Say hello to the Xonar DGX
First up, the $40 Xonar DGX. Its predecessor, the Xonar DG, has been one of our most recommended sound cards for quite some time. Naturally, we've been anticipating its PCI Express successor.
We're a little miffed by the attached premium, though. The original costs just $25 right now, so you're paying an extra $15 for the PCIe upgrade. I suppose that's not so bad if one considers the expenditure an investment in future compatibility.
Although the PLX bridge chip consumes some additional board real estate, the Xonar DGX is still built on a half-height expansion card. The circuit board is 2.5" tall and 6.7" long, and Asus includes a half-height backplate in the box.
Along the top edge of the card, you can see a number of internal connectors for extra input and output ports. In addition to auxiliary input and S/PDIF output headers, a front-panel headset connector is provided. So long as your case has the necessary ports up front, there's no need to rummage around behind your PC to hook up headphones or a mic.
The front-panel headphone and primary front-channel output are both equipped with Texas Instruments DRV601 headphone amplifiers. In the picture above, one of the chips can be seen sitting between two clusters of capacitors near the card's top edge. The onboard amps have three operating modes tuned for different headphone impedance ranges. Choose the one that matches your cans, and you're set.
Like the Xonar DG that came before it, the DGX has been programmed to give certain elements, specifically vocals and percussion, a little more oomph. We liked this extra kick when we first heard it, but the artificial emphasis can sound a little harsh. Cyril's ears seem especially sensitive to this special programming. He's experienced fatigue when listening to the Xonar DG for long periods. Throughout our blind listening tests, he also said the DGX reminded him of the DG.
A typical assortment of ports lines the DGX's backplate. On the far right, there's a digital S/PDIF output for folks with compatible receivers or speakers. The Xonar DGX can't encode digital bitstreams on the fly, limiting multi-channel digital output to pre-encoded tracks. Music and movies will work just fine, but gamers who want surround sound will have to use analog outputs. Three of those can be found next to a shared line/mic input.
The Xonar DGX might not be able to encode digital bitstreams in real-time, but it can virtualize multi-channel speaker setups using Dolby Headphone software incorporated in the drivers. With the Dolby scheme activated, users can choose from three room configurations that place the virtual speakers at different distances. Alas, The Dolby option appears only when headphones are the selected output. The DGX can't fake surround sound with stereo speakers.
Asus' Xonar driver control panel hasn't changed for years, which is a bit of a shame considering how much work the firm has put into its recent motherboard software. The control panel covers all the basics in unspectacular fashion. It also has a few tricks up its sleeve.
The first of those is the little GX button in the lower-right corner. The label refers to GX 2.5, an Asus "gaming audio engine" that simulates the EAX positional audio effects of some older games. GX 2.5 works with the last version of EAX, which allowed for up to 128 simultaneous effects. That final version of EAX came out before Windows Vista, a really long time ago.
For its second driver trick, the Xonar DGX offers an echo-cancellation mode designed for folks with stereo speakers and desk-mounted microphones. It's meant for voice communication applications, and Asus recommends disabling the feature unless you're actively using Skype or the like. Aside from the mute and volume controls, the rest of the driver control panel is greyed-out when echo cancellation is enabled.
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