Oxygen HD sound cards from Auzentech and Sondigo
Creative gets competition
CREATIVE HAS ALL BUT OWNED
the market for PC audio cards since it introduced the original Sound Blaster way back when. That dominance has only grown over the years, in part because Creative has made some very good sound cards, but also because the company has managed to swallow up some of its competitors and outmuscle others. Now, though, Creative is starting to see some real competition. C-Media's new Oxygen HD audio chip is finding its way into numerous sound cards from relative upstarts, and enthusiasts have taken notice.
Otherwise known as the CMI8788, the Oxygen HD supports resolutions and sampling rates up to 32 bits and 192kHz across eight channels. More importantly, the Oxygen HD's feature set includes the ability to encode Dolby Digital Live and DTS, allowing it to produce multi-channel digital output via a single S/PDIF connection rather than a mess of analog cables—a capability not even Creative's vaunted X-Fi can match.
Of the handful of manufacturers building sound cards with the Oxygen HD, Auzentech and Sondigo have the most divergent approaches. Sondigo's Inferno is a basic implementation of the Oxygen HD that takes full advantage of the chip's capabilities but doesn't really push the envelope on features and extras. Auzentech's X-Meridian is a little more exotic, with a focus on output quality and flexibility that goes so far as to allow users to swap out onboard chips. Keep reading to find out which of these implementations we prefer and whether either can challenge the X-Fi's mix of features, performance, and sound quality.