Asus preps new PCIe, USB, and integrated audio solutions

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.

Comments closed
    • Myrmecophagavir
    • 8 years ago

    “Phoebus” rather than “Pheobus”, surely?

    • Dirge
    • 8 years ago

    Have Asus improved their drivers? According to one post I read on this forum and some further digging around on foobar2000 support

    [quote<]Asus Xonar cards are infamous for their buggy drivers. We recommend getting a soundcard from another manufacturer instead. If you're running foobar2000 older than 1.1.10, please update - version 1.1.10 introduces workarounds for certain known Xonar bugs.[/quote<] If Asus has improved on its audio drivers I would love to know.

    • adampk17
    • 8 years ago

    Hopefully Asus will address their god-awful Xonar drivers because of these new cards.

    • Compton
    • 8 years ago

    The Xonar Essence STX PCIe is pure magic. But I’d really like a cheaper Asus PCIe solution — which doesn’t require molex power — for my other systems. I’m willing to put up with using a molex strand on my modular PSU for the Essence STX (because it’s worth it), but for my other desktops, I’d like the ability to use some other power source if AUX power is necessary. I know Asus uses the aux power for a cleaner power source or something, but maybe they can use some other connector type instead. I’ve been trying to get rid of every old school interface and standard where ever possible, like PCI, PATA, etc for years… and molex is on my list too. Surely Asus could use a SATA power or something if the 10W through a PCIe x1 isn’t good enough. I know my STX uses right at 10W most of the time, but I think PCIe power is kinda funky in that some boards don’t always deliver the correct amount of PCIe power… though I could be out of my element here. The STX looks pretty fresh on my Maximus Gene-z though.

      • Bauxite
      • 8 years ago

      Anything is better than the evil 4 pin molex that I can remember as far back as the AT days. Damn near lost a finger a couple times with those stupid things trying to get them out.

      6 pin “new molex” is better than sata in terms of connector durability, and it has a latch. Sata power connectors are smooth release but seem pretty fragile, seem some hard drives start to crack a bit.

        • just brew it!
        • 8 years ago

        They actually date back a *lot* farther than even the AT days. A few years ago I ran across [url=http://justbrewit.net/trstuff/matenlok.pdf<]this PDF scan of an engineering drawing[/url<]. It's an AMP Mate-N-Lok connector (which is physically compatible with the 4-pin Molex which was used on disk drives up until when SATA was introduced). Note the date at the bottom of the drawing.

          • Bauxite
          • 8 years ago

          I don’t accept candy or PDFs from strangers 😉 but yeah its old, crusty and EVIL.

          [b<]M[/b<]aim, [b<]O[/b<]bliterate or [b<]L[/b<]acerate your [b<]EX[/b<]tremities.

    • Bensam123
    • 8 years ago

    Gogo Asus integrated audio chip rebranding.

    • Jakubgt
    • 8 years ago

    I have the Asus Xonar DX in my computer and I love it. The headphone amp makes quite a significant difference when using my Sennheiser HD598. The only downside is that I have to disconnect my 3x 3.5mm speaker cables from my 5.1 sound system to be able to listen to my headphones.

    If the price is reasonable, I can see this card being somewhat successful. This card will be great for people without a sound card or willing to try something that isn’t integrated into the circuit board. You could easily have both your speakers and headphone plugged in without any hassle.

    • atryus28
    • 8 years ago

    Is it just me or does that first sound card picture make it look like it has “been around the block”. Not exactly what I would be showing off for new hardware, unless I missed something and this is an old picture.

    [Edit]
    Looks like flipmode beat me to the post. Suppose that will happen when you start a comment and leave it for… a while.

    • yokem55
    • 8 years ago

    So is TR putting us on a diet with no shortbread? I mean, Ronald Hanaki is usually Johhny on the spot a little after midnight with the daily Shortbread, but it’s 9:30 PST and still only yesterdays is up….

    • StashTheVampede
    • 8 years ago

    /me wishes my Extigy worked with a modern OS

    • flip-mode
    • 8 years ago

    Why does that sound card look like it was used as the ball in a soccer game of Fedex versus UPS?

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      So that way you’ll know what it actually looks like when you receive it from either of those couriers.

