ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 1
Introduction
 
Asus Xonar DXAsus have long been a leader in producing high quality, reliable hardware and components. Testament to this fact is that Asus are a ‘Tier 1’ manufacturer for Intel’s current chipset/motherboard offerings are also among the top manufacturers of both ATI and Nvidia based graphics cards along with their own brand of Notebooks and multimedia. Why then have Asus, up until recently, declined to enter into the soundcard sector, a market previously dominated by a one company – Creative? Only Asus can answer that question I’m afraid but I suspect it comes down to the number of people who value a soundcard over the on-board alternatives most motherboards supply today. Much to my dismay, Creative had the soundcard market all but wrapped up and despite their X-FI range impressing it was sadly let down with poor driver support. Those who were early adopters of Windows Vista will testify that using vista along with an X-FI card was a very frustrating time. Anyone wishing to purchase a card had very limited choices available to them but times have now changed with the advent of relative newcomers such as Auzentech (based on Creative’s X-FI chipset), Razer and C-Media based offerings from Terratec and now Asus, the market is once more alive with choice, not only of manufacturers but of chipset based cards.

Towards the end of last year Asus released a high-end card that was a very viable alternative to X-FI in the DX2. While it didn’t have the X-FI chipset, it did have full EAX support up to level 5 through emulation and it impressed with its excellent gaming performance and audio processing. The plethora of bundled accessories and software was a welcome addition too but the package came in at a hefty price and as such would only be bought by those looking for a luxury, top-end product with little regard of budget. Asus have since realised this and have unleashed a cut-down version of the DX2 in the form of the Xonar DX. With the card coming in at half the price as well as being half the size, have Asus managed to trim some fat away from the DX’s bigger brother without sacrificing the power the flagship card offers – is this simply a fad diet that will be forgotten next week or technological progress that will be the mainstay audio solution in any budget minded gamers PC build? Read on....
 
 
Specifications
 
Specifications are taken directly from ASUSTeK Computer Inc.
 
Audio Performance
Output Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):
116 dB for Front-out
112dB for other channels

Input Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):
112dB

Output Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise at 1kHz (-3dB) :
0.00056% (-105dB) for Front-out

Input Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise at 1kHz (-3dB) :
0.0004% (-108dB) for Line-in

Frequency Response (-3dB, 24-bit/96kHz format):
<10Hz to 48KHz

Output/Input Full-Scale Voltage
2 Vrms (5.65 Vp-p)
Bus Compatibility
PCI Express
-PCI Express Rev.1.0a specification compatible
-Max. full 2.5Gbps bandwidth per direction and optimized latency for high-definition audio processing
-Compatible with X1, X4, X8, X16 PCI Express slots
Main Chipset
Audio Processor
ASUS AV100 High-Definition Sound Processor (Max. 192KHz/24bit)

24-bit D-A Converter of Digital Sources:
Cirrus-Logic CS4398*1 for Front-Out (120dB 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 CS5361* 1 (114dB SNR, Max. 192kHz/24bit)
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, DTS
I/O Ports
Analog Output Jack:
3.50mm mini jack *4 (Front/Side/Center-Subwoofer/Back)

Analog Input Jack:
3.50mm mini jack *1 (Shared by Line-In/Mic-In)

Other line-level analog input (for TV Tuner or CD-ROM):
Aux-In (4-pin header on the card)

Digital S/PDIF Output
High-bandwidth TOS-Link optical transmitter (shared with Line-In/Mic-In jack) supports 192KHz/24bit

Front Panel Header
Headphone / Stereo Speaker Out
Microphone In
Driver Features
Operation System
Windows Vista(32/64bit)/XP(32/64bit)/MCE2005

Dolby® Digital Live
Dolby Digital Live encodes any audio signal on PC in real-time to Dolby Digital (AC3) 5.1 surround sounds to your home theater environment through one single S/PDIF connection

Dolby® Headphone
Dolby Headphone technology allows users to listen to music, watch movies, or play games with the dramatic 5.1-channel surround or realistic 3D spacious effects through any set of stereo headphones.

