Soundcards have come a long way from the early days. Once the ability to create MIDI music was absolutely mind-blowing. Then Creative and Turtle Beach released soundcards that really did enable sound, as we'd expect it.
This new technology quickly caused an explosion in the soundcard market with everyone and their granny releasing stereo soundcards. These were quickly supplanted by 5.1 soundcards but still the market showed no signs of relenting. Choice was almost too great, especially at a time when drivers still weren't always utilising the DirectSound API.
Like most emerging technologies though, quickly the pretenders died off and one or two models were left standing proud. With soundcards this was Creative and their Sound Blaster. For a long while it was pretty much the only choice which gave benefits to the consumer as nearly all software was compatible, but like any monopoly had the drawback that development almost stopped. Driver updates became infrequent until finally Windows Vista left thousands with a soundcard that did anything but produce sound.
This opening in the market was swiftly filled by Asus with their Xonar range of soundcards. Bringing fresh ideas and regular driver updates it blew away all the cobwebs that had accumilated in the soundcard marketplace.
The Xonar model range expanded quickly and now runs from a basic model all the way up to HiFi quality options. With more and more gamers using headphones as the PC has moved from the bedroom to the lounge, Asus have paired their Xonar technology with a headset from the daddies of headphones, Sennheiser, to bring us the Xonar Xense with PC350 headset in a single package. That's what we'll be looking at today.
Popping over to the Asus website to grab the technical specifications it's clearly a big list thanks to the voluminous technology crammed into the Xense.
|Audio Performance||Output Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):|
Input Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):
Output THD+N at 1kHz:
0.00039% (-108dB) for Front channel of Line-out
Input THD+N at 1kHz:
0.0003% (-110dB) for Line-in
Frequency Response (-3dB, 24-bit/96kHz input):
<10Hz to 46KHz
Output/Input Full-Scale Voltage
2 Vrms (5.65 Vp-p)
|Bus Compatibility||PCI Express: |
PCI Express Rev.1.0a specification compatible.
Maximum full 2.5Gbps bandwidth per direction and optimized latency for high-definition audio processing.
Compatible with X1, X4, X8, X1 6 PCI Express slots.
|Main Chipset||Audio Processor:|
ASUS AV100 High-Definition Sound Processor (Max. 192kHz/24bit))
24-bit D-A Converter of Digital Sources:
Texas Instruments PCM1796*1 for Front-Out (123dB SNR, Max. 192kHz/24bit); Cirrus-Logic CS4362A*1 for other 6 channels (114dB SNR, Max.192kHz/24bit)
24-bit A-D Converter for Analog Inputs:
Cirrus-Logic CS5381 x 1 (120dB SNR, Max. 192kHz/24bit)
High Fidelity Headphone Amplifier:
Texas Instruments 6120A2*1 (120dB SNR, -117dB THD+N @ Vcc+-12V, RL=600Ω, f=1kHz)
|Sample Rate and Resolution||Analog Playback Sample Rate and Resolution:|
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit
Analog Recording Sample Rate and Resolution:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit
S/PDIF Digital Output:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit, Dolby Digital
ASIO 2.0 Driver Support:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @16/24bit with very low latency
|I/O Ports||Analog Output Jack:|
6.30mm jack*1 (Headphone out); 7.1ch analog output (via bundled audio splitter cable)
Analog Input Jack:
6.30mm jack *1 (Shared by Line-In/Mic-In)
Other line-level analog input (for CD-IN/TV Tuner):
Aux-In (4-pin header on the card)
Digital S/PDIF Output:
High-bandwidth Coaxial/TOS-Link combo port supports 192KHz/24bit
Shared by Headphone out / 2 channels out / Microphone in
|Driver Features||Operation System:|
Dolby® Digital Live, Dolby® Headphone, Dolby® Virtual Speaker, Dolby® Pro-Logic II
Smart Volume Normalizer™:
Normalizes the volume of all audio sources into a constant level and also enhances your 3D sound listening range and advantages in gaming
Xear 3D™ Virtual Speaker Shifter:
Virtual 7.1 speaker positioning
Professional Bass Management/Enhancement system
10-band Equalizer/27 Environment Effects
3D Sound Engines/APIs:
DirectSound3D® GX 2.0 & 1.0, EAX®2.0&1.0, DirectSound® HW, DirectSound SW, OpenAL generic modes, 128 3D sounds processing capability
GX 2.5 supports EAX gaming sound effects and Di rectSound 3D hardware enhanced functions for more games on Windows XP/Vista/7. (DirectX/DirectSound 3D compatible)
|Accessories||1 x S/PDIF optical adaptors|
1 x 6.3mm to 3.5mm stereo adapter
1 x 7.1 channel audio splitter cable
1 x Driver CD
1 x Quick Start Guide
And for the Sennheiser PC350 Headset
|Cable length||3m (9.8 feet)|
|Connector plugs||2 x 6.3mm|
|Speaker type||Dynamic, 38mm, Nd magnet|
|Frequency response||10 – 26,000Hz|
|Distortion||less than 0.1%|
|Frequency response||50 – 16,000Hz|
|Pick-up pattern||Noise canceling|
|Sensitivity||-38dBV at 94dBSPL|
As you can see the specifications for the card are very similar to the excellent Xonar D2X which isn't a great surprise considering how popular the Xonar D2X is with websites and consumers, and that the price of a D2X + Sennheiser 350 is very similar to this single package.
