Installation and Software
Unlike in my previous sound card reviews, I tested my Auzen X-Fi Bravura 7.1 in two OSes: Windows XP 32-bit and Windows 7 64-bit.
I installed the Windows XP driver from the included disc without problems but the sound quality was far from promised and vastly inferior to the Creative card with the same audio controller. I then installed the Windows 7 driver but it would not work. The beta driver downloaded from the Auzentech website did not provide the expected quality of sound, either.
Fortunately, PCI Express sound cards with Creative chips are compatible with Microsoft Unified Audio Architecture and with the generic Windows driver which, as my tests showed, can be used for listening to music and any other applications except for games.
You can refer to the next section for details about using the Bravura in games. Right now, let's see what the Auzen/Creative software can do.
The application suite isn’t very extensive, but the list above doesn’t show a few components that are installed anyway and appear as individual items in the Add/Remove Programs menu. These are Auzentech Control Panel, Creative Sound Blaster Properties, and Host OpenAL. The Volume Panel component is not installed by default although it is an indispensible means of setting the sound card up for games.
Originally expected in February and postponed to the second quarter, the Auzen Bravura driver with support for DTS Connect was only released in late July and only for Windows Vista and 7. Later on, there appeared two drivers for the Bravura, one of which supports DTS and another is WHQL-certified. I used the DTS driver for Windows 7 and the WHQL driver for Windows XP. DTS Connect became available to Windows XP users in October when the driver was updated to version 1.40.
The latest versions of the driver have improved the sound of the Bravura to the level comparable to its competitors but the driver's functionality is still limited in Windows XP. The headphone volume cannot be controlled independently and there is no OpenAL. Sampling rates of 192 and 44.1 kHz are not available although the latter is most important for a sound card that claims to reproduce music with high quality.
The mentioned features are all available under Windows 7. ASIO is the only missing one. The sound card is identified by the OS as three independent playback devices (Speakers, Headphones and S/PDIF), each with its own set of enhancements and sampling rates.
If you use the Microsoft High Definition Audio driver, the sound card is represented with the same three devices and supports the full range of sampling rates. The sound processing options are even superior to those offered by the Creative driver because the sound volume can be equalized according to the acoustic properties of the environment. The latter feature was only available with sophisticated and expensive studio equipment until recently but now it is offered to every Windows user!
If the native Creative X-Fi Xtreme Audio driver is installed, the Xtreme Audio card loses the Headphone device whereas the Bravura is still separated into multiple devices, which is somewhat problematic as I will explain below.
The sound card being separated into two devices, you can set up their sound volume independently. Auzentech also promised an additional control in the audio console which had been used to adjust the volume of the external unit of the Creative X-Fi Elite Pro.
Having installed the Auzen Bravura software, I could not see anything like that.
Thus, you can only adjust the volume of the Bravura’s headphone output in the Windows control panel or via the system tray icon if the Headphone device is selected as the computer’s default sound playback device.
As opposed to the sound cards with the full-featured X-Fi audio processor, the volume control of both CA0110-based cards does not change the volume level in a logarithmic manner. Thus, you have to select the volume in the bottom part of the range with more accuracy whereas moving the control in the top part of the range doesn't change the volume much. The top level of the Bravura’s output signal is 3 volts against 2 volts with the other manufacturers' cards, so getting the desired volume from it proves to be as inconvenient as with sound cards based on C-Media audio controllers whose volume control works in a linear manner (50% volume corresponds to a mere 6dB decrease in the output signal power). This is especially annoying when you use high-sensitivity headphones with the Bravura.
The software of both CA0110-based cards has the user interface of the audio console of the full-featured X-Fi in the Entertainment mode but its functionality is limited. Speaker system parameters are specified using Windows settings. The headphone and digital output settings have become unnecessary because those devices are separate from the sound card proper. You can enable EAX reverberation, set up Crystalizer and CMSS-3D parameters and choose the operation mode of the input connectors.
Despite the familiar names of the exclusive technologies, the 3D sound, reverberation and Crystalizer effects are calculated in the driver and differ in capabilities and quality from those of sound cards with a full-featured X-Fi audio processor. For example, CMSS-3D technology lacks the MacroFX and Elevation Filter options here.
I had noted how slow Creative’s software is in nearly each of my reviews of Auzen sound cards, but this time around the programmers overdid themselves. The test configuration was fast enough to avoid any discomfort in Windows XP, but everything was downright slow in Windows 7 64-bit. I had to wait for many seconds for a reaction to my changing some settings, one of the CPU cores being 100% loaded at that. The audio console and the Audio Control Panel would hang up for a few seconds even when I just plugged my headphones into the sound card!
That’s all I have to tell you about the card’s software. Let’s move on to the tests.