Asus’ Xonar DX sound card

Manufacturer Asus
Model Xonar DX
Price (Street) $89.99
Availability Now

I used to date a girl who was a little obsessive about what she ate. At every opportunity, she would buy fat-free, low-calorie, or otherwise diet derivatives of common food items. Now there’s nothing wrong with foods that are naturally fat-free or low in calories, but when you strip out the fat, salt, sugar, and delicious-but-carcinogenic chemicals, something is usually lost in the translation. Fat-free ice cream, for example, lacks the all-important creaminess that fat provides. Unsalted potato chips fall flat precisely because they lack salt. And Diet Coke, well, that just tastes wrong.

Diet versions of existing products tend to be hollow representations of the originals, so we were understandably a little cautious when Asus announced its new Xonar DX sound card. The PC hardware giant stormed onto the sound card scene with the Xonar D2X just a few months ago, putting longtime market magnate Creative on notice. A $180 asking price put the D2X firmly in luxury territory, but with PCI Express connectivity, high quality components, innovative features, and useful bundled extras, it’s definitely worth the price—especially when you consider the card’s solid gaming performance and exceptional sound quality.

Asus’ new Xonar rings in at half the cost of the D2X, and the card itself is half the size. Naturally, then, the DX is missing some of the features and extras of its full-fat cousin. Keep reading to see how the diet Xonar fares without them.

The Xonar, sans frills

The Xonar DX differs from its D2X cousin in many ways, but some of those differences are more important than others. Take the audio chips used in each card, for example. The DX employs what’s marked as an Asus AV100 audio processor while the D2X uses an AV200. Don’t pay too much attention to the names silk-screened onto the chips, though; they’re the very same C-Media Oxygen HD audio processor under the hood. Asus says the chips go through a “quality sorting” process to separate the AV100s from the AV200s.

Asus Xonar D2X Asus Xonar DX

Audio chip
Asus AV200 Asus AV100

Digital-to-analog converter
TI Burr Brown PCM1796 Cirrus Logic CS4398 (front)
Cirrus Logic CS4362A (center, rear, side)

Analog-to-digital converter
Cirrus Logic CS5381 Cirrus Logic CS5361

Maximum recording quality
24-bit/192kHz 24-bit/192kHz

Maximum playback quality
24-bit/192kHz 24-bit/192kHz

Signal-to-noise rating
118dB 116dB (front)
112dB (center, rear, side)

Output channels
7.1 7.1

Multichannel digital output
Dolby Digital Live, DTS Dolby Digital Live

Interface
PCI Express x1 PCI Express x1

Street price
$89.99

The Xonar DX’s AV100 audio processor may differ from the AV200 in name only, but that’s not the case with the card’s other onboard components. The DX uses a combination of Cirrus Logic CS4398 and CS4362A digital-to-analog converters to feed its analog output ports. The CS4398 is in charge of the card’s front output channels, and with a signal-to-noise rating of 120 dB, it’s the higher-quality of the two. Center, side, and rear channels are handled by a CS4362A chip that carries an SNR rating of only 114 dB. For reference, the TI Burr Brown DACs used for all of the Xonar D2X’s output channels carry a 123 dB SNR rating.

Going in the opposite direction, from analog to digital, both Xonars feature ADCs from Cirrus Logic. The cards use different chips, though, with the DX featuring a CS5361 to the D2X’s CS5381. Signal-to-noise ratings once again favor the D2X. The CS5381 is rated for 120 dB, while the CS5361 has a rated 114 dB SNR.

Individual parts specs are important, of course, but we’re more interested in the Xonar DX as a sound card. Asus pegs the card’s overall signal-to-noise rating at 116 dB for the front outputs and 112 dB for the rest. That’s reasonably close to the 118 dB SNR rating of the Xonar D2X, especially if you’re mostly going to be listening to stereo content.

Despite differences in SNR, both cards support high-definition audio at up to 24 bits and 192kHz across all their inputs and outputs. Support for 192kHz recording is particularly notable because Creative’s X-Fis can only record at up to 96kHz.

Like most modern sound cards, the Xonars feature 7.1 analog output channels. Their Oxygen HD audio chips are also capable of encoding Dolby Digital Live bitstreams in real time. Support for real-time Dolby Digital Live encoding is useful for folks who want to play games on multi-channel speakers using a digital output. Running multi-channel output through a single digital connection is much neater than using a bunch of analog cables, although you will need a compatible receiver or set of digital speakers capable of decoding a Dolby Digital Live signal.

In addition its ability to encode DDL bitstreams on the fly, the Oxygen HD audio chip can also do real-time DTS Interactive encoding. This DTS encoding capability doesn’t make the cut for the Xonar DX, though; it’s only exposed in the pricier D2X model. DTS Interactive and Dolby Digital Live perform the same function, so the only thing the Xonar DX really loses here is compatibility with receivers or digital speakers that support the former but not the latter.

While it’s not listed in the chart, we should note that the Xonar DX retains the D2X’s support for Dolby Headphone and Virtual Speaker, er, virtualization schemes that simulate 5.1-channel environments over stereo output. Dolby Pro-Logic IIx is also on the menu for those who want to up-mix stereo or 5.1-channel content for output across 6.1 or 7.1 channels.

A creative approach to EAX support

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the Oxygen HD audio chip used in the Xonar DX is its relatively pedestrian positional 3D audio credentials. The chip natively supports EAX 2.0—a technology that dates back to the SoundBlaster Live! and is restricted to 32 concurrent 3D voices. Creative’s latest X-Fis can handle up to 128 concurrent 3D voices at higher definition sampling rates and resolutions. The X-Fi also performs positional audio calculations in hardware, while the Oxygen HD has to offload them to the host system’s CPU.

The popularity of multi-core processors (and more importantly, games that leave multiple cores unused) has lessened the need for hardware-accelerated 3D audio, but there’s still a big gap between EAX 2.0 and 5.0. Asus bridges that gap with a software feature it calls DirectSound 3D GX 2.0, which is capable of emulating EAX 5.0 functionality that had previously only been available with Creative’s X-Fi cards.

DS3D GX presents the Xonar as an EAX 5.0-compliant audio card, and then intercepts EAX calls, re-routing them to the Xonar’s own audio processing engine. That engine does its best to approximate EAX effects, and it can handle up to 128 concurrent 3D voices with enhanced reverb effects for “most” DirectSound 3D games. Positional audio calculations are still performed on the host system’s CPU, but DS3D GX at least brings the Xonar beyond EAX 2.0’s 32-voice limitation.

Creative is quick to point out that DirectSound 3D GX doesn’t deliver “genuine” EAX 5.0 effects, and Asus readily admits as much. However, Asus also says users will be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the two—a claim we’ll explore when we dive into listening tests a little later in the review.

Asus cites an additional advantage of its DS3D GX approach for Windows Vista users. Vista features an all-new Universal Audio Architecture (which you can read about in more detail in our initial look at the Xonar D2X) that removes the hardware abstraction layer for DirectSound 3D, effectively killing positional 3D audio in games that exclusively rely on DirectSound 3D and its EAX extensions. To work around the new audio stack, Creative offers an ALchemy software package that converts DirectSound 3D calls for processing by a third-party OpenAL API that still has direct access to audio hardware in Vista.