Dolby® Virtual Speaker
Dolby Virtual Speaker technology simulates a highly realistic 5.1-speaker surround sound listening environment from as few as two speakers.

Dolby® Pro-Logic IIx
Dolby Pro-Logic II is the well-known technology to process any native stereo or 5.1-channel audio into a 6.1- or 7.1- channel output, creating a seamless, natural surround soundfield.

DS3D GX 2.0
-DS3D GX 1.0 supports EAX gaming sound effects and DirectSound 3D hardware enhanced functions on Windows Vista. (DirectX/DirectSound 3D compatible)

VocalFX™
Xonar DX provides VocalFX, the latest vocal effect technologies for gaming and VoIP, including: -VoiceEX: produces vivid environmental reverberation for your voice in EAX games -ChatEX: emulates different background environment effects when you chat online -Magic Voice: changes your voice pitch to different types (Monster/Cartoon…) for disguising your real voice or just for fun in online chatting

Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC)
Provides advanced Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC, eliminates up-to-40dB speaker echo return) and noise suppression technologies for best voice communication quality in VOIP applications or online gaming

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

Karaoke Functions
Music Key-Shifting and Microphone Echo effects like professional Karaoke machine

FlexBass™
Professional Bass Management/Enhancement system

Xear 3D™ Virtual Speaker Shifter
Virtual 7.1 speaker positioning

Other Effects
10-band Equalier/27 Environment Effects

3D Gaming Sound Engines/APIs
DirectSound3D® GX 2.0 & 1.0, EAX®2.0&1.0, DirectSound® HW, DirectSound SW, A3D®1.0, OpenAL generic modes, 128 3D sounds processing capability

ASIO 2.0 Driver Support:
Supports 44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @16/24bit with very low latency
Bundled Software Utility
Portable Music Processor Lite utility
Converts digital music content or CD audio into regular MP3/WMA files with Dolby Headphone, Dolby Virtual Speaker (w/ Pro-Logic II), and Smart Volume Normalization processing (Windows Media Player 10 or above is required)

MCE Software Kit
Software kit with 10-ft GUI for Windows Media Center Edition

RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.0.6
Easy but powerful software intended for testing the quality of audio equipments
 
As you can see the specification is very impressive. Briefly, the main notable differences in specification between the DX and the DX2 are as follows:
 
DX vs DX2 Table


ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 2
Packaging & Contents
 
The exterior of the box is what we have become accustomed to with Asus. Very professional layout with a picture of the card along with the signature Xonar ‘blue-wave’ splashed across the front of the box along with a brief list of features. The rear of the packaging again shows a brief feature list, translated into various languages.

Asus Xonar DX Box Front Asus Xonar DX Box Back

The side panels display the specifications for the more technically curious along with contents and the obligatory system requirements

Asus Xonar DX Box Side Asus Xonar DX Box Side

The box has a pop up layer that delves further into the packed feature set of the card along with a brief explanation of the DX’s primary feature D3D GX 2.0 which we will come to later in the review. It also goes onto explain another of its features, VocalFX which further enhances the appeal of the card to prospective buyers.

Asus Xonar DX Box Flap Asus Xonar DX Box Flap

Opening the box up we are greeted with the card loosely packaged in an anti static bag seated in a black cardboard frame which while serving its purpose I couldn’t help but feel a blister style pack would be more presentable and provide a sturdier package. It is however a snug enough fit to ensure the card won’t rattle around during transit and should reach the consumer in perfect condition.
 
Asus Xonar DX Box Open Asus Xonar DX Box Contents

Taking the cardboard frame out of the exterior box we find the accessories:

• Asus Xonar DX support CD
• Additional low profile bracket
• S/PDIF TOSLINK optical adapter
• Quick installation guide

So everything you need to get you started. The guide is presented in 7 languages, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Greek. While it’s brief, the A5 size pages are clear enough to enable even the novice pc builder to install the card with the minimum of difficulty aided with well presented pictures and concise instructions (albeit in B&W) provided.


ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 3
A Closer Look
 
The first thing that jumps out at you with the Xonar DX is the size. It’s a half-height sized card measuring 170mm long. This would make the DX a perfect solution for those who don’t wish to make sacrifices while building a small media pc. With gold plated connections and a sleek black PCB along with in-line capacitors it is certainly a very striking piece of hardware. Even the back plate (including the optional low profile bracket) are anodised in gun metal grey which only adds to the impressive visuals of the card.

Asus Xonar DX PCB Front Asus Xonar DX PCB Back

Through Asus cropping the size of the card in half it comes as no surprise that the majority of the connectivity is on the back of the card. A personal frustration of mine is that high end soundcards tend to have the actual fitting instructions engraved on the socket. While this is fine in a good lighting environment or the actual sockets are coloured it can be a little pain staking swapping out cables in dim light with gold plated connectors giving no clue as to what goes where. While I don’t expect the led lights of its forbear an optional coloured template/sticker would be a welcome addition for those of us who don’t possess night vision!

For those out there who prefer digital over analogue connections, the DX’s S/PDIF output is shared with its analogue mic and line input ports. You may also notice that the card is left wanting a digital S/PDIF input port although a 4pin auxiliary connector is provided should you wish to use it.

Asus Xonar DX Sockets Asus Xonar DX Mount

Upon closer inspection you will notice that the card is PCIex1 which will restrict itself to owners of later motherboards, it does however offer future proofing in return as motherboard manufacturers appear to be slowly phasing out the PCI standard in favour of the smaller standards available today. It’s also nice to actually make use of PCI-e x1 slots for change! Whether an express port’s bandwidth is actually utilised is doubtful however it is welcome and certainly adds to the appeal of the card. The card also requires the use of a floppy power connector which despite its small size just goes to show how powerful this card actually is. With the extra power going through the card, I was initially worried as to the heat that would inevitably be produced but my worries were unfounded as the card is no warmer than a regular card twice its size and certainly does not require the use of additional heat sinks or cooling despite its numerous solid capacitors and Vrms.
 
Asus Xonar DX Floppy Plug Asus Xonar DX VRM's

A notable difference between the DX and the more expensive DX2 is the addition of front panel audio headers which is a real bonus considering it is omitted in the more expensive version, the DX2.

Asus Xonar DX PCI-E Asus Xonar DX Audio Headers

Here we see the heart of the DX, the AV100 processing unit. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is anything other than C-media’s Oxygen HD audio chip though, not that it’s to its detriment. The AV100 is rumoured to be a ‘speed-binned’ AV200 processor which is also used in the DX2. As the Oxygen – sorry – AV100 was not designed to use PCIe there is also another chip onboard from PLX which Asus have utilised as a bridging chip enabling the card to use the PCIe as standard rather than the bandwidth limiting PCI interface.
 
Asus Xonar DX AV100 Chip Asus Xonar DX Audio Chip

Now here is something worth mentioning so listen up: Users of Nvidia’s latest 790i based motherboards have experienced difficulty in getting this card to work in Vista due to this bridging chip which seems to confuse the Nvidia chipset. I didn’t have an Nvidia based motherboard on which to neither confirm nor deny this but there are simply too many reports to ignore and not include this info in the review. The good news however is that NVidia are aware of this issue and are working on a new BIOS which will hopefully solve the PCI-PCIe bridging problem.


ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 4
Installation & Drivers
 
Installation was a breeze as should be expected but one thing I did want to try was NOT connecting the requested power supply via floppy power cable. I’m a sucker for doing exactly the opposite that hardware manufacturers recommend. Anyone who had a 680i board will know adding the ‘extra’ molex power to the board made no difference whatsoever so I wondered if this card followed suit. Not so I’m afraid as the card would not work without it – which is why Asus remind you to plug the power cable in both in the Quick start up guide and before installation in Windows so ensure you have a spare floppy power cable before buying this card. I should also note at this point that although the card is a PCIe x1 card it will work with other pci express ports should you not have access to the x1 port. This was tried and tested in a 2nd PCIe x 16 port which worked without problem. For this installation I will however be using the PCIex1 slot which resides directly below the 16x PCIex16 GPU slot. I couldn’t use PCIe x1 slot above the GPU as the Xonar DX is too long and wouldn’t fit due to the DIMM’s interfering with the soundcard placement – something you may want to investigate you as this is common on most motherboards which have a PCIe x1 slot in the uppermost position.

