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Appeared on: Monday, June 23, 2008
Asus Xonar DX


1. Introducing the Asus Xonar DX audio card

Last year Asus released the first model of its Xonar series or sound cards, the Xonar D2. The taiwanese company continued the line up last February with the introduction of the Xonar DX. It may not be easy for Asus to convince the audiophiles to change their audio equipment, however the Asus Xonar DX could attract gamers with its affordable price and performance. Or not? We come up with more conclusions later on.

The Xonar DX series are basically a strip downed version of the D2 (flagship) model. Asus claims that its high quality components results to a 116dB SNR (Signal-to-Noise Ratio) while the Dolby Home Theater Technologies and DS3D GX promise to offer crisp and clear audio quality and rich gaming sound effects. The Xonar DX series is installed in the PCI-e slot of your PC.

- Features

35 Times Cleaner Audio Quality
The Xonar DX is capable of delivering 35 times cleaner audio quality with 116dB SNR in comparison to most motherboard onboard audio with only 85dB SNR. While noise is unavoidable, the Xonar DX dramatically reduces the amount of background noise, and it is this distinction that allows the Xonar DX to produce as little as 1/32 (-105dB) of the total harmonics distortion versus traditional motherboard audio (-75dB).

As most onboard audio only provide 80~86 dB SNR audio quality, background noises are easily heard while listening to music or playing games. By adopting the CirrusLogics CS4398 audio DAC (120dB SNR & 117dB THD+N) that is often used in Hi-Fi devices, the Xonar DX provides at least 30% better quality sounds than the average onboard audio.

Latest DirectSound & Ability to Play EAX 5.0 Titled Games
With the new audio architecture in Vista, users will sometimes be unable to achieve multi-channel sounds, DirectSound; and EAX 5.0 sound effects in EAX 5.0 Titled PC games. With the ASUS Xonar DX, all these problems will be solved. With support for the innovative DS3D GX 2.0 technology, the Xonar DX automatically supports the latest EAX and DirectSound HW after installation without the need to search for additional drivers or OpenAL – as most games are DS3D/DirectX compatible.

Innovative VocalFX for Lively and Engaging Online Chats
VocalFX is an innovative voice processing technology for users’ voices to enter into the realistic gaming landscape (VoiceEX), or to emulate the background scenes in online chats (ChatEX). It also allows them to disguise their voice pitches (Magic Voice). With all these features, users will have boundless entertainment while utilizing voice communications on the PC.

Dolby Sound Technologies for Ultimate High Quality Audio
Besides delivering impressive audio quality, the Xonar DX, like other members of the Xonar family of audio devices, is also packed with multiple sound technologies from Dolby to deliver outstanding entertainment experiences. These include Dolby Digital Live, which converts PC or game audio content into Dolby Digital in real-time; Dolby Headphone, which creates a surround sound listening experience when using any set of headphones; Dolby Virtual Speaker, which delivers a vibrant surround sound listening experience from stereo speakers and Dolby Pro Logic® IIx, which creates up to 7.1-channel surround sounds from stereo or 5.1 sources.

- System Requirements

- Full specifications

Items Description
Audio Performance
Output Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted): 116 dB for Front-out
112dB for other channels
Input Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted): 112dB
Output Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise at 1kHz (-3dB) : 0.00056% (-105dB) for Front-out
Input Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise at 1kHz (-3dB) : 0.0004% (-108dB) for Line-in
Frequency Response (-3dB, 24-bit/96kHz format): <10Hz to 48KHz
Output/Input Full-Scale Voltage 2 Vrms (5.65 Vp-p)
Bus Compatibility
PCI Express -PCI Express Rev.1.0a specification compatible
-Max. full 2.5Gbps bandwidth per direction and optimized latency for high-definition audio processing
-Compatible with X1, X4, X8, X16 PCI Express slots
Main Chipset
Audio Processor ASUS AV100 High-Definition Sound Processor (Max. 192KHz/24bit)
24-bit D-A Converter of Digital Sources: Cirrus-Logic CS4398*1 for Front-Out (120dB SNR, Max. 192kHz/24bit)
Cirrus-Logic CS4362A*1 for other 6 channels (114dB SNR, Max. 192kHz/24bit)
24-bit A-D Converter for Analog Inputs: Cirrus-Logic CS5361* 1 (114dB SNR, Max. 192kHz/24bit)
Sample Rate and Resolution
Analog Playback Sample Rate and Resolution 44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit
Analog Recording Sample Rate and Resolution 44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit
S/PDIF Digital Output 44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit, Dolby Digital, DTS

