Features, Specifications, PCB Design
This sound card was originally called Home Theater 7.1. However, the main opponent not only had released a similar product one year earlier, but also given it a self-descriptive name. The ASUS Xonar HDAV1.3 can process video and transmit audio data in high-definition formats. I guess that every computer user will easily spell out the letters HDAV as High Definition Audio Video since those letters have been used extensively in product names over the last few years. The original name selected by Auzentech did not tell anything to the potential buyer, so the trivial numbers 7.1 in the name were replaced with the letters HD. They mean that the Home Theater has an HDMI interface and can work with high-definition audio formats.
What are the differences between the competing products from these two brands? I checked out at the comparison section on the Auzentech website but could not find recent ASUS cards there, although the Auzentech product range is represented in full. Instead, I found a curious table there. According to it, four Auzen sound cards are good for music but, for some mysterious reasons, not equal when it comes to movies.
Well, let’s put all this marketing aside and try to figure everything out ourselves by looking at the card and its specs.
As I wrote earlier, the HomeTheater HD is almost the same as the Forte 7.1 from a functional point of view. That is, it implements the same capabilities and sports the same exclusive technologies. Additionally, it has HDMI connectors and a chipset for processing a digital audio/video stream. The card has grown to maximum possible height, providing the opportunity for a more rational component layout of its analog section. Particularly, there is no obstacle now to installing adaptors with a couple of opamps in metal TO-99 cases.
An AK4396 DAC has vanished from the PCB and the four stereo outputs of the CS4382 are all used now. That’s not a big loss as it was nearly impossible to tell these converters apart aurally with the Auzen Forte 7.1. On the other hand, the Auzen Prelude 7.1 had a much better sound than the Auzen Forte 7.1 despite having the same DAC, so you shouldn’t come to any conclusions as yet.
I could find no other changes in the electronics or drivers except that, besides supporting balanced microphones and allowing to record from two microphones simultaneously, the new sound card claims to be able to record audio from the HDMI input. I did not have the opportunity to check this function out practically, though.
I don’t know if the ASUS HDAV1.3 can record sound from HDMI, either, but ASUS cards have been definitely inferior to the latest Auzen products in working with microphones. I covered this issue in my Auzen X-Fi Forte 7.1 review. Instead, the Xonar offers not only a digital output but also a digital input. Auzen implements a dedicated output with a headphone amplifier whereas ASUS offers a video enhancement feature. So, every card has some strong points and I will just show you the following table that compares the capabilities of these two products.
It looks like choosing between the two depends on what functionality you need, the price factor being of secondary importance. For example, the Auzen X-Fi HomeTheater HD is currently somewhat cheaper than the ASUS Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe which provides a multichannel analog output as well, but you need a PowerDVD Ultra license ($90 with a discount included) in order to play Blu-ray discs and output HD audio via HDMI whereas ASUS provides its users the ArcSoft TotalMedia Theater player for free. Besides, the HDAV1.3 costs about $50 less without the H6 expansion card and its Slim version is even some $100 cheaper. The Slim version of the Xonar HDAV has no analog inputs and outputs at the back panel (but supports the Front Audio connectors of a system case) and will best suit a cinema lover who owns a serious stationary audio system and does not need his computer to produce highest-quality sound via headphones. Headphone support is one of the trumps of Auzen.
Besides the inputs and outputs we are familiar with by the Auzen Forte 7.1 card, the HomeTheater HD has two HDMI connectors, one of which receives the graphics card’s signal and another transmits it further together with audio. The sound card also has an internal HDMI input implemented as a header for a flexible cable like the one you use to connect graphics cards in SLI or CrossFireX mode. The documentation says that that header is a future-reserved feature as yet.