Asus Xonar D1 Reviewhardnrg - November 9, 2008
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The hardware installation is just a case of placing the soundcard in an available PCI slot. When you've booted your PC up and get to Windows, you'll see the Found New Hardware window pop-up. I selected "Don't show this message again for this device", and clicked Cancel.
So, stick the CD in the PC and run the setup program.
Accept the Licence Agreement and the installation runs its course and prompts you to reboot at the end. So, when you return to Windows, you can open up the mixer, which is called the Xonar D1 Audio Center. Here you can see an LCD-style visual display which comprises of a spectrum analyser, indicators showing the current DSP mode, EQ mode, and active output devices, as well as the current master volume setting. The controls to the right of the display are the master volume, smart volume normalisation (SVN) keeps the playback volume constant between all the sources, mute, and DSP preset buttons for music, games, and movies. The HiFi DSP preset disables all effects.
Clicking the small down-arrow button at the lower right reveals the controls for the mixer and effects. in the Main tab there are controls to set the sample rate, and whether headphones or speakers are being used. As well as the usual headphones and 2 speakers, 4 speakers, etc, there are additional options here for Front Panel headphones and Front Panel stereo speakers. When selecting one of these Front Panel options, you can hear a relay switch on the card, so it mutes the jack sockets. For the S/PDIF output you can select whether to use PCM or Dolby Digital Live (DDL). When using DDL, you can select an advanced setting to automatically upmix stereo sources to 5.1 using Dolby Pro-Logic II. You can also get the option to use Pro-Logic II upmixing when listening to stereo sources and more than two speakers (or 5.1 headphones). The Audio Channel setting is Vista-exclusive and you are meant to set it according to what is being played, so music and 2D games on 2 channels, DVD on 6 channels, DVD with DD-EX/DTS-ES on 8 channels, and 3D games on 8 channels. This seems a bit strange and I would have thought the mixer/driver could detect the number of channels from the application, and mix-down/up as appropriate. Maybe this is a limitation or complication of the Vista audio driver model.
The Mixer tab controls the main left and right volume levels, and the recording levels for the Mic, Line In, Wave, Mix, and Aux sources. You can select one source for recording (Mix is everything), and select multiple sources to monitor so you can hear what is being recorded. As well as the usual microphone boost, there is an option to indicate that a front panel microphone is being used.
The Effect tab is much like the Realtek and Creative environment DSPs and multiband graphic EQ. The environment effects are ok, but a little basic for my taste. I was much more impressed with the graphic EQ. This allows +/- 20dB gain/kill, and it really works as opposed to the slightly-works of most soundcard EQ controls. The Karaoke tab allows you to alter the pitch of music up or down up to 4 semitones, cancel vocals (this doesn't really work, but it's pretty much impossible anyway), and add an echo to your voice.
The Effect and Karaoke tabs were a bit gimmicky, so it was nice to see something more innovative. The next tab is FlexBass. This tab is basically a Bass Redirection control, but instead of the crap one with Creative that doesn't really let you control much, FlexBass allows you to assign a Small or Large setting to each speaker. In this way, you can choose whether or not to redirect bass from each speaker to the sub. This is great if your main speakers are big beefy floorstanders, set them to 'large' so they keep the bass, then set your small surround satellite speakers to 'small' so that the bass gets redirected to the sub. The tab after this is Acoustic Echo Cancellation which dampens the feedback echo that occurs when using speakers and a microphone for VoIP programs like Skype, MSN, Teamspeak, etc.
VocalFX is pretty much what you'd expect it to be. It adds environmental effects and alters the sound of your voice on VoIP applications and games. Hilarious.
The quick setup guide only tells you how to install the card, how to connect various speakers/headphones to the soundcard, and how to install the drivers. So, the actual manual is found by clicking User Guide from the setup program. Clicking this simply opens the folder which contains the PDF file, and an Adobe Acrobat Reader installation package if you don't already have it.
This is all I got on the CD: the drivers and the manual. According to the box you are supposed to get a Portable Music Processor Lite utility, MCE Software kit, and RightMark Audio Analyser 6.0.6. These aren't on the CD, and I even searched the CD for *.exe to find any setup files, but they weren't there. I wasn't really bothered by this as RightMark is the only thing I'm interested in, and it's free to download anyway. I'll be going over RightMark later in the testing segments of this review.
At this point I was itching to see if ASIO worked on this soundcard, as it lets you have a more direct audio path from applications to the soundcard, and therefore purer music. I fired up foobar2000 and didn't see an option for ASIO in the Output Device setting, so I had a look at the ASIO Virtual Devices. Nothing there, so I had to add an entry for the Xonar D1.
I changed the ASIO settings to 16-bit to match the music bit-depth, and the latency to 6ms based on previous experience.
This results in the Xonar D1 being listed in the ASIO Devices, and you can now change the output from the default DirectSound, to ASIO. Music lovers rejoice!
See you in the testing pages for my views on how the Xonar D1 actually sounds.