Auzentech X-Fi Forte Low Profile 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 1
Auzentech are a company well known for making excellent sound cards. Recently they have made a deal with Creative to produce cards based on Creative's X-Fi technology, such as the OC3D favourite X-Fi Prelude. This time they are back at it and we're taking a long look at the Auzentech X-Fi Forte.
The sound card we are looking at today is a low-profile version that isn't aimed at one market at all. In fact, Auzentech boast that the X-Fi Forte is aimed at: Music, HTPC and Gaming. A big boast indeed and one that strikes me as a brave one.
Having said that, the specs are top-notch with a mix of components not seen on one card before. Op-amps and decent quality DACs are mixed with 'X-RAM' chips and a Creative X-Fi chip. This could make the card an interesting proposition for those not wanting to compromise in one area or the other. Before we check to see if Auzentech have bitten off more than they can chew, let's hit up their website for some specifications...
  • Length: 176.900 mm (6.964 inches)
  • Height: 56.155 mm (2.211 inches)
 Interface Core
 Audio Processor
  • Creative 20K2 PCI Express audio processor
  • X-RAM 64M bytes of DDR-SDRAM for audio processing
 PC Interface
  • PCI Express 1.1 Compliant Interface
 Supported audio
  resolution and
  sampling rate
  • 16/24-bit / up to 192kHz (Stereo playback)
  • 16/24-bit / up to 96.0khz (Multi channel playback)
  • 16/24-bit / up to 96kHz (Recording)
 API Supports
  • WDM, ASIO2.0
  • EAX® 5.0, Direct Sound®, Direct Sound 3D®, OpenAL
 Supported Operating
  • Microsoft® Windows Vista™
  • Microsoft® Windows XP™
 Analog Audio
  • 3.0Vrms, +12.0dBu max, deviatio+/- 0.1dB
 Dynamic Range
  • 109.0 dB A-weighted (1kHz @ -60dBFS, 24-bit/48kHz) for Analog outputs
  • 98.0 dB A-weighted (1kHz @ -60dBFS, 24-bit/48kHz) for Analog inputs
 Total Harmonic
 Distortion+ Noise
  • 115.0 dB A-weighted (1kHz @ -60dBFS, 24-bit/48kHz) for Stereo analog outputs
  • 109.0 dB A-weighted (1kHz @ -60dBFS, 24-bit/48kHz) for Multi channel analog outputs
 Frequency Response
  • 10Hz to 22kHz, +/- 0.02 dB @ 48kHz
  • 10Hz to 42kHz, +/- 0.02 dB @ 96kHz
  • 10Hz to 94kHz, +/- 3dB @ 192kHz, Stereo
  • Headphone load impedance 16Ω ~ 600Ω
  • Line output impedance 330Ω
  • Line/Aux input impedance 10KΩ
  • Support Stereo and Balanced Mode
 Analog Multi I/O Cable
  • 4 x 1/8" Stereo mini phone jack for Line outputs
  • 1 x 1/8" TRS mini phone jack for MIC input
  • 1 x 1/8" Stereo mini phone jack for Line input
  • 1 x 1/8" Stereo mini Phone jack for Headphone output
 Front Audio
  • 1 x 10-pin(5x2) Front audio header with Intel® HD Audio Compatible
 Digital I/O
  • 1 x RCA/TOSLINK Combo jack for S/PDIF transmission
  • 1 x 2-piS/PDIF input connector
  • Creative proprietary AND_EXT, DID_EXE connector for X-Fi I/O driver
Rear Panel
Rear Panel
Rear Panel Brackets
The X-Fi™ Forte includes two rear panel brackets, a Standard bracket and a Low Profile bracket. Use the appropriate bracket for your PC.
Digital Output
RCA/TOSLINK Combo Jack: Can connect to external DAC, AV Receiver, and Decoder through a 75Ω Coaxial cable or optical mini cable. Can play S/PDIF Stereo PCM and Dolby Digital AC-3, DTS bit-stream content.
Headphone Output
3.5mm(1/8 ”) stereo mini-phone jack: Includes an independent Headphone amp and can activate an impedance 16Ω ~ 600Ω headphone or earphone. Also, can be used, when configuring a Stereo system, not using the Analog I/O cable, as an Front Line Output.

