Review: Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 Sound Card

March 3, 2007 by · 11 Comments 

Just under 2 weeks ago I ordered an Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 Sound Card based on some recommendations I read over on AVSForum.com. The card finally arrived the middle of this past week and I got the time to install it in my HTPC last night (to replace the integrated sound from nVidia's SoundStorm).

For those of you that don't know, the X-Meridian is based on the C-Media Oxygen HD CMI8788 audio processor. Now, if you're not familiar with that particular chip, just know that it can do pretty much anything, including but not limited to Dolby Digital Live, Dolby ProLogic IIx, Dolby Headphone, Dolby Virtual Speaker, DTS Interactive, and DTS Neo:PC. While this card does pack some incredible features for digital output, where it really shines is when you switch over to the analog outputs.

Part of the draw for analog output is that this card features, aside from the high-quality DACs, the ability to replace the output opamps to suit your listening style and preferences. The opamps the card ships with are good, but they really can't hold a candle to some of the more popular aftermarket options. I came into this prepared and ordered 4 different sets of replacement opamps that I could test out: TI/Burr Brown OPA2134, OPA2227, OPA2107, and the National LM4562.

Now, I should mention that I don't actually have the last ones yet. My delivery isn't expected for another couple days. As to the other three though, they each have their own interesting characteristics. It's worth mentioning that any claims below about sound quality are from my own observations. I have done no testing of frequency response, S/N ratio, etc. They are simply my impressions after listening for a while using a set of Sennheiser HD590 headphones and Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 speakers. Pricing is from Digi-Key.

  • OPA2134 - The popular choice. These are plentiful at almost all online electronics shops and are reasonably inexpensive at ~$2.50/each. A nice step up from the stock parts. It's got the typical "warm" Burr Brown sound and is a little weak on the top-end.
  • OPA2227 - Similar to the 2134 but with cleaner bass. A bit more expensive at ~$4.00/each. Given the minor price difference between this and the 2134, I'd go with this.
  • OPA2107 - You'd think that the lowest part number would make this the worst but I actually like it the best overall. Kind of hard to find and expensive at ~$12.50/each but worth the effort and money. Despite being made by TI/Burr Brown, these don't have the typical BB sound. They have a strong frequency response in the mid-to-high range and aren't quite as "boomy" with the bass (but don't get me wrong, it's still strong).

As to the LM4562, the general consensus on AVSForum is that these are just about the best commonly-available chip you can install on your card. The second they show up I'm going to try them out. The only negative comments that people seem to have is that they don't seem to perform quite as well when you enable all 8 channels (possibly due to increased power draw), but that's not going to affect me as I'm only using a 5.1 system. If they work as well as everyone claims, they'll be a real steal because they're only about $5.50/each.

When compared to the integrated sound that I was using before, there's really no comparison at all. nVidia's SoundStorm was considered to be pretty capable back when it was released, but it's still an integrated solution. There was a bit of popping and hiss from my speakers if I turned them all the way up and an annoying hum would be added to the mix if the HTPC was turned off. The sound was good but never great, I'd often find myself wishing I could turn the volume up louder, especially when watching movies with AC3 soundtracks, but then finding I couldn't due to the previously-mentioned artifacts.

That, however, was then. I now find myself with a card that can really make these speakers shine. The output from the card is so strong that if I turn the volume up very high the venetian blinds start to vibrate from the bass hits. Without anything playing I can actually turn the speakers to their max volume without any background noise. All that though is just icing on the cake. The real winner here is sound quality. In listening to some Lossless WMAs on my server I was able to hear things I've never noticed before, even coming out of the Audigy (yes, the original one) in my desktop. I can honestly say that for any computer with speakers that cost more than $20, I will never use integrated sound again.

Comments

11 Responses to “Review: Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 Sound Card”
  1. Hello.
    Thanks for posting your op-amp experience with the X-Meridian. It's a great sound card.

    I have used the OPA2134, OPA2227, and the Analog Devices AD8620 to drive Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1s. (BTW, I'm using Sennheiser 580s for cans) Outstanding fidelity from all of these op-amps, especially the AD8620s. They are only available in SOIC surface mount packaging, but I found a source for these on "Brown Dog" adapters from Cimarron Technology. They are little expensive premounted on the adapters but, wow! Highly recommended.

    THe LM4562 is my next cantidate for ultimate X-Meridian op-amp, but I will be surprised to find these better than the AD8620.

    Cheers...

  2. Jason says:

    My LM4562's showed up the end of last week but I had company over this past weekend to watch a movie, so I didn't get a chance to swap them in for a listening test.

    I've used the Brown Dog adapters in the past when working on headphone amps so I'm familiar with those. I'll have to check out the AD8620, thanks for the recommendation.

  3. Steven says:

    Thanks for posting your experience with the X-Meridian. I look forward to learning which op-amps you prefer when comparing the AD8620 and LM4562 on the X-Meridian sound card as I am considering both.

  4. Jason says:

    I've got the LM4562s sitting here and I was prepared to swap them in (finally) this past weekend but the amp in my Klipsch Promedia 5.1 speakers took a dive. I sent it out to be repaired (privately, so it'll be done right, not back to Klipsch) but I'm not expecting to get it back until the end of this week (hopefully) or the beginning of the next.

  5. Tomasz says:

    Hello,

    I have just posted the results of my tests of the X-Meridian to the Head-Fi forum. I thought you might be interested in my report:
    http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=244103

    Best,

    Tomasz

  6. Jason says:

    I'll take a look, thanks for the link.

  7. ShoNuff00007 says:

    OK, I am going to have to swim against the tide, but only because of my equipment.
    I am using the X-M with Martin-Logan speakers. The LM4562's are not warm, and neither are the Martin-Logans. So I backed out to the OPA2227s. Much better. I would like better highs, but still, it is nice to have some warmth in my sound system. :-)

  8. Jason says:

    @ShoNuff00007

    Speaker choice can make all the difference in the world, as can personal taste in music and hearing range. As you said, it sounds like the LMs were not well matched to your speaker choice. Have you tried the OPA2107?

  9. Senior smartcarduy says:

    Super-Duper site! Will come back again - taking you feeds also, Thanks.

  10. Dan W. says:

    Excellent product review on the Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 Sound Card I have been looking to upgrade from the stock one that I have installed. Then I can start banging out crisp clear beats with fl studio and other plugins.

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