Asus Xonar D1 Review
Reviewed by: hardnrg
Reviewed on: November 9, 2008
Asus is pronounced "A-soose" (like saying "A juice", but with an "s"). Little factoid for you there. I'm not the only one who started off calling them "Ay-suss" (and still do, bad habits die hard). I guess it's just something most people don't know to begin with.
The average user might not have even heard of Asus. Yes! It's true! When I was recently in the States, I took my Asus Eee PC 1000H laptop with me, and many people were very interested in it, but few of them had heard of Asus. Yet, the company has been making OEM motherboards for pre-built systems for many years, as well as producing high-end customised designs for its performance line of motherboards. I think the Eee PC laptop line will really make the general public aware of the Asus brand, and that's a good thing! The greater the familiarity with the brand, the more likely you will see Asus products in everyday stores and not just the online enthusiastic e-tailers.
So what the heck am I rambling on about? Asus doesn't just make motherboards, and as well as peripherals, phones, servers, and the more obvious computer components like graphics cards, Asus has recently started producing physics cards and sound cards. The range of sound cards caters to the most commonly used interfaces of today: PCI-Express, PCI, and USB. In this review, I will be taking a look at the Xonar D1 PCI sound card.
I like how a photograph of the card dominates the front of the package, rather than a picture of a spaceship, a "cool gamer dude", or busty CGI babe. To me, audio is serious business, and Asus looks like they feel the same way. The back of the box doesn't really tell you much more than the front, apart from mentioning the low-profile bracket. I didn't take pictures of the sides of the box, but basically they just list specs and requirements of the card, and also list the package contents.
What is the package contents? The card itself, a quick start guide, a driver CD, low profile bracket, and an optical audio adapter.
The low-profile bracket is provided so that you can convert the soundcard from standard height to low-profile, so that it can be used in slim enclosures, like some HTPC cases. The screws are provided for the bracket. Also pictured here is the optical audio adapter. It has the 3.5mm end covered with a protective rubber tip to keep it clean and free from scratches. Taking this tip off lets you insert the adapter into the card, and end up with a TOSLink socket for using a standard optical digital audio interconnect cable.
So, pretty basic accessories then, but both useful and nice to see them included. Onto the card itself!
So immediately you see that the card is a lot shorter than a regular card, but almost exactly the same length as other consumer soundcards like the Audigy and X-Fi series. How do they manage to cram all the components onto a card about half the size? Well, spinning the card over, you see that unlike many designs, Asus chose to place some of the components on the back of the card to capitalise on the extra board surface that often gets left unused.
Each of the sockets on the backplate takes a 3.5mm jack, and is gold-plated. The labelling of each socket is merely engraved/stamped, so there is no colour-coding to help you when connecting. It would have been nice to see Asus include a transparent overlay sticker, like the ones Creative use, with the colours at the side of each socket. You can see the top jack socket is a bit different from the rest, and this is because it functions electrically and optically, to serve the functions of Line/Mic inputs, and optical S/PDIF output. So, it's essentially the same as the "Flexi-Jack" of the X-Fi, but with the added bonus of optical.
Looking at the heart of the animal, we see an Asus branded APU, but it is in fact a C-Media OxygenHD chip (CMI8788) which is also used on other cards in the Xonar line, as well as other brands.
A Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC is used for the front stereo output which promises a signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 120dB, and a maximum sample rate of 192kHz @ 24bit. Very respectable indeed! It is in fact the same DAC found on the X-Fi Elite Pro and other high-end audio equipment. For the analogue inputs, a Cirrus Logic CS5361 is used that has almost the same basic specs, but with a 114dB SNR. Still far from shabby. As a frame of reference, the SNR of CD-Audio is ~96dB, SACD is ~120dB, and DVD-Audio is ~144dB.
JRC make a range of op-amps, from hum-drum to pretty decent, and the NJM5532 is used for all the outputs, except the front stereo pair. It is regarded as one of the better op-amps in the world, well suited for high quality audio applications.
So what are the op-amps for the main stereo out and where the hell are they? They're on the back of the card. Texas Instruments R4850 are used here, and are characteristically very similar, with the main difference being that the voltage swing is greater for low load resistance. This means that the R4850 is better suited at driving headphones directly compared to the NJM5532. Also on the back is the Cirrus Logic CS4362 DAC which feeds the six remaining outputs. It is basically the same as the CS4382 DAC used on the X-Fi series, but with six channels instead of eight.
