The Xonar D2 and Xonar D2X sound cards from Asus are great products, but they're not exactly affordable: the D2 is $179.99 at Newegg, and the D2X typically costs a few bucks more, even though it's basically the same sound card with a PCI Express x1 interface instead of PCI. Meanwhile, Creative's cheapest standalone X-Fi sound card without stripped-down features (the XtremeGamer) is just $80.99.
However, fresh from its impressive entry in the high-end consumer sound card market, Asus now plans to tackle the sub-$100 arena with a new product called the Xonar DX. The Xonar DX is launching with a PCIe x1 interface as standard, and despite having a shorter profile than the full-blown Xonar D2 models, it has quite tantalizing specifications. The card features 7.1-channel output, up to 24-bit precision at sampling rates as high as 192KHz for both input and output, and support for real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding.
Gamers should be happy to learn that the card has support for DirectSound3D Game Extensions 2.0, which according to Asus enables "the latest EAX effects and DirectSound out of the box"—even in Windows Vista. Audiophiles probably won't be disappointed, either, thanks to the card's 24-bit/192KHz, 120dB SNR Cirrus Logic digital-to-analog converter for front outputs. (DACs for the other outputs have a 114dB SNR.) Asus pegs output harmonic distortion at just 0.00056%, too.
The Xonar DX is scheduled to become available in North America next Monday, March 24. The kicker is its price tag: just $89, which places it in the same playing field as the aforementioned X-Fi XtremeGamer. And the XtremeGamer only has 109dB SNR ratings, 96KHz multi-channel output, 0.004% THD, and a PCI interface.