HT OMEGA eCLARO 7.1 Channel PCI Express x1 Sound Card


100+ Head-Fier
Pros: Clarity, Trouble-Free Drivers & Software, Fast & Helpful Support
Cons: None Yet
[size=medium]INTRO AND SCOPE OF THIS REVIEW[/size]
[size=medium]As your author, I am no audiophile and this is my second aftermarket soundcard after first trying an Asus Xonar Essence STX which I had problems with.[/size]
[size=medium]This review is about this card’s performance while listening to music through it from my Lenovo K330 desktop computer which itself has a noisy 7200rpm HDD.[/size]
[size=medium]My listening has been through Sennheiser HD 518 and Sennheiser HD 25 1 ii headphones.[/size]
[size=medium]I have made little use of this card and its software’s 7.1-channel Dolby Digital features while listening through headphones and no use at all of those features while listening through a 5.1 or 7.1 speaker system as I have neither.[/size]
[size=medium]The eClaro came with an installation CD though HT Omega has driver downloads on their website. Unlike Asus’ Xonar STX support website which is riddled with bug patch downloads, HT Omega’s support site was neatly organized and easy to understand. Just select your OS and download.[/size]
[size=medium]Installation was a no-brainer and everything went almost smoothly. On my first attempt, the software’s display showed that it was done loading but then it froze so I shut down my machine first by selecting “shut down” and then, when my machine spent about five minutes in its “shutting down” screen, I forcibly shut it down by holding my case power button. After repowering my machine and then reattempting to install the software, the software installed quickly and then prompted me to restart. After the restart, everything has gone smoothly.[/size]
[size=medium]HT Omega recommends you both (1) disable your onboard soundcard and (2) uninstall any software and drivers for your existing sound software. Because I didn’t want to have to reinstall those drivers in the future, I didn’t uninstall anything and I’m glad I didn’t as I later (re)enabled those very devices and found that they coexist just fine with the HT Omega software. I can just enable or disable whatever sound device I want at any time.[/size]
[size=medium]HT OMEGA SOFTWARE[/size]
[size=medium]I found that if I leave the Headphone Properties in their defaults, I can use the HT OMEGA CLARO SERIES sound software to manipulate the sound.[/size]
[size=medium]However, if I change any of the settings in the Headphone Properties Window, I can still make inputs into the HT Omega Claro Series software but they don’t manipulate the sound.[/size]
[size=medium]If I just “Restore Defaults”, I regain control of sound through the HT Omega Claro Series Software.[/size]
[size=medium]Take your pick, use the Windows 7 volume control at 24 bit/192KHz or use the eClaro software. I’ve been using the former just because its volume is weaker so I have more volume increments to choose from to suit my sensitive, finicky hearing.[/size]
[size=medium]DOLBY SOFTWARE[/size]
[size=medium]Sorry to disappoint you, but I have little to say about the Dolby 7.1 software.[/size]
[size=medium]I believe the Dolby 7.1 effects are meant for movie-watching but I do little of that on my machine so I can’t comment with any useful depth about it.[/size]
[size=medium]I have sampled it and its options but for music I have found that it does little more than to produce a sense of depth. I suspect such options would be better exploited by people with headphones which produce a good soundstage such as the K701, the Sennheiser HD 558 and 598, etc. With the HD 518’s, though, I felt there was limited benefit. [/size]
[size=medium]My reason for getting this soundcard in the first place wasn’t to upgrade my sound or anything like that. Rather, it was to escape from the “hissing” sound my onboard soundcard makes. With my onboard sound, I can turn off all music, and when I mute the sound, I get silence. When I unmute the sound- again, in the absence of any music- I get a ‘hissing’ sound that I can’t tolerate for long with nearly any genre.[/size]
[size=medium]I actually doubted that this soundcard could deliver clarity because it lacks the EMI shielding seen on competing soundcards. However, I got the clarity I wanted. My sophisticated test for clarity? I mute and unmute the sound in the absence of any sound, e.g. music. I can’t hear a distance between ‘mute’ and ‘unmute’ so it seems clear to me. The most analytical cans I’ve had on hand for doing so has been some Sennheiser HD 25 1 ii’s. I have no IEM’s to test the eClaro though I don’t doubt that some sensitive IEM’s would pick up the noise floor.[/size]
