Motherboard makers are going to great lengths to improve their integrated audio implementations, particularly on high-end models. The latest example is Gigabyte's G1.Sniper A88X, which features both upgraded onboard audio and beefed up support for external DACs.
The onboard audio is anchored by Realtek's ALC898 codec. On top of that, Gigabyte adds a socketed OP-AMP that allows users to customize the board's analog output characteristics. Gigabyte has also implemented a feature called Gain Boost, which lets users switch between 2.5X and 6X amplification depending on whether speakers or headphones are connected. Unfortunately, it looks like Gain Boost is controlled by switches on the circuit board, making on-the-fly changes somewhat inconvenient.
As one might expect, the audio circuitry is laced with fancy capacitors—Nichicon MUSE ES units, to be exact. To reduce interference, the integrated audio is also isolated from the other motherboard traces.
With so much work put into improving the onboard audio quality, it's a little surprising that the G1.Sniper A88X also aims to improve the performance of external DACs. One of the USB 2.0 ports has been given the "USB DAC-UP" treatment, which includes gold plating to provide "clean, noise-free power delivery" to USB audio devices. This port can be also configured for DACs that don't draw any power over USB. Gigabyte argues the special port makes the A88X "suitable for high-end audio enthusiasts building extreme fidelity audio systems." Despite the claimed 2X reduction in USB noise, it sounds like this feature may appeal only to the sort of audiophiles who buy gold-plated Monster HDMI cables.
The G1.Sniper A88X's biggest surprise may be the associated platform. The board is based on AMD's FM2+ socket, which offers full support for upcoming Kaveri-based APUs. Apart from confirming that FM2+ CPUs support PCI Express 3.0 and have DirectX 11.1-class integrated graphics, the press release is devoid of additional details. The A88X isn't listed on Gigabyte's website, either.
Members of Gigabyte's G1 series are typically priced at a premium (the latest Z87 model costs a whopping $400), which doesn't seem entirely appropriate given the sub-$200 price tags typically attached to AMD APUs. There doesn't appear to be much life left in the AM3+ socket that houses ultra-high-end FX processors like the FX-9590, though. With Kaveri waiting just over the horizon, FM2+ at least has a brighter future.