Theatron; the sound robot
The box that the Agrippa comes in quite small, and the front has a small picture of the card itself, and a pair of large tower speakers. The box looks very professional and clean and the back displays all of the cards features with nicelittle thumbnails next to each of the translated paragraphs.
Inside the box you’ll find the card itself, two instruction leaflets (one in English and the other in German), a TOSLINK optical cable, and a CD_SPDIF cable.
This card bares a striking resemblance to the AuzenTech HDA X Plosion 7.1, with the identifying marks of the X Plosion being covered up with labels made by Club 3D. Looks like we have a reseller situation here. On the plus side, we know that that card will perform as well as the Auzentech reviewed here. The driver CD has had some quick modifications to the name with a permanent marker…
The only difference between this card and the X Plosion is the numbers on the OP AMPS. The X Plosion has S4580P 610G’s while the Club 3D version has some S4580P 612G’s. Looking at the datasheet for the S4580P, there is no information regarding the last 4 characters, which makes it seem like the 61*G part of the name is simply a manufacturing batch number.
As this card is the same, this review is essentially the same, copy and paste time…
The reason why this card is something to make Creative’s X-Fi sweat is a little something called DTS Connect and Dolby Digital Live.
These technologies will give anyone with a high-end audio setup something to shout about. They take your standard stereo audio and upmix them with crazy electronic trickery to 7.1 surround sound, encoded and set by single-cable (coaxial or optical). The X-Fi can do similar with its CMSS-3D feature which uses the shape of your ear to make stereo headsets sound like surround sound, or indeed go straight to surround sound speakers. However, this signal and upmixing can’t be shined out the S/PDIF port meaning that you have to use a whole load of cables, rather than one optical digitally encoded cable. The Theatron Agrippa can.
Another benefit to this, and one of the reasons why optical cables are used for audio, is interference. An optical signal can’t be muddied, changed or in any way altered by external radiation as it’s simply a flashing light. It can’t be changed with electro-magnetic fields etc. meaning the signal that comes out of the optical port is the one that the device on the other end receives.
Other features of the card that stand above others are the removable OPAMPs which means that if you find the sound of the card lack lustre, you can pop down to your local dual type DIP 8 pin OPAMP shop and grab your favourite variety. Nice little feature, but writing this on the back of the box makes it sound like the ones supplies with the card aren’t up to par from the day one.
Unlike the X Plosion, this version doesn’t make claims that this card needs to be on its on PCI lane, and also doesn’t make the requirement that you need an Intel or Via chipset.
The card itself is a one-of-a-kind type with none of the usual jumpers or missing components for the next card up in the range. This is a PCB layout designed for this card. The PCB has lots of high-visibility labels allowing you to connect the right cable to the right hole every time.
All of the capacitors have a distinct green tinge to them and there are a lot of them on the board. This card is powered by a C-Media CMI8770 chip that should be able to do everything the box boasts.
The internal pins allow for a lot of interesting connections with a CD_IN for your optical drives, AUX_IN for opticals and other audio devices, CD_SPDIF for optical drives with S/PDIF out for digital output and loopback and MIDI_IO for use with a external midi PCI bracket allowing for synthesisers and the like.
The rear of the card has line in (3.5mm), mic (3.5mm), front (3.5mm), side (3.5mm), rear (3.5mm), center (3.5mm), coaxial out and optical (S/PDIF) out. All of the 3.5mm jacks are the standard stereo type rather than the 3 wire type that are beginning to take there place in the industry.