Thus, at least in Vista, ALchemy performs a similar function to DirectSound 3D GX. However, ALchemy is a standalone application that must be specifically configured to work with different games. DS3D GX is built right into the Xonar’s drivers and doesn’t require additional software or game-specific profiles.

A Xonar, halved

When we talked about Asus putting the Xonar on a diet for this new DX, we weren’t joking. The card really is quite a bit slimmer than its predecessors.

Asus builds the DX on a half-height card that’s perfect for slimline enclosures that are too small for full-sized expansion cards. However, at 170mm long (roughly six and three quarters inches, if you’re an Imperialist), the card will require some open room behind your motherboard’s PCI Express x1 slot.

Ah, yes. The Xonar DX features PCI Express connectivity, finally giving users something reasonable to plug into their motherboards’ x1 slots. The extra bandwidth afforded by the PCIe interface probably won’t do much for the card, but it’s certainly a more future-proof expansion standard than the older PCI interface, which seems destined to be largely phased out soon.

The Xonar’s Oxygen HD audio chip wasn’t designed for PCI Express, so Asus uses a bridge chip from PLX to adapt it to the PCIe interface. This bridge chip appears to conflict with motherboards based on Nvidia’s latest nForce chipsets, though. We couldn’t get the Xonar detected in a motherboard based on the nForce 790i SLI reference design, with the Vista device manager reporting problems with a PCI-to-PCI Express bridge. The same problem also afflicts the Xonar D2X, and according to Nvidia, it’s a BIOS issue that will be resolved with an update shortly.

We’ve spent most of our time so far discussing features that didn’t make the cut for the Xonar DX, but the card actually includes one perk that its full-fat counterparts lack: headers for front-panel audio connectors. Front-panel connectivity probably should have been included with the original Xonars, so it’s nice to see Asus bring it to the DX.

With so little board real estate, it’s no surprise that a number of the DX’s components are mounted on the back of the card. You don’t get a fancy EMI shield like on the Xonar D2X, either. And despite its diminutive size, the DX still requires auxiliary power from a four-pin floppy connector.

LED-backlit ports were probably one of our favorite features of the original Xonar, but since they’re a little more flash than function (at least unless you spend a lot of time swapping speakers), they didn’t make the cut for the Xonar DX. Instead, users are greeted with a standard array of analog input and output ports.

If you prefer digital connections, the DX’s S/PDIF output is shared with its analog line and mic input port. A digital S/PDIF input port isn’t provided on the port cluster, but the card does feature a four-pin auxiliary input connector.

Asus bundles the DX with an S/PDIF adapter that allows a standard TOS-Link cable to connect to the Xonar’s shared digital output port. A second mounting bracket is also provided for those looking to take advantage of the card’s low-profile proportions.

Our testing methods

We’ve rounded up a number of competitors to test the Xonar DX against today, including its D2X brethren. An X-Fi XtremeMusic is included to represent the Creative cartel, and we’ve thrown in Realtek’s flagship ALC889A codec chip for a little integrated motherboard lovin’.

Although the Xonar DX and D2X use similar drivers with identical control panels, the driver version number for each is a little different. Asus keeps the driver packages separate, which I suppose makes sense considering that features like DTS Interactive encoding are restricted to the D2X.

All tests were run three times, and their results were averaged.

Processor

Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 2.67GHz
System bus 1066MHz (266MHz
quad-pumped)

Motherboard
Gigabyte X48T-DQ6
Bios revision F4D

North bridge
Intel X48 Express

South bridge
Intel ICH9R
Chipset drivers Chipset 8.3.1.1009
AHCI 7.8.0.1012
Memory size

2GB (2 DIMMs)


Memory type


Corsair CM3X1024-1600C7DHX DDR3 SDRAM
at 1333MHz
CAS latency
(CL)
7
RAS to CAS
delay (tRCD)
7
RAS precharge
(tRP)
7
Cycle time
(tRAS)
21

Audio codec
Integrated
ICH9R/ALC889A with 1.89 drivers

Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic
with
2.15.0006 drivers

Asus Xonar D2X
with 6.12.8.1731 drivers

Asus Xonar DX
with 6.12.8.1730 drivers
Graphics

GeForce 8800 GTS 640MB PCI-E
with ForceWare 169.21 drivers
Hard drive

Western Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB
OS

Windows Vista Ultimate x86
OS updates Service Pack 1

Thanks to Corsair for providing us with memory for our testing.

All of our test systems were powered by OCZ GameXStream 700W power supply units. Thanks to OCZ for providing these units for our use in testing.

Finally, we’d like to thank Western Digital for sending Raptor WD1500ADFD hard drives for our test rigs. The Raptor’s still the fastest all-around drive on the market, and the only 10K-RPM Serial ATA drive you can buy.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

Game performance

We’ll kick things off with a selection of four of the most recent PC games on the market, each based on an entirely different engine. All games were tested with Fraps, which logged frame rates as we played through 60-second sections of each title. Tests were run five times and the results averaged. We’ve also provided a look at how frame rates tracked through our 60-second gameplay run and the median low frame rate for each card.

Display resolutions and in-game detail levels were chosen for each game with an eye towards delivering frame rates that we’d be happy playing with normally. These settings were maintained regardless of the audio card used.

Bioshock
Bioshock uses Unreal technology, delivering native support for OpenAL in Windows Vista. DS3D GX didn’t work properly with Bioshock at first, and the game would fail to run with EAX enabled. However, Asus was able to quickly get us an updated .dll for the Xonar’s drivers that resolved the issue.

The Xonar doesn’t deliver the highest frame rates in Bioshock, but it’s not far off the pace set by the X-Fi XtremeMusic.

Call of Duty 4
Call of Duty 4 uses an engine of developer Infinity Ward’s own creation. In Windows Vista, audio is handled by OpenAL.

Average frame rates are pretty close in Call of Duty 4. Given the variable nature of Frapsing real-world gameplay sessions, I wouldn’t worry about differences of only a couple of frames per second.

Crysis

Crytek’s latest engine is an absolute beast, and rather than relying on any form of hardware acceleration, it includes a software audio mixer designed to deliver the same listening experience regardless of the user’s sound card.

Even with Crysis crunching positional 3D audio with a software mixer, the X-Fi manages the highest average and median low frame rates. The Xonar DX is right on its heels, though.

Quake Wars

id Software has long supported cross-platform APIs like OpenGL, so it’s no surprise that Quake Wars uses OpenAL under Windows Vista.

The DX may finish at the bottom of the pile here, but frame rates are pretty close across the board.

Windows XP CPU utilization

Since many enthusiasts have balked at moving to Windows Vista, we threw the cards through a quick round of CPU utilization tests in Windows XP. Here, we can enjoy the full benefits of DirectSound hardware acceleration without Vista’s Universal Audio Architecture getting in the way.

The Xonar DX looks remarkably good here, managing lower CPU utilization than even the hardware-accelerated X-Fi. Something’s not quite right about these results, though. The Xonar D2X’s CPU utilization was much higher with a previous driver revision, and with DirectSound 3D GX offloading positional audio calculations onto the host CPU, it shouldn’t be using fewer CPU cycles than the X-Fi.

Since the ability to encode multi-channel audio over S/PDIF is a key feature of the Xonar DX, we’ve run some RightMark 3D Sound tests with digital output. For these tests, the Xonar D2X, X-Fi XtremeMusic, and ALC889A were configured to pass DTS Interactive bitstreams. The Xonar DX can’t output DTS Interactive, so it was set to use Dolby Digital Live instead.

