ASUS is synonymous with quality in the technological world, and why would a sound card be any different?
I contacted ASUS because I knew that the higher-end PC headsets that I’ve been working on lately (more on that later this week and next week) deserved much more power than a standard on-board sound card could offer them. ASUS responded by sending me an ASUS Xonar DGX Headphone Amp & PCIE 5.1 Audio Card.
This card is not near their top-of-the-line, but it is ideal for those of you who only or mainly wear headphones while utilizing your PC.
To get us started there is a large shot of the ASUS DGX smack dab in the middle. Below that is the slogan for this card. “Hear all, command all!” Below that is several key features for the ASUS DGX, along with a ribbon showcasing that the Xonar line of sound cards have won over 177 awards — a fact that isn’t surprising from all of the great things I’ve hear about the line.
- Headphone Amplifier
- Dolby Headphone
- Jack-sensing front-panel
On the left side ASUS gives us the Package Contents along with the System Requirements
- ASUS Xonar DGX PCIE audio card
- Additional Low Profile Bracket x1
- Driver/User Manual CD x1
- Quick Start Guide x1
- One PCIE 1.0 (or higher) compatible slot for the audio card
- Microsoft Windows 7 (32/64bit)/ Vista (32/64bit)/ XP (32/64bit)/ MCE2005
- Intel Pentium 4 1.4 GHz or AMD Athlon 1400 CPU or faster CPU
- 256MB (or above) DRAM system memory
- 60 MB available HDD space for driver installation package
- CD-ROM drive (or DVD-ROM drive) for software installation
- High-quality headphones or powered analog speakers to enjoy the ultra-high fidelity sound of the card
Whew, there’s quite a bit of info on this tiny box… Let’s keep going with the right side.
Output Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted) – 105dB for 5.1CH
Input Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted) – 103dB
Output Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise at 1kHz (A-Weighted) – Up to 0.0025% (-92dB)
Input Total harmonic Distortion + Noise at 1kHz (A-Weighted) - 0.0022% (-93dB)
Frequency Response (-3dB, 24-bit/96kHz input) – <10Hz to 48kHz
Output/Input Full-Scale Voltage - 1Vms (3Vp-p)
Headphone Impedance – Optimized for 32-150 Ohm
PCIE - PCIE v1.0 or above bus compatible
Audio Processor – C-Media CMI8786 High-Definition Sound Processor (Max 96kHz/24bit)
Sample Rate and Resolution
Analog Playback Sample Rate and Resolution – 44.1K/48K/96KHz @ 16/24bit for all channels
Analog Recording Sample rate and Resolution – 44.1K/48K/96KHz @ 16/24bit
S/PDIF Digital Output – 44.1K/48K/96KHz @ 16/24bit, Dolby Digital, DTS, WMA-Pro
ASIO 2.0 Driver Support – 44.1K/48K/96KHz @ 16/24bit
Analog Output Jack – 3.50mm mini jack *3 (Front/Side/Center-Subwoofer)
Analog Input Jack – 3.50mm mini jack *1 (Line-in/Mic-in)
Other line-level analog (input for CD-IN/TV Tuner) Digital S/PDIF Output -
- Aux-in (4-pin header on the card) High-bandwidth Optical Connector supports 96KHz/24bit
- additional SPDIF-out header for HDMI audio output
Front Panel Audio Header – Supports headphone jack-detection automatically
– switch audio output from back-panel to front
Still with me? Good, ASUS doesn’t screw around when it comes to having all of the facts! Let’s move on to what’s included in the box, although anything I tell you from here on out was most likely covered on the box… Somewhere..
Nestled safely inside a anti-static bag, and snuggly placed inside cardboard is the ASUS Xonar DGX audio card.
After removing the card, we find the goodies underneath. We have a large Quick Start Guide, a Driver & Utility CD (get the newest drivers off the ASUS webpage for the love of Pete!) and a low-profile alternative for the expansion bracket.
There she is. As much info as ASUS gave us on this card, you think it would be the size of a small child. Luckily, that’s not the case. The ASUS DGX is actually a very low-profile card, making sure that you won’t have issues fitting inside any case, as well as reducing the chances that this baby will be in the way of that massive new graphics card you purchased that you couldn’t really afford.
