A quick look at Diamond’s Xtreme Sound XS71HDU

If you’ve ever read our System Guides, you know we like to harp on about sound cards. Like, a lot.

Our point is this: on most motherboards, the onboard audio just doesn’t do digital-to-analog conversion all that well. The analog output may sound decent enough for cheap headphones and $50 computer speakers, but plug in anything nicer than that, and you’ll notice flat highs, muddy mids, and boomy bass. All kinds of subtleties will be blurred over in music and movies.

Most good sound cards have high-quality DACs (digital-to-analog converters) with superior analog output. They typically aren’t subject to electrical interference from the rest of the motherboard, either. That means even entry-level sound cards can sound noticeably better than onboard audio, provided you’re listening through a pair of decent analog headphones or speakers. We’ve confirmed this in blind listening tests time and time again.

So, that’s why we recommend sound cards.

Sound cards don’t fit in every kind of PC, though. Building a Mini-ITX gaming rig? Your only expansion slot will probably be taken up by a graphics card. Using a NUC or some other ultra-small system? Forget about expansion cards altogether. The same goes for laptops, whose integrated audio is usually no better than that of desktop motherboards.

Enter Diamond’s Xtreme Sound XS71HDU. This little box measures 3.3″ x 3.1″ x 0.9″ (85 x 79 x 23 mm), plugs into your computer via USB, and essentially acts as an external sound card, complete with a Cmedia codec, 7.1-channel output, 24-bit/192kHz playback and recording, and a smorgasbord of inputs and outputs.

There are six 3.5-mm jacks: stereo headphone, rear, sub, side, mic, and line in. Also included are a set of red-and-white RCA ports, an optical S/PDIF input, a matching S/PDIF output, and a Micro USB port, which is needed for the USB connection to the host PC. In short, the XS71HDU can drive just about anything from studio monitors to headphones to 7.1 computer speakers, and it’ll happily record either digital or analog audio, too. The connectivity options here are plentiful enough to put many traditional sound cards to shame.

Heck, there’s even a volume knob up top. The knob has a nice, slightly clicky action, and because it controls Windows sound volume directly, it works with both the analog and digital audio outputs.

Too good to be true?

On paper, then, the Xtreme Sound looks like a fine sound card substitute. But how does its analog sound quality measure up?

To answer that question, I grabbed my Sennheiser HD 595 headphones and tested the Xtreme Sound side by side with Asus’ Xonar Phoebus, a high-end PCIe sound card with a dedicated headphone amp. The Realtek integrated audio from my aging Gigabyte P55 motherboard was also in the mix, simply to provide a baseline reference. (The HD 595s don’t have the kind of impedance that requires extra amplification, so they had plenty of volume even on the Realtek.)

To gauge analog sound quality, I listened to some 320Kbps and V0 MP3s from my personal collection. Some of you will cry murder at the very thought of testing sound quality with a lossy compression format, but I think there’s a case to be made for that approach. High-quality compressed audio is what most people listen to these days, and in my experience, 320Kbps and V0 MP3s are virtually indistinguishable from FLAC and other uncompressed formats. This isn’t just a subjective opinion, by the way: my own double-blind testing with Foobar2000’s ABX comparator bears that out, at least for the kind of music in my playlist.

In any case, one doesn’t need uncompressed audio to tell the Xtreme Sound apart from the Xonar (or the Realtek onboard sound, for that matter). Right after plugging my headphones into the Diamond box, I noticed a very faint background hiss in the left channel. No amount of fiddling with the connector or software configuration alleviated it. Then, in music playback, the Xtreme Sound turned out to be noticeably shrill and tinny. Mids were flat, bass was confined to drum hits, and vocals were weirdly metallic, even in quiet songs like Agnes Obel’s Fuel to Fire. Busier tracks, like M83’s Kim & Jessie, sounded close enough to white noise at times to be downright unpleasant. Opeth’s brooding guitar riffs were a little more tolerable, but still harsh, shrill, and not nearly punchy enough.

By contrast, the Xonar Phoebus offered full and balanced sound with crisp highs and good separation between instruments, even with the headphone amplification setting turned all the way down. The Realtek audio was a lot muddier, and it obscured a fair amount of detail, but it was at least neutral enough to make prolonged listening sessions comfortable. Not so with the Xtreme Sound, whose shrillness quickly tired me out.

