ASUS Xonar U7 7.1 USB Sound Card Review
Going into this review, our expectations were quite low and with good reason. Up until this point, the USB DAC market has been classified by products that provide some audio fidelity uplift but they’ve often been hampered by cost cutting measures that cut down on their benefits. For the most part, even the inexpensive sub-$100 devices have been unable to any semblance of value. Now we have the ASUS Xonar U7, a USB audio solution that has the capability to become an entirely disruptive product. It’s that good.
In nearly every possible way imaginable the Xonar U7 exceeded our wildest expectations. Everything from its impressively low harmonic distortion abilities, to impressive music abilities was top-notch. Even the simulated 7.1 soundstage was a cut above the rest when compared against what passes for competition in its niche. Meanwhile, the dedicated headphone amplifier really boosts audio fidelity when it’s fed with high quality tracks and passed through to compatible headphones.
Another area of strength here is the U7’s ease of use. Due to the necessary drivers, it certainly isn’t plug and play but the included software is designed in a straightforward, welcoming manner and provides enough options that customizing a soundstage becomes quite easy. This is also one of the first external USB audio solutions we’ve come across which didn’t need some form of tweaking to be compatible with every application.
There are a few shortcomings here, many of which can be attributed to the Xonar U7’s impressively low price of just $99. Something had to be sacrificed so you won’t see a user-replaceable op-amp on the headphone amplifier and the software used may be user-friendly but it won’t be up to the expectations of audiophiles. The lack of USB 3.0 capabilities also limits the range of headphones supported by the U7 since it can’t provide the necessary amplifier power to properly feed higher end solutions.
With the U7 ASUS has made wonderful strides in improving their USB-based Xonar offerings. What was once a source of derision in the audiophile community may not become an overnight success with it, but there’s proof here that USB and audio fidelity can walk hand in hand. More importantly, for the average consumer who needs a fast, pain-free, affordable external upgrade to their existing system’s soundcard abilities, the Xonar U7 is hard to beat. It certainly will never replace dedicated PCIe solutions, but for anyone using an SFF or mobile systems this is one of the best options available