At the bottom we have the PCI-E x1 connector, which makes this card universally compatible with all PCI-E lanes, whether they be x1, x4, x8, or x16. I’m glad to see more and more companies moving on from PCI for audio cards. I understand the benefits of PCI vs PCIE, but it is an obsolete type of technology.
Moving to the top, we fined our HD Front Panel, Aux In, and SPDIF Out headers. The HD Front Panel is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of running your internal sound header into your motherboard, you’d run it into the ASUS DGX instead. Aux In is a unique header that most of you will probably never use unless you’re into TV Tuners, and things of that nature. Last up is the SPDIF Out. This header is utilized for running SPDIF to your graphics card, so that you can pump out audio via HDMI, something very useful if you’re using HDMI for a media center PC or something of that nature.
Hooray for color coded jacks! Pink is line/mic-in, Green is front, Black is side, and Red is Center/Subwoofer, with the Digital Optical being last. Clean and efficient. Remember that you can pull this large back bracket off and replace it with the low-profile one included, if you’re trying to fit this into a small case.
First Impressions / Testing / GUI
As I said previously, this is a very small sound card. Pulling it out of the box, I was taken back a bit by the compact design in comparison to the feature-list. Installation was hassle-free, with me just having to shut-down the PC, throw in the card, boot-up and install the latest drivers from ASUS’ website… Much, much, much easier than any Creative sound card I’ve ever used!
Once installed, I tested out both the analogs and SPDIF options on the back of the card. I used a pair of Sennheiser PC350 SE cans to test out the analogs, while utilizing the Astro A40′s with the SPDIF. Let’s start with audio quality for both, then we’ll move into the software, and how effective it was.
Analog Audio Quality (Stock) – 8.5/10
Clean and clear. Sure the audio could sound better, but it doesn’t need to thanks to the quality that the ASUS DGX is producing consistently. ASUS has marketed the ASUS DGX as a no-nonsense audio card built for the headphone-user, and it’s here where the DGX really shines.
Whether I’m listening to music or playing Far Cry 3, the DGX consistently delivered high-quality, clear audio that was noticeably more clear than the onboard audio I normally use for my audio needs. (shame on me, I know)
Digital Optical Audio Quality (Stock) – 5/10
Wha?! Yes, a five of ten here. The audio quality is just as good as the Analog inputs, the issue lies with the crackling that you receive while using SPDIF. It’s this odd popping that happens every 5-10 seconds, and becomes quite irritating. The pop isn’t loud, and doesn’t sound anything like a bad card, but rather that these cards (or possibly just this unit) may have dirty SPDIF ports.
If you can get past the popping, the audio quality is phenomenal, with the clarity being just a bit better than that offered to you by the analogs, which is to be expected from a higher-quality source.
Main – Here is where the bulk of your main options are. You can change the audio channels from 2 up to 8. I recommend picking what is relevant to your setup. Below that is the sample rate. Being that this card supports 96kHz, that’s what I would go with, unless you run into something that is incompatible, which in that case you may need to drop it to 48 or 44.1kHz. Analog out is pretty self-explanatory. Choose which setup you’re using for the analogs. Since I was testing with headphones, I went with headphone, naturally.
What is not self-explanatory, unless you click on it and read it, is the HP Advance Settings. Here you can change the impedance for the audio card. This is extremely useful if you have a higher-end headset that can support the higher impedance levels. I don’t recommend setting this above the middle option (pro-gaming mode) unless you have a relatively high-end headset, but in the end, you guys are going to do it anyways, so be careful.
SPDIF Out is the option to make the Digital Optical port your main audio source. Make sure you click the box next to PCM if you want to make Digi-Op your main source. Below that is 7.1 Virtual Audio Shifter, Dolby Headphone, and then the difference reference room options.
I found it surprising that the Dolby Headphone option simulated surround sound really well. The 7.1 Virtual Speaker Shifter on the other hand doesn’t sound very good at all, coming off as an over-processed mess most of the time. For the reference rooms, you’ll have to make your own choice after listening to each one, but I personally prefer DH-1 because it’s the tightest room in regards to sound placement, but some of you may prefer to have the speaker cues more spaced out.