Happily, the Xtreme Sound offers a way to bypass the lackluster digital-to-analog conversion. Digital speaker setups can be plugged right into the S/PDIF output, which pipes out raw, uncompressed sound. That’s good news for laptops and uber-small-form-factor builds, which may not have digital audio outputs of their own.

I tested the S/PDIF out with my Antec Soundscience speakers, and predictably, the sound quality was indistinguishable from that of my Realtek onboard audio’s S/PDIF output. Digital speakers shoulder the burden of digital to analog conversion themselves, so provided they’re fed an error-free digital signal, there should be no difference in output quality across different sound cards or audio adapters. Still, it’s good to know the theory checks out in practice with the Xtreme Sound.

 

Conclusions

The Xtreme Sound sells for about $65.99 at Newegg right now. That’s in the same ballpark as a respectable PCIe sound card with a good DAC, like Asus’ Xonar DSX. (The DSX costs $54.99 and sounded noticeably better than onboard audio in our blind listening tests.)

If you have a desktop PC with expansion slots to spare, then I’d say a sound card like that is probably a better buy than the Xtreme Sound. The Diamond offering has pretty disappointing analog audio quality for the price, and its digital outputs are, by definition, no better than those of onboard motherboard audio. Sure, not all mobos have S/PDIF—but there are cheaper ways of making up for it. Entry-level sound cards with S/PDIF out can be found for less than 30 bucks.

What about laptops and small-form-factor builds? For those, the Xtreme Sound may be a good avenue to S/PDIF goodness. If I had a gun to my head, though, I’d probably go with onboard audio over the Xtreme Sound for analog output. I think muddy, boomy sound is probably better than shrill, tinny audio, especially from a listener fatigue standpoint. The bottom line is that the Xtreme Sound’s analog output sounds physically unpleasant, not just merely unimpressive.

If I were in charge of Diamond’s audio products, I’d spruce up the Xtreme Sound with a higher-quality DAC and better audio circuitry to nip that slight background hiss. Even if the asking price had to go up, I think it would be worth it. The Xtreme Sound already has a lot going for it, and good analog output would make it a terrific little product.

For now, folks looking for a USB audio adapter with both S/PDIF out and decent analog quality might want to consider Asus’ Xonar U3, which Geoff reviewed a few years ago. The U3 sells for about $40, and while it’s not quite on par with a proper sound card, it still sounds noticeably better than onboard audio. It even does Dolby Digital Live encoding. Too bad about the limited port selection and 16-bit/48kHz codec, though.

Comments closed
    • ronch
    • 5 years ago

    Guys, I know we’ve been clamoring for a non-Asus sound card review but really, does it have to be this? This thing practically makes no sense for anyone unless their laptop’s codec emits some magic smoke. How about the Sound Blaster Z, eh?

    It’s almost as if you guys are deliberately avoiding Creative.

    • Luminair
    • 5 years ago

    The next USB DAC review compares FiiO E10K and HIFIMEDIY SABRE USB DAC 2. See you then!

    • tempeteduson
    • 5 years ago

    [quote<]High-quality compressed audio is what most people listen to these days, and in my experience, 320Kbps and V0 MP3s are virtually indistinguishable from FLAC and other uncompressed formats.[/quote<] [quote<]In any case, one doesn't need uncompressed audio to tell the Xtreme Sound apart from the Xonar (or the Realtek onboard sound, for that matter).[/quote<] Cyril, I think you mean "lossy" and "lossless," not "compressed" and "uncompressed." (FLAC uses lossless compression.) As for the idea that all digital I/O should be the same, I agree with you in practical terms (well, except for the cheap, nasty stuff that can't even get S/PDIF right). But that doesn't mean the differences are not measurable—especially jitter—which allows "high-end" companies to market [url=http://www.msbtech.com/products/universalPlus.php<]a USB transport for $6000[/url<]. Yes, a device that provides only digital outputs from USB. Call it snake oil if you want.

    • Freon
    • 5 years ago

    Long live my Z5500!