Note If you connect a Passive Speaker (with lower than 16Ω) to this Headphone output, it can cause this audio card to not function correctly.
Analog I/O Multi Connector
D-SUB 15 pin connector: Connect the Analog I/O cable bundled in this package and use for Mic input, Line input and 8-channel line output Jack.

Analog I/O Cable 
Analog I/O Cable
MIC input connector
3.5mm(1/8”) mini phone jack (Pink color label: ‘MIC IN’): Connect Stereo/mono unbalanced condenser microphone and input, record audio from the MIC through the audio card. Also, connect to Balanced Dynamic Microphone through the jumper setting of this audio board.
Line input connector
3.5mm(1/8”) stereo mini-phone jack (Blue color label: ‘LINE IN’): Connect CD player, MP3 player from their headphone output or line output, and input/record audio through this audio card.
Front Line output connector
3.5mm (1/8”) stereo mini-phone jack (Lime color label: ‘FRONT’): Connect Active multichannel speaker or AV Amplifier’s “Front”.
Rear output connector
3.5mm(1/8”) stereo mini-phone jack (Black color label: ‘REAR’): Connect Active multichannel speaker or  AV Amplifier’s Rear. Connectiowheabove 4-channel system is needed.
Center/Woofer output connector
3.5mm(1/8”) stereo mini-phone jack (Orange color label: ‘C/SW’): Connect Active multichannel speaker or AV Amplifier’s Center/Woofer. Connectiowheabove 5.1 channel system is needed.
Side output connector
3.5mm(1/8”) stereo mini-phone jack (Gray color label: ‘SIDE’): Connect Active multichannel speaker or AV Amplifier’ Side. Connection to 7.1 channel system is needed.

Package Contents
  • AUZEN X-Fi™ FORTE 7.1 Board
  • Quick Start Guide
  • 1 x Optical TOSLINK to TOSLINK cable, (6.6 feet / 2 meter)
  • 1 x Analog Multi I/O cable (D-Sub)
  • 1 x Optical adaptor
  • 1 x Full size bracket
  • Installation CD
  • Sound Font Bank Manager
  • Creative MediaSource 5 Organizer
  • Creative MediaSource 5 Player
Specificatons subject to change without notice.
Before we move on to looking at the card in all it's glory, it's worth noting that there is no mention in the specification of the new high definition formats of Dolby True HD or DTS-HD Master Audio which is a little disappointing as this is aimed at the HTPC market, in which Blu Ray is fast becoming the king.

Auzentech X-Fi Forte Low Profile 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 2
As is expected with a sound-card in the price bracket, Auzentech have provided some sturdy packaging to go with the card. The professional looking logo of the X-Fi Forte 7.1 is counterbalanced by a fantasy based lady playing a harp. An interesting combination and frankly looks a little odd when you first get your sweaty palms on the box.
X-fi forte box  x-fi forte box rear
That said, the box provides all the information needed and an impressive array of logo's on the bottom of the box give an indication of what's to come.
inside the box 1  inside the box 2
The inside of the box shows that Auzentech have wrapped up the X-Fi Forte pretty well and it would certainly take an incredibly terrible courier to get to the card inside. Cardboard surrounds the equipment and all of the peripherals are safe inside a plastic bag buried at the bottom of the box.
Oh and did I mention, the inside box has the words:
‘Careful, the sound you are about to hear is extremely real’, Fairly amusing - a nice sense of humour from Auzentech!
Good Stuff
The package with the X-Fi Forte is really good and goes that little bit further than some manufacturers, providing an optical digital cable, including an adaptor so that you are able to use it directly with the card. Also included is:
X-Fi package
* 1 x Installation CD
* 1 x Quick Install Guide
* 1 x Analogue Multi I/O Cable
* Low profile I/O back plate
A nicely balanced set of extras perhaps missing the finesse of the Asus Xonar Essence, reviewed earlier this year, but a pretty complete set of kit aimed at those who want to be hooked their shiny new sound-card to a decoder.

