All has been quiet on the Xonar front, but that's set to change early this year. Asus is prepping a couple of new audio products due to debut in the first quarter of 2012, and it was eager to show them off in its suite at the Consumer Electronics show. The most interesting of these is the Xonar Pheobus, which will be part of the company's Republic of Gamers family.
The Pheobus is being positioned slightly above the existing Xonar DX, a TR favorite that typically sells for $80-100. Asus tells us the specifications haven't been finalized, so we don't know the exact combination of chips that will make it into the final product. We can, however, tell you that those chips will be largely hidden under a tasteful black shroud. The Pheobus also comes with an external module sporting a volume knob, a mute button, and 3.5-mm headphone and microphone jacks.
While the Pheobus plugs into a PCI Express x1 slot, Asus also has something for the USB crowd in the form of the ThunderFX. This puppy is targeted at headset-equipped gamers and features a C-Media 6631 audio processor in addition to a Texas Instruments 6120A2 headphone amplifier. Audio output is limited to two channels, but there are multiple input options thanks to the inclusion of a pair of RCA jacks at the rear. Asus intends these to be used with game consoles and other devices, extending the ThunderFX's usefulness beyond PC applications. Expect to see this and the Pheobus on the market by the end of March.
Discrete sound solutions are all well and good, but plenty of folks still swear by integrated audio. Asus is exploring improvements on that front with its Rampage IV Formula motherboard, which separates the traces from the audio codec from the rest of the circuit board. This moat design purportedly improves output quality, and it's supposed to be particularly effective when multiple graphics cards are installed. I wouldn't expect a huge improvement in fidelity, but this could eliminate the subtle hiss we've detected on all too many motherboard audio implementations.