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 5 years ago

    SPDIF… Can someone please explain this to me. I’ll refer to it as optical from here on in. Does optical support surround sound? From what I understand it only supports 2.1

    Optical is one of those audio standards that is super prevalent but no one uses it… why? What are its virtues and what are its weaknesses. I’ve been immersed in audio for a bit and have always run everything with an HDMI cord, only using optical to hook up a CD player once.

      • superjawes
      • 5 years ago

      Optical is actually quite popular in the audio world for piping digital data to DACs. Many (maybe even most) DACs have USB, but not all USB ports support the latest USB audio standards, and they can be sketchy on the “signal cleanliness” aspect (if you want some more detail, Jason Stoddard wrote some notes on it [url=http://www.head-fi.org/t/701900/schiit-happened-the-story-of-the-worlds-most-improbable-start-up/690#post_10428728<]here[/url<]). So instead of dealing with USB headaches, they use optical. As for surround sound, I think that is entirely on the processing side. I think you can encode 5.1 audio for an optical signal, and then it's just a matter of using something like a receiver to separate it into six individual channels. EDIT: I am basing the 5.1 statement on a brief Google search, so feel free to include a grain of salt with it.

      • Captain Ned
      • 5 years ago

      S/PDIF – Sony/Phillips Digital Interface Format. This is the communications standard. It can carry 2 lossless channels at 16 bits/44.1KHz or 16 bits/48Khz. Some implementations can carry 20bits/48Khz lossless, but this is uncommon to find in consumer-level gear. It CANNOT carry 5.1/7.1 lossless; the signal must first be run through a codec to bring the data rate down to what S/PDIF can handle.

      TOSLINK – TOShiba LINK – The proper name for the plastic optical cable carrying the S/PDIF signal. It can carry far more data than what S/PDIF can send to it.

      [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/?title=S/PDIF[/url<] [url<]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toslink[/url<]

      • cynan
      • 5 years ago

      What others have already posted about S/PDIF is correct.

      To answer your question directly, I don’t think you can pipe a 5 (or 7) channel PCM through S/PDIF, in either it’s optical or coaxial forms. You need to convert 5 channel signals to DD/AC3 or DTS first before it can be transferred over S/PDIF. However, you can with HDMI – which is why HDMI is preferable if you have a surround sound DAC/receiver.

      S/PDIF is used frequently still with stereo DACs. However, the coaxial format is usually preferred over the optical (though I’m not entirely sure why – perhaps something to do with the optical format having to be modulated into an optical signal and back again). However, recently, USB receivers on DACs have been getting pretty good, so I think the days of S/PDIF are numbered for home audio applications.

      • Palek
      • 5 years ago

      Just to add a bit to what everyone else has said…

      A niche application of S/PDIF is AAC surround pass-through – used in Japan for terrestrial and satellite DTV broadcasts. Receivers and TVs sold in Japan support AAC over S/PDIF.

      One benefit of coaxial S/PDIF – that may or may not be useful to you – is that you can do 15m+ distances cheaply, with a simple RCA cable (optical S/PDIF cables are very expensive by comparison). In the past I created a poor man’s multi-room (two rooms, really) audio system using the S/PDIF coaxial output on my Roku Soundbridge. I connected the analogue out to the stereo in one room, and the coaxial out to a sound system in a separate room.

    • conlusio
    • 5 years ago

    I know it is significantly more expensive, but if you’re looking for an excellent portable DAC, why would you not consider the ODAC? [url<]http://www.jdslabs.com/products/46/standalone-odac/[/url<] If you factor in the need for a headphone amplifier the price does climb even higher and you need to include an AC adapter for the O2+ODAC combination, so its just that much less portable, but the results are impressive.

      • cynan
      • 5 years ago

      Yup. If you want a half decent stereo DAC, for either a speaker or headphone system, you are probably going to have to pay at least $150 for it (though there may be some viable off-brand Asian options for a bit less that are decent).

      If you want a DAC for surround sound, it’s probably best just to buy an AV receiver.

