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Old February 5, 2009, 08:17 PM
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Default Auzentech X-Fi Forte 7.1 Review

Here is my review of the Auzentech X-Fi Forte 7.1 sound card.

After recently upgrading my PC with some major hardware I found myself frustrated with my 7 year old Sound Blaster Audigy X-Gamer sound card for the first time since I originally bought it in October of 2001. The support in my new Windows Vista 64-bit Ultimate was lacking to say the least my decision to not buy a sound card so I could use that extra cash turned out to be somewhat of a failure, I couldn't take have a mediocre sound experience with my new gaming beast so I knew it was time to move on and retire the Audigy that served me so well. After looking at what was available to purchase and weighting my options I finally bit the bullet and ordered the newly released Auzentech X-Fi Forte 7.1. Normally I base my purchases on user and so called expert reviews, however this card doesn't seem to have any web published reviews that I could find but I bought it anyway knowing Auzentech make quality products.

Test system:
  • Asus P6T Deluxe
  • Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.8Ghz (20x190)
  • Asus EAH4870 1GB GPU
  • 6GB OCZ XMP PC10666 DDR3
  • Samsung 223Q DVD-RW
  • Microsoft Xbox 360 External HD-DVD drive
  • Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit
  • Logitech Z-540 4.1 Speakers
  • Sennheiser HD-555 headphones
Let's start with the feature set.
  • Low Profile Audio Card
  • Developed around Creative X-Fi Native PCI Express audio processor
  • Support for Dolby Digital Live for Windows XP and Vista
  • Support for DTS Neo:PC & DTS Interactive for Vista
  • Low-profile and standard-profile brackets included
  • 64MB X-RAM on board to enhance supported games
  • Front Panel Audio Support, including Creative X-Fi I/O drive bay
  • Digital Out Combo supports Coaxial or Optical (with adapter) outputs
  • Hi-Fi Swappable OPAMP
  • Hi-End DAC & Audio Components
  • Hi-Fi Headphone amplifier built-in
  • Stereo/Balanced mode microphone pre-amp for professional microphones
  • 7.1 channel 24-bit/96kHz high resolution analog playback
That is a lot of features for the MSRP of $149US/$189CAD.

In addition to the features above it is worth noting the card also has:
  • X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity
  • X-Fi 24-bit Crystalizer
  • X-Fi CMSS-3D
  • EAX Advanced HD 5.0
  • ASIO Support
  • ALchemy Support
  • Dolby Digital Live
  • DTS Interactive Support and DTS Neo: PC (Vista only)
  • Open AL
Now let's take a look at the box before we look inside.






Once you open the box you are in for a real surprise. I actually broke a smile and chuckled a bit when I saw this, so I just had to display this as well. Once you remove the above slip over cover you'll see this sticker on the box inside.



Once inside the box you're greeted with the manual, or should I saw a very basic Easy Setup Guide which does little more than explain to you how to insert a card into an expansion slot and install the driver software. At least it is in color and has the instructions in seven languages, I guess. This was where I found my first negative, the lack of a printer manual in a major annoyance with me, especially when the sound card retails for $189CAD.



Lift up the Easy Setup Guide and you'll see the beautiful new Auzentech X-Fi Forte 7.1 in all its anti-static wrapped glory.



Digging deeper we find the included accessories. What's in the box is listed on the side of the box. While you won't be blown away by all the extras, you do get everything you need and a couple of nice additions.





Besides the most important item, the sound card, you also get these items in the box:


  • Standard Expansion Bracket (Low Profile Bracket pre-installed)
  • The aforementioned Easy Installation Guide
  • Install CD
  • Analog Multi I/O Cable (D-Sub)
  • TOSLINK fiber optic digital cable (6.6 ft) & adapter
I was surprised to see a TOSLINK cable and adapter included in the package, other than that only the bare essentials are included. I would have loved to have the Creative X-Fi I/O bay included but that would have certainly added at least $50 to the MSRP. The biggest disadvantage of not having the X-Fi I/O bay included is the fact that I've been unable to find it to purchase anyway, in fact I'm fairly certain Creative Labs are only selling these bundled with their own sound cards. Let's hope Auzentech decide to release a drive bay of their own in the near future. Some people may see the Analog Multi I/O cable as being a negative, I however see it as a positive. I like being able to connect my speakers to a cable and then plugging a single cable into my sound card. This is ideal if you disconnect your speakers a lot to move your computer or upgrade components. I've always found it annoying trying to remember which connections go where.



