Pros: Great sound quality; excellent driver support; onboard Dolby Digital Live and DTS encoding
Cons: Overkill for mainstream market
Bottomline: If you’re into audio you’ll find that this card’s excellent sound quality and great range of features make it worth the money
This soundcard is a bit special because it is built around one of Creative’s X-Fi audio processors – the same chip that sits at the heart of all of Creative’s latest cards.
Auzentech is the first company that Creative has allowed to make use of its X-Fi chip in this way. Like Creative’s own cards, this one has great support for gaming surround-sound formats.
It fully supports EAX (including EAX Advanced HD5.0, thanks to the 64MB of onboard X-Ram), OpenAL and CMSS-3D headphone surround sound.
It also comes with Creative’s Alchemy drivers, which allow Windows Vista users to get surround-sound support on older Direct Sound-based EAX games.
The card also features the excellent X-Fi Crystalizer technology, which does a great job of adding some of the oomph back into compressed mp3 and WMA music tracks. Plus, the card works a treat with music applications, thanks to the low-latency Asio 2.0 drivers.
But this is no mere Creative clone. Perhaps the biggest bonus on offer here is that the Prelude can encode surround-sound formats into Dolby Digital Live or DTS formats.
This means that the audio can be sent to surround-sound speakers via a single digital audio cable; it works well and is much less hassle than having to hook up lots of different analogue cables.
As well as this, Auzentech has improved the quality of the internal audio circuitry by using higher grade components and including high-performance digital-to-analogue converters. The end result is even cleaner and warmer sounding audio.
It all means that the Prelude is one of the best general-purpose soundcards we’ve heard. It might be a bit more expensive than the average soundcard, but the great audio quality, excellent surround-sound support and good music creation features make it worth the extra outlay.