Auzentech X-Fi Forte Low Profile 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 3
On first glance you'd be mistaken for thinking this was 'just another X-Fi card'. The card lacks the visual impact of the Asus STX with no EMI shielding and a low profile look to it.
But fear not dear reader, this little card from Auzentech is more than meets the eye. Enough chat from me, let's see what's under the bonnet, so to say.
X-Fi Forte  X-Fi Forte rear
As I said, the card is pretty plain, but the devil is in the details. The newer revision X-Fi chip from Creative sits pretty in the middle of the crowded PCB, next to the X-RAM which is also a feature of cards with a creative logo on them.
Auzen logo  creative chip
Auzentech have made an effort to make the card special with the named I/O back-plate. The internal ports are what you'd expect of a card with this kind of spec sheet.
On the left (right hand side), you'll notice the Point Grounding system Auzentech have chosen to use on the Forte, as well as the high quality Nichon (left hand side) capacitors. These should provide clean power to the audio systems that Auzentech have added to the Forte with as little distortion as possible.
Audio Components
Auzentech have added some very nice components to the X-Fi Forte which all contribute to the rather excellent spec we saw on the first page.
Creative CA20K2
x-fi chip
Auzentech have used the CA20K2 version of the much-vaunted X-Fi sound processor. This chip has been much reviewed and we all should be aware of it's capabilities. Packing a huge 51 million+ transistors and the power to process EAX 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 as well as OpenAL in-game effects, this Digital Signal processor from Creative was a bit of a revolution when it came out and is still the gaming chip to beat.
hynix ram
The X-Fi architecture allows for a certain amount of on-board RAM to be used by the processor. The X-RAM, as Creative call it, is a great tool for developers to decompress and buffer audio or add in high quality sound that can be loaded directly into the X-RAM. This particular memory chip is a 64Mb module from Hynix  - HY5DU121622DTP-J. Unfortunately I cannot get much info from this, but it seems to do the trick,
Auzentech have gone with a high quality Op-AMP on the card to handle front-left and right channels. The LME4972 is considered a superb Op-AMP by many enthusiasts, but note that this part is actually replaceable, with an industry standard pin-out. This means that those who are really into their audio can grab their favourite Op-AMP and slot it right in. That said, the LME4972 offers an ultra low THD+N of 0.00003%and an impressive 97 dB SNR.
AKM 4396VF
The AKM 4396VF is a high quality DAC and gives a 192 kHz 24 bit sampling mode. This digital to analogue audio converter handles the audio for the front left and right channels and offers a THD+N of -100 dB and a sampling rate of 30 - 216 kHz.
Cirrus CS4382
cirrus cs4382
The Cirrus D/A converter is a 24 bit, 128 kHz, 8 channel digital to analogue converter. Auzentech have used this for the remaining 6 channels of the X-Fi Forte's surround sound: Side left/right, Centre, Sub-woofer and Rear left/right. Featuring 114 dB dynamic range and -100 dB THD+N, the chip is certainly no slouch and it's great to see that Auzentech haven't skimped even on the channels most likely not used when listening to high quality stereo.
wm8775seds  wm8782s
A variety of Wolfson ADC's are used for the line-ins on the X-Fi Forte. Notably the front mic line-in uses the WM8782 with 100 dB SNR, 24 bit stereo and a wide frequency band of 8 – 192kHz. Also present are the WM8775SEDS that handles the rear mic/line level and possible extension bay inputs on the X-Fi Forte.
What does this all mean?
Well when we put all these good quality components together, we get an excellent quality digital-analogue conversion, especially from a PC sound card. Add to that a superb Op-AMP with a well respected sound quality and high quality power handling and filtering and you've got what should be a winning combination.
Now let's see if this is the case....

