On first glance you'd be mistaken for thinking this was 'just another X-Fi card'. The card lacks the visual impact of the Asus STX with no EMI shielding and a low profile look to it.
But fear not dear reader, this little card from Auzentech is more than meets the eye. Enough chat from me, let's see what's under the bonnet, so to say.
As I said, the card is pretty plain, but the devil is in the details. The newer revision X-Fi chip from Creative sits pretty in the middle of the crowded PCB, next to the X-RAM which is also a feature of cards with a creative logo on them.
Auzentech have made an effort to make the card special with the named I/O back-plate. The internal ports are what you'd expect of a card with this kind of spec sheet.
On the left (right hand side), you'll notice the Point Grounding system Auzentech have chosen to use on the Forte, as well as the high quality Nichon (left hand side) capacitors. These should provide clean power to the audio systems that Auzentech have added to the Forte with as little distortion as possible.
Auzentech have added some very nice components to the X-Fi Forte which all contribute to the rather excellent spec we saw on the first page.
Auzentech have used the CA20K2
version of the much-vaunted X-Fi sound processor. This chip has been much reviewed and we all should be aware of it's capabilities. Packing a huge 51 million+ transistors and the power to process EAX 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 as well as OpenAL in-game effects, this Digital Signal processor from Creative was a bit of a revolution when it came out and is still the gaming chip to beat.
The X-Fi architecture allows for a certain amount of on-board RAM to be used by the processor. The X-RAM, as Creative call it, is a great tool for developers to decompress and buffer audio or add in high quality sound that can be loaded directly into the X-RAM. This particular memory chip is a 64Mb module from Hynix - HY5DU121622DTP-J. Unfortunately I cannot get much info from this, but it seems to do the trick,
Auzentech have gone with a high quality Op-AMP on the card to handle front-left and right channels. The LME4972
is considered a superb Op-AMP by many enthusiasts, but note that this part is actually replaceable, with an industry standard pin-out. This means that those who are really into their audio can grab their favourite Op-AMP and slot it right in. That said, the LME4972 offers an ultra low THD+N of 0.00003%and an impressive 97 dB SNR.
The AKM 4396VF
is a high quality DAC and gives a 192 kHz 24 bit sampling mode. This digital to analogue audio converter handles the audio for the front left and right channels and offers a THD+N of -100 dB and a sampling rate of 30 - 216 kHz.
The Cirrus D/A converter
is a 24 bit, 128 kHz, 8 channel digital to analogue converter. Auzentech have used this for the remaining 6 channels of the X-Fi Forte's surround sound: Side left/right, Centre, Sub-woofer and Rear left/right. Featuring 114 dB dynamic range and -100 dB THD+N, the chip is certainly no slouch and it's great to see that Auzentech haven't skimped even on the channels most likely not used when listening to high quality stereo.
A variety of Wolfson ADC's are used for the line-ins on the X-Fi Forte. Notably the front mic line-in uses the WM8782
with 100 dB SNR, 24 bit stereo and a wide frequency band of 8 – 192kHz. Also present are the WM8775SEDS
that handles the rear mic/line level and possible extension bay inputs on the X-Fi Forte.
Well when we put all these good quality components together, we get an excellent quality digital-analogue conversion, especially from a PC sound card. Add to that a superb Op-AMP with a well respected sound quality and high quality power handling and filtering and you've got what should be a winning combination.
Now let's see if this is the case....