Mixer/Effect – Mixer is pretty straightforward, giving you the option to alter the left and right driver, while also being able to alter your microphone volume. Effect is a whole different animal. The environments sound cheesy, but they can be fun to play with. The EQ on the other hand, is an invaluable tool for your fine-tuning needs. You can see by the image what I chose to go with, but there are plenty of preset options if you’re not great with EQ’s.
KARAOKE/Flex Bass – Ok another gimmicky page here. The Karaoke page really serves no useful purpose, while still offering those of you looking to have some fun, the options to alter your voice, as well as vocal cancellation and mic echo. Flex Bass is an option that sounds great on paper, but actually has no real effect when utilized. Being somebody who has quite a bit of experience with subwoofers, I thought this page would be great for fine-tuning when frequencies cut-off to differentiate the mids from the lows better. The problem is that the options didn’t make a difference when actually used. This is definitely a feature that would work much better with actual speakers, so keep that in mind if you decide to play with it.
AEC/VocalFX – AEC allows for Acoustics Echo Cancellation, allowing you to help cutout that pesky background noise from your speakers. More vocal gimmicks. VocalFX gives you the option to alter how your voice sounds, something that can be fun to do when playing online with friends, but other than that serves no real purpose. As for the options you see on the right side — the wheel is volume, SVN is for Smart Volume, while the mute button is pretty.. uhh.. mutey? HF will enable HiFi mode, which sounds terrible, and GX enables the GX effects which works to enhance audio quality, much like Creative’s EAX technology.
Analog Audio Quality (Enhancements) – 9.5/10
The enhancements improve the audio in every way possible, which is refreshing. Utilizing the Impedance increase, along with the Dolby Headphone allowed me to really get the full power out of the Sennheiser PC350 SE headset, while the custom EQ really helped clear up each frequency.
Digital Optical Audio Quality (Enhancements) – 6.5/10
Still had some minor popping, but the enhancements still led to a more enjoyable experience. The audio is just so darn clear that it’s hard to dock the card for the popping, even if it is unacceptable.
Man, who would’ve thought that an audio card review could require this many words… Seriously though, the ASUS Xonar DGX audio card sets out to do one thing, and that’s make your headphones sound amazing. Do they do that? Absolutely! If I was looking to run a 5.1 analog setup, I would still consider this sound card, but if you’re strictly a headphone user, than this is the sound card for you.
The impedance increase will really drive your headset to levels that were never going to be possible with on-board sound, that much I guarantee you. The added extras like Dolby Headphone and the handful of features included in the software are really the icing on the proverbial cake here.
The popping issue with the Digital Optical is unacceptable, although I’m sure this is an isolated issue, and will not be an issue for most of you. From what I could find online, this appears to be a problem with one out of 75-100 cards, so most of you will be fine. For those who do have an issue, just contact ASUS, and I’m sure they will fix the issue promptly, that I am sure of.
At this price, you cannot go wrong with this card. If you have a free PCIE slot, and are looking to improve your audio noticeably, than this is an excellent option for you to consider.
A quick explanation of the award system. We have the main award category with three awards; Bronze (Good Overall Product), Silver (Great Overall Product), and Gold (Excellent/Near Perfect Overall Product) as the highest. Then we have two different Sub-Categories, Internal Hardware Awards for performance; Yellow (Low-End Performer), Orange (Mid-Range Performer), and Red (High-End Performer) as the highest. The third and final Sub-Category is for both Internal Hardware and External Peripherals; Black (Enthusiast/Gamer Qualities), Blue (Exceptional Build and Design), Green (Terrific Dollar To Performance Ratio), White (Innovative But Flawed)
- Impedance Increase Dramatically Improves Audio Levels Capable
- Custom EQ Options Is Invaluable
- Dolby Headphone Sounds Great, While Never Being Over-processed
- Price Is Cheap For The Quality ($39.99)
- Odd Popping Noise With Digital Optical (Dirty Port Possibly?)
- A Lot Of The Software Features Have No Real-World Usage
- HiFi Sounds Terrible (Seriously, Don’t Use It)
You can jump up to this Headphone Amplifier card here!