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HT Omega is a California-based company that has been making sound cards for years now and was one of the first to bring out a card with true 24-bit performance. They have gotten fairly good reviews and seem to make quality products. One such product is the Top Ten Reviews Silver Award winning HT Omega Claro Plus+ which is the main competition to ASUS's Xonar Essence STX. Both cards have their strong points and they balance out to be nearly equally good cards. In the end though, the Essence took it from the Claro Plus+ because the Claro does have quite the signal-to-noise ratio and has a drastically worse frequency range. To view the Essence STX and other cards, see our sound cards review section.
As previously stated, there is one fatal drawback to this card. The frequency range is only 40Hz to 15kHz, 40 Hz being the low end and 15kHz the high. Most sound cards try to have at least 20Hz to 20kHz because that is supposedly the range that humans can hear. Although this card can still produce excellent sound, the lows and highs won't be as rich as most of the other ones we reviewed that have at least a range of 10Hz to 42kHz. Yes, they all went a little overboard by going beyond the range that the human ear can hear, but it doesn't hurt. This is one of those things that it is better to have extra than not enough.
Thankfully the Claro Plus+ has a decently high signal-to-noise ratio and a quite low level of harmonic distortion, so the audio from this card should be nice and clear. Like the two ASUS sound cards we reviewed, this one can handle up to two Vrms. That should be enough but doesn't leave much room for the rare but possible occasions when voltage spikes higher than this board can handle. Unlike them, though, this HT Omega card doesn't give you the option to upgrade the op-amps because they are SMD (surface mounted). Although, for average users that aren't interested in tweaking their card for even greater performance, this isn't really a bad thing. The SMD op-amps that the card comes with perform well and shouldn't disappoint.
Another similarity that the Claro has with its ASUS competition is the sample rates and resolutions for playback, recording and converting. Across the board, all three have a sample frequency of up to 192kHz at 24-bit resolution. Since DVDs went mainstream 24-bit sound became the standard on most sound cards. However, only the higher-end cards have 192kHz on more than analogue and stereo sound, and even with those sometimes they maxed at 96kHz, like Turtle Beach’s Montego DDL. Honestly there isn’t a huge difference between those two sample frequencies, but those differences along with others put audio devices like this card ahead of the rest in providing the highest quality sound.
The HT Omega Claro Plus+ had the most versatile set of input and output ports of all the cards we reviewed. It has the very common and popular 3.5mm ports for headphones and a microphone, just like you’d see with the average onboard sound. Then it gives you an additional four 3.5mm output ports for connecting a surround sound system. There is a front audio connection for the ports on the front side of your box. Last but by far not the least, it gives you a combination (combination allows for coaxial or optical) S/PDIF input and output for connecting other audio equipment like an A/V receiver. The ASUS Xonar Essence STX doesn’t have an S/PDIF input connection, which gives the Claro Plus+ an advantage over it for people who need that port.
This is a PCI card, which can be nice for people who have other things connected via PCIe. The processor is the C-Media CMI8788 chip, which provides smooth playback and recording. This card does have karaoke capabilities, but it doesn’t have a lot of the extra karaoke goodies like shift-keying that the ASUS Essence has.
The Claro’s stronger area here is its ability to easily connect to most any home theater. Like we mentioned before, it has the combination S/PDIF input port, but another really nice advantage is the fact that this card is compatible with DTS systems as well as Dolby Digital. The ASUS competition seems to only support Dolby Digital.
The only thing really missing from this card, as far as API support goes, are gaming APIs like EAX and OpenAL. The Claro Plus+ does have DirectSound, which emulates EAX to some degree, but obviously gaming isn't the focus. As for music and other non-video-game-related audio, you can't go wrong here. This card supports DTS, DTS Neo:PC, Dolby Headphone, Dolby Digital and ASIO 2.0. That's a pretty broad list that covers about everything you could ever want in a sound card. No other card we reviewed had more support than this one, which makes it a pro when it comes to compatibility.
Depending on what you plan on using the card for, the HT Omega Claro Plus+ very well may be your best option. The important thing to do is get one that fits best with your audio desires. This card wasn't design specifically for gaming and has a few other limitations like a rather pathetic frequency response range. Aside from a few things like that, it's still a great sound card.