2. Inside the box

The retail package of Asus Xonar DX is much smaller that what we had seen with Asus Xonar D2 series. You can buy Asus Xonar DX at the retail price of ~$89.99. This is around 50% cheaper than the Asus Xonar D2.

The contents are carefully enclosed in a plastic anti-static bag:

Don't expect to find any fancy stuff here. Only the basics are included in the retail box:

The card itself is much smaller that the Asus Xonar D2.

The card supports the PCI-e v1.0 slots but it should be also powered by a 4pin power cable of your PC’s power supply unit. The card cannot operate without this power supply.

Many input/outputs are provided:

- Analog Output Jack: 3.50mm mini jack *4 (Front/Side/Center-Subwoofer/Back)
- Analog Input Jack: 3.50mm mini jack *1 (Shared by Line-In/Mic-In)
- Other line-level analog input (for TV Tuner or CD-ROM): Aux-In (4-pin header on the card)
- Digital S/PDIF Output: High-bandwidth TOS-Link optical transmitter (shared with Line-In/Mic-In jack) supports 192KHz/24bit
- Front Panel Header: Headphone / Stereo Speaker Out / Microphone In

The audio connectors are gold plated.

The "heart" of the audio card is the Asus AV100 Audio processor. While the AV100 name is rather misleading, the real manufacturer is CMedia (Oxygen HD chipset).

The DX uses the CS4398 and CS4362A digital-to-analog converters by Cirrus Logic, with 114~120 dB. Asus previous model ( Xonar D2) was equipped with Burr Brown DACs by Texas Instruments with 23 dB SNR:


3. Installation

Asus Xonar DX needs to be powered by a 4pin power supply directly from the PSU and is attached on a PCI-e v1.0 slot. After booting up at Windows, you will be prompted to install drivers. Press cancel and use the Asus installer:

The latest driver pack is included in the supplied disc:

Several other applications are available in the CD-ROM, such as the Asus PMP Lite (Portable Music Processor utility). The software converts digital music content or audio CD audio into MP3/WMA files using Dolby Headphone, Dolby Virtual Speaker (w/ Pro-Logic II), and Smart Volume Normalization processing (Windows Media Player 10 or above is required). The software requires an external MP3 encoder, which can be downloaded for free.

Looking at the Asus Xonar DX mixer we don't see any differences compared to the driver pack of the Asus Xonar D2 series.

By pressing the "Menu" button you can set the sample rate, configure channels.

The available sampling rates (PCM) are the 44.1KHz and up to 192KHz.

The analogue out can be configured for simple headphones or for multi-channel speakers:

A new feature found here is the Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC) mode that eliminates up-to-40dB speaker echo return and the noise suppression technologies that enhance the voice communication in VOIP applications or online gaming.

Another interesting feature is the VocalFX, the latest vocal effect technologies for gaming and VoIP. The available modes include:

-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

The About Tab gives typical information about driver's version


4. ASIO mode

Asus Xonar DX supports the ASIO mode for both Windows XP and Windows VISTA. The ASIO mode can be used under special Audio software, like Atomix Virtual DJ, Traktor DJ and other DJ related software. For our tests, we used the latest version of Virtual DJ (v5.1 Pro) that worked flawlessly without any problems.

