. I actually found that fast blinking quite annoying, especially if you have a case window.
Now back on the stuff that actually matters to the audio -- we'll first have a look at the ADC (Analog to digital converter) used on the Auzentech X-Fi Prelude. Shown in the photo above is AKM's AK5394AVS for converting analog signals such as line-in or microphone to digital signals. This is one of the best chips in the market today as a 24-bit/192kHz ADC, just in case you need to get some of that in for Skype before it tones it down for transmission. Or of course, work... like audio production. Yes, that's right. Work. Hehe.
The Auzentech X-Fi Prelude has two Micron 48LC32M8A2 RAM chips used as the Creative X-RAM; which was first introduced with the X-Fi Fatal1ty and Elite Pro -- used for storing sounds in the sound card memory to take an off load the rest of the system -- at least for supported games. There are 2x32Mb ICs for a total of 64MB memory on board.
Shown above is three of four Asahi Kasei AK4396 DACs. Each of these are responsible for two channel output; for handling a total of eight channel output on the X-Fi Prelude 7.1 sound card. With a dynamic range of 120dB and a total harmonic distortion rated at -100dB, these 24-bit/192kHz DACs generally offer excellent performance -- resistance to 'jittering' and low out of band noise -- but there are better models from AKM for an improved digital filter, although the difference may be negligible.
In addition to the single 4-pin analog adapter is a set of pins for front panel audio connectors. Finally, a dedicated sound card with out-of-the-box front panel audio connectors! I was pretty darn glad to see it.
The Auzentech X-Fi Prelude incorporates National LM4562NA and Texas Instruments OPA2134 OpAmps. The LM4562NA OpAmp is shown above in its featured swappable OpAmp socket; if you don't like it -- then swap it out. It has a very low total harmonic distortion at 0.00003%. Most users should be quite familiar with this as it's used in quite a number of enthusiast sound cards such as the Asus Xonar D2. It's well regarded amongst audio enthusiasts and generally very well accepted.
The Texas Instruments OpAmps has a THD+N of approximately 0.00008%; it comes with excellent sound response and is also well regarded and accepted amongst many audio enthusiasts.
The array of audio connector jacks at the back are surrounded by a gold colored bracket. Like the Asus Xonar D2, there's certainly no lack of audio connectors -- four 3.5mm jacks for standard analog out; with separate line in and microphone jacks. Two digital coaxial jacks for in/out resides at the back, with included optical adapters. The digital out has a maximum bandwidth of 25mbps.
The jack labels are engraved at the back. Once installed, it becomes useless because my computer case covers all the labels -- rendering these labels completely useless because it won't be seen -- at least in my case. It would be nice if each jack was illuminated color coded like the Asus Xonar D2, or at least labeled at a more convenient location.
1. Introduction, Specifications, Bundle
2. A Closer Look - Hardware
3. A Closer Look - Software
4. RightMark Audio Analyzer 24-bit/48 kHz
5. RightMark Audio Analyzer 24-bit/192 kHz
6. Subjective Listening and Conclusion