I decided to install and test the card on a Windows Vista based setup as Vista compatibility is something that creative drivers struggled with. Suffice to say the driver and software installation went without a hitch (after I had plugged in the power cable!). The same procedure was used with XP and again, no problems were encountered when following the installation guide. Both 32bit and 64bit Windows operating systems are supported. No major problems are being reported on the Asus support forum for windows users, which again is testament to the excellent drivers provided.

With only one set of drivers on the Asus support website (dated 13/02/2008) it appears that Asus are happy with the first release and as such no further drivers have yet been released to the public. Unfortunately no drivers for Linux were on the supplied support and drivers CD nor the Asus website which is echoed in the system requirements so Linux users should look elsewhere for a soundcard as the Xonar DX plainly does not have Linux support which is disappointing.
 

Xonar DX Audio center
 
Asus Xonar DX Audio Center

The Xonar DX Audio Center is the brains of the card where you control all the settings and configurations to your preference. In its most basic form you can change the output volume along with ‘SVN’ which is a noise balancing feature and the obligatory mute button. There are also five DSP modes which change the acoustics of the card depending on what type of media you are working with, music, Hi-Fi, Movie, Game and GX.
 

Main
 
Asus Xonar DX Main Screen

After pressing the Menu arrow, the ‘LCD’ reveals a wide range of settings. In the main screen you have the option to set the audio channels(2,4,6,8) , the sample rate(44.1Khz through to 192Khz) and your speaker configurations( Headphones 2,4,5.1,7.1 FP headphones and FP 2 Speakers). Unfortunately the speaker test would not work with Vista to the way Vista stacks the audio but worked fine in xp so you will have to test your speaker setup by other means if using vista. You would also configure your S/PDIF out configuration in this screen. The 7.1 virtual Speaker Shifter is a clever little utility that allows you to arrange the positional audio of your speakers according to their physical placement which is very useful if you cannot use the standard surround setup. Dolby Pro Logic IIx is also catered for in this section with music or movie configurations.
 

Mixer
 
Asus Xonar DX2 Mixer Asus Xonar DX Recorder

The Mixer screen allows the user to configure all the faders for each speaker in your setup depending on the speaker configuration in the Main panel as well as controlling your recording devices.
 

Effect
 
Asus Xonar DX Effect

The effect window allows you to experiment with your preferred reverb effect which include the Bathroom, Hall, underwater and music pub as default with an optional 20 others selectable with the drop down menu. These effects can be further tweaked using the Graphic Equaliser ranging from -20 to +20dB with 12 of the most common presets and a user defined one allowing you to save/load your favoured settings.
 

Karaoke
 
Asus Xonar DX Karaoke

I always find playing around with the karaoke section of soundcards utilities fun and this was no different. Options here include key shifting which adjusts the key of your audio allowing it to be matched to your singing style. Vocal cancellation is dependent on your chosen audio tracks– sometimes it works OK but others not which while disappointing at times is hardly a fault of the software as it appears to be effected by each individual track and not the mixer. The mic echo further enhances the quality of your singing skills. While I wouldn’t use this in a professional capacity it is fun, especially if you have children or for that drunken house party!
 

FlexBass
 
Asus Xonard DX FlexBass

This section covers control of your bass. Depending on your preference you can set the crossover frequency from 50Hz to 250Hz as well as selecting your individual speaker sizes as well as your headphone cans be them ear bud type or full coverage which is a nice customisable feature to have.
 

AEC
 
Asus Xonar DX AEC

AEC (acoustic echo cancellation) allows the user to properly configure the microphone. This panel allows the user to cancel echo and adjust microphone volume to properly configure the voice communication setup. Once you enable this setting the Audio Center automatically switches to a 2 speaker, voice processing mode and also suspends any sound effects which save a lot of hassle for that quick VOIP call.
 