Switching to multi-channel digital output doesn’t change the picture much. The ALC889A’s CPU utilization rises slightly, but the Xonar handles Dolby Digital Live with aplomb.

Power consumption

Power consumption has become a staple of our hardware coverage here at TR, but it’s not something we usually tackle with sound cards. Normal sound cards don’t come with auxiliary power connectors, though, so we busted out our Watts Up? Pro power meter and measured total system power consumption, sans monitor and speakers, at the wall outlet. Systems were tested at idle and again while playing an MP3.

The Xonar DX consumes marginally less power than the D2X, and a little more than the X-Fi. Note that adding a discrete sound card doesn’t increase overall system power consumption by all that much over integrated motherboard audio.

Listening tests

For many, the most important attribute of a sound card is how it sounds. To test that, I called in some favors with a couple of friends, subjecting them to music playback listening tests in the Benchmarking Sweatshop. These were blind tests, with the listeners unaware of which card they were listening to at any given time.

To highlight the differences between cards, 30-second song clips were played back-to-back on different configurations using Abit’s iDome speakers connected via analog output. The Xonar DX was pitted against the D2X, X-Fi XtremeMusic, and ALC889 in head-to-head matchups with each song clip, and the order of playback was randomized for each song.

This first set of listening tests examines CD-quality audio playback. We used uncompressed WAV audio ripped directly from source CDs and played them back in Windows Media Player 11. Below, you’ll find a summary of our listeners’ impressions of how the DX compared with its competition. I’ve also injected a few thoughts of my own, although since I was running the tests, I knew which cards we were hearing.

Nine Inch Nails – Capital G (Epworth Phones remix)

Nine Inch Nails goes disco with a bass-heavy Capital G version from the Y34RZ3R0R3M1X3D remix album. Yeah, Trent Reznor’s pretty 1337.

Our listeners detected little difference between the Xonar DX and D2X on this track. However, both preferred the DX to the X-Fi. One listener commented that the DX delivered much richer bass with “mahogany overtones,” whatever that means. The other found that the DX offered much fuller vocals and deeper bass than the X-Fi.

The ALC889A was clearly outmatched by the Xonar here, with both listeners describing the Realtek codec’s playback as muddled and much poorer than that of the DX. It was almost as if the almighty Realtek crab were overwhelmed by the song’s pounding bass line, causing it to lose focus on other elements of the track.

Amy Winehouse – He Can Only Hold Her

While perhaps not her most ironic performance of the year, Amy Winehouse’s He Can Only Hold Her spreads soulful vocals across a groovy drum line with hits of plucky piano and background singing.

Again, the Xonar DX fared well against the D2X. Our listeners were quick to praise both, although one thought that the track’s piano elements sounded slightly better on the D2X. When pitted against the X-Fi, the Xonar did a much better job balancing the track’s vocal and instrumental elements. Both listeners found the X-Fi’s background content a little muffled behind the song’s strong foreground vocals.

Integrated audio has come a long way in the last couple of years, but our listeners preferred the Xonar DX over our motherboard’s ALC889A codec. Both said the Xonar offered richer playback with fuller vocals, and I thought the piano in particular sounded much better on the Asus card.

U2 – Original of the Species

The Edge’s unmistakable guitar notes play off Bono’s trademark soaring vocals in this recent example of the pop rock formula at its best.

One of our listeners found the Xonar D2X’s vocals a little fuller than those of the DX, but the other couldn’t tell the difference between the two. However, both agreed that the DX sounded better than the X-Fi. The vocal bias common on Creative cards was particularly obvious here, with the Xonar’s background instrumentals coming through just that little bit clearer.

Differences between the DX and X-Fi weren’t nearly as great as between the Asus card and the Realtek codec. Our listeners weren’t impressed with the ALC889A, saying that its vocals sounded like “bad karaoke” next to the Xonar. They also thought the DX did a much better job with instrumentals and that the card sounded much more like a live performance.

Johnny Cash – I Won’t Back Down

The Man in Black channels Tom Petty, with Cash’s baritone backed up by acoustic guitar, piano, and even a little help from the heartbreaker.

There are plenty of technical differences between the Xonar D2X and DX, but our listeners didn’t prefer one over the other with this song. They did, however, think that the X-Fi sounded a little better than the DX here. The XtremeMusic’s vocal bias served it well on this track, which has little background content to balance with the main event.

Even with a relatively simple song, our listeners were quick to find fault with the ALC889A after hearing it played next to the Xonar DX. The Realtek codec lacked the sharpness of the Xonar, they said, and I thought it lost a little of the depth in Cash’s voice.

Jet – Are You Gonna be my Girl?

Iggy Pop meets AC/DC in this upbeat track, which mixes raspy vocals with guitar, drums, and even a little tambourine.

The Xonars like to rock, and our listeners both thought they sounded great here. One did say the DX sounded just slightly better, but couldn’t say why. Both were in agreement that the X-Fi fell a little flat when compared with the Xonar, with one commenting that the DX was like having front row seats while the XtremeMusic put him up in the balcony.

Interestingly, our listeners were a little less harsh on the ALC889A, although both agreed that it didn’t sound as good as the Xonar DX. The Xonar had better clarity, they said, and I thought the drum line was much punchier on the Asus card.

Game time: DS3D GX under the microscope

Asus claims that the Xonar’s DirectSound 3D GX’s EAX 5.0 emulation produces output comparable to true EAX implementations, so we just had to take it for a spin. We even contacted Creative to see if they could suggest some games that might highlight DS3D GX’s limitations, but the company’s few suggestions were dominated by games based on the older Doom 3 engine. EAX support just isn’t what it used to be, I guess.

Creative did suggest that we try Bioshock, and since we had a few initial DS3D GX problems with the game, it made the cut. We also decided to throw a little Battlefield 2 into the mix. The game has a special X-Fi audio mode, and we were curious to see how that would pan out with the Xonar.

I spent a couple of hours playing each game on the X-Fi XtremeMusic and Xonar DX with configured for 5.1-channel analog output with in-game EAX effects enabled. Surprisingly, Battlefield 2 let me invoke the X-Fi audio mode with the Xonar DX.

After an afternoon of gaming, I came away quite impressed with DirectSound 3D GX. Creative may be correct in saying that it doesn’t deliver a genuine EAX 5.0 experience, and I wouldn’t be surprised if its emulation isn’t an exact 1:1 replica of EAX effects. But that didn’t diminish my gaming experience in the least. Bioshock is packed with aural ambiance, and the underwater city of Rapture was every bit as creepy with the Xonar as it was with the X-Fi. I couldn’t detect any difference between the cards in Battlefield 2, either, even in intense firefights loaded with explosions, gunfire, and frantic cries for a medic.

RightMark Audio Analyzer – Loopback – 16-bit/44.1kHz

Moving from subjective listening tests to something more objective, we used RightMark Audio Analyzer to evaluate output quality. Our first set of RMAA results are from “loopback” tests that route a sound card’s output through its line input. We’ll kick things off with 16-bit/44.1kHz CD-quality audio.

To keep things simple, I’ve translated RightMark’s word-based quality scale to numbers. Higher scores reflect better audio quality, and the scale tops out at 6, which corresponds to an “Excellent” rating.

