We initially got wind of the Asus Xonar back at CeBit in March and then saw the full presentation at Computex in July. Has it been too quick to market, or has Asus just been developing on the quiet for some time?
We found out after talking to CMedia at Computex that it had a "significant hand" in the audio chipset and vibrations through the grape vine is that Asus is pretty much just rebranding a CMI 8788 Oxygen HD processor, however when we asked at the launch we couldn't get a confirmation. It lacks all hardware processing like Creative has with its X-Fi chip, but it does include advanced Dolby and DTS features which differentiates it to the audio enthusiast and home theatre user.
Also, because many games these days are co-developed or ported from a console which includes predominantly Dolby or DTS soundtracks, then the Xonar could be better situated even despite its lack of hardware heft. Add in the price drop of quad core processors and we should have enough CPU cycles spare to not need the hardware processor of the X-Fi. Could this be the PhysX argument all over again?
Asus AV200 High-Definition Sound Processor with up to 192KHz/24-bit audio support;
Four 24-bit DAC converter for digital sources: Burr-BrownPWM1796, rated 123dB SNR, 192KHz/24-bit;
One 24-bit DAC converter for analogue inputs: Cirrus Logic CS5381, rated 120dB SNR, 192KHz/24-bit;
Overall rating of 118dB SNR and a Total Harmonic Distortion and Noise (THD+N) of less than 0.0001
S/PDIF digital input and output through RCA and optical connections;
7.1 channel audio support, with separate line in and microphone sockets;
Dolby Digital Live, Dolby Headphones, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby Pro-Logic IIx, DTS Connect (DTS Interactive and Neo:PC) and WMA-Pro support;
Additional MPU-401 MIDI I/O bracket for two MIDI connectors;
EAX 2.0, A3D 1.0, Directsound and OpenAL;
Four 3.5mm to stereo RCA cable for eight channel output;
Quick start guide manual;
Dolby Virtual Speaker and Dolby Headphone demo DVD;
S/PDIF TOSLINK optical cable and two adapters;
PowerDVD 7, Valuable Cakewalk, Proucation Plus Pack CD, Abletion Live 6 Lite CD;
Midi daughterboard with adapter cable;
When it comes to box extras, Asus knocks the competition for six. There's not much more you could want to be honest, apart from an RCA S/PDIF cable but the best bet is not to use a free one but invest in something decent if you want a quality digital electrical connection. You can put up with a cheaper optical cable to an extent because light doesn't suffer from electromagnetic interference, however imperfections in the optical tube can cause errors.
Asus has even gone to the lengths of including four converters from a 3.5mm audio jack to RCA inputs, for those wanting to output 7.1 surround sound to a dedicated decoder.
The cables aren't "super special oxygen free" but the are certainly capable of doing the job unless you're an audio junkie, and including them highlights Asus' commitment to providing a true home theatre product by having a hardware package that matches the software. The included Dolby demo disk is surprisingly watchable even if it is just a glorified tech demo for Dolby Headphone and Virtual Surround; it sure beats the "helicopter/bee flying around your head" any day.
Included is a manual that offers a basic overview of driver installation and software, however it doesn't explicitly walk you through the options of the bundled software included - especially the Asus audio software, what all the Dolby and DTS features do and what the best way to use them is. It clearly explains how to setup 2/4/6/8 speakers as well as S/PDIF digital and optical connections because the RCA jacks are dual purpose and include optical connectors in the middle. A slight oversight by Asus in the manual is that there is no indication that the actual jacks are lit and what the colours represent if you're unfamiliar with standard AC97 colouring.
In all, including the software package which we will go through later, Asus pretty much hits the nail on the head when it comes to covering a ton of angles and making you feel like your money is well invested.