Asus Xonar DG £27

24th Sep 2010 | 07:35

Asus Xonar DG

Is there still a case for dedicated sound cards?

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

Thought you didn't need an add-in sound card for games? Think again.

Like:

Cheap; Noticeable quality; Built-in headphone amp

Dislike:

No PCI-E

Asus Xonar DG: Overview and Benchmarks

Asus has established itself as a player in the high rollers' hi-fi lounge with Xonar soundcards like the Xense, D2 and mighty Essence ST. Although still relatively new to the audio game, it can look old timers like Creative and Auzentech in the face without shame.

Asus' latest card, the Xonar DG, features some of the same components as appear on its more expensive boards, just not in such great quantity. It's specifically aimed at gamers rather than music buffs, though, with basic outputs for 5.1 PC speakers and – crucially – an on-board headphone amp.

It's a tough job to convince anyone to upgrade from on-board audio, for the very good reason that most integrated sound chips are good enough for the majority's needs. Having made the decision to upgrade, should you be looking at something a little grander?

We've used Rightmark's Audio Analyzer tool to give a top level breakdown of the card's performance. It's worth pointing out that this simply measuring variations in tones via a loopback from the speaker to the mic channel – effectively the card is listening to itself.

RMAA total harmonic distortion 24-bit/48KHz (lower is better)
Intel on board: 0.131%
Creative X-Fi Titanium HD: 0.0020%
ASUS Xonar Xense: 0.0004%
ASUS DG: 0.0027%

RMAA Dynamic range 24-bit/48KHz (higher is better)
Intel on board: 90.4dBA
Creative X-Fi Titanium HD: 113.2dBA
ASUS Xonar Xense: 115.0dBA
ASUS Xonar DG: 103.3dBA

Noise level 24-bit/48KHz (lower is better)
Intel on board: -90.4
Creative X-Fi Titanium HD: -113.4dBa
ASUS Xonar Xense: -116.1dBA
ASUS Xonar HD: -103/4dBa

Asus Xonar DG: Verdict

The Xonar DG gets as close to its claimed stats as any card we've tested in the Rightmark tests, which is a good start. Subjectively, it also delivers on its promise of outperforming on-board audio by a long way. The headphone amp in particular, which can be tuned for high impedance headsets up to 150ohms is an exceptionally good touch at this price.

If you game through headphones, this is well worth the upgrade, with a powerful bass blast that doesn't drown out more subtle midtones and high range effects. For this alone, we'd choose the DG over the slightly more expensive Creative X-Fi Xtreme.

Even better, the DG also supports Creative's EAX 5.0 effects via Asus' GX2.5 driver. The driver interface, by the way, is identical to that found in Asus' other Xonar cards.

Outside of gaming, it's not a card that will please audio purists, since it doesn't have the power or connections to drive high end gear. For the rest of us, though, the improvement over on-board sound is appreciable and worth it.

Except for one thing - we had to re-install the drivers several times to eliminate the introduction of some distortion into MP3 playback. It's not a terminal problem, but it is a little frustrating.

A PCI-E option for newer motherboards without older PCI ports would be useful too.

Still, these are faults that are easy to live with. The Xonar DG costs less than a new PC game, but adds a lot of long term enjoyment, and we challenge anyone to tell the difference between this and a sound card costing two or three times as much.

We liked

The Xonar DG an appreciable upgrade from on-board sound for less than £30, and the dedicated headphone amp drives a lot of extra power into your cans without destroying fidelity. It's a simple and cheap way to make games a little more enjoyable.

We disliked

If you've got a newish PC then you may find the PCI port completely incompatible, and you'll want something better if you regularly hook your PC up to a hi-fi for movies or concert hall music.

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