As I mentioned earlier the sound card arrives with the low profile bracket installed, so unless you have a low profile case the first thing you'll need to do prior to installing the card is remove the bracket and install the standard sized one. This is accomplished by removing a single phillips head screw and two hex bolts. While I realize that the computer techs will have all the required tools, I don't think the average consumer would have the tools required to remove the back plate so this is something to consider. It would have been nice if Auzentech had included a small screw driver required to remove these hex bolts. It would be inexpensive to do so and many computer case manufactures are doing so to install the required motherboard mounting posts on the motherboard trays. Luckily I had the required tools on me and it was a quick and easy process, however it is worth noting.









At this point I was ready to install the card in my system, but first here are a couple shots of the card prior to being installed.






Installation was painless and I was very glad to remove my old Audigy card. My motherboard is a Asus P6T Deluxe X58 and I'm using a Asus EAH4870DK 1GB graphics card. The only free PCI slot I had was directly under my graphic card and since the Audigy is a full sized card this left little room for air flow in cooling my video card. I was concerned with my GPU temps as the would site idle at 63C with stock clock speeds and get to around 88C while playing games. I figured if I removed the PCI sound card I'd increase air flow and cool my graphics card. Well I'm glad to say I was right, my GPU now idles at 51C and hits around 77C while playing games. Yes an incredible 12C change idle and 11C under a load. Another bonus was that my fan on my GPU now runs at 50% instead of 70% when idle and my system is noticeably quieter. That being said this card is long and may not fit in the top 1X slot on some X58 motherboard because of the north bridge cooler, this wasn't an issue for me. Those of you running SLI or Crossfire configurations with a 1X capable PCI-E slot between them will be glad to know the low profile height of this sound card shouldn't restrict air flow nearly as much as a full height card when installed between two graphics cards so you should expect lower operating temps. I quickly connected my 3.5mm extension to the headphone amp and my 4.1 speaker setup to the D-Sub cable and plugged them in. It is worth noting that if you have a 2.0 or 2.1 speaker setup you can skip using the D-Sub cable and plug directly into the headphone amp as it is capable of driving stereo speakers in the same manner as only using the front connector on the D-Sub cable. Check out these pictures of the soundcard installed with the front audio cable connected.









Once Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit booted the installation was also painless. This card was only released last month and the included CD has very recent drivers, however Auzentech has great support and released a driver update in mid January and has just released a new package on February 3rd that includes the promised DTS driver support for Vista. The download is over 200MB but it is a good idea to obtain the most recent drivers as they do include DTS and some minor fixes. After a reboot I was in for a surprise once the sound kicked in it was loud, very loud. I've ran my Logitech Z-540 4.1 speakers for years at about 65% volume on the control knob and controlled my sound in Windows volume control with average listening being about 35% volume in Windows and getting upto around 65% when I really wanted to crank it a bit more. After installing the drivers and software the sound card defaulted the Windows volume to 65% and boy was it loud when Windows logged me in. I mean crazy loud, I couldn't believe it. I'm now running my Logitech Speakers at around 40% volume and with windows volume at 20% I get the same volume results as my previous setup with the speakers at 65% and Windows at 35%. I pushed the volume to 80% in Windows and the results were much louder than my Audigy at 100% even though with the Audigy my speakers were at 65% volume compared to around 40% with the Forte 7.1. This sound card can push some serious audio at extreme volumes, I have to say it was much louder than I was expecting since I found my intergrated audio card on my P6T Deluxe and Audigy produced similar volume levels. If you have a good set of speakers and want to wake the neighbors then this sound card will certainly help. It is worth noting that when listening to the card and almost painfully high volume the sound was still crisp and clear with no distortion of any kind. So far one of my favorite things about this card is the headphone amplifier, my Sennheiser HD-555's sound amazing and really show how much better this card is when compared to my old Audigy or onboard Audio. The great thing about headphone jack on the sound card is that I can plug a 3.5mm extension in and my speakers continue to work and I don't have worry about getting behind my PC to fiddle with a headphone cable. Essentially this sound card as two front channel connections, one of them is just labeled headphones. The disadvantage of this setup is that when I plug my headphones into the extension cable the speakers remain on if headphone detection is enabled in the software. It's not a big deal since I can easily hit the power button on my speaker control since it is next to where I plug the headphone in any but it is worth mentioning. If you plug a set of headphones into the front audio connector the speakers will automatically cut out if you enable that feature in the software. Unfortunately I can't find out for sure if the headphone amp works with the front connector. I just seem to get more ompf from the rear connection, however they do seem really close in quality and the front connection still offers far superior sound when compared to inboard audio or the Sound Blaster Audigy. I have emailed Auzentech with this question and hope to hear from them soon.

