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ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Review

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Robscix

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ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 PCI-E Sound Card Review

Featuring



Manufacturers Part#: XONAR DX
Price: Click here to compare prices
Availability: In Stores Now
Product Page: XONAR DX
Warranty: 1yr. Manufacturers​




The current soundcard landscape offers many options to the PC audio enthusiast. There are extremely high quality units loaded with features available for people knowing what they want and willing to pay for it but there isn't much out there for the more budget-minded user. The customers new to the audio market may frown at these offerings with higher prices and loads of features and look for something a bit more simple and closer to their budget. With all the competition between companies battling for supremacy in the soundcard industry as of late, there is one very significant market that has been left almost vacant: the entry level market. This market is for people new to sound devices and unsure of how much they would like to invest their hard-earned cash. They know they want better sound, would like a soundcard in the same general league as the enthusiast but with a more reasonable price tag and feature set. Seems like they are asking for the impossible, doesn't it?

Well, ASUS has heard the call for a product aimed at this market and they are back from the drawing boards and off to market with another addition to their new line of PC soundcards: The Xonar 7.1 DX. ASUS recently started to apply their considerable design talents to cement a solid name and reputation for themselves among PC audio fans with high spec, high quality soundcards. The new Xonar DX 7.1 is clearly aimed at the entry level markets with a lower price tag and no-frills added bundle.

This new PCI-E interfaced offering has full 24/192 Full duplex support, full Dolby processing technologies such as Pro-Logic IIx, Dolby Headphone, Dolby Virtual Speaker and Dolby Digital Live output support for connection to home theater audio receivers and digital speakers systems. ASUS has further announced the introduction of the GX 2.0 driver set which is said to substantially improve the sound quality and immersion for PC gamers using the newer Windows Vista operating system. For such a relatively new venture into the soundcard market, ASUS is quickly learning the ropes and bringing their users high quality soundcards with wanted features, needed options and high quality output. The soundcard market is enjoying a resurgence in quality and is quickly moving from afterthought to the forefront of design decisions for PC builders. ASUS has become a major player in this new audio market and previous offerings from this manufacturer have been solid, great sounding audio devices that are gaining a very large fan base among HTPC users and audiophiles alike.

Today we have the newest Xonar 7.1 DX in our HWC audio lab, and we are ready to run this card through the gamut. Can this card bring something new to the PC audio market? Can this card compare to its big brothers and offerings from the other powerhouses in PC audio while offering an excellent price? Test, check, check...1…2…1…2, Ready, Let’s begin….

 
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Robscix

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Features and Specifications

Features

Dolby® Digital Live
Dolby Digital Live encodes any audio signal on PC in real-time to Dolby Digital (AC3) 5.1 surround sounds to your home theater environment through one single S/PDIF connection

Dolby® Headphone
Dolby Headphone technology allows users to listen to music, watch movies, or play games with the dramatic 5.1-channel surround or realistic 3D spacious effects through any set of stereo headphones.

Dolby® Virtual Speaker
Dolby Virtual Speaker technology simulates a highly realistic 5.1-speaker surround sound listening environment from as few as two speakers.

Dolby® Pro-Logic IIx
Dolby Pro-Logic II is the well-known technology to process any native stereo or 5.1-channel audio into a 6.1- or 7.1- channel output, creating a seamless, natural surround sound field.

DS3D GX 2.0
-DS3D GX 2.0 supports EAX gaming sound effects and DirectSound 3D hardware enhanced functions on Windows Vista. (DirectX/DirectSound 3D compatible)

VocalFX™
Xonar DX provides VocalFX, the latest vocal effect technologies for gaming and VoIP, including: -VoiceEX: produces vivid environmental reverberation for your voice in EAX games -ChatEX: emulates different background environment effects when you chat online -Magic Voice: changes your voice pitch to different types (Monster/Cartoon…) for disguising your real voice or just for fun in online chatting

Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC)
Provides advanced Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC, eliminates up-to-40dB speaker echo return) and noise suppression technologies for best voice communication quality in VOIP applications or online gaming

Smart Volume Normalizer™
Normalizes the volume of all audio sources into a constant level and also enhances your 3D sound listening range and advantages in gaming
Karaoke Functions
Music Key-Shifting and Microphone Echo effects like professional Karaoke machine

