Product: HDA X-Plosion 7.1 DTS Connect
Company: Auzentech
Authour: Brian "HalcYoN" Gray
Date: March 11th, 2006

AuzenTech’s maturation in the sound card market is the single most significant development in PC audio over the last few years, aside from the release of Creative X-Fi.  Why?  Gamers and HTPC enthusiasts finally have an opportunity to use a viable product other than the often bemoaned Creative sound cards that are equated with ticks, software bugs and random work-arounds.  We finally have a product that allows for add-in card support of DDL.  We finally have accompany that is not resting on it heels adding features and a refresh product one year after their push into the US market.

C-Media will undoubtedly continue to go up-market with success.  Game developer support for open surround sound engines will be vital to their success as EAX has a strangle-hold on nearly every game engine.  OpenAL FTW.

In Theory

Now specifically about the HDA/AuzenTech X-Plosion DTS Connect 7.1, I was delighted by this opportunity to be one of the first.  I was the first to review the BlueGears X-Mystique and thought it would rest in my system through a few upgrade cycles.  The addition of the X-Plosion’s DTS Connect support should excite HTPC enthusiasts and the growing number of gamers that blur the line between gaming and multimedia PC enthusiasts.  So many of the current Home-Theaters-in-a-Box  support DTS decoding that Logitech and Klipsch should have worry that the small satellite, DVD-equipped systems could easily displace the 7.1 systems fetching a premium on the web and at the big-boxes.  We have already seen the adoption of widescreen monitors and TVs for PC use, yours truly included, and that the reality and evolution of home PC use will move towards a balance of gaming and general entertainment use.  I regularly watch TV or catch a flick the wife doesn’t want to see in my overly comfortable desk chair or the futon behind it.
Less prophecy and more observation…

In Practice

The X-Plosion did address one of the biggest driver bugs of the X-Mystique.  Thank you, AuzenTech.  I no longer need to cheat the registry or reset the speaker modes when restarting.  I do wish that they could address the loss of sync issue that causes shorter sounds after inactivity to not be heard.  The work-around mentioned earlier of enabling Karaoke is fairly harmless, unless you use you audio input for a gaming headset, in which case you might sound a little funny to your Counter-Strike teammates when you switch to 2CH analog for your headset/microphone combo.

Performance was on par with the X-Mystique and DTS Connect has no effect on overall benchmark results when gaming.  The Synthetic benchmarks lead me to make certain deductions about the effect of these encoding methods causing certain instructions to take longer to execute as the X-Plosion gets the audio channels rerouted to the SPDIF port.  Once the system is under any load, the performance drop from enabling DTS Connect or Dolby Digital Live disappears.

The X-Plosion is well made, better supported and full featured.  It’s only real disadvantage is the lack of support for newer revisions of EAX.  However, most games that support EAX4 or even EAX5 also support EAX and EAX2 which is handled by Sensaura emulation.  Hopefully, AuzenTech’s efforts to support OpenAL in conjunction with other HD Audio adopters will move the game industry into supporting the open standard audio engine.

The Home Theater PC crowd has another option when it comes to outfitting their systems with an audio card.  DTS Connect has an advantage on paper that shows up subtly when listening.  Soundstorm and Azalia are now a feature behind when it comes to the stat sheet.  Moreover, the X-Plosion’s inclusion of socketed OPAMPs allows for improved analog output signal quality after a quick trip to ebay.  Digital or analog, the X-Plosion has you covered.

The card is not perfect.  We still have the afore-mentioned keep-alive problem.  The X-Plosion is not as feature rich as the Creative X-Fi in terms of software bundle or audio modes.  This is not as polished, however, Creative’s polish usually exposes issues of compatibility or stability.  At its $139 MSRP, the X-Plosion is a relative bargain compared to the X-Fi cards.

Final Comments

Thanks to Stephen for the review sample, for his patience and for taking part in the Q&A.

Thanks to AuzenTech for adding worthwhile products to their line of cards.

I will be recommending the X-Plosion in place of the X-Mystique for friends building systems going forward.  I can not find a reason why the X-Plosion will not be more successful than the X-Mystique.

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