ASUS Xonar U7 7.1 USB Sound Card Review
Listening Tests: Music and Movies
Sennheiser PC350 (Xense branded)
Psyko Audio Labs 5.1 PC Gaming Headphone
Listening Tests: Music
USB based DAC’s that are geared towards the mass market like the Xonar U7 typically exhibit sound reproduction abilities that range from poor to abysmal. Indeed, the bar for this segment is abysmally low.
After the excellent synthetic results we had extremely high hopes for this card and those expectations were easily exceeded. As with internal soundcards, the weakest link will be the source material being used rather than the Xonar U7. While the U7 will introduce some coloration and a certain amount of aberrations, they’re minimal and more than tolerable at everything but the highest volume settings. However, when trying to damage your own ear-drums, the Xonar U7’s output quality quickly falls off a veritable cliff but at normal levels the sound fidelity was surprisingly good.
The real secret to this card’s success is its headphone amplifier. We would be hesitant to actually use 150ohm headphones with the Xonar U7, but the lack of power that we were afraid of failed to materialize with our Sennheiser HD595’s, proving that USB 2.0 power levels were more than adequate for our use. That’s absolutely a great accomplishment for the U7’s intended market. Hopefully future revisions will make use of USB 3.0 so even higher headphones could be used, but for most people this is simply not going to be an issue.
The same can be said of the soundstage it creates when used with speakers; it may not be the largest or clearest we have ever heard but it is extremely good for USB. We are not fond lovers of up-converted surround sound, but as with the Xonar U7’s overall tonal abilities, we were actually impressed.
Simply put, ASUS’ U7 blows away the abilities of every affordable USB DAC we’ve come across. When paired with a decent analog headset the end results are extremely pleasing. If you’re looking for a good combination of sound and cost, put most of your budget into this device and then spend a more sensible amount on a set of analog headphones rather than buying a USB headset.
The only possible exceptions to this is the possible requirement for wireless communications between a device and the headphones, in which case you will still be stuck with typical wireless USB mediocrity. With that being said, the USB 2.0 cable that the Xonar U7 uses to connect to your system is just a standard one so a longer cable can easily be used if distance becomes an issue.
Listening Tests: Movies
Movies by their very definition are a lot less demanding and require a lot less abilities from a soundcard than other listening habits. However, once again the Xonar U7 shone and did a very, very good job recreating accurate soundstages. The coloration that we first saw in the music testing stage actually helped create a more pleasing movie experience. Dialog was clear and clean, explosions were big without being overly bloomy and overall it was very easy to get immersed into the movie experience.
The only real issue we have with the U7 and movies is the software, which is a touch simplistic. Its lack of advanced features does hinder ASUS’ solution in a minor way. This was especially true when using the software surround sound up-converting alongside movies where the sound engineer didn’t properly mix the background and foreground channels. Without much in the way of modifications, you will be limited to watching and listening to a movie as others intended it to be heard. This is unfortunate, but as with all things software related, it is something that could easily be fixed in the future by ASUS, and we truly hope they do precisely that.