      Regarding the above headphone amp comment, you can get a great [url=http://audio-gd.com/Pro/Headphoneamp/NFB1532/NFB15.32EN.htm<]portable-ish DAC/AMP combo[/url<] for around $250 plus shipping and a great USB-interface. Personally, I wouldn't go much lower end IF I had a decent set of headphones and wanted to used them to their potential.

      • mako
      • 5 years ago

      I’m planning to get a O2+ODAC eventually, but for the time being I got this cheap and cheerful “Muse” PCM2704 thingy off eBay.

    • albundy
    • 5 years ago

    No DDL or DTSC?

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 5 years ago

    Or you can just buy a receiver and use HDMI out to get even better (lossless) sound than any option listed here.

      • Deanjo
      • 5 years ago

      There are some pretty crappy receivers out there too keep in mind especially on the lower end (although as a rule of thumb, you are correct).

    • derFunkenstein
    • 5 years ago

    Is it class-compliant audio or do you have to use vendor-supplied drivers? I could see this being a great solution for less-than-awesome notebook audio.

    • superjawes
    • 5 years ago

    Well if you’re going to do audio…check out one of my favorite companies: [url=http://schiit.com/<]Schiit Audio[/url<] (Yes, that is really their name). It's all stereo, but that's really all you should need for a PC. You can get a DAC with USB or Optical input for $99, and a dedicated headphone amp for $99. Also also, add more headphone recommendations to the [s<]System Guide[/s<] Staff Peripherals Picks! It could use at least a couple more...

      • CityEater
      • 5 years ago

      I may be mistaken but wasn’t there an issue with “popping” on Schitt headphone amps for a period of time. I’ve always wanted to try them, I think they look great I just remember that at one point there was a red flag raised over some of their amps.

      I may of course be wrong. If we’re going to make suggestions and you’re willing to spend some coin I’ve listened to the XCan and the Rega DAC/Headphone combos and they are great; worth every penny ( they come up second hand all the time). Will probably last you a life time, until you get the upgrade itch…
      Of course if you want to spend more than electrostatics or bust…

        • superjawes
        • 5 years ago

        Issues that have been fixed. All of the original “medium-sized” models have been upgraded to V2, and some of the transient issues you allude to were implemented before that. And actually, if you find a used Asgard 1 that lacks the new protection, Schiit should fix it for free.

        EDIT: to add a little bit more, there was at least one guy on Head-Fi that was very vocal about the problem, and I think that might have caused the issue to seem bigger than it was.

          • CityEater
          • 5 years ago

          Whup, I stand corrected. Good to hear it was all resolved, like I said I think they look like a great product. I’d love to give ’em a go.

      • LoneWolf15
      • 5 years ago

      If it don’t sound like Schiit, it’s not the real thing.

    • GodsMadClown
    • 5 years ago

    If people like the form factor, and can live with stereo only, take a look at this guy.

    [url<]http://www.fiio.com.cn/products/index.aspx?ID=100000059783139&MenuID=105026003[/url<] It's also a USB "sound card", with an headphone amp , and analog and digital outputs. It's currently $75 on Amazon. [url<]http://www.amazon.com/FiiO-E10K-Headphone-Amplifier-Black/dp/B00LP3AMC2[/url<]

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 5 years ago

    There’s this little company from Singapore that TR never mentions. They’ve been doing PC audio since 1981.
    [url<]http://us.creative.com/p/sound-blaster[/url<]

    • crystall
    • 5 years ago

    I may be repeating myself but the S/PDIF route is always the best to follow IMHO. When shopping for a new motherboard make sure it has S/PDIF output or at least an on-board stub, if the external connector is not in the package you can always grab it on eBay. Otherwise just pick a USB sound-card, they work on laptops too (which are never considered when talking about audio quality but they’re usually the worst offenders). See GeForce6200 posts below for a good example of one you’ll get not only S/PDIF output but also some decent analog too if you prefer using headphones. Anyway, once you’ve got yourself a S/PDIF output pick a couple of decent monitors and enjoy excellent, noise-free audio with good response, here’s a few examples:

    [list<] [*<][url=http://www.behringer.com/EN/Products/MS20.aspx<]Behringer MS20 - 20W[/url<] [/*<][*<][url=http://www.roland.com/products/en/MA-15D/<]Roland MA-15D - 30W[/url<] [/*<][*<][url=http://www.behringer.com/EN/Products/MS40.aspx<]Behringer MS40 - 40W[/url<] [/*<] [/list<]

      • derFunkenstein
      • 5 years ago

      Don’t buy the MS20s. I had a pair, and yes the optical input worked great. They sounded terrible, though – not even close to a flat response. Very exaggerated low-mid frequencies. I don’t know about the MS40s, they may be way better.