Under the settings->Sound Setup you have to select ASIO driver and tick the Ultra-latency ASIO:

The ASIO bit-depth setting can be either 16 or 24-bit depending your taste, although most DJ software will work just fine at 16bit.

The latency can go from 2ms~200ms. Obviously 2ms is the lowest and best setting for DJ use:

Since the Asus Xonar DX card supports multiple Audio outputs, you could use another port for monitoring during DJying. You should simply use the corresponding icon under outputs.

Time for some quick tests. We used the maximum quality settings under VDJ

And with a C2D processor, we noticed a CPU usage as low as 15%, even when keylock mode was activated.


5. Test Configuration

For our tests we used the RightMark Audio Analyzer.

The RMAA suite is designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio devices, be it a sound card, an MP3 player, a consumer CD/DVD player or an acoustic set. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. A more common mark is also provided for those unfamiliar with measured technical parameters. All tests were performed with the latest version 6.1.0.

For all tests we used the following system

We also "measured" the built-in soundcard of Asus P5K3 Deluxe that is based on the SoundMax AL1988 chipset. That should be a good comparison for users who wish to see how their internal soundcard performs compared with a dedicated sound card.

The testing methodology is explained by RightMark Audio software. In short we used an external cable to connect the output of the soundcard to the input (line). The RMAA software generates signals that afterwards are recorded and analyzed. The internal recording method that the Asus Xonar DX allows didn't give consistent results and therefore we skipped those tests.


6. Test Results 16bit

For the first test we set the internal sampling at 16bit using frequencies from 44.1~192KHz:

Testing 16bit/44.1KHz
Internal Mode
Ratings
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB
+0.03, -0.03
Excellent
Noise level, dB (A)
-96.7
Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A)
95.6
Excellent
THD, %
0.0019
Excellent
THD + Noise, dB (A)
-87.9
Good
IMD + Noise, %
0.0052
Excellent
Stereo crosstalk, dB
-97.0
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %
0.0055
Excellent
General performance  
Excellent

 

Testing 16bit/48.0KHz
Internal Mode
Ratings
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB
+0.03, -0.03
Excellent
Noise level, dB (A)
-97.4
Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A)
96.1
Excellent
THD, %
0.0024
Excellent
THD + Noise, dB (A)
-88.1
Good
IMD + Noise, %
0.0049
Excellent
Stereo crosstalk, dB
-97.3
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %
0.0053
Excellent
General performance  
Excellent

Testing 16bit/96.0KHz
Internal Mode
Ratings
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB
+0.03, -0.04
Excellent
Noise level, dB (A)
-100.0
Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A)
98.2
Excellent
THD, %
0.0023
Excellent
THD + Noise, dB (A)
-89.2
Good
IMD + Noise, %
0.0039
Excellent
Stereo crosstalk, dB
-97.8
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %
0.0040
Excellent
General performance  
Excellent

 

Testing 16bit/192.0KHz
Internal Mode
Ratings
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB
+0.04, -0.05
Excellent
Noise level, dB (A)
-102.8
Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A)
99.8
Excellent
THD, %
0.0021
Excellent
THD + Noise, dB (A)
-90.6
Very good
IMD + Noise, %
0.0032
Excellent
Stereo crosstalk, dB
-100.2
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %
0.0032
Excellent
General performance  
Excellent

Looking at the test results, the performance is excellent in all areas, with an exception in the THD+Noise tests where the card got a "Good" and "Very Good" ratings. In the table delow you can see a summary of the test results at 16bit.


