Page 11 - Listening Tests
You probably know this, but Ill say it anyway: the X-Meridian makes better music than the X-Fi. The only word I can use to describe the X-Meridian's sound: delicious. Delicious like a dark chocolate nugget that is intensely strong, long flavored, and super smooth. By this, I mean, that there are songs that I have listened to for years, can play them on my guitar, can even write out the notes for you to learn it, and I still heard new things I have not heard in them before. I cannot imagine a more complete sound than what I hear coming out of my headphones.
Of all the sound cards weve taken a listen to, the X-Meridian crowns them all. Take the liquid sound of the original Santa Cruz, meld it with the groovalicious Revolution, and stir in the extraordinary X-Fi, and youll get some idea of what Im talking about here. The X-Mer is not all roses, however, as it does have less depth in stereo soundstage compared to the X-Fi. This usually indicates a problem with channel separation in measurements.
On to what I am listening to. The songs may not be the most interesting for everyone, but they are very familiar to me, which is crucial to performing a subjective analysis. Here goes...
Scorpions, Sails of Charon 44.1KHz, 320kbps VBR, LAME 3.96
I A-Bd the first 1:50 of this song 15 times on each sound card. Not because it was difficult to tell the sound cards apart, but I was listening for a special guitar sound. In the first part of the song, the guitars set up a a-chuck-uh, a-chuck-uh rhythm with a left-hand mute. The left-hand mute technique calls for the guitarist to lift the hand off the fretboard, not all the way off the strings, but just enough to mute them slightly. However, when you strike the string, it can still ring, and sometimes depending on where the hand is on the neck, the string rings with a harmonic. Its extremely subtle, and it shouldnt be anything else but a rhythmic effect, but the X-Meridian brought out such subtle detail you can literally count how many strings, and at what fret, they did the mute quite clearly. You cant do this with the X-Fi, my friends. Otherwise, the most apparent difference is the clean, detailed, and beautiful sound of the X-Meridian over the X-Fi. The X-Fi sounded darker, less sparkly, with a lot less overall detail. Perhaps my ears are going, and I will be needing some Hales loudspeakers soon. Both cards faithfully portray the distortion of the master recording. Das ist original Grunge, ja.
Radiohead, No Surprises 44.1KHz, 320kbps VBR, LAME 3.96
Im thinking that the X-Meridian will eat the X-Fi for lunch, and Im right. In fact, its quite dramatic. You know the X-Fi has its merits, but the X-Meridian just owns. The whole OK Computer album is mastered a tad dark, but yet the detail is there. In a word, clarity is what wii need here. The X-Fi gives satisfying sound, no doubt, but the X-Meridian made the X-Fi seem like a great Opera singer with a chest cold. I honestly dont think Ive ever heard an audio difference quite this large! Immediately, the guitar on the right channel was so crystal clear and so candy sweet I thought I would need an insulin injection. A little later in song when the bells chime in, in the left channel, the X-Fi sometimes felt a little bit confused as to what the bells were actually doing there. Not with the X-Meridian; it don't play. Generally, if you don't hear it with the X-Meridian, it probably doesn't exist (unless you're a dyed-in-the-wool audiophile).
Run-DMC, Dumb Girl 44.1KHz, 320kbps VBR, LAME 3.96
Ah, old school beats. This is the usual bass test. When the kick drum enters, and your speakers are big enough, you will be rendered infertile. What the X-Meridian provides here is something I hadn't heard in this song before: a sense of how close they are to the mics. They arent using pop screens, so when they hit a p word, you dont so much as hear it as feel it. The effect is generally avoided these days, but you can hear it in this CD. I'm guessing it has to do with the X-Meridian having quite a few large capacitors. This is a Good Thing, and generally, the bigger the capacitor, the better it is for audio gear. If you have smaller capacitors they will discharge too quickly with bass sounds, and so you end up with a thin sound. The X-Meridian does not sound thin at all. In fact, the bass is huge. The X-Fi has a lot of tone, but the X-Meridian has a lot of tone and a lot of bass.
Bob Marley, Jammin 24bit/192KHz WAV
This file was recorded from the Babylon By Bus record (in vinyl, naturally) by an Audigy 2 eX. Not much to say about this one, since the X-Fi and X-Mer were very similar. However, some differences did appear, but most surprisingly in low-level detail. Usually at such high bit-depths and sample rates, low level detail (like room sounds, reverb, and other subtle detail) is increased a great amount. What I found was that the X-Fi was actually more detailed. At about 3:05 is where the X-Fi shows up the X-Mer with its better handling of the trippy snare echo effect. With the volume being roughly equal, you can count several more echoes with the X-Fi than with the X-Mer. Very intriguing.
Pink Floyd, Time, MFSL Gold Edition, 16bit/44.1KHz WAV
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab re-engineered the original master recordings of Dark Side of the Moon, to bring this classic Floyd album up to audiophile standard. To me, it's just a really nice gold disc. The opening of Time is a bunch of alarm clocks all chiming away. This is a murderous track for audio equipment, and I can only imagine how hard it was to record it. Again, no contest. X-Meridian all the way. The X-Fi was not bad at all, but didn't convey anything other than the sense that there are a bunch of clocks, and now they are all ringing. The clarity and seperation of each individual clock was particularly inspiring with the X-Meridian.
In closing, the X-Meridian has the cleanest, most detailed analog output Ive ever heard in a PC. Throw on some Police or Flaming Lips and prepare to be transported to another dimension. Its that good! However, possessing so much detail can be overwhelming sometimes when youre only listening with half-an ear. If you are a little bit tired or just want to listen to music for the heck of it, not being so analytical about listening, the X-Mer may trouble you. The X-Mer being so high resolution also reveals flaws in your source recording mercilessly. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.