|HDA / Auzentech X-Plosion 7.1 sound card review|
|Board and Packaging|
|Subjective testing and Conclusions|
HDA / Auzentech X-Plosion 7.1 DTS Connect sound card review
Back in July of last year, we took a look at HDA's X-Mystique discrete sound card. Although it may not have been an Audigy or X-Fi killer, it did succeed in bringing some very desirable features to market (aside from simply 'not being a Creative Labs product'), namely support for Dolby Digital Live - The ability to encode sound into a 5.1 Dolby Digital signal to be decoded by appropriate receivers and speakers, functionality which had largely gone AWOL since the days of SoundStorm on nForce 2 motherboards. All in all, we were pretty impressed by HDA's offering, and we weren't the only ones as the X-Mystique made quite a splash among those on the look-out for a discrete sound card who weren't too worried about having support for the latest, greatest EAX formats or stellar gaming audio performance.
HDA (and the company who now sells their products, Auzentech, who recently took over the gig from Blue Gears) have now stepped in to the limelight again early in 2006, with the release of a successor to the X-Mystique, the X-Plosion, looking to build upon the success of its predecessor while bringing further new and exciting features to the table. Have they succeeded? Read on to find out.
The big addition to the X-Plosion along those same lines is support for DTS' equivalent to Dolby Digital Live, named DTS Connect. The X-Plosion is actually the first sound card to support this functionality, adding a rather nice feather to its cap. As with Dolby Digital Live, DTS Connect allows on-the-fly encoding of audio, only this time using the rival DTS standard for digital audio, producing a digital bitstream that any DTS capable decoder will be capable of making use of. As well as this, the X-Plosion is also capable of handing the full bit-rate of which DTS is capable (1.5Mbps), allowing for a full audio experience in the smallish number of DVD titles that make use of this high bitrate for audio.
- - The World's First DTS® Connect logo program certificated PCI Audio Board
- - DTS® Interactive: A real-time 5.1 encoder that takes any 2 or more channel and encodes it into DTS® bitstream. DTS® Interactive provides a single cable connection via S/PDIF digital audio output to a DTS® enabled surround sound system by encoding all audio into a DTS® compatible bitstream at 1.5Mbps!
- - DTS® Neo:PC: An upmixing matrix technology that turns any 2 channel audio into 7.1 surround sound.DTS® Neo:PC, based upon DTS® Neo:6 matrix surround technology, transforms any stereo content such as MP3, - - WMA or CD audio, into a 7.1-channel surround sound experience
- - Dolby® Digital Live(DDL) Real-Time Content Encoder converts PC audio into a 5.1 channel Dolby® Digital bitstream (400kbps)
- - C-Media CMI8770 PCI chipset (8CH 24bit/96kHz DAC/2CH 16bit/48kHz ADC audio single chip with DTS® Connect and Dolby® Digital Live Hardware Real-Time Content Encoder) - customized design for HDA Digital
- - Integrated S/PDIF input/output supports 44.1kHz/48kHz/96kHz sample rate and 16/24 bits resolution
- - Onboard coaxial RCA output connector, higher grade optical TOSLINK transmitter for 24bits/96kHz support
- - Onboard CD S/PDIF input ( 2pin-2pin CD cable included, DTS CD bypass available) and SPDIF input extension header(SPDIF_EXT) for optional Digital Input Module with coaxial, optical input (Model : DIM X-10, available separately)
- - Onboard MIDI port header for connectivity such as MIDI keyboards, synthesizers, digital pianos
- - DVD playback with full 5.1/7.1 speaker surround sound using PowerDVD, WinDVD software decoding applications (with DD5.1, DTS 5.1,EE-EX 6.1/7.1, DTS-ES 6.1/7.1 decoding).
- - Supports game surround sound API such as Sensaura CRL3D HRTF 3D positional sound enhancement with MultiDrive™, EnvironmentFX™, ZoomFX™, MacroFX™, A3D™ 1.0, EAX™ 1.0, 2.0 (powered by Sensaura), Direct Sound™ 3D SW.
- - Non-PCM Dolby Digital and DTS bitstream (such as DTS-CD) pass through.
- - Anti-Pop control circuit using high performance audio muting transistor.