7. Test Results 24bit

Using the 24bit internal decoding also gave excellent in all frequencies

Testing 24bit/44.1KHz
Internal Mode
Ratings
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB
+0.03, -0.03
Excellent
Noise level, dB (A)
-110.2
Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A)
110.2
Excellent
THD, %
0.0009
Excellent
THD + Noise, dB (A)
-97.4
Excellent
IMD + Noise, %
0.0013
Excellent
Stereo crosstalk, dB
-105.0
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %
0.0014
Excellent
General performance  
Excellent

 

Testing 24bit/48.0KHz
Internal Mode
Ratings
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB
+0.02, -0.03
Excellent
Noise level, dB (A)
-112.8
Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A)
112.8
Excellent
THD, %
0.0008
Excellent
THD + Noise, dB (A)
-98.6
Excellent
IMD + Noise, %
0.0011
Excellent
Stereo crosstalk, dB
-105.7
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %
0.0012
Excellent
General performance  
Excellent

 

Testing 24bit/96.0KHz
Internal Mode
Ratings
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB
+0.03, -0.04
Excellent
Noise level, dB (A)
-112.5
Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A)
112.6
Excellent
THD, %
0.0009
Excellent
THD + Noise, dB (A)
-97.5
Good
IMD + Noise, %
0.0011
Very good
Stereo crosstalk, dB
-106.1
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %
0.0013
Excellent
General performance  
Excellent
Testing 24bit/192.0KHz
Internal Mode
Ratings
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB
+0.04, -0.05
Excellent
Noise level, dB (A)
-112.8
Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A)
112.8
Excellent
THD, %
0.0010
Excellent
THD + Noise, dB (A)
-96.9
Excellent
IMD + Noise, %
0.0012
Excellent
Stereo crosstalk, dB
-104.8
Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, %
0.0013
Excellent
General performance  
Excellent

Below is a table with all the performance results in the the various 24bit modes:


8. Comparison tests 16bit

An important question would be, how well Asus Xonar DX stands against its older brother (Xonar D2) and of course compared with an on-board sound card. For all tests we used the external recording modes for both Asus Xonar D2 and SoundMax HD Audio sound cards (3.5mm jack male-to-male).

Comparison Test Results
Testing 16bit/44.10KHz Asus Xonar D2 Asus Xonar DX SoundMAX HD Audio
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.05, -0.04 +0.03, -0.03 +0.26, -0.07
Noise level, dB (A): -96.3 -96.7 -88.8
Dynamic range, dB (A): 96.5 95.6 87.4
THD, %: 0.0005 0.0019 0.0092
IMD + Noise, %: 0.0042 0.0052 0.047
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -97.3 -97.0 -88.9

At 44.1KHz, the Asus Xonar DX performs very well with low noise levels and high dynamic range. However the Xonar D2 has clearly less THD% and IMD+Noise levels.

Testing 16bit/48.0KHz Asus Xonar D2 Asus Xonar DX SoundMAX HD Audio
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.06, -0.04
+0.03, -0.03
+0.11, -0.03
Noise level, dB (A): -97.0
-97.4
-88.7
Dynamic range, dB (A): 97.0
96.1
87.7
THD, %: 0.0006
0.0024
0.0092
IMD + Noise, %: 0.0039 0.0049 0.015
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -96.8 -97.3 -87.7
Testing 16bit/96.0KHz Asus Xonar D2 Asus Xonar DX SoundMAX HD Audio
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.07, -0.05 +0.03, -0.04 +0.02, -0.06
Noise level, dB (A): -99.7 -100.0 -88.8
Dynamic range, dB (A): 100.1 98.2 87.7
THD, %: 0.0008 0.0023 0.0091
IMD + Noise, %: 0.0028 0.0039 0.014
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -98.8 -97.8 -85.4
Testing 16bit/192.0KHz Asus Xonar D2 Asus Xonar DX SoundMAX HD Audio
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.08, -0.05 +0.04, -0.05 +0.04, -0.17
Noise level, dB (A): -103.0 -102.8 -89.0
Dynamic range, dB (A): 103.0 99.8 87.8
THD, %: 0.0013 0.0021 0.0092
IMD + Noise, %: 0.0023 0.0032 0.014
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -99.9 -100.2 -84.1

Concluding the comparison tests, we can see that the higher- priced Asus Xonar D2 offers less output noise and slightly higher dynamic range compared to Xonar DX series. Of course both cards perform much better than an on-board sound card.