VocalFX

Asus Xonar DX VocalFX
 
This panel is perhaps the most fun and adds that novelty factor to the whole package. You can change your voice here to sound like the sinister low pitch stalker or to a character from Looney tunes. Great fun if you want to disguise your voice from your clan mates and family alike when using VoIP. Presets include Monster, cartoon, male and female. You can also configure your ambience again with the 4 presets, Bathroom, Hall, under water and music pub.
 

Also included on the support CD is PMP lite – a piece of software that allows you to convert your audio files to various formats as well as having a useful utility which allows the user to add their own ambience to the file. While basic it is very easy to use and I’m sure would be utilised quite often. Especially useful is the Dolby headphone setting which converts your stereo audio to a virtual 5.1 soundstage – impressive indeed.

Overall the software package is well thought out and can be quickly picked up and adjusted by novice and pro alike. All the basic setting you would expect from a 7.1 card are there along with some useful, advanced and novelty additions you would only expect to see on more expensive cards.


ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 5
Test Setup
 
I feel the Xonar DX is targeted towards entry level market but nevertheless I intend to complete a thorough testing process you have come to expect at OC3D. Apart from rightmark, testing a cards audio quality is very subjective depending on one’s personal preferences. I will however endeavour to be as objective and unbiased as possible throughout the testing process.
 
Test System

• Intel Q6600
• Gigabyte DS3 Motherboard
• 2GB Corsair XMS2 DMX PC-6400 (4-4-4-12)
• 2xSeagate barracuda 500GB 7200.11 Sata2 32mb cache HDD’s
• Gecube ATI 3870x2 Video card
• Asus Xonar DX 7.1 Audio card
• Gigabyte onboard sound (Realtek ALC883)
• Windows Vista Ultimate sp.1 (32bit)
• Creative Inspire T7900 7.1 speakers
• Sennheiser RS140 wireless headphones
 
I have decided to reference the Xonar against on board sound as this is what I would imagine most potential buyers will be upgrading from. I believe it would be unfair to compare them head to head but a reference is required to have a basis for comparison. While I would have preferred to also include a card such as the Creative X-FI music which is in a similar price bracket I don’t have one to hand and the testing process could also be flawed as I have owned an X-FI music card previously and the compatibility issues with Vista were such that I sold the music card on unfortunately. So before we get to the usual gaming/music/movie tests let’s have a look at the performance of the Xonar DX using Rightmark.
 
 
Rightmark results
 
Rightmark is an audio analyser designed for testing the quality of analogue (and digital) paths of audio devices. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. – www.rightmark.org

Asus Xonar DX - Rightmark Asus Xonar DX2 - Rightmark
 
Asus Xonar DX - Rightmark Asus Xonar DX - Rightmark

As you can see the Noise level I got(-113.4dB) was a little shy of that advertised by Asus (-116dB) but I used a longer than recommended line in/out cable which possibly affected the results slightly, nevertheless the results are well within the margin for error and are certainly much better than on-board devices.
 

CPU Utilization
 
Here we see how much of an impact using the Xonar's software based emulation has on the CPU:
 
(CPU Utilisation set at 16-bit/44.1KHz – 16 buffers)
16-bit / 44.1khz
 
(CPU Utilisation set at 24-bit/96KHz 16-buffers)
24-bit / 96khz
 
(CPU Utilisation set at 16-bit/44.1KHz-128 buffers)
16-Bit / 44.1khz
 
(CPU Utilisation set at 24-bit/96KHz-128buffers)
24-Bit / 96khz

As you can see the CPU rarely exceeds 5% utilisation even with 128 buffers set. Impressive, especially as EAX is emulated through this card thereby requiring CPU cycles.


ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 6
Gaming
 
Before the games testing phase begins I feel it’s best to explain one of the key features of Xonar range, the GX 2.0 and the history behind it. In 2005 Creative introduced its X-FI chip and was rightly applauded for this as it was a leap in technology. EAX (environmental audio extensions) was based around the effects engine of sound blaster lives’ EMU10K1 chip. EAX versions tend to coincide with increases of simultaneous voices processed in hardware by the audio chip with the original EAX supporting up to 8 voices through to EAX 5.0 which allows up to 128 voices with an additional 4 effects applied to each! Creative have kept a tight lid on EAX effects since 2.0 and have not licensed this X-FI based chipset to any other manufacturer bar Auzentech. So where does Asus and GX 2.0 figure into this? Well although Asus don’t claim to support EAX 5.0 directly, what it does do is emulate (very efficiently I might add) EAX 5.0 via software. Creative were also stumped with the advent of Vista and have since responded to the eradication of D3D by also using software based emulation (Alchemy) which utilises OpenAL to mimic the D3D of old so both Creative and Asus are now using, in one state or another, emulation and I would challenge anyone to be able to tell the difference between the two. Even Windows cannot distinguish between an X-FI chipset (EAX 5.0) and the AV100/200 (GX 2.0) as all the games tested presented the option to enable EAX.

If you are still with me then please sit back while I finally crack on with some testing.

For this test I intend to use the following games:

• Battlefield 2
• Call of Duty 4
• Enemy Territory : Quake Wars

I originally planned to use Bioshock for this review due to its EAX 5.0 capabilities but sadly the game simply refused to play with EAX enabled. There is apparently a fix available consisting of a .dll file (available via email from Asus) but I felt it was only fair to test the card ‘out of the box’ as a consumer would find it.

Obviously the listening tests are very subjective and heavily dependent on personal preference, I will however attempt to present my unbiased opinions here.

Each test was run 5 times over 60 seconds in 7.1 speaker configuration and the FPS was recorded via Fraps. The highest and lowest scores were withdrawn with the average being calculated over the remaining 3 tests.
 

Battlefield 2
 
BF2 is an EAX 3.0 enabled game which sure enough, once the GX and game settings were chosen in the Xonar Audio Center, I could set the Audio functions to ‘Creative X-FI’(which gave me a giggle) and High settings (ultra is also available through config settings):
 
BF2 Settings

The EAX effects were clear and no crackling and popping could be heard which has been reported occasionally with Creative’s own X-FI based cards. Positional audio was sublime and no doubt would give the players a competitive edge in this game with a 7.1 card. I had played this game previously with an extreme music X-FI card and honestly cannot tell the difference between the two cards audio qualities. At a push, I would say the Xonar had the edge in terms of reverb effects such as those on Kubra Dam. The Realtec offering sadly didn’t fair too well as although the sound was crisp it was left lacking with regard to the EAX additions of the Xonar.

Asus Xonar DX - BF2


Call of Duty 4
 
Currently my most played game and despite a lack of EAX I was intrigued to see how this would fair against the on-board sound I was currently using. It took some time to configure exactly how I liked the sound as when I first started playing the game I was appalled at the quality – I then realised my mistake (I hadn’t enabled the game setting in the Xonar Audio Control) but once rectified and I had it how I preferred, I was impressed with the clarity of the vocals and weapon sounds. I found myself testing out new weapons just to see what they sounded like on this card! The Realtec offering, while sounding fine before I tested the Xonar was put into its place sadly and once more left kicking it’s heels behind the PCIe card. I was surprised to see that COD 4 seemed to favour the Realtec device but 5fps is a small price to pay for the realism the Xonar offers.
 
Asus Xonar DX - COD4
 
 
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
 
This game is locked to multiples of 30FPS so I had to tweak the config which allowed the fps to be unlocked. I tested the game in single player mode and once more could not fault the Realtec on board sound solution. I then I tried out the Xonar. Yet again the positional audio was precise and with clarity. The weapons seemed clearer, especially in the distance compared to the onboard solution. Vehicle sounds were deeper and appeared to sound more realistic on the Xonar. There is little to separate the two as previously but the Xonar just edged it in terms of FPS and sound quality.
 
