- DFI LANParty X48-T2R
- Intel Core 2 Duo E6750
- 2GB OCZ FlexXLC PC2-9200
- Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT
- Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 200GB
- PC Power and Cooling Silencer 750W PSU
- Plextor PX-708A DVD-RW
- Windows Vista x64 SP1 and Windows XP SP2
Firstly for those worried about Vista x64 support – the drivers installed seamlessly and worked perfectly first time both on pre and post SP1 installations.
General Music listening
- A Perfect Circle – Thirteenth Step, The Matrix Soundtrack, Pelican – City of Echos, Death Note Original Soundtrack, St. Germain – Tourist, Rage Against the Machine and Ludovico Einaudi – Echos.
All the files were 16-bit/44.1KHz CD quality audio ranging from lossless FLAC to OGG and MP3.
Let me start by explaining to you my exact experience: "WOW... Oooooo..". The bass just kicks in all the right spots, the range of fidelity is precise but the quality of music is key to the experience. Using MP3s you can clearly hear the distortion and compression of the dynamic range when I really just wanted it to punch through the headphones.
We dug out a few audio CDs from the bottom of a draw – Feeder, Fat Boy Slim and Coldplay, and dropped them in. We couldn't fault the quality. While in comparison we had to manually set the Creative XtremeGamer to the Entertainment setting for the best response, just leaving the Xonar D2 to do what it wanted worked for us. Playing with some of the settings we have to say we're still not a fan of the Dolby DSP effects though – we're not sure if they're genuinely a value-add, although having the option to play might appeal to some. That said, we'd love to know what they add to the cost and whether we could make an additional saving buying a completely vanilla card that retains the core high quality.
Gaming – Can it really emulate EAX?
- Thief: Deadly Shadows, BioShock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Half Life 2: Episode Two
We installed and updated Thief which features "EAX Advanced HD". When we first tested the DX a few weeks ago we couldn't get the new DS3D 2.0 GX engine to trigger EAX in any game.
Even without it though, the quality of output was exceptionally good – we still found Thief
very enjoyable to play because it's a game you really
need great audio for, but we didn't have perfectly positional audio (which is needed for a game like this, really speaking).
We went back to Asus and found out a patch was being worked on, and now we have it we went back to gaming to see if it has changed. Replaying the first few levels of BioShock
again made us realise how much extra depth and immersion a good sound system can be – the bass, spatial awareness and audio overlap between narrator and ambient events was fantastic with Asus’s patched driver.
We played some Half-Life 2: Episode Two
with the sound quality set to High. While it doesn't have EAX, the latest patch available from Asus enables the 5.1-channel setting. The game’s audio engine is slightly limited compared to others, however with the patch the positional audio of the Xonar DX was as you'd expect and it added to the gameplay experience. Notably it produced some lovely bass – the deep earth rumblings were particularly pleasing and the general quality of sound was certainly precise but when you've got a dozen Manhacks flying around your head the sense of depth was lost slightly because it was still hard to pinpoint them by sound alone.
Call of Duty 4
doesn't offer specific EAX effects but it did work extremely well with a great sense of depth and realism. The only disappointment was from the game side (like many) which was limited to a very "standard definition" 44.1KHz at its maximum setting. The explosions were very vivid and deep, and the gunshots were also well placed. Between the two, the card demonstrated an excellent dynamic range.
The Asus Xonar DX retails for around £55 including VAT, which did put it directly into the territory occupied by the Creative XtremeGamer, although we did manage to find an OEM version for just £46.07
but now they are out of stock. In fact, the best price we could find was the retail bundle for £55.71
. At this matched price we'd argue that you should get the Xonar every time. However Creative's PCI-Express XtremeGamer is just around the corner and has a pre-order price of just £44.98
– a pretty significant £10 saving.
In respect to the £90
Xonar D2 and the £111
D2X, the Xonar DX is very good value for a virtually identical quality sound.
The Asus Xonar DX isn't the perfect product a spec sheet would lead you to think – its software interface might be appalling and we've had to wait for a proper EAX driver to fix popular games like BioShock
and Half-Life 2: Episode Two
, but at least it installed without issue on various systems including boards based on Intel’s P965, X48 and P45 chipsets, along with Nvidia nForce 780i SLI and AMD 690G-based motherboards – we even used an x8 slot instead of just an x1 and as expected, it made no difference. The only problem we've heard is that there are issues with it and the 790i Ultra SLI because of the PCI to PCI-Express bridge chip.
The Xonar DX has a fantastic core feature set – its sound quality is largely indistinguishable compared to the Xonar D2X and it's significantly better than on-board audio. What’s more, the price to feature ratio is what makes it very accessible to buy.
In games (where EAX is progressively becoming less of a key feature), the quality was absolutely excellent, and now finally there are games like BioShock
that benefit from the working GS3D 2.0 engine, but that's not to say that future EAX games will though. However, Asus did come through eventually and in only a few weeks, which is more than can be said for Creative's driver tradition.
While we may harp on about Creative's record of support and bug fixing, what would happen if someone reverse engineered Asus’s software to enable DTS effects on the DX? Or opened up the ALT for other use? Asus has also yet to prove itself on how it supports its soundcard products in the long term – it’s unclear whether in three years time, the D2X, D2 and DX will have "Windows 7" support for example. Typically most of Asus’s products have a shorter shelf-life so, yes, there's probable cause for concern, but an unproven track record is better than an established one.
Essentially Asus may have cut the Xonar in half but it hasn't cut out its soul – if anything this lean, mean machine is a better product than its full fat cousins. It's not a fully fledged alternative to Creative still, but it does help solidify Asus’s name in the soundcard market and you won't be disappointed if you buy one for just a shade over 50 quid.
What do these scores mean?
Asus Xonar DX