As this is an all-in-one audio solution with both the soundcard and headphones in the single package, large is certainly the word.
One side of the box is typical of the Asus standard we've come to expect. Clear and classy with all the pertinent information readily available, including a lift-up flap that allows prospective purchasers to get a good look at the outstandingly shiny Xense itself. The other side is clear plastic to allow for easy viewing of the Sennheiser headsets.
Speaking of packaging, it definitely needs to be taken back to the drawing board. As you can see in the shot on the above right, our sample didn't survive the couriers without the plastic breaking. With all our samples needing to be returned to the manufacturer it's important not to damage the packaging and so we have to remove everything very carefully. However the complexity of removing both the soundcard and headphones in a manner that it could be put back together is also something you need to do in case of needing to RMA it. Doing so is all but impossible with at least 16 or so plastic tabs spread here there and everywhere, and the whole thing having a multi-compartment structure. It would be far preferable to adopt the method used in their motherboards whereby the items are in a box and a flap is opened to reveal both the headphones and the card itself.
Anyway, moving on to the card, this is bling factor 10. Gold plated connectors and that insanely shiny chrome cover really make this stand out. So often the soundcard is the red-headed step-child of your internal components, but with the Xense it can hold its head high with the rest.
As you can see the EMI shield covers all the important elements of the soundcard which should ensure quality sound reproduction without the high-power devices that form today's gaming PCs interfering.
The Xense is powered by a single molex cable. With so many devices using PCI-e or SATA, it's nice to have a use for those molex cables we once couldn't get enough of.
Adding to the "mmm shiny" nature of the card, just look at those. The combination of chrome and gold is just gorgeous and pictures really don't do justice to how pretty this is in the flesh.
Inputs are taken care of with two standard inputs to be used with the Sennheisers as we'll see on the next page. Should you wish to use an alternate speaker/headphone arrangement then Asus have provided an adaptor that utilises the standard colour identification system. Of course, all gold-plated.
Let's have a look at the PC350 headphones.
The Xense supports a raft of headphones, but it specifically designed to work with the 150 ohm Sennheiser PC350. A hugely popular headset from one of the biggest names in the industry. The earcups are branded with the Asus Xense logo, leaving no doubt about the pairing of the two.
The headband is well padded and has a very crisp Sennheiser logo printed across the top.
If there is one thing that the Sennheiser PC350 cannot be accused of, it's flimsy build quality. The microphone is so sturdy it's unlikely to ever cause problems under even the harshest of LAN gaming conditions.
Comfort is exceptional thanks to the very soft and well sized ear cups and the overall lightness of the headset. The ears also move in a wide range of directions helping to make sure that even if you've got a very strangely shaped head they will still fit snugly and comfortably.
The actual microphone end of the arm is both large and wide so your team-mates shouldn't miss a single command.
To assist in portability the PC350s collapse down to a very portable size indeed. The only real disappointment is that the microphone isn't removable and so extra care needs to be taken when transporting them.
In keeping with the quality theme, the headphone jacks are also gold plated. Well positioned within the 3m long cable is the microphone and volume remote.
These absolutely exude quality throughout, so time to put it through its paces and come to a conclusion.
So how did this combination of Xonar and Sennheiser work?
As with any headset the primary thing is always going to be gaming. Very few audiophiles will want something with a microphone attached.
For gaming the Xense (unless otherwise stated I mean including the Sennheisers) were excellent.
The midrange, by far the most important element in gaming, was clear and with good definition throughout the aural range. Audio positioning was also very good indeed and it was easy to pick out the direction of the cars/bullets/etc. Everything from tyre squeal to voice overs were handled with aplomb. With so many games being dialogue heavy these days it is always important to have that quality to help immerse you in the game, and the Xense certainly is immersive.
At the high-end of the sonic spectrum things were also very good. Slightly glassy perhaps, but certainly nothing worse than 95% of the PC based sound systems available. Bass was perhaps the biggest issue with the low sounds being a bit muddied. Whereas the rumble of an engine consists of a lot of sounds that comprise the cacophony we expect, with the Xense it was harder to distinguish each sound. Rather you were aware of the overall effect rather than the specifics.
Unfortunately this average bass and high note performance was brought into even more stark relief once the Xense was tested with music and movies. Far more than gaming these genres seem to live at the extremes of sonic possibilities, so whilst it was merely a very minor gripe against the otherwise fantastic gaming performance, it was quite disappointingly pronounced in other entertainment types.
The Asus Xense with the Sennheiser PC350s retails for around £190. With the Xonar D2X retailing for about £90, and the Sennheisers just above £100, there appears to be very little to be gained from buying them as a pair. That isn't to say that it is by any means a bad package.
Certainly if you plan on spending nearly all your time gaming, and wish to buy a soundcard and headset that are well matched and a simple plug in solution, then you could do much worse than pick up a Asus Xense. It looks great, the microphone, although slightly prone to picking up background noise, is clear and the Sennheiser PC350s are so light comfortable you could wear them all day without trouble. Despite our qualms about the top and bottom response, the midrange performance, where the main bulk of sounds are anyway, is very good indeed.
However if you use your rig as a general purpose entertainment device and listen to music or watch films as much as you game, then you'd be better off buying the equally excellent Xonar D2X and spending the £100 you save on a more rounded pair of headphones.
Thanks to Asus for providing the Xense for today's review. Discuss in our forums.