You know, I've tried hard to avoid using the 'great for a HTPC' tag line while writing this review. Unfortunately, it's impossible. The X-Plosion 7.1 is great for a HTPC, and in that role it shall reign supreme. Considering what you get in terms of performance, features, and convenience, I think it's a good deal. In fact, the X-Plosion 7.1 is so convenient, I hardly ever switch out to the X-Fi now for anything less than gaming. The price may seem a little steep at first, especially with those who are looking to upgrade from their AV-710s, but I will say shame on you for not saving your pennies all this time.
The only negatives I could find were in the sparse software bundle--not even a software DVD player is included--and a few driver oddities. If you're expecting newer versions of software you already have, then you won't find it here.
In music playback, the X-Plosion 7.1 is a little brighter in character than Creative's X-Fi XtremeMusic, but it isn't harsh or too bright, and you can always upgrade the X-Plosion 7.1 with better opamps if you feel the need.
If youre wondering about upgrading to an encoding sound card for your HTPC, then look no further than the X-Plosion 7.1. Considering it's the first card we've tested that does both DDL and DTS, it is the best encoding sound card we've yet tested. I wouldnt recommend anybody replacing their X-Fi for an X-Plosion in their PC, however, but I would recommend it for anyone with a modest interest in playing DVD's on their PC and still using onboard sound. You could even ditch a Live! or an Audigy 2 for one of these, and be better off for it. For those not so interested in an encoding sound card, of course, there are cheaper alternatives.
As far as the driver is concerned, and quite a few people have had concerns about it, but I didn't have any showstoppers or major glitches at all. There were a few oddities, such as the digital volume for the bass, and missing EAX, but other than that, stable.
Despite the fact that we were not able to get EAX working properly with the X-Plosion 7.1, it lost between 5 to 10 frames to the X-Fi XtremeMusic in games that used EAX. In games that are natively 5.1 channel, such as Valve's Half-Life 2, the margins were closer. And the good news: encoding to DD Live or DTS is virtually free in terms of performance. However, it is still slower than our nForce 4 onboard sound.
Overall, I've enjoyed my time with the X-Plosion 7.1, watching DVD's, HD videos, listening to music, and playing the odd game or three. This is just about as raving as I get in a review.
The Stuff thats Always at the End:
Special thanks to His Tallness, Hillbert, and to Stephane Bae at Auzentech for making this review possible.Id also like to thank the NSA for not losing my dumb emails to Stephane, although in hindsight it might have been better.Thanks!A very special thanks to Mrs. M. for tolerating all the work I do for these reviews.
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