The Xonar DX is at least as good as the D2X here, which puts it right at the top of the field and easily ahead of the X-Fi and ALC889A. In fact, the DX actually scores better than its higher-priced cousin in the dynamic range test.

The X-Fi appears to have some frequency response issues with RightMark Audio Analyzer’s loopback test in Windows Vista. You can read more about them here.

Update 4/11/2008 — It turns out that the X-Fi requires some additional Vista driver tweaking to work correctly with RightMark Audio Analyzer. We’ve re-tested the XtremeMusic with Creative’s updated settings and added those results to the review.

RightMark Audio Analyzer – Loopback – 24-bit/48kHz

My Nine Inch Nails With Teeth dual disc’s DVD-Audio tracks are 24-bit/48kHz, and we ran RMAA at that bitrate and resolution.

The Xonars continue to hang together as we crank up the sampling rate and resolution. Although the X-Fi is more competitive here, it still doesn’t score as highly as the DX.

RightMark Audio Analyzer – Loopback – 24-bit/96kHz

24-bit/96kHz is as good as multi-channel DVD-Audio gets, so we’ll test at this bitrate and resolution, too.

The Xonar DX makes 24 bits at 96kHz look easy. Note that our integrated motherboard audio again delivers the lowest scores in these objective signal quality tests.

RightMark Audio Analyzer – Loopback – 24-bit/192kHz

Stereo DVD-Audio goes up to 24 bits at 192kHz, so we tested that resolution and bitrate, too. Since the X-Fi doesn’t support 192kHz recording, we were unable to run loopback tests on the XtremeMusic at this sampling rate.

Even with the sampling rate cranked to 192kHz, the Xonar DX goes toe-to-toe with the D2X.

RightMark Audio Analyzer – Playback – 16-bit/44.1kHz

To remove each sound card’s line input as a variable, we switched from RMAA loopback to straight playback tests using an X-Fi Fatal1ty installed on a separate system for recording. The X-Fi doesn’t support 192kHz recording, so our playback tests only scale up to 96kHz.

Xonar dominance extends to our RMAA playback tests, where the DX and D2X are again closely matched. The X-Fi and ALC889A lag behind in almost every test.

RightMark Audio Analyzer – Playback – 24-bit/48kHz

The XtremeMusic seems to fare better with 24-bit audio than it does at 16 bits, but even then, it can’t entirely match the signal quality offered by the Xonar DX.

RightMark Audio Analyzer – Playback – 24-bit/96kHz

The fact that the Xonar DX manages to keep up with the more expensive D2X throughout our RMAA signal quality tests is nothing short of impressive.

Detailed RMAA results – Loopback – 16-bit/44.1kHz

If you want to geek out over a bunch of detailed RMAA graphs, we’ve provided the raw results for all of our RMAA tests over the following six pages. These results are included as a bonus; feel free to skip to the conclusion, if you wish.

Stereo Crosstalk

Dynamic Range

Frequency Response

Intermodulation Distortion

Noise Levels

Total Harmonic Distortion

Detailed RMAA results – Loopback – 24-bit/48kHz

Stereo Crosstalk

Dynamic Range

Frequency Response

Intermodulation Distortion

Noise Levels

Total Harmonic Distortion

Detailed RMAA results – Loopback – 24-bit/96kHz

Stereo Crosstalk

Dynamic Range

Frequency Response

Intermodulation Distortion

Noise Levels

Total Harmonic Distortion

Detailed RMAA results – Loopback – 24-bit/192kHz

Stereo Crosstalk

Dynamic Range

Frequency Response

Intermodulation Distortion

Noise Levels

Total Harmonic Distortion

Detailed RMAA results – Playback – 16-bit/44.1kHz

Stereo Crosstalk

Dynamic Range

Frequency Response

Intermodulation Distortion

Noise Levels

Total Harmonic Distortion

Detailed RMAA results – Playback – 24-bit/48kHz

Stereo Crosstalk

Dynamic Range

Frequency Response

Intermodulation Distortion

Noise Levels

Total Harmonic Distortion

Detailed RMAA results – Playback – 24-bit/96kHz

Stereo Crosstalk

Dynamic Range

Frequency Response

Intermodulation Distortion

Noise Levels

Total Harmonic Distortion

Conclusions

Asus put the Xonar on a diet for this latest DX version, dropping plenty of weight to squeeze it onto a low-profile card that retails for half the price of the more expensive D2X model. Some of the original Xonar’s flashier features didn’t survive, including its generous cable bundle and LED-backlit ports. DTS Interactive encoding isn’t supported by the DX, either, and you’ll have to settle for Cirrus Logic DACs instead of Burr Browns.

Despite these changes, the DX lives up to the performance standard set by its predecessor. The card’s sound quality is nothing short of exceptional, and more impressively, it was indistinguishable from that of the Xonar D2X in both blind listening tests and in RightMark Audio Analyzer’s objective measure of signal quality. Gaming performance is good, too, which isn’t really a surprise considering that all the Xonars share the same audio chip. The combination of Windows Vista and multi-core processor seems to have largely blunted the appeal of hardware acceleration for positional 3D audio, and Asus’ DirectSound 3D GX does an admirable job of emulating EAX 5.0 effects that have long been restricted to Creative’s audio chips.

Asus Xonar DX
April 2008

So Asus may have cut some of the fat from the Xonar for this new DX derivative, but they haven’t gone too far. The soul of the Xonar remains intact, and with the DX’s street price sitting at just $90, it’s more attainable than ever. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest the Xonar DX offers the best combination of features, performance, and value of any desktop PC sound card on the market. It’s no wonder, then, that we’ve given it our Editor’s Choice award.

The Xonar DX is more than just a fantastic sound card. It also cements Asus as the most credible—and importantly innovative—alternative to Creative’s dominance of the PC audio market. Enthusiasts have been waiting for such an alternative for a long time.

Comments closed
    • baumaxx1
    • 10 years ago

    I don’t think the audio card market is dead… and this proves it. I was sceptical when buying mine, but it definitely was a $100 improvement over the on-board Realtek HD chip (Gigabyte Ex58 UD3R board).

    Firstly, you get none of the stupid interference and noise from the CPU or whatever, just silence so nothing spoils the audio quality.

    Not just that, but it supports 96/24 audio.

    The equaliser is a lot better than the realtek one in XP, and the realtek card doesn’t even have one under Vista. It also does not distort when you push it. If you crank it to max… it gets a bit boomy, yes, but you don’t have to go that high as the bass is already much better out of the DX and it’s not really that distorted.

    It goes louder on my headphones before it has a treble bias.

    I’ve noticed quite a big improvement in bass on all my speakers, even the cheap ones. Instead of a very bland “woof” sound, it’s a lot more detailed and instead of sounding synthetic, you can almost believe someone was playing a bass guitar in front of you if you closed your eyes. It’s the best sounding source in my house for my HD515s, and that’s compared to a Harmon Kardon Hi-Fi amp (equaliser helps that I’m sure), and it’s miles ahead of my Zen and the old Realtek HD.

    On top of that, it has handy VOIP features, will boost performance a little, and has that DS3D whatever it is.

    So yeah… not a bad upgrade if you love sound quality.

