I can't tell you how much I appreciate all the replies. I'm using a Cooler Master CM690, which is a pretty neat case! The audio cable has both an AC97 and an HD Audio plug on the same wire. Both are blocked identically and fit snugly into the audio port on the motherboard, but XFX's documentation and support are SO lacking there's absolutely no way to determine if the header can intelligently determine which one is plugged in. The audio chip is an ALC888, which can do both AC97 and HD Audio. I'm pleased to see audio is finally getting the attention it deserves with cable sensing functionality.
I was terrified to fire it up without reassuring myself I wasn't doing anything wrong as the board arrived with a defect, the coaxial SPDIF port was all bent and twisted and I had to manually, very gently nudge it back into position. NO MORE XFX FOR ME!!! I can now boot it up later today, confident I didn't do anything to short the board out. If it fails, it was bad out of the box and back it goes....no replacement for me (they don't do refunds but I plan on giving them hell until they do with me). I'll suck up the ~$300 for now and get a proper board from a real manufacturer. I chose this one because of the abundant PCI slots and features (it really is feature rich) but in the end it was a huge mistake. I'm having trouble finding a comparable replacement on NewEgg and some of the other sites. I'll create another post for some recommendations.
Thanks! Solution Found.