FlexBass™
Professional Bass Management/Enhancement system

Xear 3D™ Virtual Speaker Shifter
Virtual 7.1 speaker positioning

Other Effects
10-band Equalier/27 Environment Effects
3D Gaming Sound Engines/APIs
DirectSound3D® GX 2.0 & 1.0, EAX®2.0&1.0, DirectSound® HW, DirectSound SW, A3D®1.0, OpenAL generic modes, 128 3D sounds processing capability
ASIO 2.0 Driver Support:
Supports 44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @16/24bit with very low latency


Specifications

Audio Performance:

  • Output SNR (A-Weighted): 116dB Front Outputs
  • Output SNR (A-Weighted): 112dB Other Outputs
  • Input SNR (A-Weighted): 112dB
  • Output THD+N% at 1 kHz (-3dB): 0.00056%(-105dB) for Front Outs
  • Input THD+N% at 1 kHz (-3dB): 0.0004%(-108dB) for Line-In
  • Frequency Response (-3dB, 24/96kHz format): <10Hz to 48kHz
  • Output/Input Full-Scale Voltage: 2Vrms (5.56 Vp-p)
Main Chipset
Audio Processor: ASUS AV100 High Definition Sound Processor (Max. 192kHz/24bit)

Sample Rate and Resolution
Analog Playback Sample Rate and Resolution 44.1k/48k/96k/192k at 16/24 bit
Analog Recording Sample rate and Resolution 44.1k/48k/96k/192k at 16/24bit
S/PDIF Digital Output 44.1k/48k/96k/192k at 16/24bit, Dolby Digital



 
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Robscix

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Packaging and Accessories

Packaging


The packaging for the DX is simple and straight to the point with no frills, bells or whistles. Nine different audio and gaming standards are clearly displayed on the front of the box to peak the customer’s interest in the product. There is a top panel that opens and furthers shows reasons to purchase card by outlining its clear supremacy over onboard audio and further number flashing to seal the deal with the buyer. The reported numbers boast of crystal clear audio which is 35 times that of current onboard sound chips. Given the specifications of both devices and quickly doing the math, they are actually very close to that number.

Meanwhile, the rear of the Xonar box clearly shows how far the ASUS empire actually extends with the feature set revamped in 12 different languages.


The inside of the Xonar DX packaging is very simple, The card is right on top in a removable tray for easy access for the users that don't read the manuals first. All accessories, manual and software CD are under the removable tray.


Included Accessories



This product offers a very light bundle, again straight to the point with no extra fluff or frills. Compared to the accessories bundles of the D2 and D2X, the DX offers very little to the user in the way of interconnects, adapters or application software. Added accessories and software of course drive up the price of the bundle. Included in the box are:
  • Xonar 7.1 DX PCI-E soundcard
  • Instruction Manual
  • Toslink Adapter
  • Low Profile PCI Sheild
  • Driver and application CD
 
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A closer look at the Xonar 7.1 DX

A Closer look at the Xonar 7.1 DX


The new Xonar 7.1 DX marks the first half-height sound card in the Xonar soundcard lineup since the Xonar D2 and Xonar D2X are both full sized audio cards. The Xonar DX is designed for use in small form factor (SFF) cases and smaller HTPC cases and thus a half height PCI shield is included to help with installing this card into SFF cases. There are various design differences between the DX and other Xonar cards such as the signature EMI shield and blinged-out signal input and speaker output jacks featuring different-colored LED's that correspond to the colors of the jacks. There are also various electronics differences which will be discussed in the corresponding section.


The Xonar 7.1 DX requires more power then what the PCI-E bus can provide and you will need to connect a standard floppy power connector to the card to provide the needed power. The card's driver will remind you to connect the power during installation and the driver will notify you when there is no power to the card in case you forget. The Xonar DX card also features an internal Auxiliary input (AUX_IN) for connecting devices such as television tuners, FM tuners and other add-in PCI cards that require an analog connection to the soundcard. In case you are wondering why there is no CD input on the card, the analog input for CD/DVD devices hasn’t been required for audio transfer since Win 9X days and all audio data is presently transferred through the IDE cable so it is really unnecessary.


