ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card
Gaming, Music & Movie Results
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 The highest and lowest scores were withdrawn with the average being calculated over the remaining 3 tests.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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