Auzentech X-Fi Forte Low Profile 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 4
The software used for the Auzentech X-Fi Forte is the usual Creative affair. I am glad to say now that Creative actually include Alchemy, which means you don't have to go without Dolby Digital or DTS when using a Vista-based install.
We have talked about Creative's X-Fi software quite a lot in previous reviews. I don't want to go into too much detail with this, but here's a few screen-shots for those who haven't had the dubious pleasure of using Creative's software.
front screen  encoder
Entertainment mode does what it says on the tin. You've all of the options in there that you need, buried somewhere amongst the flashy screens. As you will see above, the software gives you the option to use either Dolby Digital Live or DTS Connect. Whilst it's great we have the option to use either, it would be nice if the card could detect what was optimum for each disc and select for you, an 'auto' mode if you will.
game mode  game mdoe crystalizer
Game mode provides us with a more cluttered interface but does give options on one page. The crystalizer is a nice addition for Creative and CMSS-3D is great for creating nice surround images on a set of headphones.
audio creation mode
Audio Creation Mode is Creative's attempt to give X-Fi owners a fully working music creation interface. In fairness, it is a nice addition to the sound card as a package and shouldn't be dismissed lightly. I am not going to focus on this part of the cards intended purpose in this review, but it's nice to take this into account.

Auzentech X-Fi Forte Low Profile 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 5
Test Setup

For the Auzentech X-Fi Forte, I used the following PC equipment:

Intel Q6600 @ 3.3GHz
Abit IP35 Pro
8GB OCZ ReaperX PC6400 @ 1000MHz
MSI 8800 GTX
Seagate 7200.10 250GB HDD
Coolermaster Real Power Pro 1000w PSU
Tacima CS929 6 Way Mains Conditioner
Asus Xonar Essence STX
Abit IP35 Pro onboard sound (Realtek ALC888 codec)

To bring out the best in the sound card, I have used the following Audio setup:

Sennheiser HD555 Headphones

Yamaha DSP-AX863SE AV Amplifier
Mordaunt Short 906i Floorstanders (Bi-Amped, silver coated oxygen free copper)
Mordaunt Short 905i Centre Speaker (Bi-wired, silver coated oxygen free copper)
Mordaunt Short 905i Bipole Rears (300 strand oxygen free copper)

Additional Cabling:
Tacima CS929 6 Way Mains Conditioner
IXOS XHD208-300 Toslink Digital Optical Audio Cable
IXOS XHA215-300 2 RCA to 2 RCA Stereo Audio Cable
Well Connected Professional 3.5mm to RCA leads (x3)

I used the fantastic Asus Xonar Essence STX to compare the Auzentech X-Fi Forte to in this review. Whilst the Xonar isn't as versatile as the Forte card, it will provide a benchmark of excellent in stereo sound.


Rightmark is an audio analyser designed for testing the quality of analogue (and digital) paths of audio devices. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. – Rightmark. Note that by using the loop-back tests there may be inconsistencies in the recording and you may get different results when running the tests from home.

Noise Level  Stereo Crosstalk

IMD test  THD Test

The Auzentech X-Fi Forte performs well in our tests with a competent set of results. The slight variances again are due to the testing methodology and in fact turn out fairly similar to the Asus Xonar Essence STX.
There's no doubting that the Forte is a technically excellent sound card. Let's see how the CPU tests fared.

CPU Utilisation

Here we see how much of an impact using the Xonar's software based emulation has on the CPU. Results are again provided by a Rightmark piece of software, this time Rightmark 3D Sound CPU Utilisation test.

(CPU Utilisation set at 16-bit/44.1KHz – 16 buffers)

(CPU Utilisation set at 16-bit/44.1KHz-128 buffers)

(CPU Utilisation set at 24-bit/96KHz 16-buffers)

(CPU Utilisation set at 24-bit/96KHz-128buffers)
The Auzentech X-Fi Forte stayed below an impressive 2.5% CPU utilisation in all tests. It seemed to do even better in the more challenging tests in the suite, not rising above 1.5% CPU utilisation even at 24 bit/96kHz. The X-Fi chips really do seem to take the load of your CPU in scenarios when 3D sound and EAX are utilised.
Altogether an excellent set of tests for the Forte. Now let us move on to how the card does in the 'real world'.

Auzentech X-Fi Forte Low Profile 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 6
Gaming - testing

I tested a wide range of games to see how the card coped with each game. FPS graphs below are from a small selection. Note that when EAX advanced options could be turned on, they were.
I have included results from Auzentech X-Fi Prelude to give you a rounded set of results.

Unreal Tournament 3

An Unreal Engine 3 game as it is a fast, frantic and furious multi player mash-up experience. Using advanced DirectX 9.0c features, the Unreal Engine looks fantastic and has a lot of explosions all around to give that feeling of depth. PhysX was not enabled in-game.