Another great addition to this card that many users will appreciate is the front panel audio connector. Many new PC cases will feature front panel audio connectors that allow the user to easily connect headphones and/or a desktop microphone to the front of the case. This is much easier than reaching behind the PC to connect headphones or a microphone. The drivers have settings for enabling the front panel headphone jack which in turn disables the speaker outputs on the card which is very cool feature.

After careful consideration of the input and output options of the Xonar DX and it's possible use as a HTPC card but I see only one glaring issue: The card's digital ouput jack is shared with a line in and mic input. This could conceivably cause trouble for certain types of custom HTPC configurations when digital output is needed along with a line in from a external source. The AUX connector could be routed to a external bracket and get around this oversight.



The Xonar DX 7.1 has from left to right in the PCI Shield picture:
  • S/PDIF output, Line_Input, Mic Input
  • Front Channel output
  • Side channel output
  • Centre and Subwoofer channel output
  • Rear channel Output


The Xonar DX cards utilize the newer PCI-E 1X slot that are present on newer motherboards as the older PCI specification is gradually being phased out (But not quickly enough for some of us -Ed.). Although graphics cards have grabbed on to the new high bandwidth specification with great enthusiasm, the soundcard industry has been slow to follow suit and have been using PCI for many new designs. Many of us have the PCI-E 1X interfaces on our motherboards but no hardware that uses them. If you’re running low on PCI slots or possibly have none, the Xonar 7.1 DX may be right for you. The PCI-E specification is serial whereas PCI was parallel; the serial transfers of the PCI-E connectors help prevent bus congestion and theoretically help prevent possible audio troubles from such congestion. Sound cards would only use a fraction of the throughput of this slot but the interface isn't widely used yet for other devices making it a perfect interface for sound cards. Eventually PCI will be gone altogether so going with the PCI-E interface makes sense from a upgrading standpoint.
 
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Robscix

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Drivers and Software Bundle

Drivers and Software Bundle

The Xonar drivers installed on the first attempt in both XP and Vista and they offered tight control and adjustment over features and output quality. Theses drivers are very refined and it seems nothing is missing for the user. There were some simple issues, such as light popping when switching sample rates after playing some audio samples but this is a minor issue at most.

Vista seems to have issues with any driver configurations when audio is playing and will simply stop your output. Although this behavior has been seen in many soundcard drivers, it would seem to be more of a Vista sound issue and not so much a problem with the soundcard.


MAIN


The main driver pane contains settings for output sample rate, output speaker configuration and S/PDIF settings. There are also enable/disable effects check boxes for the Dolby Labs audio enhancements such as 7.1 speaker shifter, Dolby Prologic IIX and Dolby Headphone. There are further configurations panes for finer settings related to the individual Dolby effects. These settings help the user dial in the effect exactly how they prefer.


Mixer


The Mixer driver pane provides the user full access to all faders for both playback output control and audio recording inputs. There are further settings for monitoring particular inputs and advanced settings for certain recording inputs such as the microphone. All input and output levels to the card are controlled from this section. If you are at all familiar with external audio mixers you will feel right at home with these drivers.


Effect


The effect pane contains controls for environmental reverb effects such as Concert hall and Jazz club and 13 other environmental presets. There are further settings for size of the reverb environment (Small, Medium, Large) and a -20dB to +20dB Graphic Equalizer complete with 12 presets and a user preset load/save system.

The frequency analyzer is always present in the upper pane of the drivers and any setting of the equalizer is immediately noticeable in the audio analyzer's graphic output. This feedback from the analyzer can assist new users with EQ changes and help familiarize them with how the equalizer modifies the output spectrum.


Karaoke


The Karaoke pane gives the best effects of all. After all what is a soundcard without karaoke? There are settings for Key shifting for all you baritones and sopranos, this effect changes the key of the audio playing to match your voice or singing style. There are further settings for Vocal cancellation which removes the singer from the playing track.

Note: this effect either works like magic or not at all. It is dependent on how the track was mixed. The last slider controls the amount of Microphone Echo to help enhance your singing. Time to polish up your Pavarotti opera chops!


Flexbass


The Flexbass panel gives the user control over the Bass redirection for the card. There is a slider for exact cutoff frequency as well as speaker size for each channel in your set configurations e.g. Small, Large. Bass redirect filters unneeded bass away from your smaller satellite speakers and channels the bass to where it belongs: the subwoofer. There are also full settings for headphone bass redirection with settings for small and large headphones as some headphones are earbuds and some are large over the ear type so these settings are unique.


