Auzentech is best known for sound cards built around Creative’s X-Fi processor, often surpassing Creative’s own cards in audio quality, but the X-Meridian 7.1 2G PCI sound card uses a C-Media Oxygen HD CMI8788. This is the same (rebranded) chip that’s used in most of Asus’ Xonar sound cards.
Along with the card’s other components, it provides a maximum sample rate of 24-bit/192KHz through all seven output channels. This is the second-generation X-Meridian card; production of the first was halted after just over a year following its 2006 launch, when Auzentech was unable to source sufficient CMI8788 audio processors.
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. The supplied op-amps are four JRC 5532DD chips.
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They aren’t particularly high-end, but their output is satisfactorily clean. Auzentech also provides replacement op-amps at a range of prices, from relatively inexpensive to staggeringly wallet-busting, although similar chips are available elsewhere for lower prices if you’re prepared to shop around.
Each audio channel also has its own dedicated high-quality AKM AK4396VF Digital-to-Analogue Converter (DAC) – most comparable sound cards use one DAC for the front channel and another for the remaining surround channels. The line input uses a 24-bit/192KHz AK5385VF Analogue-to-Digital Converter (ADC), while the microphone input uses a CMI9780 AC97 audio codec chip with a maximum sample rate of 16-bit/48KHz.
The X-Meridian 2G is primarily designed for 7.1 analogue audio but it’s less specialised than many of the high-end sound cards we’ve seen recently. As well as four 3.5mm outputs for surround-sound speakers, there are dedicated 3.5mm microphone and line inputs.
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We’d have liked a dedicated headphone port, but it’s easy enough to connect headphones to your case’s front panel audio ports, which can be hooked up to the card via the connector on the front. There are also S/PDIF in and out ports, which can take either coaxial or optical (using the supplied 3.5mm optical adaptor) connections. They can send 24-bit/192KHz PCM, DTS or Dolby Digital audio streams to an external decoder or AV receiver, although this means that you won’t benefit from the X-Meridian 2G’s excellent audio output hardware. The card can be configured to simultaneously output sound over both analogue and S/PDIF connections.
Processor C-Media Oxygen HD CM18788
Maximum channels 8
Maximum sample rate 192KHz
Inputs 3.5mm mic, stereo phono line-in, optical/coaxial S/PDIF in
Outputs 4 x 3.5mm (7.1), optical/coaxial S/PDIF out
Audio technologies Dolby Digital Live, Dolby Pro Logic 11x, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby Headphone, DTS Interactive, DTS Neo:PC, EAX 1.0 & 2.0, DirectSound HW, A3D 1.0, ASIO 2.0 driver support