      • aiplspitz
      • 10 years ago

      Hello there,
      are there any differences in sound quality between D1 and DX?
      any suggestions which of the two is preferable?
      does the PCIe Bridge Chip of the DX influence the soundquality?
      or does the PCI Bus used by the D1 cause problems because its a shared bus system?
      many thx in forward and greetings!
      Danny

    • Unclepauly
    • 11 years ago

    So to keep it simple, if you are going digital out you don’t need a soundcard, and if you are going analog out you are outdated.

    The soundcard market is not only over for Creative, it’s over for everyone. Nobody needs cards anymore except maybe for creation. But why would you use a PC if you were serious about music creation? Bah, my x-fi is probably the last sound card I’ll ever own.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 12 years ago

    The one person praising the XP results aside I wonder why the CPU utilization tests of all things was done on XP. I assume they were all run again and the results weren’t re-used from a 2 year old review. I’d think that testing in Vista with it’s much changed audio interface would be a good thing to test too.

    Was all testing aside from the CPU usage done in Vista? I’m almost considering getting rid of my Prelude for one of these heh.

      • Dissonance
      • 12 years ago

      RightMark 3D sound doesn’t work in Vista, which left us no choice but to use XP. Otherwise, all testing was done in Vista.

    • neo_sapien
    • 12 years ago

    But using this sound card, will you still get Dolby Digital and DTS surround effects when watching a DVD (say, in PowerDVD), if you no longer have a dolby digital-dts receiver (due to it having a lower-quality DAC than the sound card), and use analog speakers instead?

    oops, this was meant to be a reply to #114

      • crazybus
      • 12 years ago

      If your DVD player software is licensed for for multichannel playback then yes. Or just use MediaPlayerClassic or any other player that can use FFDShow for playback. All the AC3/DTS decoding is then done in software.

        • neo_sapien
        • 12 years ago

        and is there any quality difference between decoding dolby digital or dts in software, compared to using a hardware decoder like in the creative inspire 5700?

          • crazybus
          • 12 years ago

          Theoretically there shouldn’t be a difference, but keep in mind different methods will apply varying levels of dynamic range compression which will affect how it sounds. Also using a software decoder causes the audio to pass through the system’s sound subsystem which can apply volume/sampling rate/EQ changes to the stream.

    • herothezero
    • 12 years ago

    Might just have to pick up one of these…

    • jinjuku
    • 12 years ago

    So if I am using the optical TOSLink to my receiver, what does it matter what DAC’s a sound card is using.

    Aren’t you talking about the analog out section on that card when it comes to sound quality vs the Creative X-Fi?

      • titan
      • 12 years ago

      Yes they are. They state that they’re using the analog outputs during the listening tests.

      Also, you’re right, if you use a digital output, it doesn’t matter whose card you’re using, the audio quality should always be the same and would depend more on the receiver.

        • jinjuku
        • 12 years ago

        Is someone going to buy a high end audio card, so they can go analog out to a set of multi-media PC 5.1 or 7.1 speakers?

        How many are going to setup a system with this card and all the inherent noise a PC’s PSU produces and go straight to an amp and then speakers?

        Wouldn’t most go optical out to a decent receiver? Most that want that high end are going to go high end on everything. I would think that precludes using a computer as a source device.

        Can you get a calibrated mic with these cards, do these cards feature room EQ?

          • FlatEric815
          • 12 years ago

          Yes. Most audiophiles are aware that there are times analog conversion on a soundcard is superior to going digital (ie over toslink) to a reciever that then translates to analog.

          All digital sound gets converted to analog at some point, it’s a matter of whether your digital reciever’s DAC and subsequent signal chain offers a higher fidelity sound, or your soundcards DAC and subsequent signal offeres a better sound. Hopefully you’ll do some research on what’s going on inside your setup before blowing a pretty penny 🙂

          There’s also the issue of convenience and preferernce. Would you rather be manipulating all the settings and swapping input sources on the digital reciever, or would you rather spend that money on a better dedicated amp, and do all the settings and have a consolidated media library on a computer.

            • jinjuku
            • 12 years ago

            My setup is an HTPC going optical to a pretty much ordinary Pioneer receiver. My point being is: If you are after fidelity people will argue that you aren’t getting that in a $90 sound card.

            The real question is: Does the DAC on the Xonar do a better job than the DAC in my receiver? If the answer is no, then the on board TOSLink is a no brainer.

            My setup is consolidated. I don’t have to bother with HDMI switching, nor source switching. I set the receiver up once, run the room EQ and now just power it up/down. Nothing else. It really is a sweet setup. Been doing this for years. Also on Audioholics/Home Theater Shack/ AVSFORUM etc…

            For HTPC the card may not make much sense, for EAX however.

            • mattcoz
            • 12 years ago

            Wouldn’t going over analog be preferable though, because going over digital requires lossy encoding?

            • jinjuku
            • 12 years ago

            The bit stream going SP/DIF or TOSLink is full bore there is no loss. The point I am making here is that the D to A conversion happens someplace. In my scenario it is the Receiver that does the conversion. The subsequent question is: Does my receiver do a better or as good as job as a $90 sound card.

            • deruberhanyok
            • 12 years ago

            I think that would depend on the DACs in your receiver. Unless it’s a cheap receiver I’d guess “yes.”

            • titan
            • 12 years ago

            There are also people like me who have a cheap “receiver”. The Logitech Z-680. It does a fine job, but there is definitely a quality difference between using the Z-680’s control center to do the conversion and the M-Audio Revolution 7.1. The Revolution is the better of the two.

            Additionally, there are some who don’t want to spend the money on a whole receiver. Like myself. I’m looking at a setup where I just run an analog signal to an amp and then on to a pair of speakers. A setup like that would actually be less expensive than getting a good receiver just for the purpose of powering my speakers. Getting a fancier setup is cheaper with analog than digital too. So, if I want to put a Rane 31-band EQ in between the audio card and the amp is inexpensive and easy. Much better than the automatic equalization that most receivers do these days.

            Finally, not all PSUs are noisy. Good quality PSUs won’t introduce any more noise than a receiver would. The Xonar also looks like it has its own set of power filters on board. It doesn’t take as much to clean up a 12VDC line as it would a mains 120VAC.

            • deruberhanyok
            • 12 years ago

            If you’re just thinkibng of a pair of speakers and not surround sound, you may want to consider powered studio monitor speakers.

            You can get nice sets for under $200 (though the higher end stuff can easily be more than double that) and forego the extra step of a separate amp.

            Some monitors even have digital inputs so you can bypass your sound card’s DAC and send PCM 2.0 stereo to them.

            • jinjuku
            • 12 years ago

            Ok, now the point I want to make is coming around:

            I have PSB speakers and a Pioneer 1015TX receiver. The point being is you are talking about trying to make the Z-680 sound ‘better’. The issue is that, they really aren’t what would be considered a ‘high end’ speaker.

            I mean how much can you possibly improve the sound of such a system? There isn’t a 5.1 PC targeted audio system (even Klipsch) that I would consider truly high end in audio terms. I mean they are nice compared to the competition in that space, but still can only go so far.

            • neo_sapien
            • 12 years ago

            I have a Creative Inspire 5700 5.1 digital speaker set which has a dolby digital/dts receiver connected via optical to a Diamond Xtremesound DDL 7.1 (and intending to buy the Asus Xonar DX soon). Are you guys basically saying that, using the Xonar DX, I’d get better quality audio going with analog speakers (say, for instance, the only 7.1 speaker set I can find on newegg.com right now, the Creative Inspire P7800) than I would using my Inspire 5700s? The Inspire 5700s are from 2002 or so, and the best I can determine is that they have about a 90db DAC or so, but it’s not really clear from googling.