Asus Xonar DX - Quake
 

Music
 
For the music test I listened to a range of tastes in both CD and mp3 quality:
 
• Depeche mode - Enjoy the Silence
• Chemical Brothers – Galvanise
• Wu-Tang Clan – Tearz
• Del Amitri – Spit in the Rain
• Mozart 7th Symphony
 
This card simply loves playing music is all I can really say. Bass was deeper, treble was crisp not ‘tinny’ and the vocals were very impressive throughout. Choose your track, choose your environment effect with the DSP mode set to music and you have your very own concert environment. The sound reproduction of CD format was excellent as you would expect and even the mp3 quality was simply a pleasure to listen to with the music seemingly given a new lease of life. I am no audiophile but thus far this is as close as you are going to get to perfection from a PC based sound solution.
 

Movies
 
With the card shining in the previous tests I was expecting big things from this card in the movie test and it didn’t disappoint. Once I had positioned my speakers correctly and adjusted the virtual speaker shifter in the Audio Center I sat down and watched some clips from my favourite films via DVD.

• Saving Private Ryan (Omaha Beach)
• Star Wars: A New Hope (Death Star Attack)
• Top Gun: (Flat Spin)
• The Matrix: (He’s beginning to Believe)

The Omaha beach scene from Saving Private Ryan never ceases to amaze me and this time was no different. The explosions, gunshots whizzing over your shoulder, ricochets off metal, screams etc were enough to make you feel part of the action. The surround sound qualities of Top Gun also impressed and as ever, that classic scene from Star Wars never fails to disappoint with laser fire and ‘roaring’ Tie Fighters taking full advantage of the Xonar DX surround sound capabilities.


ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Page: 7
Conclusion

Impressive, a single word that sums up the Asus Xonar DX very nicely. I was very happy with the look and presentation of the card and despite its small demeanour it has certainly proven that it can punch well above its weight. Asus in their wisdom have released a chipset that is most welcome in the audio sector of PC hardware and it is a breath of fresh air to a once stagnant market. Not only have they achieved (despite Creative’s rebukes) a card than can impersonate EAX to a level which sonically is indistinguishable to Creative’s own XFI, they have released a version that is affordable to even the budget conscious among us.

The subjective listening tests were, in my humble opinion, amazing. Movies were reproduced with exceptional surround sound – aided in part by the Dolby Pro Logic IIx configuration. The Gaming series of tests were also impressive however the lack of EAX support for Bioshock was a more than a little disconcerting despite being given the assurance that it will work with a driver update. EAX in BF2 at least was exhilarating. The depth of field and positional audio was exceptional. My favourite listening test however was the music test. Vocals, acoustics, wind and string, all had the clarity only onboard sound could dream of and I found myself exceeding the time constraints I set myself for this review just listening to some old tunes that were given a new lease of life with the Xonar.

Weighing in at around the £60 mark, which is around half what you would pay for the card of which it is based on, can best be described as a luxury entry level card. Audiophiles may wish to look elsewhere as the lack of DTS encoding and individual digital ports along with the missing EMI shield of its bigger brother could be enough to discourage the elitist in a very fickle market. The features that are lacking from the DX are not something the average Joe would miss however and if you are looking for a multimedia soundcard that performs admirably on every level without mortgaging the house to pay for it then I don’t think there is a better value for money PC sound card on the market today that can equal the Asus Xonar DX.
 
Asus have succeeded in trimming away the non-essential ‘fat’ of the DX2 to produce a much leaner card without sacrificing performance. Add to that you will be almost £60 better off choosing this card over its bigger brother or indeed other high end X-FI cards and it becomes clear what your next upgrade should be – the Asus Xonar DX.
 

The Good
• Fantastic overall sound.
• Very good looking card.
• Solid capacitors for durability.
• Front panel connectivity.
• PCIe functionality.

The Mediocre
• Shared digital output connection.
• Lack of clear descriptions on analogue ports.
• Length of the card may restrict some people to using a 2nd PCIe x16 slot which is not good if you are a gamer using SLI/Xfire.

The Bad
• Lack of DTS encoding capabilities.
• Requirement of additional floppy power cable.
• Lack of prompt driver updates preventing some games (Bioshock) from working correctly.
 
 
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Thanks to ASUS for supplying the Xonar DX. Discuss this review in our forums.