      The Roland set might be good. Generally they make decent stuff.

    • Meadows
    • 5 years ago

    Ugh, yet another CMedia clone. Assuming the subjective tests mean anything, it’s not even a [i<]proper[/i<] clone. Speaking of subjective tests: Why not set up listening tests using dual microphones in a rubber mannequin head or whatever that thing's called? Boom, you would now have complete stereo listening information, both for headphones and desk/floor loudspeakers. Inside-the-second, if you will. Then you could compare and contrast that information and analyse frequency response. I would particularly prefer frequency response graphs because they give me something tangible to check and plan for at home. (By contrast, if I'd base a purchase of an item on whether "someone said their favourite songs sounded muddy" then I fear I might be laughed at.) Remember to error-correct for the microphones' own imperfections by first recording loud full white noise and checking what they pick up. I know the review -- in the end -- basically turned out to be an S/PDIF recommendation, but the above plan would work just as well for reviewing headphones and loudspeakers in general. Finally you'd have hard measurements. It might even provide objective listening information on background noise, like that of a PC or what comes from outdoors.

      • Meadows
      • 5 years ago

      Speaking of headphones, I realise it might take an unreasonable investment (unless a manufacturer gifts you a pair) but it might be worth getting high-impedance headphones for additional amplifier testing if you plan to go serious with the audio route.

    • Usacomp2k3
    • 5 years ago

    Does it at least do DTS-Connect/Dolby Live?

    • MarkG509
    • 5 years ago

    I’d love to see a review of a Fiio X5, which although quite spendy, is a DAC (plug into ‘puter’s USB) and a DAP (unplug and take it with you).

    Currently, when I want to [b<]really listen[/b<] to music, it's WMA lossless rips through an Asus Xonar Essence XTS through Sennheiser HD650's.

    • ludi
    • 5 years ago

    May I be the first to say: Diamond still exists? I remember their name on a Monster3D (3Dfx Voodoo Graphics) and then a Viper V550 (Nvidia RivaTNT) circa, oh, 1999.

    Secondly: I really wish TR wouldn’t include subjective test in their audio reviews unless accompanied by some actual measured data and charts. TR excels in hard analysis everywhere else; why not in audio? The fact that the unit had hiss in one channel is good info, but may point to a defective unit as opposed to a design flaw. The randomness about “good sound” or “tinny highs” or “channel separation” (crosstalk) isn’t very useful — these items can be quantified with standard measurement techniques, and should be IMO. There are other subjective reviews which do not indicate any such issues, although some note that the surround-sound functions are allegedly are not very good.

    Another issue is that the device may be targeting low-impedance ‘phones which are typically included with MP3 players and the like; how would it compare if you were to use a different set of ‘phones? What about using the line-out function to a separate device? Etc.

    I realize there are some really lousy DACs in this world, and I’ve heard a few (particularly back in the late 1990s/early 2000s) that would smear a high-hat or female vocal rasp across the time domain like a juicy spring moth on a Freightliner windshield, but for review purposes a simple THD measurement would easily prove it.

      • Meadows
      • 5 years ago

      I’ve read that low-impedance headphones are actually “more difficult” to drive “accurately” for the amplifier, but I don’t know how that works or what that means. I’ve said in the past that I have no real knowledge about electric and electronic things.

      Still, if that’s correct, then the device is still bad for two reasons:

      One, it’s because the HD 595 is only a 50 ohm piece. I realise it’s not like those cheap 16-24 ohm headphones/earplugs, but the difference is not large. Definitely a far cry from 200, 300, or 600 ohm studio monitors.
      And two, 16 ohm earplugs aren’t the reason why people will buy a $66 device anyway.

