Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 2G review
Auzentech is best known for sound cards built around Creative’s X-Fi processor, often outdoing Creative’s own cards in audio quality, but the X-Meridian 7.1 2G PCI sound card uses a C-Media Oxygen HD CMI8788. The card is strikingly well-designed, with a clearly labelled layout that makes it obvious which channel is associated with each of the replaceable operational amplifier (op-amp) chips. Each channel also has its own dedicated Digital-to-Analogue Converter (DAC) - most comparable sound cards use one DAC for the Front channel and just one more for the remaining surround channels.
The X-Meridian is primarily designed for 7.1 analogue audio. As well as four 3.5mm outputs for your surround sound speakers, there are dedicated 3.5mm mic and line inputs. We would have liked a dedicated headphone port, but you can plug your case’s front panel sockets into the card. There are also S/PDIF in and out ports which can take either coaxial or optical connections. You can send 24-bit/192kHz PCM, DTS or Dolby Digital audio to an external decoder or AV receiver but this means you won’t benefit from the X-Meridian’s excellent output audio hardware. The card can be configured to output sound over both analogue and S/PDIF connections simultaneously.
Analogue audio quality is everything we’ve come to expect from Auzentech’s finely tuned hardware, and easily among the best we’ve heard from any sound card. Music was a pleasure to listen to, with outstanding clarity and detail. Thanks to the dedicated DACs and op-amps for each channel, movie and gaming surround sound was just as finely reproduced. We were also impressed by the card’s convincing virtual surround sound through headphones.
Gamers might be concerned by the lack of support for EAX audio above version 2, but modern games no longer use the standard. The card doesn’t support OpenAL’s fancy environmental audio effects, so you’re limited to DirectSound. One of the few complaints we have is with the X-Meridian’s software control panel. All the features you’re likely to need are there: virtual surround sound, stereo upmixing, speaker layout configuration and a mixer. However, the interface looks dated and feels a little clumsy to use. As well as standard drivers, the X-Meridian comes with low-latency ASIO drivers suitable for use in audio production.
There are plenty of expensive sound cards with excellent audio quality, but few have the flexibility of the X-Meridian, with individual DACs for every channel, S/PDIF in- and outputs and upgradeability through a daughterboard. Auzentech is holding its own against the latest premium audio hardware from Creative and Asus, and doing so with great style. The X-Meridian 7.1 2G is expensive, but if you want the best analogue audio quality for music and movies, we can’t think of a better choice. If Auzentech comes out with an OpenAL driver, it’ll be a top choice for gaming, too. Even without one, it wins a well-deserved Ultimate award.