Auzentech X-Fi Prelude Review

[Also posted on ezines.]

For some time it’s seemed there is no ideal compromise for gamers that are also audiophiles. Creative Labs has been a leader in sound for gaming, but not in music. Other brands boasted superior audio quality but lacked EAX and strong hardware acceleration. Auzentech seeks to change that in their new Prelude 7.1 model card.

The card promises the fusion of audiophile sound quality and all the gaming perks one would otherwise miss out on by skipping Creative. Auzentech has been a contender in quality musical sound cards for years, up there with M-Audio and ASUS.

The Sound Card At A Glance

Pros

  • High-end DAC (digital to analog converter) at 120dB signal to noise ratio
  • Supports up to 7.1 output via analog
  • SPDIF ports support digital-in/out via coaxial and optical
  • Dolby DTS
  • Full EAX 5.0 support
  • 64MB X-RAM (like Creative’s higher end X-Fi’s)

Cons

  • Uses a modified version of Creative’s drivers rather than something unique
  • Lacks external breakout box (as compared to Creative’s X-Fi Elite)

Features

The Prelude offers comparable features to the Creative X-Fi Elite Pro, but at a smaller price tag. It does, however, lack the breakout box the Elite Pro comes with for desktop headphone out and a further way to handle SPDIF. The Prelude tries to compensate for this by offering better SPDIF connectivity natively on the card, though.

The back panel of the card starts with a mic jack, followed by a line in. From there you have your front/main out, and two others for rear and surround. Of course if you’re not looking to use 5.1/7.1 you need only be concerned with the front/main jack. All of the aforementioned jacks are 3.5mm. Two final ports are identical in appearance-digital input and output respectively. These support coaxial SPDIF in/out by default, but the card comes with adapters that convert them to optical ports if needed.

Performance of the Auzentech X-Fi

Bearing Creative’s X-Fi processing chip, the Prelude should offer the same performance in games and maintain compatibility with any that use EAX 5. It has the analog auxiliary pins onboard, and a somewhat toned down version of Creative’s drivers to make it all happen.

Because it uses a form of Creative’s drivers, users familiar with that software will appreciate the three flexible output modes: Entertainment, Gaming, and Audio Creation.

The card itself is notably larger than the X-Fi Xtreme Gamer, likely due to the extended output options. This does guard against the feeling of a stripped down product, as the Xtreme Gamer card is more of an entry-level item on Creative’s X-Fi lineup. This card serves as an excellent alternative to Creative’s Elite Pro for users not interested in the breakout box and hoping to save cash by doing without it.

All in all this card is feature full and again, a great alternative to Creative for gamers. Still, the card does not bring anything special to the table for the serious audiophile like the ASUS Xonar, for example. That card offers a built-in headphone amp and EMI-shielded coaxial outputs. Touches like that would truly have brought the Prelude 7.1 a league above the Creative.

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