        • just brew it!
        • 5 years ago

        Low impedance ‘phones require a low impedance source that can push more current at low voltage without distorting or rolling off the low end due to under-spec DC blocking caps. High impedance ‘phones require more voltage, which can also be an issue (albeit a different one). Either way, it comes down to “the analog output stage of your soundcard needs to not suck”.

        • superjawes
        • 5 years ago

        You also have to remember sensitivity. A low-impedance headphone might also be very sensitive to the noise floor on the amp. For example, tube amps tend to have higher output impedance and higher noise floors, so that could be some of the “accuracy” arguments you are hearing.

        The rule on impedance is largely about getting the power into the headphones properly. The headphones have a load impedance, but the amplifier has an effective output impedance, which creates a voltage divider. I’ve heard the rule of thumb is 8:1 ratio from headphone to amp impedance (I’ve also heard 10 and 20). This is partially to get most of the power into the headphones (not wasted in the amp), and partially to get good electrical dampening. (Higher impedance headphones need more voltage, but that is more likely to translate into a volume limit than SQ hits).

        Now with that being said and Diamond hiding the output impedance specs from me, I would assume that output impedance is not the problem. This thing has a couple audio outputs, including one labeled “headphone out,” which should be designed with headphone concerns in mind (giving them the benefit of the doubt). That, and it should be pretty low to begin with.

      • just brew it!
      • 5 years ago

      They exist in name only. After merging with S3 (and subsequently spinning S3 off to VIA) they exited the PC peripherals market and effectively ceased to exist in their original form, morphing into the short-lived consumer electronics company SONICblue — remember Rio MP3 players and ReplayTV?

      The rights to the original Diamond trademarks were acquired by a third party, who started selling Diamond-branded products again.

      Virge “3D decelerator” jokes aside, they actually had some decent products back in the day. My Diamond/Micronics C200 Super 7 motherboard was a real trooper (it is part of Starfalcon’s collection now).

        • LoneWolf15
        • 5 years ago

        Unfortunately, the original Diamond went from superior to suck in roughly three years (slightly less than the time I worked at a PC shop as my first true computer job).

        I know they aren’t the same as the original company, but the reports I hear are that the current Diamond’s tech support is about as bad as it was in the company’s final years in PC-land. Good hardware (even after support went downhill I had a Fireport 40 SCSI card and a V550 Riva 128) but drivers were horribly inconsistent and technical support went from 800 number to toll calls to California at a time when long distance was still horribly expensive, and hold times could be an hour, or more.

      • albundy
      • 5 years ago

      hah, yeah, noticed it too. they’ve sucked since the TNT2 days, basically lying low, hoping to outlast the others.

      • Captain Ned
      • 5 years ago

      Those of us who lived through the stereo “Spec Wars” of the ’70s and early ’80s (hello, JBI) will never be convinced that all that is good and right about a certain audio component can be reduced to numbers.

      In order to achieve vanishingly low THD numbers mfgs used massive amounts of global negative feedback. While it reduces THD, it also makes the music sound flat and lifeless. On another note, every listener’s ear has its own frequency response pattern. While a flat frequency response may be “desirable” from a global perspective, listener X may favor a un-flat response curve and listener Y may prefer a different un-flat curve. All measurements can do is to tell you how a component might sound in a laboratory anechoic chamber. They most certainly cannot tell you how a component will sound to your ears in your room. Only actual listening tests can do that

        • Meadows
        • 5 years ago

        You said it yourself: everyone’s preference is different. So why should we be interested in what sounds subjectively good to Cyril’s ears?

      • jihadjoe
      • 5 years ago

      Stereophile and its sister sites are my usual go-to places for audio advice.

      While a good portion of their reviews must be subjective by nature, everything is almost always followed with detailed objective measurements.

      It’s not all snobbish high-dollar gear either. They reviewed and gave good marks to the ASUS Essence ST and STX sound cards:
      [url<]http://www.stereophile.com/computeraudio/asus_xonar_essence_ststx_soundcards/[/url<] and the USB-driven Essence One MUSES is actually pretty high (rated class B) on their 2014 recommended list for DACs: [url<]http://www.stereophile.com/content/2014-recommended-components-digital-processors[/url<]

      • Milo Burke
      • 5 years ago

      With audio products, manufacturers consistently exaggerate or misrepresent the specs to make even the cheapest products appear to be world-class performers. Try to find a pair of headphones that doesn’t advertise a frequency response of 20 – 20,000 Hz.