AEC


This pane provides the user with settings for acoustic echo cancellation. This setting greatly enhances the clarity of desktop microphones canceling echo and feedback up to -40dB. Now you won't have your friends yelling at you on team speak to turn off your mic or stop strangling that goose! Asus offered a small desktop microphone with the Xonar U1 for use with these settings and speech applications. However, they think frills like these are unwarranted and unneeded in Xonar DX bundle.


VocalFX


This pane provides the user with settings for 3D FX for allowing the user to change their voice when playing online games or asking for ransom for your friends copy of Bioshock. Further settings for VOiP allow the user to add their personal chat programs and effect or disguise their voice while using these applications. Presets offer the user choices between monster, cartoon and pitch shifting effect presets for male and female.

Overall, the Xonar device drivers are a very well thought out driver set with a refined feel to them. All settings are easily accessible for the user and most settings are easy to understand and apply. These drivers are used in all of the Xonar soundcards. This driver symmetry makes adding another Xonar product to one of your systems very easy as learning a new driver set is unnecessary.


ASUS PMP Lite


The included PMP Lite application offers quick and easy file conversion of your MP3 and WMA music files to other formats and also allows the user to apply Dolby effects to the files. All main settings are upfront and easily accessible making this application very easy to use. The included Dolby output effects can help to give your music files a more ambient sound and Dolby Headphone gives your stereo music a 5.1 virtual image that is quite impressive when in use. This application also allows you to put other effects on the audio and save them with the effects applied for use on personal audio/video players.

Output file Settings:
MP3 128-320kbps, CBR
WMA 128-320kbps, CBR
Effects: Smart Volume Normalization, Dolby Headphone and Dolby Virtual Speaker.
 
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Robscix

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Electronics Overview

Electronics Overview

Front channel DAC-CS4398



This Cirrus Logic Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) offers advanced ∆∑ (Delta Sigma) architecture, a 120 dB Dynamic range and -107dB THD+N%. This unit also offer low jitter sensitivity and differential stereo analog outputs. According to the specifications this is a high quality part and a very good choice by the Xonar designers. This unit would usually be seen in high end DVD players and home theatre audio video receivers and ensures the front channel opamp is receiving crisp, clear audio for amplification and signal conditioning to line-level for output to your speakers or receiver unit.


Other Channel DAC CS-4362



This Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) offers 24/192 kHz operation with a dynamic range of 114dB and a THD+N% of -100dB. This DAC system also offers digital interpolation, de-emphasis filtering and volume control with soft ramp of 1db graduations. This is a 6 channel output unit that powers the remaining channels of the Xonar DX card.

While this DAC doesn’t have the specifications of its bigger brother on the front channels, it is still a very reasonable unit to put on an audio device at this price point as it offers great dynamic range and reasonable THD+N numbers.


Recording Channel ADC CS5361



The Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) used on the Xonar DX has a dynamic range of 114dB and a THD+N% of -105dB. This unit will provide quality sound recording capabilities to this card considering the price point. This chip will also convert analog signal inputs from the AUX input, Line input and Microphone inputs. The use of a decent ADC further promotes this card's use in a HTPC role offering clean and clear connections from other audio/video devices such as external CD players and other devices.


Opamps 4580 Series


This opamp seems to be a mainstay in consumer audio design and is now considered a rather generic unit. Believe it or not, this opamp has been seen on audio products from almost every manufacturer as they are rather easy to fit into a design and would be cost effective for mass production. The 4580 series are a cheaper priced unit that will do the job but again, the price point of the card would influence such design decisions.


Opamps 5532 Series



The 5532 is a bi-polar opamp with wide scale usage in consumer level electronics. The specifications on this device are reasonable but again there are better chip amplifiers out there. That being said, this chip has gained extremely wide scale acceptance because of its performance to price ratio since it can give decent performance over similarly priced opamps. The 5532 is considered a “workhorse” a chip that designers fall back on when needing an audio opamp.


PCI-E to PCI Bridge Chip PEX8111


This chip is what gives us one of the best hardware features on the DX: its PCI-E compatibility. Finally we have a card that can use the small PCI-Express X1 connectors. The PEX8111 chipset is a bridging chip that allows designers to connect PCI designed cards and chipsets to the newer PCI Express interface bus.