[size=medium]The eClaro integrates into Windows 7 just fine.[/size]
[size=medium]What’s interesting is that HT Omega also furnishes you with the ability to connect the eClaro to your case’s front headphone port via a 10-pin connector.[/size]
[size=medium]I found that this 10-pin connector isn’t compatible with my case as my case uses a peculiar 14-pin connector with an odd pin arrangement. I tried connecting the two and got sound through the right channel only. It seems I’ll need some kind of convertor connector but for the time being, I’m not bothering with it as the eClaro’s 3.5mm headphone out works fine.[/size]
[size=medium]DRIVING POWER[/size]
[size=medium]I was told by HT Omega that “eClaro supports up to 600ohm headphone impedance by headphone output connector.” Wow. I had earlier assumed I would need to an external amp to run high-impedance cans but I guess not.[/size]
[size=medium]Curiously, the eClaro’s 600ohm driving power wasn’t displayed anywhere on the eClaro’s product description on HT Omega’s website! I told HT Omega they should change that if they want to compete more successfully with the Asus Xonar Essence STX and others in the eClaro’s product category.[/size]
[size=medium]I've used the eClaro with both DT 880 600ohm's and HD 600's (300ohm) and it drove both well enough that I couldn't listen to the 880's at more than approximately 60% of max volume without discomfort.[/size]
[size=medium]I'm told by HT Omega that it's only the eClaro's heapdhone port that's amplified, though, which is why they recommend you don't connect self-amplified speakers via the (amplified) heapdhone port. Speakers are to be connected only via the VGA port.[/size]
[size=medium]USE WITH SPEAKERS[/size]
[size=medium]Unlike the Xonar ST/X, the eClaro lets you listen via both speakers and headphones simultaneously. No need to toggle between the two.[/size]
[size=medium]HARDWARE DESIGN[/size]
[size=medium]A complaint I do have is that the 3.5mm headphone out and VGA-like D-Sub speaker out ports are very close together. When I have my HT Omega’s supplied 3.5mm headphone extension cable and their D-Sub speaker connectors connected simultaneously, they contact and push against each other, placing some stress on each other. I don’t know if this could cause loosening of one or both ports but it’s worth mentioning.[/size]
[size=medium]My Grado 3.5mm extension cable doesn’t contact the D-Sub connector, though.[/size]
[size=medium]What’s interesting about this card is that it doesn’t have or require a 4-pin power connector as does the Asus Xonar Essence STX, despite this card’s stated ability to power 600ohm headphones.[/size]
[size=medium]As of this writing I’ve contacted HT Omega’s support at [/size][size=medium][/size][size=medium] several times and have gotten thorough and helpful responses the same or next day.[/size]
[size=medium]I’ve occasionally had a sound error that I can only describe as a “buzzing” sound in the middle of a track. Fortunately, it happens very seldom and randomly and is tolerable as it’s at the same pitch and volume as the track it occurred in. It’s not a high-pitched screech that some people describe having experienced with the Asus Essence Xonar STX.[/size]
[size=medium]It has faults but it works well and gives me the clear audio I wanted. [/size]
[size=medium]Its drivers and software have been so problem-free that I actually want to not try a different soundcard.[/size]
[size=medium]I was initially skeptical about the audio clarity this card could deliver given its absence of an EMI shield as seen on competing soundcards, but it delivers just fine which leads me to wonder if competing soundcards’ EMI shields are a placebo meant more to gain the confidence of consumers who think as I did or that those EMI shields compensate for some technical deficiency those cards have.[/size]
[size=medium]Regarding this card’s competitors, it seems to me that this card is very underknown and underrated. IMO HT Omega should do something about that but I guess they’re not too concerned.[/size]
[size=medium]I am comfortable recommending this card, esp. if you buy through Amazon or a similar retailer who has a lenient return policy.[/size]
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