AX4B-533 Tube motherboard

AOpen goes retro with its high-tech AX4B-533 Tube motherboard, complete with Intel’s 845E chip­-set, a speedy 533MHz front side bus, USB 2.0 support, and an on-board vacu­um tube for audio. That’s right — a vacuum tube that looks like it was yanked out of some hi-fi audio equipment from yesteryear.

Old-school audiophiles claim that tubes provide richer tonality than today’s solid-state amplification — and after building a PC around the AX4B-533 board, I’m inclined to agree. Music played back on the machine sounded as smooth as butter.

I did encounter one problem during installation of the daughter card (which houses all of the sound output connectors, including the optical out). I couldn’t get the daughter card lined up correctly, even though I used AOpen’s own QF50A chassis. Because of the tight space, I had to force the card into the only slot where it would fit.

After completing assembly of my 2.2GHz Pentium 4 system, I plugged in my Cambridge SoundWorks DeskTop Theater 5.1 DTT3500 Digital speaker set and quickly found the tube worth the extra effort. It offered exceptional Dolby Digital reproduction for spirited playback of DVD movie audio. And with music CDs the tube offered warm, full-bodied sound comparable to a good home audio setup. I didn’t hear any of the noise that can be a by-product of vacuum tube audio (AOpen says its Frequency Isolation Wall technology takes care of that). One possible drawback to using a tube, however, is replacing it when it fails in a year or two — tubes run about $20 to $30 each.

At $599 this motherboard is about double the price of a comparable tube­less model. All the same, if good sound is a priority and you are interested in having the newest — or is it the oldest? — audio technology in your PC, then this motherboard is likely to be worth the money.

In brief: AX4B-533 Tube
Clean, crisp sound, plus top-notch chipset technologies. Price: $599
Distributor: Bluechip Infotech
Phone: (02) 8745 8400