9. Comparison tests 24bit

After the 16bit tests, we proceed at 24bit using the same methodology. We expect to see important differences here, since the 24bit are more demanding:

Testing 24bit/44.1KHz Asus Xonar D2 Asus Xonar DX SoundMAX HD Audio
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.05, -0.04 +0.03, -0.03 +0.26, -0.07
Noise level, dB (A): -108.3 -110.2 -89.2
Dynamic range, dB (A): 108.3 110.2 88.8
THD, %: 0.0004 0.0009 0.0096
IMD + Noise, %: 0.0014 0.0013 0.047
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -110.5 -105.0 -87.8
Testing 24bit/48.0KHz Asus Xonar D2 Asus Xonar DX SoundMAX HD Audio
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.06, -0.04 +0.02, -0.03 +0.11, -0.03
Noise level, dB (A): -117.2 -112.8 -89.3
Dynamic range, dB (A): 117.2 112.8 88.9
THD, %: 0.0004 0.0008 0.0092
IMD + Noise, %: 0.0006 0.0011 0.0140
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -116.6 -105.7 -88.5
Testing 24bit/96.0KHz Asus Xonar D2 Asus Xonar DX SoundMAX HD Audio
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.08, -0.05 +0.03, -0.04 +0.02, -0.06
Noise level, dB (A): -117.2 -112.5 -89.5
Dynamic range, dB (A): 117.1 112.6 89.1
THD, %: 0.0007 0.0009 0.0093
IMD + Noise, %: 0.0007 0.0011 0.014
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -115.3 -106.1 -85.9
Testing 24bit/192.0KHz Asus Xonar D2 Asus Xonar DX SoundMAX HD Audio
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB: +0.08, -0.05 +0.04, -0.05 +0.04, -0.17
Noise level, dB (A): -116.3 -112.8 -89.4
Dynamic range, dB (A): 116.3 112.8 89.1
THD, %: 0.0013 0.0010 0.0091
IMD + Noise, %: 0.0012 0.0012 0.014
Stereo crosstalk, dB: -112.5 -104.8 -85.3

Both Asus soundcards performed much better than an onboard sound card from SounMAX HD that is installed in many boards available on the market. The Asus Xonar D2 again has less noise and higher output levels.

All test results can be downloaded here (218KB).


10. Conclusion

Asus' new soundcard will easily cover the needs of gamers for 7.1 high quality audio. Comparing the Asus Xonar DX with the previous D2, the most noticeable difference is its lower retail price. DX's retail package is also less complete than its predecessor's since it includes just the essentials. The new card is also much smaller in volume. Other main differences are found at the chips the new Xonar uses.

The driver package includes the ASIO mode offering low latency modes, down to 2ms. We fired up Atomix Virtual DJ with keylock enabled and we noticed a CPU utilization of just 10%. In addition, the multiple available outputs is an advantage for all those who need a monitor function while DJing.. The windows driver pack also comes with several audio modes to play with. The included Asus PMP Lite software is a blazing fast WMA/MP3 encoder, although it doesn't use LAME libraries.

The performance of the DX audio card is also adequate. You won't notice many differences compared with the Asus Xonar D2 series, especially in the output dynamic levels. However, the Asus Xonar D2 has a lower output noise as it was expected. The RightMark Audio Analyzer v6.1.0 software gave an "Excellent" performance ranking, either at 16 or 24bit.

Although the majority of PC users may be happy with their onboard sound card, the Xonar DX could be attractive to gamers due to the provided support for the EAX extensions responsible for the sound effects of the latest games.

Overall a great, reasonably priced product for users who really need it.

Positive

Negative

 



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