While sound buffs were still left tottering from ASUSTek's previous entry into the audio realm via their PCI-based Xonar D2X, ASUS has instead, with nary a pause for breath, gone ahead with the release of another 7.1 soundcard: the PCI-Express based ASUS Xonar DX. Being of the half-height PCB variety, the Xonar DX is a low profile card visibly designed with small form factor computers in mind. Jaded receipients of Creative's EAX may find that the Xonar DX as an unlikely savior of sorts. ASUS has also claimed that the card is able to emulate the effects of Creative's API, bringing about another twist to this small yet powerful card.
Bear with us for a moment here as we take a quick look into how the mechanics actually work. Creative's EAX effects are largely driven by its dedicated Digital Sound Processing (DSP) hardware, while ASUS relies on its own AV100 audio processor and its software DS3D GX engine to achieve similar effects for EAX 2.0 and above. The results are impressive as we noticed the Xonar DX had a very comparable Signal-To-Noise ratio of 116dB to the 120dB of the pricier Auzen X-FI Prelude.
Gamers and audiophiles interested in channel surround functionalities will also be pleased to find a plethora of Dobly-encoding support available, save for DTS. We did notice something off though: in order to squeeze the five jacks of the card into its compact size, ASUS has resorted to sharing its optical output of the Line and Mic-In ports, something which we question the wisdom of.
Installing the card as well as its utilities was a breeze. However, do take note to hook up the power cable from your power supply to its 4-pin connector. On the OS level, the Audio Center acts as a nerve center for the Xonar DX. Other fun features also include a VocalFX processing facet to spice up VoIP exchanges with varying effects.
Our Audio Analyzer tests found that besides a superior SNR, the Xonar DX also scored decently for the Total Harmoic Distortion tests, and the scores were three times lower than the Auzen's X-Fi Prelude. Gaming and music tests were also equally delightful, and we were pleasantly surprised at what the soundcard could deliver.
While its frequency band separation wasn't anywhere stellar, the audio engine handled the Dolby Virtual Speaker's wide and reference effects impressively. Mid-range bass as well as treble levels were accurately reproduced and we managed to tweak the vocals via the voice cancelling feature (under the Karaoke option) without any incident.
In all honesty, we can't be sure how long hardware accelerated audio is going to stay relevant in the gaming industry, but our ears have indeed witnessed a creditable replacement in the ASUS Xonar DX. For S$145, this card has shown that it can deliver on what it promises; our proof is in our ears. We've experienced the expansive sound field the card is able to produce on UT3 itself amidst the bangs and whizzes on the battlefield. Rejoice and be glad folks, a new sonic theory has been amiably born.