      If there’s a high end product with lower specs than a low end product with higher end specs, I’m more inclined to trust the brand name than the specs from the cheapo company. (Of course brand name isn’t a reliable indicator of quality. But at least it has a higher chance of being highly correlated to quality than “great specs” on paper for the cheap product.)

      Maybe TR could measure specs more accurately. I’m not sure. I’d rather have them not measure specs at all than to measure them poorly, so as not to be misleading.

      But audio products often have to be reviewed on a subjective basis. This is not to say they should be filled with paragraphs of meaningless mumbo-jumbo, but they should still be subjective. And reviewed by someone with a good ear. I think Cyril did a great job in simplifying the subjective: comparing shrill and tinny sound to boomy and indistinct sound to clear and full sound. It tells us what we need to know without waxing eloquently with imaginative prose.

        • Captain Ned
        • 5 years ago

        “Maybe TR could measure specs more accurately. I’m not sure. I’d rather have them not measure specs at all than to measure them poorly, so as not to be misleading.”

        The equipment needed to properly measure specs at the precision that [i<]Stereophile[/i<] is capable of is hellishly expensive.

    • mako
    • 5 years ago

    Nice aesthetics, but hiss on a >$50 product?

    • unmake
    • 5 years ago

    As much as I like TR, I kind of trust [url=http://www.head-fi.org/products/category/amp-dacs<]head-fi consensus[/url<] more when it comes to audio (especially since I mostly listen to music through headphones or bookshelf speakers).

      • brucethemoose
      • 5 years ago

      Take everything you read on head-fi with a grain of salt, there are WAY too many subjective, often baseless opinions floating around there. There’s some good info, but you have to wade through bad info to get it.

        • superjawes
        • 5 years ago

        Yeah, I think the better rule of thumb is to stick to the TR recommendations (either editor based or forum community) if you’re sticking to “better” audio, but not “great” audio.

        If you want anything better than what is recommended here, [i<]then[/i<] start checking out Head-Fi. It won't change how much information you have to wade through, but at least you can put yourself in the right mindset before diving headfirst into that world.

    • MadManOriginal
    • 5 years ago

    They spelled ‘extreme’ by starting it with an ‘x’. I don’t even need to read the review to know it’s awesome.

      • Prestige Worldwide
      • 5 years ago

      lel

    • grege
    • 5 years ago

    I have had my Audioengine D1 external DAC for a week now and so far I am very happy with the music playback. The D1 is a high quality stereo music DAC and does not do surround sound. It is paired with Audioengine speakers. Not cheap, but quality rarely is.

      • CheetoPet
      • 5 years ago

      D1 is an amazing upgrade from onboard audio for movies & music. Loving mine.

      • Erebos
      • 5 years ago

      Everything Audioengine makes is overpriced (DACs, speakers etc.). You can find cheaper gear that give better sound quality.

      • Brok
      • 5 years ago

      I have Epiphany Acoustic E-DAC connected to Samson 4″ studio monitors. Very nice set for listening to music while working 🙂

    • hbarnwheeler
    • 5 years ago

    I recently picked up a Xonar U7 and can (happily) report that it is a significant improvement over the onboard Realtek ALC892.

      • oldDummy
      • 5 years ago

      Just dusted off my DSX and tried again with Win 8.1 + their latest beta drivers…..
      Voila, it works and hasn’t crashed my box.
      As long as it keeps behaving, does a great job.

    • GeForce6200
    • 5 years ago

    It’d be worth suggesting that the highly popular Behringer UCA 202, while not surround, is a popular option for an inexpensive usb DAC: [url<]http://www.behringer.com/EN/Products/UCA202.aspx[/url<] At $30 from most retailers I would put that in the top for suggestions. Also hiss from a USB DAC is sometimes due to grounding issues or windows settings.

      • just brew it!
      • 5 years ago

      If by “windows settings” you mean “Mic and/or Line inputs are unmuted” then yeah. Otherwise, there’s no way your Windows mixer settings should be able to cause hiss on the soundcard output.

