iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Audiotrak Prodigy HD2

Audiotrak Prodigy HD2 is a high end audio playback solution for audiophile users. The history of this product is very interesting. Music lovers all over the world have been looking forward to a high end sound card without unnecessary bells and whistles, like effects and multiple channels.

Following this logical path, a perfect card for this group of users should comprise a very simple bus controller, the best DACs and OpAmps, and RCA outputs. However, manufacturers have been deaf to the appeal up to recently. They were persistently making all-purpose cards for games and home theaters with budget components. There exist cards with good electronics, but they are expensive professional products with specific issues. Such cards are usually equipped with professional jacks or XLR connectors, inconvenient to use and offering unnecessary functionality for common users.

After M-Audio Audiophile 2496, the world-wide popularity has been won by ESI Juli@ with a stereo RCA output and simple reliable drivers. Most importantly, the Juli@ card offers high-quality audio for a small price. Later on, Korean Audiotrak, which is related to ESI, launched a number of cards in the Prodigy family. These days, Asian stores offer Prodigy HD2 Gold, while European market offers Prodigy HD2.

We've already reviewed the HD2 Gold - this card is worth buying.

As for today, we'll speak about Prodigy HD2. The only difference from the Gold modification is slightly simplified OpAmps b" Fairchild NE5532 instead of Burr-Brown OPA2134. Modders will like that the OpAmp can be replaced without soldering, just remove the chip from the socket and install a new one.

The card uses AK4396 DAC, the top model in the line of AKM converters. It's a very good chip. It's installed in High-End equipment, both professional and consumer. Dynamic range - 120 dB.

The card comes with two cables: one with RCA connectors for consumer electronics, the other with mini-jacks for headphones. The bundle also includes an additional gold-plated shield for a low-profile PC case.

We compared Prodigy HD2 with Juli@ and the top E-MU interface. Sennheiser HD600 headphones. ADAM S2.5A monitors.

The most important requirement to a comparison is instant switching between signal sources. For this purpose we used a passive stereo switch with twin resistive attenuators to adjust the signal level.

Juli@ does not have a headphones output, but it can work with low-ohm load. The problem is in the limited volume level and possible slumps in low frequencies. We noticed no differences between the cards with our monitors.

In the direct comparison with E-MU 1616M, we used headphone-outs and line-outs - Prodigy is slightly outperformed by its opponent. You shouldn't dramatize the differences, they are vanishingly small. However, this information is relevant for enthusiasts. So I repeat that we've registered a little lag in details, attack, and stereo panorama.

Let's sum it all up. On one hand, there is no miracle here. Despite the audiophile design and expensive OpAmps, Prodigy HD2 fails to surpass the professional interface E-MU 1616M. On the other hand, the Audiotrak product has broken a new record in price/quality and usability. If you have a reasonably priced amplifier and speakers, you will hardly notice any differences between these interfaces. You can safely install Audiotrak Prodigy HD2.

Owners of ESI Juli@ shouldn't worry, there are no reasons to upgrade it to the Audiotrak product. However, new buyers looking for a high-quality line-out and headphones-out should pay close attention to this card.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy to find Audiotrak Prodigy HD2 in stores, even though its official shipments have already started. We promise to draw attention of official distributors to this little problem.

Here is a video review of Audiotrak Prodigy HD2.


Maxim Liadov (maxim@ixbt.com)

April 23, 2008

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