The bridge chip is acting in a forward bridge capacity on this card since this chip allows the PCI card to connect to a PCI-E connector or in reverse bridging mode allow PCI-E card to connect to a PCI interface.
 
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Listening Tests

Listening Tests

Headphones Used: Sennheiser HD595
Speakers Used: Modified Edifier S5.1 Surround system


Movies

The Xonar DX provided amazing sound quality for DVD movies. It was crisp, clear, well defined sound without a hint of muddiness in heavy action sequences all sounds seemed to have their own location in the output. Explosions, gunfire and all the good stuff were rendered easily without any noticeable distortions or clipping.

Dolby Headphone greatly aids the user in enjoying a 5.1 encoded movie over normal headphones. I preferred just to test out well known action scenes and heavily directional sections but found myself watching the DVD's for extended periods. Without a doubt, this card offers great imaging and overall amazing quality sound for surround encoded movies.


Movies Tested:

Saving Private Ryan
Ozzy Osbourne: Live at Budokan
Star Wars EPIII
The Matrix
The Matrix: Revolutions


Music

The tested music has that familiar Xonar flavor to whatever tracks played due in no small part to the front channel DAC’s and AV100 Chipset. The Xonar DX has a very warm “tube” like quality which we also heard when auditioning the Xonar D2. The sound of the DX is crisp, clear and very "musical" and there is great high end extension present with shimmering high tones and glossy cymbals. The bass regions are well defined and tight without a hint of muddiness, tubbiness or looseness. You can listen to the card for extended periods of time without it becoming fatiguing to your ears. Acoustic and electrics guitars have a very nice woody sound to them sometimes glossed over on other cards which adds to the realism of the music. However, a couple songs did exhibit some higher frequency distortions during critical listening with the Sennheiser 595's.

The DX was tested with Winamp 5 and different output plugins such as ASIO, DirectSound, WAV and Audioburst to ensure they all worked with this card. The only notable issue is when using the Directsound and DS-based output plugins since the DX card will NOT allow modifying the sound with its onboard effects. The EQ preset system settings seemed rather generic and would need further adjusting by the user for optimal listening. High resolution MP3, FLAC and CD audio and a DVD concert disc were used to test the music capabilities of the Xonar 7.1 DX.

Albums tested:

3 Doors Down: Let Me Go
Ozzy Osbourne: Prince of Darkness (CD 1-4)
Van Halen I,1984,5150,Fair Warning
Metallica: Master of Puppets, Black Album
Ozzy Osbourne -Live at Budokan (DVD)
Various Country and classical tracks.


Gaming

This is the section many of you have been waiting for with the info floating around stating the Xonar line of cards now supports higher levels of EAX namely 3,4,5 through ASUS’ newly released DS3D GX 2.0 drivers. Grab yourself a coffee or something a bit frostier and let’s see what we have with this card and these GX 2.0 driver routines.

Believe it or not, this card presented a bit of a mixed bag when gaming in both XP and Vista. When tested with compatibility applications like RM 3DS, the DX card does indeed show compatibility for EAX 1,2,3,4 and 5 through the Direct Sound API. OpenAL testing shows a similar output lineup but more on that later. There has been much information on the web regarding the DS3D GX 2.0 drivers and what they actually do and what function the user will have when using them.

The information we have on DS3D GX 2.0 is that the driver is NOT a exact copy of Creative Labs EAX 3,4,5. The GX 2.0 drivers intercept to outgoing Direct-Sound EAX gaming audio data and translate it to use the reverb and delay effects the Xonar cards have to offer. I would prefer not to get into a debate about EAX, but would like to say that these GX 2.0 drivers drastically improve the gaming audio effects previously available to Xonar users under the Vista OS. These effects are of course software based and will impact your CPU usage to some extent. Without the GX 2.0 drivers, direct sound game titles would have no environmental effects in the Vista. These gaming titles were chosen to see what the Xonar 7.1 DX was capable of when gaming and what exactly the GX 2.0 drivers could do when their effects needed to be applied in certain titles.