        • crystall
        • 5 years ago

        [quote<]If by "windows settings" you mean "Mic and/or Line inputs are unmuted" then yeah. Otherwise, there's no way your Windows mixer settings should be able to cause hiss on the soundcard output.[/quote<] USB power management is far more likely to cause issues and that's definitely something one can change in Windows' power management panel. For external sound cards it's better to just turn it off entirely.

          • just brew it!
          • 5 years ago

          Wouldn’t that tend to cause blatant malfunctions, e.g. device cutting out or not working at all? A problem with hiss really sounds more like the device is just poorly implemented.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 5 years ago

            Turning off power management for USB audio devices is actually one of the “optimize your computer for Pro Tools” things that Avid recommends on all their USB audio interfaces.

            Every time I restart my PC or shut it off, my Mbox makes a squeaky-hiss sound until the capacitors inside the unit drain completely or power is restored. It’s super annoying.

          • MadManOriginal
          • 5 years ago

          That’s a good point and is something that should be checked.

      • crystall
      • 5 years ago

      Amen to that. The article covers only desktops but there’s a lot of people out there with laptops and USB sound cards are their only option to get some decent audio output. There’s Turtle Beach options too which are cheaper (they usually run for 20$) but I’d take the Behringer one anytime over those:

      [url=http://www.turtlebeach.com/product-detail/sound-cards-accessories/micro-ii/31<]Turtle Beach Micro II[/url<] [url=http://www.turtlebeach.com/product-detail/sound-cards-accessories/amigo-ii/32<]Turtle Beach Amigo II[/url<]

      • psuedonymous
      • 5 years ago

      A word of warning about the UCA202: the line outputs are perfectly acceptable for feeding into an external amplifier, but the internal headphone amplifier is [url=http://nwavguy.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/uca202-dac-take-2.html<]seriously flawed[/url<].

        • Erebos
        • 5 years ago

        Considering that the Asus Xonar DS/DX have 100Ohm output impedance and the UCA202 has 50Ohm, I wouldn’t say it’s “seriously flawed”. Most people won’t even notice the affected frequency response.

          • psuedonymous
          • 5 years ago

          [quote<]100Ohm[/quote<]That sounded excessive, and while ASUS specsheet doesn;t list output impedances, a few measurements posted by end users and reviewers ([url=http://www.stereophile.com/content/asus-xonar-essence-ststx-soundcards-measurements<]e.g.[/url<]) have been around 100 Ohm for the line-output, and 10 Ohm for the headphone output. 10 Ohm is still pretty damned terrible for a supposedly dedicated headphone amp, so I'd recommend not using the integrated amp with them if you intend to use headphones with an impedance lower than 80 Ohm. Acceptable output impedance for almost any headphone (certainly any reasonable consumer headphone) outside of some obscure or older pieces is 2 Ohm or under.

            • Erebos
            • 5 years ago

            Only the Xonar DG/DGX and the Essence ST/STX II have headphone amps unfortunately, but I agree 10 Ohm output for headphones is still too much.

    • LoneWolf15
    • 5 years ago

    Considering Diamond’s horrible support, would you want one anyway?

      • jihadjoe
      • 5 years ago

      lol yeah people tend to forget, before AMD’s “bad” drivers was even a thing, there was “Diamond Drivers”.

        • Rakhmaninov3
        • 5 years ago

        There used to be a guy on here named “atidriverssuck”

          • jihadjoe
          • 5 years ago

          Ah but did they suck worse than Diamond’s Savage2000 drivers?

          Now that was a card that the S3 engineers really threw their souls into. Blazing fast (in Q3A comparable to the GeForce 1), pioneered some cool new tech (S3TC, which is licensed by all GPU makers to this day), but unfortunately hobbled by colossally bad drivers which rendered it nearly unusable. I might still have one in storage…

            • swaaye
            • 5 years ago

            The Savage 2000 chip was not exactly fully debugged either.

      • Deanjo
      • 5 years ago

      Like most drivers now days, it is just a generic driver set with some skinning. You can always download the newest from cmedia and use them.

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