Ok, so enough talk about DACs and op-amps already! How about internal connectors? Well, the Xonar D1 has something that I wish all soundcards had: a front panel header! Seriously, why don't all manufacturers do this? The NEC components around the front panel header are miniature relays that act as mutes on the outputs, as well as switching from mic input mode to line input mode, etc. These relays can be heard engaging/disengaging at times, like right at the end of the Windows boot sequence, at power off, switching from mic to line as a recording source. It's a bit strange to hear relays clicking in your computer if you're not used to them. I have them in my amplifiers and they work on the soundcard to prevent the thumps you get when turning your computer on or off. Moving towards the back of the card, we have the Aux In which can be used for optical drives, TV cards, modems, etc.
The card has a S/PDIF out internally, which might strike you as unusual. Well, it sort of is! But, in a world that's gone "Hi-Def" flat-screen crazy, it's a welcome addition. This header lets you connect a small cable to a compatible graphics card, to combine the digital audio with digital video, which results in the full sound and picture coming through HDMI. This is something that people have asked me about many times, "how do I get the digital audio from the PC into the HDMI of my TV if it's coming from the graphics card?" And now you know. The final header on the card, JP2, is not documented, but it has been suggested that it is for a MIDI expansion card. This seems feasible, and tallies with the fact that this card has ASIO 2 support that is the most useful for low latency in musical applications when using external electronic instruments/equipment.
Enough with the hardware! Yes, yes, ok, here comes the software...
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.
|Audio Performance||Output Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):
116dB for front-out, 112dB for other channels dB
Input Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):
Output THD+N at 1kHz:
0.00056% (-105dB) for Front-out
Input THD+N at 1kHz:
0.0004% (-108dB) for Line-in
Frequency Response (-3dB, 24-bit/96kHz input):
<10Hz to 48KHz
Output/Input Full-Scale Voltage
2 Vrms (5.65 Vp-p)
|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:
4.1K/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
S/PDIF Digital Input:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit
ASIO 2.0 Driver Support:
Supports 44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @16/24bit with very low latency
|I/O Ports||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 CD-IN/TV Tuner):
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
S/PDIF Header: Connecting to supported VGA cards with HDMI output
|Driver Features||Operation System:
Dolby® Digital Live
Dolby Digital Live encodes any audio signal on PC in real-time to Dolby Digital (AC3) 5.1 surround sounds to your home theater environment through one single S/PDIF connection
Dolby Headphone technology allows users to listen to music, watch movies, or play games with the dramatic 5.1-channel surround or realistic 3D spacious effects through any set of stereo headphones.
Dolby® Virtual Speaker
Dolby Virtual Speaker technology simulates a highly realistic 5.1-speaker surround sound listening environment from as few as two speakers.
Dolby® Pro-Logic IIx
Dolby Pro-Logic II is the well-known technology to process any native stereo or 5.1-channel audio into a 6.1- or 7.1- channel output, creating a seamless, natural surround soundfield.
Smart Volume Normalizer:
Smart Volume Normalizer
Normalizes the volume of all audio sources into a constant level and also enhances your 3D sound listening range and advantages in gaming
Xear 3D Virtual Speaker Shifter:
Virtual 7.1 speaker positioning
Xonar D1 provides VocalFX, the latest vocal effect technologies for gaming and VoIP, including: -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
Music Key-Shifting and Microphone Echo effects like professional Karaoke machine
Professional Bass Management/Enhancement system
3D Sound Engines/APIs:
Vista: DirectSound3D® GX 2.5, DirectSound® HW, DirectSound SW, A3D®1.0, OpenAL generic modes, 128 3D sounds processing capability
XP: DirectSound2.5 SW, A3D®1.0, OpenAL generic modes, 128 3D sounds processing capability
DS3D GX 2.5 gaming sound effects and DirectSound 3D hardware enhanced functions on Windows Vista. (DirectX/DirectSound 3D compatible)
|Bundled Software Utility||RightMark Audio Analyzer 6.0.6:
Easy but powerful software intended for testing the quality of audio equipments
|Accessories||1 x S/PDIF optical adaptors
1 x Low-profile Bracket
- All specifications are subject to change without notice. Please check with your supplier for exact offers. Products may not be available in all markets.
- PCB color and bundled software versions are subject to change without notice.
- Brand and product names mentioned are trademarks of their respective companies.
I disconnected all the fans, even the CPU heatsink fan, and was left with just the PSU fan and graphics card fan. The PSU fan emits a soft sound, and with the graphics card fan manually set to the lowest setting, 25%, it is pretty much inaudible in terms of fan noise. The noise from the hard disks both from idle and seeking vibrations was too annoying to ignore, so I took them all out and laid them on small rectangles of sound-isolating foam/sponge. The door to the room was closed during testing, and with no other equipment running, you could literally hear a pin drop.
