Auzentech made sure that even those music lovers who do not have a huge budget could enjoy their best technologies in an affordable form – for a little over $100. But is it really possible to make an audiophile grade product at this price point and at what expense will that be? We will try to answer all these questions today.
The Auzen brand didn’t even exist some four years ago but now the company’s product range includes a number of sound cards and we covered the X-Fi Forte 7.1 and X-Fi HomeTheater 7.1 models in our previous reviews. It’s time to take a look at yet another of Auzentech’s products which is called X-Fi Bravura 7.1. This sound card may seem to be just a different combination of the constituent parts we’ve already seen in its predecessors, but the reality is far more sophisticated.
I want to begin this review by telling you that the letters “X-Fi” in the name of the sound card I am talking about have no relation to the CA20K audio processor the X-Fi abbreviation was originally used to denote. The Creative X-Fi Native PCI Express audio processor mentioned in the product specs and press releases is in fact a PCI Express audio controller which was first employed in the affordable SoundBlaster PCI Express X-Fi Xtreme Audio card that Creative positions separately from its gaming products as a solution for music and movies. Auzentech’s marketing people have a different opinion. They say that nearly all of the Auzen sound cards are good for music. Then, the HomeTheater is best for movies, the Forte being somewhat deficient in this respect. And when it comes to gaming, the Bravura has a rating of three out of five stars whereas the Auzen cards with full-featured X-Fi processors have four stars (that’s rather odd as there seem to be no better sound cards for gaming as yet).
In our previous review and on the back of the product box you can see a somewhat different classification from the same source. The marketing folks from Auzentech now think that the Bravura has become better for movies and gaming. This is just one more incentive for me to test the card carefully because manufacturers’ claims often fall short of reality. For example, the Prelude, Forte and HomeTheater are far from identical in terms of music playback despite the same star ratings and the fact that the latter two cards seem to have almost identical analog sections. The Bravura is similar to them as well, judging by the employed components, yet I wouldn’t venture to suppose how it may sound.
But let’s get back to the electronic chips. The Bravura specs tell us that the card is based on a Creative X-Fi Native PCI Express audio processor. The same processor is specified for the X-Fi Forte and the HomeTheater but the Bravura is actually based on a different chip. The text on the product page says the processor is on the back of the PCB but that’s not so, as you can see in the photos. But maybe these chips are so similar that there is no reason for me to worry? Well, the difference is large, unfortunately.
Just like the CA20K2 is an enhanced CA20K1, the CA0110 is a revised CA0111 chip with such additions as a PCI Express-PCI bridge, an UAA-compatible (universal audio architecture) HDA controller, playback support for 44.1 kHz audio, and a fifth independently clocked stereo output. However, there was no audio processor in the CA0111 and none is present in the CA0110. Therefore the Auzen X-Fi Bravura lacks many capabilities we have got used to after the previous products from Auzentech and Creative. All sound processing is carried out by the driver which is almost the same as Creative offers to mainboard makers under the X-Fi Motherboard program.
Thus, the main difference between a mainboard with X-Fi driver and a discrete CA0110-based sound card is that the latter has a higher-quality analog section and features a headphone output which is independent from the main (multichannel) section. Let’s now discuss these features in more detail.