The testing of the Auzen X-Fi Forte 7.1 has left an ambiguous impression. First off, it is absolutely not an Auzen X-Fi Prelude 7.1 of a smaller form-factor as you might expect judging by the specifications and employed chips. On the contrary, these two audio cards prove to be completely different! To my greatest surprise, the Auzen Forte shows its best at reproducing full-bodied music with expressive drive (hard rock, heavy metal, symphonic orchestra) that is the only weak spot of the Auzen Prelude, but in all other factors the newer card falls short of the quality standards set by the Auzen Prelude over two years ago, notwithstanding the declared advantages such as the precision clock generator, high-quality passive components and an ingenious power circuit of the analog section. To make it even more complex, the card’s sound quality changes greatly over time. Although these changes make the card sound better, who knows what it is going to sound like after a while?
Featuring a number of unique capabilities for its class, the Auzen Forte implements them in a strange way. For example, the support for studio microphones with balanced connection and the declared opportunity to record both the microphone and the line input simultaneously proved to be incompatible. You can have either a studio microphone or the option of simultaneous recording of the line input and microphone connected to the system case’s front panel. The indubitable advantage of the easy replacement of the front output’s operation amplifier is negated by the inability to replace the headphones opamp. The highest quality of the headphone amplifier is somewhat spoiled by the imperfect quality of the front output this amplifier is connected with on the hardware level. The use of the stereophonic AK4396 DAC together with the eight-channel CS4382 provokes some questions because these amplifiers have the same specified level of distortions. And subjectively I could not find any advantage of the former over the latter.
Who is a potential buyer of this card? Although the Auzen X-Fi Forte 7.1 does not look like an indisputable leader in terms of quality in its price sector ($150 if purchased from the Auzentech website), it might entice you with the numerous advantages over opponents, the most important of which is the top-quality headphones amplifier. Moreover, if your system case connectors comply with the HDA standard, the card enables the appropriate driver mode and turns off the line outputs automatically as soon as you plug your headphones in. Coupled with the full-featured audio processor X-Fi, this makes the Auzen Forte a perfect choice for gamers and a worthy opponent to the Creative X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Edition.
As for music reproduction, you can correct it to your own taste by replacing the opamp with one of the adapters offered by Auzentech or with an LM6172.