COMPUTEX Thanks to becubed's comments post about the subject yesterday, I decided to head over to the AOpen booth here today and see if I could get a look at AOpen's new vacuum tube-equipped motherboard. Sure enough, AOpen had a "tube machine" decked out with their new A4XB-533Tube motherboard
and a nice set of speakers. Have a look in through the case window, and you can clearly see the vaccum tube setup illuminated by their neon case light:
Tube, dude. Tube.
I peered in through the window for a while trying to find the C-Media chip or whatever it was they were using, but the AOpen rep informed me using the south bridge chip's AC'97 audio. (This is an Intel 845E-based board.) Before you scoff, remember this: there's nothing inherent in an AC'97-complaint data stream that requires lousy audio quality, and in truth, Intel's integrated sound has been pretty good for a while now.
The real test, of course, is how it sounds. And let me tell you: this thing sounds pretty darn good. I'm cautious about making such calls, but I'm willing to say it sounded a fair amount betterat least in some waysthan your run-of-the-mill add-in card. We'll be pestering AOpen to send one out for us to test soon.