      • jensend
      • 8 years ago

      Haven’t you heard? Stone-washing is back, along with several other elements of 80s fashion! Heavily used is the new black!

      You can look forward to people introducing pre-dinged cases and “broken in” laptops at this year’s tech conferences!

    • cmrcmk
    • 8 years ago

    Am I mistaken, or does that sound card have a PCIe supplemental power connector? Seems odd that a sound card would require that much juice…

      • Duck
      • 8 years ago

      It’s to bypass the motherboard and increases performance.

      • Bauxite
      • 8 years ago

      Some of the xonars already have a 4 pin molex (pure evil) its nice to see they went with the newer, less finger-murdering type of connector this time around. The idea is to go directly to the PSU instead of across the fairly noisy power plane on the motherboard.

        • hansmuff
        • 8 years ago

        That is precisely the reason, and I am glad they do that.

        • just brew it!
        • 8 years ago

        Yup. The inside of a PC — and the motherboard in particular — is an absolutely *horrendous* environment in which to implement high fidelity analog electronics. That’s a big part of why it took so many years for motherboard makers to figure out how to make onboard audio that didn’t suck.

        Drawing power directly from the PSU instead of from the motherboard probably gains them a few more dB of signal-to-noise ratio, by reducing the noise on the card’s power rails.

          • Jambe
          • 8 years ago

          Huh, neat. I understand the underlying concepts but I’d never really thought of how they applied to mobo-based sound. I even recall seeing things like “the discrete solution bypasses the mess of interference you get at the motherboard level” and suchlike in sound card reviews… but it just now dawned on me that it’s [i<]true[/i<]. The More You Know!

      • theadder
      • 8 years ago

      My PCIe Essence STX has a molex connector for power also.

    • Duck
    • 8 years ago

    No dolby headphone, no digital out on that USB card. What a waste of time.

      • Deanjo
      • 8 years ago

      If you are going digital out then there is little reason to use anything but your built in audio. The advantage of USB devices is that you are removing the analog out stage (the stage where most of your noise is introduced) from the electrically noisey internal PC case.

    • colinstu
    • 8 years ago

    TR needs to do a rundown of all the available sound cards on newegg or something. List and compare all the specs and features, graph and figure out the performance, and then correlate that with different price points and give TR readers some recommendations.

    Being told to “buy this card if you’re cheap” and “buy this card if you got cash” isn’t cutting it for me and probably others during system buying guides. Being able to SEE the difference of the different discreet audio cards vs. integrated would help many of us make such a jump.

    Just my two cents.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      they’ve done full write-ups on the Xonar DX and DG cards they recommend. You should probably read them.

        • l33t-g4m3r
        • 8 years ago

        TR & readers have a clear bias toward those cards, esp vs the auzentech cards which IMO are better. The reviews here are decent, but if you want something comprehensive you have to look elsewhere. X-bit Labs and Guru3d do excellent sound card reviews.

          • sluggo
          • 8 years ago

          Not trying to be snarky, but the “bias” may simply be toward cards that one can actually buy. My favorite retailers are out of stock on all Auz products, and their US disti is only taking pre-orders with no anticipated delivery date.

          The half-life of your typical audio card outfit is about two years. Auzentech is a small design house with three different chipsets from three different vendors, one of which is Creative, who can’t even seem to provide reliable support for their own products. If this was a high-end video card vendor, would you buy?

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 8 years ago

            “would you buy?” I’m using a Prelude as we speak, even pre-ordered it so it’s from the first batch. Let me give some examples why I’m iffy on TR’s sound card reviews:

            [url<]https://techreport.com/articles.x/17256/6[/url<] Game testing section: "tested using standard two-channel stereo output. We didn't enable ALchemy or DS3D GX" -Seems almost like a pointless gaming test then. "enabling ALchemy and DS3D GX, and configuring the X-Fi and Xonar with their respective Dolby and CMSS-3D speaker virtualization schemes for headphone playback." -So when you do use the 3d modes, you enable the virtual 3d modes on top of that. What a wonderful idea. "None really dazzled, and although I could hear a few additional sounds playing on the Forte and Essence in Far Cry 2, it's easy to get too distracted by the gameplay and graphics to notice the subtle differences." -Paying attention to how the cards sound takes a back seat to playing the game. The rest of the article is fine, it's just the game testing section isn't very well done and uses questionable settings. The forte even got the editors choice, so it's not like there's a direct xonar bias, it's just that TR seems to judge soundcards more on music/movie playback and is pretty nonchalant on gaming. I don't need a new sound card atm, but I do wonder about what card could possibly replace my prelude when I can no longer buy a board with a PCI slot.