- - Support Stereo MIX recording option and Mic Echo which makes best environment for Winamp broadcasting, other VOIP solution.
- - Support Karaoke features such as Echo, Magic Voice, Vocal Cancel and Key Control
- - Swappable Dual DIP Type OPAMP Controlled Preamp Circuits
- Adopt large capacity regulators and 6pcs of dual DIP type OPAMP preamp output circuits
- 2pcs of dual DIP type OPAMP controlled preamp input circuits on board provides increased gain and improvement of S/N ratio.
- Users swappable existing OPAMPs to superior performance dual DIP type 8pin OPAMPs such as Burr-Brown OPA2134PA, OPA2604PA,etc.
- - Luxury Design
- Gold plated PCB, jacks, and metal bracket
- High quality SMD capacitor, audio muting Transistor, high grade TOSLINK transmitter for 24bits/96kHz support
- - Package Contents
- HDA Digital X-PLOSION 7.1 DTS Connect sound card
- MPC to MPC (2Pin-2Pin) CD S/PDIF audio cable
- TOSLINK Optical digital cable
- English owner's manual
- Drivers/Applications installation CD
- - ONE year replacement warranty
The rear of the X-Plosion's packaging holds some good descriptions of the capabilities of both the board, as well as the DTS Connect and Dolby Digital Live facilities of which is capable, thus I have included images of these below to help explain the featureset of the part.
Click for full-size image
Dolby Digital vs. DTS
The addition of DTS encoding and decoding capabilities to the existing Dolby Digital functionality in the X-Plosion brings up an interesting question, and one which even hardcore audiophiles can quite merrily argue over ad infinitum - Which format is better, Dolby Digital or DTS?
To understand the differences between Dolby Digital and DTS, we need to travel back in time, to the days before DVD and the advent of multi-channel surround sound in the home, and return to its roots - In the cinema. When it came to bringing multi-channel sound to fruition in the movie theatre, of primary importance was the ability of add this functionality to the existing equipment and 35mm film used in cinemas. Dolby and DTS (Digital Theater Systems) both went about this task in different fashions, thus explaining the differences between the two formats we see today.
Dolby's decision when designing Dolby Digital was to use the marking on the edge of the film reel as the location to store the audio data - This left them space for around 400 kilobits per second of bandwidth for the audio stream, leading to the requirement to use lossy MPEG-esque compression (called AC-3) on the data to fit six channels of CD quality audio into the available space.
DTS on the other hand, decided to eschew storing the audio data on the 35mm film reels all together, and instead chose for their auto tracks to be stored on a CD to be run alongside the movie. This meant that DTS had more bandwidth available to it (1,400 kilobits per second), although again lossy compression had to be used to fit six channels of audio on to the disc.
These design decisions are still present with the two competing formats to this day, with Dolby Digital bitstreams available at either 384 or (more rarely on DVD movies) 448 kilobits per second, and DTS typically offering 768 kbps, with 1536 kbps available as a maximum bitrate.
On paper, this should make the DTS versus Dolby Digital question an easy one to answer, but as always with such technologies, things are never quite than simple. Although DTS requires less compression due to the greater bandwidth available to it, the compression methodology used by Dolby is arguably better, thus levelling the playing field somewhat. Then, there is talk of how well the two systems work in general, with accusations from Dolby that DTS tracks are simply louder than Dolby Digital equivalents due to Dolby's dialogue normalisation abilities (Which drops playback volume by four decibels) while DTS boosts volume during playback (an accusation which DTS denies, incidentally). The two companies have also flung mud at one another with regard to their respective handlings of the 0.1 channel used for low frequency effects. Finally, and usually most importantly when it comes to DVD movies, the quality of the mix can make quite a difference to the quality between the two soundtracks on any one movie.
At the end of the day, as with most audio-related issues, the answer to which format is 'better' is largely a subjective one, as well as depending largely on the source audio in question. Personally, I've tended to find that DTS audio tracks tend to be somewhat punchier when it comes to the use of bass, and at times the separation of audio channels better defined, but each to his own. The beauty of the X-Plosion is, of course, that you can choose between the two whether gaming or watching DVDs, making the whole point somewhat moot.