Page 13 - Conclusion
For a sound card built around a new chipset, the X-Meridian is outstanding. During the time we had it, the X-Meridian was very stable. We did notice a high CPU utilization in BF2142 in ultra-high mode. But in the end, it gave us the feeling of refinement, which is rare to see in first run hardware. Auzentech did a great job with the X-Meridian and that any delays people had in getting one are justified.
What you get with the X-Meridian is top-spec hardware, featuring 24 bit/192KHz resolution all the way from recording to playback. If you don't like its analog playback, and it would be pretty hard to image that, you can also send a bit-matched digital signal out to your receiver for decoding, either with a coax or an optical cable. Or you can have the X-Meridian encode to DTS or DD Live and have your receiver do the decoding as well. It also does EAX 2.0 for games, and the performance is pretty good.
In the games we benchmarked with, BF2142, F.E.A.R., and Half-Life 2, the X-Meridian was 14%, 8% and 7%, respectively, behind the X-Fi using FRAPS to count the frames. This is good performance for the X-Meridian. The various encoding methods, DTS and DD Live among them, cost about %14 more to your total frame rate. This isn't bad, but you might notice your rig chugging on BF2142 when the game gets serious with encoding turned on.
As we know there are some products out there with broken EAX implementations. The X-Meridian is not one of them. The RM3D tool verified that EAX is correctly modeling occlusions and obstructions, as well as distance. The X-Meridian works with the games that support it, and we enjoyed how it sounded. However, its gaming performance is still second to the X-Fi. No suprises there. Hopefully future driver revisions will enhance gaming performance for the X-Meridian. This does not mean to say that some day EAX 5 will be implemented, it won't, since it is a Creative property and the game developers are the ones who include support.
Subjectively speaking, and guru3d.com is the only website that does this for games, I liked the X-Meridian the best while gaming. The X-Fi has only one advantage over the X-Meridian and that is during BF2142: it makes the gun sound louder than anything else in the game. That to me is more realistic, because guns are loud. But other than that, EAX in general is too heavy handed. I like the idea of environmental modeling of sound, it is a vital immersive effect, but EAX HD still doesn't fool me into thinking I'm there in that environment. Perhaps it is a developer care and consideration issue. We'll look forward to perhaps OpenAL (also a Creative product, actually) to improve the situation.
The X-Meridians strongest point is its amazing analog output. It measured about the same as Creatives X-Fi with RMAA 5.5, and yet sounded so much more detailed. Have I lost my ears? Have I been drinking too much of that audiophile snake oil? We did notice some evidence that the Oxygen HD DSP was working at 16 bit/48KHz with RMAA 5.5. The other problem I had with the card is that once you hear the analog output and then switch to the digital encoding modes, you had better have a decent sound system on the other end if you want to show off the card's full performance. The X-Meridian clearly exposed our Logitech Z-680's as the weakest link in the test system.
Auzentech says on the sassy black-and-orange box that the X-Meridian is the Ultimate sound card. One of the rules of reviewing is to never agree with whatever is written on the box (unless we wrote it, naturally), but I want to agree with it. If you can discount the gaming performance, then the X-Meridian is the Ultimate sound card. Out of three categories that we measure, gaming performance was the only thing that it didnt beat Creatives X-Fi, our current reference sound card. However, if you want something that sounds better than an X-Fi, then go grab one with two fists and don't let go until it's inside your computer.
Let's recap the pros and cons.
Superlative analog output
Rich feature set
24 bit/192KHz playback
Second place in games against the X-Fi
Noise shaping/anti-aliasing for Oxygen HD in 192KHz mode
Limited software bundle
Stuff that is always at the End.
First off, thank you very much for reading, and many thanks to Auzentech for making the X-Meridian. Special thanks to Stephane Bae, the boy wonder, at Auzentech for letting us review his products. Special thanks with clusters go to Hilbert Hagedoorn for letting me write for years on end. Extra special thanks to Alden Jenks and Tony Gnazzo for the use of the NTI ML1. Cheers!
This review brought to you by the letter X.
Our Moment of Zen: