Prelude to an Opinion

Water amplifier
Creative Commons License photo credit: mdezemery

For some reason the Auzentech Prelude X-Fi 7.1 soundcard always makes me think of Sarah Blasko’s Overture and the Underscore. Maybe that’s Freudian, maybe it’s the rogue soviet psychics and their mind control microwaves. The soundcard, however, is one of my favourite purchases this last financial year gone. While only hooked up to a set of Logitech’s Z-5500 5.1 speakers through the optical connection, the quality of the sound output is phenomenal. With the new Beta drivers out from Auzentech, I thought I might write some of my opinions should someone find them interesting and google manages to find me in this ocean that is the blogosphere. However, a caveat before I continue:

Sound quality as a premium niche is somewhat akin to elite wine appreciation. It is populated by complete and utter tosswanks who use more colourful words than Shakespeare himself. In principle they are reviewing sound quality and timbre, etc. You would be forgiven if you thought they were eating a delicious brownie, or smelling an orchid.

The new DTS option isn’t yet stable, and I have experienced a couple (not many) cases of weird distortions in the sound, but the caveat was on the Auzentech website so I had expected them. The question on my lips was, however, will it make a difference to the DDL that I was currently using. The answer is yes. The difference is noticeable, but will likely not knock you out of your chair. If you are using a good amp and a set of floor speakers of reputation then you will probably appreciate this difference more than I, but the fact that I could tell an improvement in sound on these high end computer speakers speaks volumes in my opinion. The main difference in sound is a broadening, or to put it visually, as if each element looked more resolved. My test was the special edition DTS DVD of Opeth’s Ghost Reveries. The strings and keys were more pronounced and Åkerfeldt‘s vocals sounded clearer. I don’t want to say that I could hear his individual vocal cords vibrating, but that is the only way I can think of describing. It’s not a case of being louder or more sound, just clearer; crisper.

However, imagine my surprise when I had finished the album and put on a 128 kbps mp3 of Sweeney Todd’s soundtrack, only to find that the sound quality was much better. I guess it’s all a case of diminishing returns, but the lower bitrate being filtered through the Crystaliser actually sounded better with DTS than through DDL. Go figure. I guess the moral to this story is something along the lines of “You won’t ever know if you don’t experiment”. Which, of course, is just my retroactive excuse for breaking things by fiddling.