            And what about DVDs and such? Don’t you have to have a dolby digital/DTS receiver to get genuine dolby/dts sound when watching movies? Or would you get the same or better quality with analog speakers? As an example, when I watch Lord of the Rings: FOTR EE with the DTS audio track, there is a scene where a flight of crows are flying by, looking for the fellowship. In this scene, with the Inspire 5700s, you feel immersed in a sound field, and can hear distinct sounds from hundreds of crows coming from all around you. Can this same effect be achieved using analog speakers, without a dolby/dts receiver?

            • yoyolai
            • 12 years ago

            7.1 channel analog out and Dolby digital to AVR out are both multi-channel out. The only thing will change the result is the DAC and SPEAKER. If you hook a nice pair of PC speaker, it could even out perform a normal AVR+low end speaker.

            • mattcoz
            • 12 years ago

            I thought that was only the case with 2-channel audio. Am I wrong? Can you send lossless 5.1 over TOSlink?

            • deruberhanyok
            • 12 years ago

            If you mean lossless PCM 5.1, no, I don’t think so. But there’s no quality degradation from a DAC if you’re using Dolby Digital Live, just the quality change from creating a DDL signal. For lots of people (myself included) that isn’t even noticeable.

            • crazybus
            • 12 years ago

            With HDMI and supporting hardware you can send lossless 7.1 24bit/192khz PCM.

            • ludi
            • 12 years ago

            People can argue it, but if the $90 soundcard is designed as well as this one seems to be, many of those people would be blowing smoke. The D/A conversion hardware on this card is equivalent or superior to what many low-end and middle-end receivers offer, and how much ASUS managed to clean up the power supply on the card itself and shield the critical paths matters much more than whether a PC supply can be noisy (it can) or whether the interior of a PC is an RFI monte carlo test (it is).

          • Usacomp2k3
          • 12 years ago

          Don’t forget that very few motherboards have audio solutions that will do DD live. Lacking that, you’re not going to be able to have surround sound of of things like games/Winamp.

    • FrankCastle
    • 12 years ago

    ack! just when i was going to build my new pc too

    from a purely gaming point of view, which card should i be using, the asus or creative x-fi?

      • BRiT
      • 12 years ago

      Go with the Asus, since Creative has done nothing to earn and keep the consumers’ respect.

    • strikeleader
    • 12 years ago

    I am just glad to see that TR hasn’t forgotten out us XP users (more of us than Vista users) completely and included it in it’s testing. Vista may be what M$ is trying to shove down our CPU’s but I am not impressed with it and really do not see the need to change yet. It seems that the review sites have bowed to the pressure and only include Vista on the systems that they use to test products.
    TR please keep XP in the mix for testing products, I think many of us would appreciate it.

      • UberGerbil
      • 12 years ago

      And what “pressure” do you think they bowed to, exactly? If you’re going to make accusations and question their integrity you should be clear and explicit about it.

    • IJM
    • 12 years ago

    I have one important question that is not made clear in any of the literature or, sadly, from your review.

    Can EAX 3, 4 and 5 be emulated in Windows XP? Or is this functionality only provided when using the DS3D GX software in Windows Vista?

      • deruberhanyok
      • 12 years ago

      The DS3D GX 2.0 is built in to the drivers, it is not separate software like Creative’s ALchemy. Nothing needs to be done to enable its functionality.

      I did notice that a lot of the info on Asus’ website only specifically mentions Vista. But, check the driver download page for the Xonar DX. The driver packages (for XP and Vista, both 32-bit and 64-bit) all specifically say:

      /[<"1.First release 2.Supports latest DirectSound3D GX 2.0 (with better EAX game compatibility and innovative VocalFX technologies)"<]/ So there ya go. It works in both XP and Vista. It might be worth mentioning that the beta XP drivers released for the Xonar D2X don't specifically mention DS3D GX 2.0 support being added (it is listed in the Vista ones) so the feature may not be available for XP on that card yet. I'd expect to see it soon, though, probably in the next driver release.

        • IJM
        • 12 years ago

        Great. Many thanks. I am edging closer to getting a D2X or D2.

    • ChangWang
    • 12 years ago

    These are back in stock at the egg

    • FireGryphon
    • 12 years ago

    Excellent review, as always. I’m glad to hear about this card. Hopefully, Asus won’t back down like other vendors did.

    What’s up with the graph in the Stereo Crosstalk graph (first graph) on page 17? It looks really weird.

    • mi1stormilst
    • 12 years ago

    Got my zs for $25.00 gonna be awhile before any sound card looks interesting for $90.00

    • Grippy
    • 12 years ago

    I just bought one on Sunday. My Bro has the DX2. I am happy to find something that isn’t by the sonsabeeches at Creative. I had an Aureal 8830
    and Creative riuned a fine card with frivolous lawsuits then wouldn’t allow the technology to hit the streets. I have tried Turtle Beach and onboard and can’t wait to hear this card

    Grippy

    • Kulith
    • 12 years ago

    I couldnt spend $90 on a sound card even if I had a million dollars in my pocket right now. I just cant tell any difference for the life of me between onboard audio and sound cards.

    The onboard audio on my Abit IP35 Pro suits me just fine. I think it supports 7.1 surround sound or whatever too. Maybe my hearing sucks.

      • Richie_G
      • 12 years ago

      Either that or your amp / speakers suck.

        • srg86
        • 12 years ago

        Adgreed, compaired to my onboard audio, my Audiophile 2496 sounds much crisper.

        • titan
        • 12 years ago

        Or maybe you should get your ears cleaned, Kulith. My dad had his ears cleaned out by a doctor not too long ago and he said it made a world of difference.

          • drsauced
          • 12 years ago

          Well, no, critical listening is a skill, a muscle, that takes quite a bit of time and effort to sharpen. You could have the cleanest ears in the world and still not notice the difference between an oboe and a French horn, for example. Or a more robust example would be the C# played on the 2nd string (2nd fret) of a guitar versus the C# played on the 5th string (15th fret). While they are functionally the same pitch and frequency, the two notes sound very different.

          While most people won’t have the desire or inclination to hone these skills, some do.

          The XtremeMusic frequency response graphs are also wrong.

      • indeego
      • 12 years ago

      I thought the same, until I borrowed a card on my main rig here at work and immediately noticed a difference in the silence of the add-in.

      Onboards often suffer from interference. I’m sold. It was cheap, and for me the quietness is as important as the noiseg{<.<}g

      • muntjac
      • 12 years ago

      agreed. i have a receiver with paradigm atoms / grado headphones and they sound great with a decent onboard sound card. There is slightly more hiss than necessary but its almost never noticable.

      • UberGerbil
      • 12 years ago

      I’m with you. I might be able to tell the difference if I listened closely, but I don’t, and I don’t care. I’ve been known to drive around for days with my radio not-quite-tuned to the right frequency — the static just doesn’t bother me. Usually when I have music on I don’t even hear it — sometimes I have to play the same song six or seven times to hear the entire thing because I zone out and stop hearing it part way through. And most of the day my computer speakers are completely turned off anyway.

      So while I could spend $90 on a sound card, I just don’t see the point.