The Xonar D1 boasts that it is better than onboard audio, so it is necessary to compare it to the onboard soundchip on the motherboard. I am also interested in seeing how it measures up to my modified XtremeMusic soundcard. Following cotdt's guide at head-fi.org, I have upgraded the front stereo line-out's op-amp and the power capacitor, as well as bypassing the decoupling output stage, to raise the sound quality to about the highest possible.
- Processor: Intel Q9450 Core 2 Quad 333x8
- Motherboard: Gigabyte X48-DS4
- Memory: 2 x 2GB Mushkin XP2-8000 Redline 5-5-5-12
- Video Card: Point of View 7800GT
- Sound Card: Asus Xonar D1
- Power Supply: Mushkin 800 watt Modular power supply
- Hard Drive: 1 x Hitachi 7K250 160GB SATA
- Optical Drive: Sony DDU1612 DVD-ROM
- OS: Windows Vista Business 32-bit
Comparison Sound Cards:
- Realtek ALC889A High Definition Audio codec (onboard audio)
- Creative X-Fi XtremeMusic "Hotrodded"
- AKG K 701 Reference Headphones (powered by M³ Headphone Amplifier)
- Turtle Beach Ear Force X-52 5.1 Headphones
- Soundcard to amp: Custom made Van-Damme / Switchcraft / Neutrik with silver-plated OFC + OFC conductor, OFC shield
- Soundcard loop-back: an identical cable, but using a 3.5mm to 2x phono/RCA adapter
At first, I wanted to test a range of headphones as I have the AKG K 701, Sennheiser HD25-1 II, Westone UM2, and Koss PortaPro to choose from. I also initially thought about testing with my main speaker setup of Technics SU-V620, Canon SB-20, and 2x Tannoy 631SE. Another idea was the surprisingly capable Jazz Hipster JS2202AA powered speakers.
After some preliminary tests, it was clear that there wasn't really any point in testing multiple headphones, so I just went for the best that I have, the AKG K 701, together with the headphone amp that I custom-built. This headphone/amp combination is very accurate and, unlike speakers, the sound isn't affected by the physical characteristics of the room. So, I decided to do the critical listening using headphones and only briefly tested the card on speakers to confirm features were working, rather than assessing sound quality.
I'm interested to see how well the surround sound works, so I'll be plugging in the Turtle Beach X-52 and hoping that it doesn't suffer from the tinny sounds directly in front or behind the player, as it did with both the Audigy 2 ZS and X-Fi XtremeMusic.
- RightMark (RMAA)
Rightmark Audio Analyser wasn't on the CD, but at the bottom of the specifications and features, you can see that the software is subject to change. I guess it changed then. Rightmark is free and has been updated quite a few times since the manual was made, so much that the GUI has changed, making it impossible to follow the manual's directions on how to set up RMAA for the test. Luckily, there is a guide available to download at the RightMark site on how to set up the Xonar D2 for testing with v6.0.5 of RMAA. Using this guide is very straightforward as setup is essentially the same when using an external loop-back cable.
RMAA works by sending test signals out of the soundcard and then recording the signals back into the soundcard, and making comparisons and measurements to assess the soundcard performance.
I chose to use a loop-back cable for RMAA because if you use internal hardware loop-backs, some soundcards bypass some of the output and input stages, to pipe the playback audio directly into recording. This is essentially cheating, and doesn't represent an actual loop-back, so an external cable ensures each soundcard is doing a complete loop-back during the tests.
The test results page shows you the average values across the frequency range. The frequency response you want to be as near to flat as possible, so small numbers are better. The noise level is the amount of background hiss, etc, so this needs to be as low (large negative values) as possible. The Xonar D1 using all high quality DACs and op-amps on analogue inputs and outputs shows its superiority over onboard audio, and even the X-Fi (I haven't change the input op-amp yet). The dynamic range is almost always nearly the same as the noise level, except positive. The remaining measurements of distortion, noise, and crosstalk, need to be as small (or large negative values) as possible. The Xonar D1 triumphs in all areas here too!
Each of the graphs is included here to show the measurements vs. frequency.
So overall, the Xonar D1 beats both the ALC899 and X-Fi XtremeMusic in the RMAA loop-back tests. Numbers and graphs aren't the only way to assess audio equipment however, although the X-Fi's better performance in the Stereo Crosstalk test, at frequencies above ~2kHz, might help to explain some of my findings in the following subjective listening tests.