            • Dissonance
            • 8 years ago

            That was a review of headphone-oriented sound cards. Headphones are, you know, stereo devices. That’s why we tested with a standard two-channel configuration *and* with virtualized surround sound.

            Also, ALchemy/DS3D GX and Dolby/CMSS-3D are entirely different things. ALchemy and DS3D GX allow older games that used EAX positional audio to work in Windows Vista/7. Without them, you don’t necessarily get all the positional audio effects.

            If we hadn’t enabled Dolby/CMSS-3D surround virtualization, the positional audio wouldn’t have been used to its full potential, since the games would have only seen stereo headphones. Enabling surround virtualization presented the games with a surround-sound audio config through which to pipe 3D audio. Using these features together actually makes sense if you understand what they do.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 8 years ago

            CMSS-3D/Dolby is surround virtualization/stereo expansion, not true HRTF. A3D didn’t use virtual gimmicks for headphones, only HRTF. DS3D/OpenAL should calculate positional audio, whereas CMSS-3D is used to downsample DVD’s, and creates a virtual soundstage with virtual speakers. Some people even have the idea that you set the game to 5.1, and the system to headphones with CMSS-3D. Crazy stuff. Creative doesn’t use CMSS-3D correctly either, since they combined Sensaura’s tech with CMSS-3D, and is only enabled up to 4.1. AFAIK, Sensaura’s tech was an extension to DS3D, and was enabled in all speaker modes, and their stereo virtualizer was separate. Anyone who remembers using a Turtle beach Santa Cruz or similar would know that. Why Creative combined the two makes no sense, and makes even less sense to disable it in 5.1+ modes.

            I guess I now understand the gaming section of that review, since only headphones were tested. Proper headphone support is something Creative needs to work on. I don’t know about you guys, but Creative’s headphone mode always sounds muffled to me, so I don’t use it.

            edit: FYI to the downvote trolls, my information is correct, like it or not.
            Using CMSS-3D for headphone gaming is the same principle as using a 7.1 headset. They’re both gimmicks, unnecessary, and inaccurate.
            [url<]https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=79064[/url<] The only legitimate use CMSS-3D has, is to upsample stereo music, or downsample multichannel music. That's it, period. The technology is not meant for gaming, unless you are upsampling a stereo DOS game. There is no reason to have it on with a modern game that supports multichannel audio and HRTF.

      • Deanjo
      • 8 years ago

      Audio is one of those things where the only true measurement that matters is what is heard by the users ears and how it appeals to that persons taste. If you were to look at the specs of insanely expensive “audiophile class” tube amps for example and then compare it to a 199 Bestbuy house brand reciever you would think that the audiophile tube amp owners were smoking crack when the bb amp has way better specs in theory.

        • sircharles32
        • 8 years ago

        I agree. It is completely subjective. No human ear hears everything the same way, or at all. That’s why integrated audio is perfectly fine with me. As long as I can’t hear any pops or static, I’m a happy camper.

          • ludi
          • 8 years ago

          There [i<]are[/i<] objective criteria that can be tested and reported, but the equipment and experience to do that sort of review properly is fairly specialized.

        • Bauxite
        • 8 years ago

        Many audiophiles [i<]are[/i<] smoking crack. Have you seen the absolute bullcrap products out there targeted at them, and they [b<]do[/b<] sell.

          • travbrad
          • 8 years ago

          Leave me and my $1000 cables alone.

        • atryus28
        • 8 years ago

        Part of this problem comes even more from what people are using to listen to the equipment. If you use meh speakers with decent equipment, it won’t make a huge difference. Another huge issue is the audio being played back. So many people today are used to listening to “junk” audio that they won’t hear a difference anyway. A lot of music is recorded very poorly anymore so no, you won’t hear a difference. Listen to “higher” end music/audio and you will most certainly hear a difference though many people will still need to be “shown” what the difference is.
        The average person today won’t usually notice that the clarity of the high notes from the violins or the hi-hat work from the drummer etc. Most stuff is overly compressed and that clarity is not even present with high end equipment because it has been cut out. A lot of stuff is booming with “sub woofer” muddying everything else up as well.