    • neo_sapien
    • 12 years ago

    Nice review! Two questions, though, before I buy one:

    1) The card has a shared SPDIF out/Line in/Mic in jack. So, how do you connect both your dolby digital receiver via SPDIF and a mic via mic in simultaneously? Do you have to go through the hassle of disconnecting your digital speakers every time you want to plug in your microphone?

    2) Is there any such thing as hardware OpenAL support? And does this card have it?

      • titan
      • 12 years ago

      I can’t answer your first question, but I can answer the second.

      This card does not accelerate OpenAL in hardware. Everything is done in software. Which, as you can see from the CPU utilization charts, does not make a difference.

      • crazybus
      • 12 years ago

      To answer question 1, how about using the FP header?

      • yoyolai
      • 12 years ago

      To your Q1, Xonar DX has front audio connector, you can use it for MIC in when doing SPDIF out.

    • titan
    • 12 years ago

    Whoops! Meant to be a reply to #51.

    • shirairoba
    • 12 years ago

    Jeff, are you aware that BF2 and Bioshock use EAX3 reverb? BF2’s X-Fi mode just enables 128 sound buffers. Why didn’t you try BF2142?

    BTW, EAX5 support in DirectSound is non-existant. The three or so games out there that really use EAX5 call it via OpenAL so you might want to clarify how Asus can emulate EAX5 without proper OpenAL support.

    You also failed to report your impression on headphone HRTFs, for instance in UT you can learn how to avoid a manta coming from behind in the last second with the help of MacroFX and even when you fail to jump in time, the sound effect is very convincing.

    And if you are considering a good-enough software emulation at lower price, why not throw an XtremeAudio to the mix?

      • Meadows
      • 12 years ago

      Nobody said they don’t have proper OpenAL support.
      Actually that’s more common than EAX support anyway.

      (note: I am assuming it has said support)

        • titan
        • 12 years ago

        Nobody said that they have proper OpenAL support. I haven’t been able to find any documentation stating that the Asus Xonar series supports hardware accelerated OpenAL. I suspect, however, that the Xonar series does support OpenAL in software given by the description of DS3D GX 2.0 and OpenAL itself, but that’s just a suspicion.

      • yoyolai
      • 12 years ago

      Hi Shirairoba, check this words out in the article:
      *[

      • FlatEric815
      • 12 years ago

      I’m playing BF2142 and so far, there’s no noticeable issues when you ‘trick’ it into thinking it’s an X-Fi.

    • Richie_G
    • 12 years ago

    Fantastic looking card, if it weren’t for the lack of DTS live encoding I’d be all over it. Since I’m hooking my comp up to a Yamaha RX-V1700 I’ll be sticking to my guns with the D2X purely for the DTS’s sonic benefits though (DTS is a higher resolution format).

    Having said all that, does anyone know if the output for this new (relatively) DTS and DD live encoding is the same resolution as it would be if read from a DVD?

      • MadManOriginal
      • 12 years ago

      Why bother? Just use a S/PDIF out from the onboard. Or if you want something that’s actually ‘hi-fi’ look in to USB DACs. I’m not sure if there is one that can do the Dolby sound streams but a USB DAC is *the* solution for getting 2 channel sound out of a PC.

        • FlatEric815
        • 12 years ago

        Like the Xonar U1? USB DAC with Dolby…

          • MadManOriginal
          • 12 years ago

          Looks like that would do the job although I’m not sure what benefits it has over any other digital signal output. In digital-out mode it seems to me like it’s a transport not a DAC but the fact that it does Dolby out via digital makes it fit the purpose. Probably a better idea for an output than a soundcard because it’s outside the case but I don’t know if it would be worthwhile vs onboard digital out.

        • Richie_G
        • 12 years ago

        Yeah indeed, I’ll be using SPDIF for stereo and obviously movies, but my point was for the multi channel gaming mainly.

          • Krogoth
          • 12 years ago

          It is too bad that majority of 3D audio gaming requires EAX support. That list is getting smaller though as industry is moving away from hardware accelerated solutions into pure software ones.

    • LoneWolf15
    • 12 years ago

    Every time I’ve looked at the sound card market, I couldn’t find a card that did everything I wanted at a reasonable price. Creative always came closest, so I always went that route. Good cards, but always with some sort of compromise. This latest fiasco that involves crippling their cards under Vista when it’s obvious those features could be offered (and were, under Windows XP) really is the end of things for me with them. They are doing their customers a grave disservice.

    Fortunately, it appears there finally is a high-quality, and yet reasonably priced alternative that really does do almost everything. Thanks for the great review, TR; if ASUS continues to support the DX well, it will be my next sound card, and my first non-Creative sound card (my first card ever being my SoundBlaster 1.5 back in 1992).

    With any luck, geeks will make this the last straw that will remind Creative that their duty is first to their customers, and without them, there isn’t a company. If not, they’ll bite the dust, and they’ll richly deserve it.

    • Krogoth
    • 12 years ago

    Nice soundcard, however on-board solutions are still good enough for majority of the mainstream market. The PCI-E is the only thing that justifies the upgrade over my Audigy 2ZS.

    I would not hold my breathe to think that ASUS will provide better drive support then Creative. IIIRC, ASUS does not have exactly have the best support in the computer industry. Just look well they supported their old previous attempts of creative (no pun intended) hardware solutions. (The one 2x7900GS on a single PCB and something similar using ATI chips)

    This is yet another review that proves why audio hardware acceleration is dead. The only reasons to get a discrete solution are purely for fidelity and content creation.

    • ChangWang
    • 12 years ago

    I was looking into this card last week, and decided to wait for a review. I shoulda just bought one.

    Two questions:

    Does this card do multi-streaming, totally separating the front panel and rear inputs/outputs like most onboard sound does these days?

    Anyone know if this card works in linux?

    • deruberhanyok
    • 12 years ago

    Wow. I saw this listed at newegg a few days ago and almost bought one, but I figured I’d hold off for this article first. I should have just bought it then.

    A few questions:

    PCI Oxygen HD cards (even Asus’ own Xonar D2) do not have the 4-pin power connector. The D2X, being PCI Express, has the power connector as this one does.

    I thought that an x1 link provided the same, if not more, power than a PCI slot. I’m trying to find info on it now but the files at the pci-sig’s website require a login to download (and everyone else just talks about the 75W limit on an x16 slot). Does the PCI-to-PCI Express bridge chip drink that much juice?

    I seem to recall some PCI Express TV tuners with bridge chips that don’t require aux power, and I figure a TV tuner would use more power than a sound card anyways.

    So, why is there an auxiliary power connector and how does the card behave if it isn’t connected?

    /[

    • hermanshermit
    • 12 years ago

    ASIO? Or will we keep having to live with mangled kmixer sound?

      • titan
      • 12 years ago

      The audio stack has been completely redone in Vista. There is no kmixer to cringe about.

        • deruberhanyok
        • 12 years ago

        But not everyone has upgraded to Vista, and many don’t plan to do that anytime soon, either.

      • FlatEric815
      • 12 years ago

      Yup, there’s ASIO for DX.

      • titan
      • 12 years ago

      No. I’m not worried.

      • liquidsquid
      • 12 years ago

      It depends on the chart. In some cases, you are looking at the fundamental, example the last graph where you have a 1kHz spike. The idea there is to have a high-level 1kHz spike at a level 0dB, and then all harmonics beyond that undetectable. So levels at 2kHz, 3kHz, 4kHz should all be <70dB down to be undetectable to the ear.

