Some time ago, ASUS announced their plans to enter the sound card market, with models targeting primarily gamers. This information was received with a solid amount of scepticism, as we could seldom see anyone who thought that a fresh sound card could beat Creative X-Fi models. However, Creative caused quite a deal of controversy recently with some of its decisions (we refer here primarily to Vista drivers & software, which you have to pay the postage for, should you want to have them on a CD; the download is free, naturally) and the displeased customers have set a few forums on fire. This was a crucial moment to enter the market, and ASUS used it to the maximum. Of course, the product itself has to be up to par, and read on to see whether it is.
Xonar was built with truly the best elements. The core of the card is ASUS’ AV200 High Definition sound processor with 192 KHz/24-bit capabilities. There are also four 24-bit BurrBrown PWM1976 DAC converters for the digital input, with a declared Signal-to-Noise ratio of 123 dB, one Cirrus Logic CS5381 DAC for the analog input, declared to 120 dB, six NEC relays and ten Texas Instruments operational amplifiers. Aside from that, the card itself is top-quality, all of the electrolytes are plated, and the black PCB also contributes to the looks. Xonar is for the major part covered with an aluminium body which protects the card from any external interference. The only “naked” surface on the card proudly carries the Dolby Digital and DTS logos.
Xonar was clearly made for gamers. The main thing that leads to that conclusion are the LEDs spread all over the card. Six of these are located inside the analog inputs, each being differently coloured to make connecting easier in dark conditions. This is very useful for anyone who has ever had the need to crawl behind the case with a flashlight in order to simply connect something to the sound card. Beside these ones, there is also an orange “circle” on the EMI shield, lit by two large LEDs located beneath it.
As far as support is concerned, Dolby’s technologies certainly aren’t missing. Dolby Headphone, Virtual Speaker, Pro Logic Iix and Digital Live are all present. And so is DTS Connect, which comprises DTS Interactive Encoder and DTS NEO: PC. Gamers will appreciate EAX 2.0 and Aureal3D 1.0 support the most, and Xonar sports ASIO 2.0, DirectSound and OpenAL compatibility as well. Many consider the lack of a newer EAX version a flaw, but as Creative has exclusive rights to EAX version 3.0 and higher, this cannot be considered the manufacturer’s mistake.
To say that the box content is rich would be a tremendous understatement. ASUS is definitely ahead of its competition. Beside the card, we found no less than four 3.5 mm-RCA cables, a Sony optical S/PDIF cable and a couple of adapters for it. Software-wise, the buyer gets the driver disc, full versions of PowerDVD 7.0, CakeWalk Production Plus, and Abletion Live 6 Lite, which really speaks for itself. From this particular aspect, Xonar is really a complete product, no doubts about that.