To match up the Auzentech to the excellent Asus Xonar Essence STX, I played a large variety of music from my eclectic collection, including playing CD's and extracting high quality FLAC recording from several CD's. I have tried to cover a large range of music genre's to ensure I tested all aspects of the sound coming from the card. Note I also listened to normal MP3's and AAC compressed tracks to ensure I portrayed a 'real world' situation.
All tracks were listened to in analogue and digital, both through the AMP and through headphones.
Example tracks used:
• Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits
• Adele - Chasing Pavements
• Bloc Party - Luno
• Bob Marley - Three Little Birds
• Chemical brothers - Block Rockin' Beats
• Damien Rice - Cannonball
• Foo Fighters - Skin and Bones
• Fugees - Killing Me Softly
• Goldfrapp - A&E
• Jamariqui - Virtual Insanity
• Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah
• Led Zepellin - Black Dog
• N.E.R.D. - Lapdance
• Pendulum - Slam
• Prodigy - Omen
• Robert Miles - Children
• Roni Size - Brown Paper Bag
• Snoop dog - Beautiful
• Paul Gilbert - Radiator
• Paulo Nutini - New Shoes
• Orbital - Halcyon & On & On
• Melody Gardot - Les Etoiles
• Richard Wagner - Ride of the Valkyries
To test the surround sound capabilities of the Auzentech X-Fi Forte, I listened to the following UK DVD's using Cyberlink PowerDVD. I listened in both headphone and surround mode. DVD's used:
• The Matrix (DTS)
• Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Dolby Digital)
• The Bourne Identity (DTS and Dolby Digital)
• Bowers & Wilkins - A Sound Experience
Sound Quality - Music (Digital Sound)
Digital Sound from the Forte was a mixed bag I found during the review. Whilst there wasn't a lack of detail in the card and the bass produced was very accurate, I found that there was a quite clearly defined metallic sound coming from the Forte. Playing with the EQ in the menu lessened this somewhat and in fact, enabling DTS Surround sound on a surround soundtrack like "listen and you'll see" on the B&W demo disc sound very open. Going back to stereo digital just gave me a nagging feeling that there was something being 'added' to the music which is never a good thing. Sound Quality - Music (Analogue Sound)
Pushing the analogue sound through the 3.5mm to RCA leads isn't an ideal way to deal with analogue audio and I think the way the STX allows you to directly connect RCA's to the terminals on the card is more effective than the 'Analogue Multi I/O cable used in the Forte.
That said: I cannot have any quibbles with the excellent sound that the Forte produced.
Pendulum's awesome 'SLAM' got down low enough to rumble my belly and Orbital's Halcyon & On & On really left me breathless. The Forte has a great sound stage - quite open and broad.
Moving onto some rock and the Forte again showed its talents. I think perhaps the more relaxed sound of the STX benefited more here for rock songs but the Forte has it's own sound and it's certainly not a bad one.
Grabbing some more soulful tracks, Melody Gardot's beautiful sound was portrayed well, perhaps with a slight brightness to the sound. Fiddling with the EQ here left me a little stumped so I left it at default. For some scale in my listening I threw on some Wagner and the classic beginning of Act II of Die Walküre. The Forte here showed me what it was made of, grabbing my attention with a huge sound-stage at times.
Threatening to match the sublime Asus Xonar Essence STX in the music department, I wanted to hear what the Essence STX had in for me when I plugged in my Sennheiser HD555's.
The Forte again had a resoundingly positive answer for me here. Detail and scale pulled through into the tracks from the Forte and straight into my cans. Detail and bass clarity was excellent and the Forte was really giving me a smile on my face.
The only quibble I had with the Forte was that it felt like it may not have the 'oomph' needed to power a really tough set of cans. Unfortunately I didn't have such a set to hand this time, but this is worth thinking about if you do have a high end set of grado's or something similar.
Sound Quality - DVD's
Digital Optical - Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect
The Forte has the benefit of both DD and DTS surround modes to chew through so I was looking forward to playing through some of our reference movies.
A slight gripe I did have with the Forte was that you have to manually switch to either DTS or DD, according to the soundtrack you're listening to. Now I say this, but you don't have to, but surely you want to if you want to listen to movies as they were intended to off of the disc?
This aside, surround sound from the Auzentech X-Fi Forte was excellent. Accurate placement of the sound meant that the environmental effects came from where I expected them to and loud explosions blasted from my speakers.
Cars whooshed past me in 'The Bourne Identity' and Neo properly wrecked the place in 'The Matrix' like the film-makers intended!
Another minor gripe to mention was that the setting 'enable bass redirection', which should redirect the bass to my floor-standers; didn't work properly. Turning this off gave me perfect bass, so I'm not sure what this setting should be doing.
Headphone - X-Fi CMS-3D
Creative have added the CMS-3D sound option into their X-Fi cards. To get a decent movie experience from my stereo headphone's I enabled this in surround mode.
The resulting sound was actually not too bad. The sound fields produced were reasonable and you could indeed tell roughly where the card was attempting to position the sound 'around' you.
However, this is the area that the Forte does get let down a little. The awesome Asus Xonar Essence STX has Dolby® Headphone, which is superb compared the CMS-3D. I feel that had Auzentech added this to the card, it would have been a huge plus. Having said that, licenses cost money and I expect this would have added a significant price rise to the card and possibly irritated Creative!