Settings: 1920 x 1200, Very high settings. The UT3 Benchmark was used for all cards.

The Forte matches its big brother, the Prelude in the first of our FPS tests.

Again the Forte's X-Fi chip runs ahead of the non-X-Fi based cards and even a little ahead of the Prelude.

Quake 4

Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. This uses many DX 9.0c features based on OpenGL game. Once again I did three benchmark runs on Quake 4 on each card and took the average of all my readings from these. The Quake4Bench demo was used to benchmark all cards.

Settings were: 1920 x 1200, Ultra settings. 16 x AF, 4 x AA. Multi-CPU enabled.

The Forte performed very well in these Quake 4 tests as we would expect.

The surround sound EAX processing does very well in keeping the FPS up on the Forte.

Gaming sound

The sound during gaming on the Auzentech X-Fi Prelude was nothing short of excellent. With full EAX hardware support as well as DD and DTS surround sound support, it was difficult to find fault with the Forte.
The clarity of games that fully utilise EAX is excellent with the Forte and a step above the Xonar here. There was also no issues with compatibility at all during testing which is always a great sign.
Gaming is certainly the cards......'Forte', as it were.

Auzentech X-Fi Forte Low Profile 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 7
Sound Quality
To match up the Auzentech to the excellent Asus Xonar Essence STX, I played a large variety of music from my eclectic collection, including playing CD's and extracting high quality FLAC recording  from several CD's. I have tried to cover a large range of music genre's to ensure I tested all aspects of the sound coming from the card. Note I also listened to normal MP3's and AAC compressed tracks to ensure I portrayed a 'real world' situation.

All tracks were listened to in analogue and digital, both through the AMP and through headphones.

Example tracks used:

• Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits
• Adele - Chasing Pavements
• Bloc Party - Luno
• Bob Marley - Three Little Birds
• Chemical brothers - Block Rockin' Beats
• Damien Rice - Cannonball
• Foo Fighters - Skin and Bones
• Fugees - Killing Me Softly
• Goldfrapp - A&E
• Jamariqui - Virtual Insanity
• Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah
• Led Zepellin - Black Dog
• N.E.R.D. - Lapdance
• Pendulum - Slam
• Prodigy - Omen
• Robert Miles - Children
• Roni Size - Brown Paper Bag
• Snoop dog - Beautiful
• Paul Gilbert - Radiator
• Paulo Nutini - New Shoes
• Orbital - Halcyon & On & On
• Melody Gardot - Les Etoiles
• Richard Wagner - Ride of the Valkyries

To test the surround sound capabilities of the Auzentech X-Fi Forte, I listened to the following UK DVD's using Cyberlink PowerDVD. I listened in both headphone and surround mode. DVD's used:

• The Matrix (DTS)
• Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Dolby Digital)
• The Bourne Identity (DTS and Dolby Digital)
• Bowers & Wilkins - A Sound Experience

Sound Quality - Music (Digital Sound)

Digital Sound from the Forte was a mixed bag I found during the review. Whilst there wasn't a lack of detail in the card and the bass produced was very accurate, I found that there was a quite clearly defined metallic sound coming from the Forte. Playing with the EQ in the menu lessened this somewhat and in fact, enabling DTS Surround sound on a surround soundtrack like "listen and you'll see" on the B&W demo disc sound very open. Going back to stereo digital just gave me a nagging feeling that there was something being 'added' to the music which is never a good thing.

Sound Quality - Music (Analogue Sound)

three little birds  lune  Slam  Sultans of Swing  Lapdance


Pushing the analogue sound through the 3.5mm to RCA leads isn't an ideal way to deal with analogue audio and I think the way the STX allows you to directly connect RCA's to the terminals on the card is more effective than the 'Analogue Multi I/O cable used in the Forte.
That said: I cannot have any quibbles with the excellent sound that the Forte produced.
Pendulum's awesome 'SLAM' got down low enough to rumble my belly and Orbital's Halcyon & On & On really left me breathless. The Forte has a great sound stage - quite open and broad.
Moving onto some rock and the Forte again showed its talents. I think perhaps the more relaxed sound of the STX benefited more here for rock songs but the Forte has it's own sound and it's certainly not a bad one.
Grabbing some more soulful tracks, Melody Gardot's beautiful sound was portrayed well, perhaps with a slight brightness to the sound. Fiddling with the EQ here left me a little stumped so I left it at default. For some scale in my listening I threw on some Wagner and the classic beginning of Act II of Die Walküre. The Forte here showed me what it was made of, grabbing my attention with a huge sound-stage at times.