      Other graphs I am not certain of what they should be displaying vs. what is seen. The graphs should really have an “ideal/expected” line drawn through them to make a better judgment on what is good or bad.

      I still am astounded by Creative’s poor frequency response curves. They are an indicator of really bad phase-response vs. frequency, and can lead to really odd noticable artifacts. I wonder if there is some spatial effects that have been left on accidentally through these tests, or a driver is not switching them off.

      -Mark

        • Saber Cherry
        • 12 years ago

        r[

        • Mourmain
        • 12 years ago

        I see. I assumed distortion is bad everywhere, and the ideal distortion is at (-infinity) dB.

        I’m not sure I see the spikes as reaching 0dB, more like -5dB and -15dB. But the spikes are so sharp that they may have not caught the peak point in the graph resolution.

      • sluggo
      • 12 years ago

      The large spikes you see are the test tones provided as an input. The rest of what you see is a “snapshot” of the output. These graphs are not particularly useful for their intended purpose.

      With more sophisticated tools, a THD plot would take as an input a 0dB sine wave swept through the frequency range of interest (usually 20Hz-20kHz). The output is then measured for energy at harmonics of the input frequency as it sweeps up. For example, if the current input frequency is 700Hz, you would measure the energy at 87.25 Hz, 175 Hz, 350 Hz, 1400 Hz, 2800 Hz, 5600 Hz, and 11200 Hz. The energy content of the harmonics is summed for each fundamental and the sum is presented as a percentage of the fundamental, i.e. .003% THD. Anything not harmonically related to the fundamental is classified as “noise” and is not included as distortion.

      What this THD graph appears to show is the full bandwidth output with a 1kHz input. The viewer is (I guess) then expected to look at the harmonics and do his own evaluation. The problem with approach is that you’re only seeing distortion at one frequency and, more importantly, it turns out that the graph is entirely dominated by noise.

      This result is not necessarily bad, as it shows that the distortion is below noise level, but if the noise level is already objectionable then you’re not getting what could be a helpful measurement of distortion.

      For an IM distortion measurement you input two non-harmonically related tones (such as 60Hz/7kHz) and look for sum and difference distortion components in the output. Again, the IM chart is dominated by noise.

    • Hdfisise
    • 12 years ago

    Curse just getting a wireless card for my PCI-E x1 slot! I would love to get one of these instead, I might just have to get a PCI wireless card next payday 😀

      • jinjuku
      • 12 years ago

      Then put it in a PCI-E 8/16 slot…

        • yoyolai
        • 12 years ago

        Great review!!!
        Great card!!!
        Finally there is really some quality competition, and it’s really time for people to move on from the Creative iron fist of crappy drivers.

        • Hdfisise
        • 12 years ago

        but then I’ll lose my graphics card >.> I don’t have that many slots….

    • impar
    • 12 years ago

    Greetings!

    Why use Realtek onboard and not an AD one?

    • R1CH
    • 12 years ago

    One thing I didn’t see a single mention of in the review was driver quality. Unfortunately the C-Media Oxygen HD drivers are lackluster in several areas I have noticed.

    Pre-mixed AC3 streams will cause an instant BSOD (eg, with AC3Filter). 24 bit DirectSound playback is buggy and will randomly give static instead of audio when playing / pausing a stream. Mixing waveOut and DirectSound will cause a nasty buzzing effect.

    The AC3 issue can be worked around by setting AC3Filter to “AS-IS” instead of 5.1 or whatever and letting the C-Media mixer do the mixing, but the other issues have no solution as yet.

    • provoko
    • 12 years ago

    Great article, I think i’ll be selling my x-fi and getting this card. Enough of creative’s hold on me.

      • DrDillyBar
      • 12 years ago

      I hear that. I loved my Live! though

        • srg86
        • 12 years ago

        My Live! was good, though the odd pop and click could hurt my ears when on headphones.

    • srg86
    • 12 years ago

    This card definatly looks great and because of the price, may definatly be more appealing to me than the D2X (not sure if I will ever need the DTS features).

    So we have yet another thing though that seems to have problems with nVidia chipsets. What with the Spinpoint F1 (and I think an old Maxtor or WD corruption problem) and the PCI-E bridge that this uses, it does seem to me at least that nVidia’s chipsets must be a little buggy (unless it’s the devices that are buggy, but then wouldn’t they have trouble on Intel or AMD chipsets too?

    Out of interestes, has anyone tested one of these on an nForce 4? This is what I’m running at the moment, but my next build (whenever that will be) will have either an Intel or AMD chipset (based on what CPU I buy, more than likely Nehalem based).

    • odizzido
    • 12 years ago

    awesome. Finally a sound card worth buying. I bet the drivers for this card don’t randomly change settings like creative’s do.

    May creative rot in hell for all time.

    • titan
    • 12 years ago

    NewEgg.com is out of stock on these already. I really want to buy one now. I need a computer that even has PCIe slots to begin with… 🙁

      • srg86
      • 12 years ago

      From what I’ve seen there’ not even available in the UK yet, come on ASUS!!! I’m very tempted by this.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 12 years ago

    Hurrah. Maybe soundcards will have a comeback.

    Yeah the back-lit inputs are SO friggin’ cool/functional so it’s sad to see them go. I also liked the look of the DX2’s EMI sheild. It would be cool to have a system with a DX2 and a 9800 GX2 next to eachother.

    • Jive
    • 12 years ago

    I know its not really relevant but i wish there was a Razer Barracuda in the tests since it uses the same chip as the D2X.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 12 years ago

    Very Cool! If my X-Fi starts smoking tomorrow, I’ll seriously consider throwing an ASUS in my ASUS. *thumbs up*

    • HamsterJam
    • 12 years ago

    Does anyone know what opamps the DX have?

      • ludi
      • 12 years ago

      You can see them in some of the photos — they are evdiently JRC NJM5532s. These are a BJT-input design very similar to the NE5532 and having comparable specifications.

        • HamsterJam
        • 12 years ago

        Ahh, I see them now. Thanks for pointing them out. I really wish Asus would put higher quality opamps than the 5532s on this card, though.

          • titan
          • 12 years ago

          This is the economy card. What did you expect? Lol!

            • HamsterJam
            • 12 years ago

            An economy card doesn’t necessarily have to equal cheap components. They’ve already put solid-state capacitors on it as well as Cirrus Logic’s flagship DAC on the front channels. They could have taken the extra step and put a higher-quality opamp at the very least on the front channels to complement the DAC, imho.

          • ludi
          • 12 years ago

          And I really wish people wouldn’t blend hashish and ganja and then roll it in pages from old /[

    • marvelous
    • 12 years ago

    Get rid of creative.

    • Saber Cherry
    • 12 years ago

    Thank you for adding some XP test results!

      • Meadows
      • 12 years ago

      Oh, it has been so relevant indeed.

    • BobbinThreadbare
    • 12 years ago

    This is the first sound card where I’ve really wanted to buy one after reading about it. Time to start saving my pennies.

    • Fighterpilot
    • 12 years ago

    Nice sound for the price and damn good to see a decent Creative competitor.
    I imagine the backlash over Creative’s hit n miss driver releases will send a host of techies flocking to this new part.

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