We're big fans of Asus' Xonar sound cards. Numerous models have passed through our labs over the last few years, and most have won awards. The $30 Xonar DG was the latest to win Editor's Choice distinction. At CES last week, we saw a USB version of the card that looks perfect for laptops and small-form-factor desktops devoid of free expansion slots.
Dubbed the Xonar U3, this USB dongle features the same audio chip and pre-programmed "pop" that our blind listeners liked so much in the DG. A headphone amplifier optimized for 32-150 Ω has been squeezed into the device, which is no larger than a thumb drive. You also get virtualization software to emulate EAX positional audio effects and to simulate surround-sound speakers with stereo headphones.
The Xonar DG's most attractive attribute is undoubtedly its budget price tag. Asus tells us the U3 will be similarly affordable, making it a potentially cheap and easy way to bypass the traditionally mediocre analog audio output quality of most laptops. We're going to try to get our hands on one of these to see just how good it sounds. Stay tuned.