Bioshock


Bioshock produced some compatibility issues with the GX driver mode since when we first tested it gave no audio output whatsoever. After contacting ASUS, we received a patch for the drivers which gave full audio support in this game. Further testing yielded big lush reverb and directional audio cues as well as other environmental effects required to properly enjoy bioshock. The only noted audio anomaly was a bit of static during certain level loading screens. I found myself being drawn into the game without realizing it and finished off a few levels before I knew it.

This game also sounded exceptional with Dolby Headphone effects. The surround modeling effects produced by DH allows the user to hear enemies coming from behind with plain 2.0 headphones, this greatly increased the creepiness factor of an already creepy game.


PREY


I just started playing this game awhile back and don't know my way through it yet but it seems sound in the game is very integral to the story. Prey has very impressive audio based on what I have heard so far. This game has great immersion effects and the large environments which pull you right into the action.

The game loaded up, allowed configurations for the newly installed Xonar 7.1 DX and snapped right into using EAX HD. The first time the game was loaded with this card the game locked up half way into the alien abduction cutscene and while the game could be ctrl-alt-deleted out of, the lopping audio continued to play in the background and the system needed to be reset to stop the loop. After this initial looping issue there were no troubles whatsoever with this game. I could hear people screaming and yelling far back in the distance and far behind me when being abducted in the beginning levels of the game. The directional audio was spot on when moving around the level while listening to a stationary sound source. I was very impressed with the Xonar DX when playing this game since I deliberately looked for anomalies in imaging or directional audio and found none. If there were any glitches with audio or effects they were unnoticeable. The original issues with looping audio never resurfaced through all the remaining tests of this game.


Call of Duty 4


This game provided very nice sound with very realistic sound-scapes with the DX with the bullets seemingly whizzing by my ears and explosions shaking the desk. CoD4 has a very light audio setup page and there weren't any settings for advanced effects. This game sounded quite good on the Xonar DX and I noticed no anomalies or missing audio while playing through the levels. I was particularly impressed with the sound of the weapons produced by the DX and I found myself running from gun to gun and squeezing off a few rounds to audition the sound difference between each one. This game has great audio and was very enveloping in 5.1 speaker mode and while using the Dolby Headphone technology with the Sennheiser HD595's.


Call of Duty 2


Unfortunately, this game would not lock into EAX 3.0 mode even though there was no trouble with lower EAX versions during testing. I did notice the weapons and explosions sounded very clean, clear and realistic with the Xonar DX but it was still a shame about the EAX 3.0 mode. There was no noticeable clipping of the higher volume effects such as explosions and large caliber weapons fire. Although this game would not lock into EAX 3.0 mode the Xonar DX still made this game sound quite good and enveloping in the lower EAX 2.0 mode and the default Miles engine. I also tested this game with Dolby Headphone mode and as with the previous game tests I was equally impressed with what Dolby headphone offers; directional audio and rear surround effects that make you turn and look behind you. Perhaps as the GX 2.0 gamings drivers mature they might have less trouble with compatibility with these older classic gaming titles.


Theif: Deadly Shadows


This Game would not lock into EAX mode as well and it continued our frustrations with older titles. Audio Hardware Mixing was available but EAX Advanced HD and EAX multiple environments settings were greyed out and unavailable for selections. This Could be driver issue or audio engine is not compatible with GX 2.0. Without the big reverbs, stone environment reflections, occlusions and multiple reverb effects this game just didn't sound correct and was very difficult to play. I was disappointed as this remains one of my favorite games and sounds very good with the right sound hardware.
 
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Robscix

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Right Mark Audio Testing

Right Mark Audio Testing

Test System Used

CPU: E4300
RAM: OCZ 2X1GB DDR2-800
MOBO: Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3L
Video: ATI X1950 Pro 256MB


Right Mark 3D Sound



The graphs show the new DX against various cards to help illustrate what the Xonar DX is capable of when compared to other sound devices. We also decided to compare the DX to the original PCI model D2 but the D2 is measured using the first release of the XONAR drivers and the DX is using the new drivers. The contrast between these drivers is startling; the new drivers have improved performance of the Xonar cards substantially and really do warrant mentioning in this review. We also pitted the DX against a hardware gaming card and of course the software based Xonar DX can’t quite keep up to the onboard 10KX DSP of the Creative Audigy 2.