Threatening to match the sublime Asus Xonar Essence STX in the music department, I wanted to hear what the Essence STX had in for me when I plugged in my Sennheiser HD555's.
The Forte again had a resoundingly positive answer for me here. Detail and scale pulled through into the tracks from the Forte and straight into my cans. Detail and bass clarity was excellent and the Forte was really giving me a smile on my face.
The only quibble I had with the Forte was that it felt like it may not have the 'oomph' needed to power a really tough set of cans. Unfortunately I didn't have such a set to hand this time, but this is worth thinking about if you do have a high end set of grado's or something similar.

Sound Quality - DVD's


Digital Optical - Dolby Digital Live
and DTS Connect

The Forte has the benefit of both DD and DTS surround modes to chew through so I was looking forward to playing through some of our reference movies.
A slight gripe I did have with the Forte was that you have to manually switch to either DTS or DD, according to the soundtrack you're listening to. Now I say this, but you don't have to, but surely you want to if you want to listen to movies as they were intended to off of the disc?
This aside, surround sound from the Auzentech X-Fi Forte was excellent. Accurate placement of the sound meant that the environmental effects came from where I expected them to and loud explosions blasted from my speakers.
Cars whooshed past me in 'The Bourne Identity' and Neo properly wrecked the place in 'The Matrix' like the film-makers intended!
Another minor gripe to mention was that the setting 'enable bass redirection', which should redirect the bass to my floor-standers; didn't work properly. Turning this off gave me perfect bass, so I'm not sure what this setting should be doing.

Headphone - X-Fi CMS-3D

Creative have added the CMS-3D sound option into their X-Fi cards. To get a decent movie experience from my stereo headphone's I enabled this in surround mode.
The resulting sound was actually not too bad. The sound fields produced were reasonable and you could indeed tell roughly where the card was attempting to position the sound 'around' you.
However, this is the area that the Forte does get let down a little. The awesome Asus Xonar Essence STX has Dolby® Headphone, which is superb compared the CMS-3D. I feel that had Auzentech added this to the card, it would have been a huge plus. Having said that, licenses cost money and I expect this would have added a significant price rise to the card and possibly irritated Creative!

Auzentech X-Fi Forte Low Profile 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 8
The Auzentech X-Fi Forte is a truly accomplished card and a superb all-round performer. Usually when a device attempt to fill a gap in the market by becoming a 'jack of all trades', it fails miserably in at least one area.
The Auzentech X-Fi Forte managed not only NOT to fail at anything, it manages to excel in several areas and compete with the best the market has in others.
Gaming quality is hugely impressive with the Forte handling gaming with ease and panache. For gaming, X-Fi cards are very hard to beat and this stays the case with the Forte.
Musically the Forte is superb and competes (but doesn't quite beat), the Asus Xonar essence STX. Considering how I was waxing lyrical about the STX, this is no mean feat!
In movies the Forte handles itself with aplomb and brings a fantastic scale and depth to movies.
Essentially; the Auzentech X-Fi Forte is all if set out to be. As an all-round device to pop into your gaming media PC there can't be many on the market that get near it and if this is what you want from a sound card, then I would recommend you go out and get one.
The Auzentech X-Fi Forte gets a deserved OC3D 'Recommended' Award for being the best all-rounder we've tested so far.
The Good
+ Excellent Gaming performance
+ Top class music replication
+ Well rounded movie performance
+ Nice bundle
+ Fits well into any HTPC
The Mediocre
* Bass redirection not up to scratch
* Does not auto-change from DD to DTS in movie mode
* Lack of Dolby headphone support
The Bad
- Price a possible stumbling block
  oc3d recommended
OC3D would like to thanks Auzentech for the review sample.
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