Notice the Auzentech driver



Overall you can color me impressed. This is easily on of the best sound card available today and should provide an excellent experience for years to come. The software that is included is really nothing more than Creative's X-Fi suite but that isn't a bad thing.
The suite includes:
  • Console Launcher with three modes (Entertainment, Game, and Audio Creation)
  • Creative ALchemy
  • Audio Control Panel
  • Creative Volume Panel
  • Creative 3D Midi Player
  • Creative AutoMode Switcher
  • Wave Studio 7
  • Creative Sound Blaster Properties x64 Edition
  • APOIM
  • Creative SoundFont Bank Manager
  • Sound Blaster Plugin for Microsoft Media Center
  • Creative MediaSource 5
I know many people have complained about Creative in recent years but it really has never been about their hardware or software as much as it just came down to poorly written drivers. Well the good news is Auzentech took all the great things about the X-Fi chipset and made it better, the used the good software and seem to have made extremely stable drivers. I've been listening to music, checking out games and watching some of my favorite movie clips. Music sounds better than ever. Crysis, Left 4 Dead, Company of Heroes and STALKER all sound incredible. Finally the lobby scene in Matrix sounds better on my PC then I could have imagined, not as good as my HT setup but I do have 4.1 speakers and it is far superior to my on board audio or Creative Audigy card. I couldn't be more happy with this sound card, they really don't make them any better for this price.



Pros:
  • X-Fi chipset without Creative drivers
  • Headphone Amplifier
  • Upgradable OPAMPs
  • Extreme sound clarity and volume
  • Low profile form factor
  • Dolby Digital Live and DTS (Vista) support
  • Front Audio connectors
  • PCI-Express
  • Included optical cable and adapter
  • 2.0/2.1 or headphone only setups don't require the D-Sub cable
  • Auzentech driver support
Cons:
  • Poor documentation
  • Creative X-Fi I/O bay will be hard to purchase
  • X-RAM isn't highly supported
  • Some users may not have tools to swap the bracket
  • Some users will dislike the D-Sub cable

Features: 9/10
Technology: 9/10
Bundled Accessories: 8/10
Performance: 10/10
Value: 8/10

OVERALL 9/10

Last edited by NightRain; February 5, 2009 at 08:23 PM.
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Old February 6, 2009, 05:53 AM
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Great review man! Im looking for 1 now ;D
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Old February 8, 2009, 10:41 AM
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Good job with the review

This is definitely a tempting little card, it might find its way into my next NCIX cart.
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Old February 8, 2009, 10:45 AM
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Definitely NOT liking the cable thing......
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Old February 8, 2009, 12:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Digikid View Post
Definitely NOT liking the cable thing......
There is no alternative though if you want to keep the low-profile form factor.
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Old February 9, 2009, 04:49 PM
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Here is an update on the email I sent Auzentech support reguarding the headphone amplifier.

"Thank you for contacting Auzentech.

Yes, the headphone amplifier is applicable to both rear and front headphone jack.
The difference is that the Auto-mute feature is available for Front jack only.
We recommend our customers to use the rear heaphone jacek if you want to get the best sound.
Because, (It can be different accroding to the PC) during the signal is transfered through the cable of FP_Audio, there is minute difference of quality between them.

Should you have any questions, please let us know.

Sincerely,
"

So there you have it, amplifier is working on both outputs but they recommend the rear port. After doing some more testing I'd have to agree, I notice on occasion I'll hear a little static or popping sound when using the front port but I haven't experienced this with the rear port yet. This is most likely do to interference from my video card and the front audio cable. Either way I continue to enjoy unbelievable sound quality with this card it and truly is worth every penny.
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Old February 9, 2009, 04:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MAC View Post
There is no alternative though if you want to keep the low-profile form factor.
I knew many people would not like the cable. A great alternative would have been a expansion port that could plug into a port internally on the sound card, even the X-Fi expansion port. Something similar to the Auzentech X-Tension DIN would have been a great addition. The disadvantage of this would be the sound card requiring two expansion bays in the rear of the case and an increased cost to the MSRP.

As I stated if I had to choose I'd go with the cable, but having both options would have been ideal for everyone.
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Old March 6, 2009, 05:02 PM
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Thanks a lot for the excellent review! Based on mainly this review and a few others I pulled the trigger and ordered one. Now I just have to wait for NCIX to ship it...
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Old March 9, 2009, 01:38 PM
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I am late to the game, but great review!

Great pictures, great text.

ONe small negative. If you could make some paragraph in the main body of the text it would help the reading experience.
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Old March 14, 2009, 05:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NightRain View Post
Cons:

  • Poor documentation
  • Creative X-Fi I/O bay will be hard to purchase
  • X-RAM isn't highly supported
  • Some users may not have tools to swap the bracket
  • Some users will dislike the D-Sub cable
1) Is more memory (referring to comment about X-RAM) really need for games (Crysis, etc)?
2) Any word on if the D-sub cable will be sold separately for spares?

Last edited by aenagy; March 15, 2009 at 06:00 AM. Reason: Added question about D-sub cable.
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