Above is the output from the Rightmark 3D sound application running under the Vista operating system. With the Xonar GX 2.0 gaming mode enabled, you can clearly see that EAX 1,2,3,4 and 5 shows as being available to audio applications. These offerings would disappear when GX driver mode was disabled. OpenAL shows a similar lineup of audio options.


Right Mark Audio Analyzer

Dynamic Range


This graph shows the card's operating range and the graphs illustrate the lowest and highest range the card is capable of producing. The Xonar has a very good dynamic range according to the measurements taken.


Frequency Response


This graph shows the output characteristics of the Xonar DX. The more linear in nature of the graphed line, the better the sound output. Variances in the graph would produce color in that particular frequency range producing output higher or lower then the remaining frequencies. The DX is very linear in nature and shows no adverse coloration to the cards output.


THD+N


This measurement indicates how much Total Harmonic Distortion and Noise is present in the output signal. Harmonic distortion presents itself as multiple odd and/or even harmonic overtones in the original audio signal. Lower measurements are always better in audio device.


Stereo Crosstalk


This graph is a measurement of the bleed-through effect from one stereo channel to the other. The lower measured crosstalk the better below @ 24bit 96,196 the crosstalk cannot be measured in the lower frequencies although in the higher range they elevate somewhat.


Intermodulation Distortion


This graph shows the measurement of IMD. This type of distortion results from multiple signals being mixed together and producing distortion in the form of overtones that are not harmonically linked to any of the base signals. Lower measurements are definitely preferred for any type of distortion measurements.
 
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Modding options / Conclusion

Modding Options

This card has digital converters and opamps on both sides of the card to keep the size of the Xonar to a minimum for use in smaller HTPC cases. The opamps on the could be changed out for some higher quality units such as LM4562’s or some Burr-Browns but this would make a budget sound card into a MUCH more expensive proposition. Adding some better quality filtering capacitors could also help clean up the sound further. In an earlier section, I quickly mentioned connecting the AUX connector to a external output to get around the shared I/O jack of the DX. These output brackets are very easy to build and information will be added to our audio section on the procedure. If your are interested in modding PC audio devices, we will be adding some in-depth info to the website very soon on this topic.

Note: Although we offer these suggestions for our readers you need to understand if you perform these modifications unsuccessfully you can easily damage your card and definitely void your warranty. Perform at your own risk.


Conclusion

At this price point the Xonar 7.1 DX offers the user exceptional sound quality and a rich feature set which is both needed and expected from modern soundcards. The full line of Dolby home theater technologies further enhances the DX's sound processing capabilities and present a solid option for HTPC designers and users. Even Dolby headphone processing is an exceptional technology to use for normal stereo headphones and offers the user 5.1 surround sound imaging for use in your movies, music and gaming. Unfortunately, the DTS-Connect digital output options seen on the flagship Xonar D2 and Xonar D2X are not available on the Xonar 7.1 DX.

The addition of the new GX 2.0 drivers elevate this card's gaming audio possibilities in Microsoft Vista which will definately bring a sigh of relief to many a user. Prior to GX, games would sound quite plain without directional cues, environmental reverbs or other subtle effects under the Vista OS. With the GX 2.0 software the user can use the GX gaming mode and have full effects in almost every game with full surround sound in either analog or Dolby Digital output modes. While I feel they can’t quite compete with the higher end versions of EAX for sound refinement and realism, they immensely improve the gaming audio abilities of the Xonar series of soundcards. I was pulled into the games and felt immersed in the action just the same although some of the more subtle effects didn't seem quite right.

The PC audio market has become very large recently and has become quite fast-paced due to all the new blood competing for customers. Fortunately, this translates into great products for the end users. The Xonar DX fills a gap in the Xonar line of cards as ASUS aimed this card at the entry level market and they hit their mark squarely. This is a solid, great sounding offering to the PC audio community and deserves a good hard look by anybody searching for a modern soundcard. We have previously reviewed the Xonar 7.1 D2, Xonar U1 and now the Xonar 7.1 DX and have been impressed with the entire lineup and we are interested to see what will be next from this formidable soundcard manufacturer. After considering the large feature set, output sound quality and gaming features available for the price we feel this card deserves our coveted Dam Good Value Award.

Pros

Price point
Overall impressive sound
GX 2.0


Cons

Generic Opamps
Small bundle
No DTS features
Some minor sound issues



 
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