        I know some audiophiles who spend a huge money on just the cables and scoff at the thought of a stereo amplifier. They also only really want Super Audio CDs to listen to and you most certainly CAN hear a difference. It is not worth what they spend to me, but I personally prefer better sounding audio equipment then cheap junk. I am also a musician as well and have been trained to listen for more sounds than the average person.

        Just another perspective.

      • Farting Bob
      • 8 years ago

      Do a comparison of ALL sound cards on newegg? Thats a huge ask. Even comparing say 10 of the most popular cards is a hard task, audio is probably the hardest to measure subjectively. Its near impossible to say “this card will sound better to you than this card, and here is a chart to prove it”.

      There are sites that specialise in audio reviews, these tend to be better places to go for a good comparison.

        • colinstu
        • 8 years ago

        Well, maybe not ALL of them. There is a lot of low-end crap that isn’t going to be any better than onboard sound. But definitely the pricier stuff that is touted as an audio upgrade. I’m not going to take anyone’s word here… I want to see benchmarks/graphs and draw my own conclusions (or read someone else’s).

        I swear I can’t be the only consumer that thinks this way. I’d be buying all kinds of stupid shit if I didn’t read comprehensive and comparative reviews.

      • Bensam123
      • 8 years ago

      Pretty sure that would have little to no meaning. Except for Creative, almost all of the sound cards are based off of very similar chips from either Cmedia or Realtek. It would be like the graphic card roundups on here that have little to no meaning

        • Deanjo
        • 8 years ago

        That isn’t true. The DSP is just one piece of the puzzle. DAC’s and OPAMPS (as well as the external components such capacitors and the filtering stages). HT Omega, Auzentech, and Asus cards for example all use the 8788 but do sound different and seeing as many of these cards have user swapable parts the difference can be fairly significant.

          • Bensam123
          • 8 years ago

          Aye, little to no meaning… it does have some meaning, but for the most part this isn’t comparing different architectures. You would be spending a lot of manpower on a category with very little differentiation and then it would come down mainly to subjective taste as there isn’t an overall encompassing ‘better’ test for these cards.

            • Deanjo
            • 8 years ago

            All those component choices and combination can easily have audible differences to even a untrained ear in tonal quality and also on the inaudible but measurable specs just as choice of speakers/amps/headphones.

            • Bensam123
            • 8 years ago

            Have you looked at the audio analysis for most motherboards? Almost all of them have all 5 on objective tests, that just comes down to what you as a listener find better. I never said there was no difference, the difference it represents is not objective or generalizable.

      • jensend
      • 8 years ago

      The trouble is that consumer soundcards just aren’t all that interesting these days; the difference between a $100 soundcard and integrated audio isn’t all that huge. Unless the mobo folks did a crappy job (not all that uncommon unfortunately) you may not be able to distinguish between the two in blind testing unless you have sensitive ears and rather good equipment. High bit depths and sampling rates don’t matter for listening; despite audiophiles’ emphatic yelling to the contrary, a well-mastered (correctly dithered) 16-bit 44.1KHz recording is basically never distinguishable from a high-bit-depth, high-sampling-rate version.

      The area where high bit depths and sampling rates matter, where there’s more space for improvement, and where I’d like to see more reviews is the recording side of things. Unfortunately the recording side of the internal audio adapter space has stagnated; the only recent products from E-MU, ESI, et al costing less than $300 are just eight-year-old PCI designs with a PCIE bridge slapped on. Most folks simply moved to USB2 and just shrugged their shoulders about the extra latency (some folks still clinging to FireWire based audio too).

      (USB3 audio interfaces could also be interesting- most interfaces would have no use for the added bandwidth, but full-duplex, signalling rather than polling, and several other protocol improvements could bring slightly lower latency and help ensure stuttering, glitching, etc don’t happen.)

    • catmolly70
    • 8 years ago

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