The "HiFi" mode in the Xonar D1 Audio Center disables all DSPs (effects, EQ, etc) and sets the soundcard up for unaltered music playback. For this segment of testing, I chose some pieces of music that I am very familiar with, and have heard on many different audio systems. The first two pieces are classical works that have been mastered well onto CD. The following two tracks are from modern electronic artists. The result is a balance of acoustic and electronic instruments, capturing the secondary sounds of musicians playing physical instruments, and presenting a challenging array of electronic sounds from digital audio equipment.
All the tracks were ripped from CD using ExactAudioCopy, encoded to the lossless FLAC audio codec. This means the exact bit-for-bit signal of the CD track is maintained and reproduced upon playback. The advantage in regards to this test is that there is no noise from the optical disc drive whilst listening to the music. foobar2000 was used as the media player as it supports ASIO playback.
- Realtek ALC889: Wave and Master levels @ 100%, foobar2000 output = DirectSound
- Xonar D1: Wave and Master levels @ 100%, foobar2000 output = ASIO, 16 bit, 6ms
- X-Fi XtremeMusic (modded): Wave and Master levels @ 100%, foobar2000 output = ASIO, (auto 16 bit), 5ms
Camille Saint-Saens - "The Swan":
- Realtek ALC889: Piano sound muffled/buried/muted under strings
- Xonar D1: Piano is much clearer and in harmony with strings which are also much much more clear, detailed, and refined. The delicate notes and subtleties like hammer and bow noises are instantly heard - made me think 'where were they' on the Realtek...
- X-Fi XtremeMusic (modded): The grace and gliding that Saint-Saens must have intended to convey in this piece of music is the most apparent with this card, the Xonar D1 is a noticeable step behind.
Johann Sebastian Bach - "Air":
- Realtek ALC889: Plucked bass sounds muffled, overall sound appears restrained and slightly mono
- Xonar D1: This is just so much clearer than the Realtek, the plucked bass is bold, precise and distinct now. This is how Air should sound, the instruments spread out but playing in harmony, coming across together rather than the lead strings dominating everything on the Realtek.
- X-Fi XtremeMusic (modded): Bass fuller and deeper, even more clarity, everything seems super-clean, lead strings piercingly defined, can almost see the music.
Ulrich Schnauss - "Blumenwiese Neben Autobahn":
- Realtek ALC889: There is a noticeable droning to the lower frequency instruments that seems to bathe the sound in a murky mist, the drum beats sound very one-dimensional and overall the performance is rather bland.
- Xonar D1: The opening notes and much more defined, and the slowed down drums sit nicely in the mix, as opposed to the mush of the Realtek. When the lively drum-machine beats start, they don't quite cut through the mix as sharply as the X-Fi, but they are very much alive and dynamic. This sound card makes me smile.
- X-Fi XtremeMusic (modded): All I can say is that it was thoroughly enjoyable to listen to this track, and it makes me glad I modified my card.
Infected Mushroom - "Vicious Delicious":
- Realtek ALC889: It sounds like someone put a film of plastic over the headphone drivers. The sound, again, is rather boring and reminds me of falling asleep on an aeroplane for some reason, maybe it's that drone... I actually hate listening to the onboard sound at this point and can't wait until the track is over.
- Xonar D1: The difference is almost startling, the sound is so much cleaner and it's hard to describe, but it's as if the sound has been set free from carrying heavy weights and is now able to dance about in and around my ears like a cheeky imp that came from the woods.
- X-Fi XtremeMusic (modded): The imp came along with his friends, and one of them is celebrating his birthday.
The Xonar D1 is much better than the supposed "High Definition Audio" of the onboard Realtek soundchip, but doesn't quite reach the finesse of the modified XtremeMusic. The nearest analogy I can think of is with headphones. Regular AC97 onboard audio is like the free headphones you get with your phone or iPod, it sounds ok if you've never heard anything else, but really it's a bit crap. Realtek High Definition Audio is like a decent pair of headphones, but the entry level, so the bass is a bit muffled/muddy, some of the sounds get buried under others, extremes of frequency range are lacking. The Xonar D1 is like a moderately-priced pair of audiophile headphones, so you get an instantly recognisable improvement in sonic fidelity, the instruments are clearer and separated, bass more snappy and distinct, and overal clarity greatly improved. My modified XtremeMusic is very much at the top end. The delicate finesse and rotund bass of this card is something the Xonar D1 is close to, but doesn't quite achieve. To the D1's credit, it is much nearer to the X-Fi than to the Realtek, and it's pleasing to hear the D1 perform this much better than onboard audio.
For this review, I ran a few games that I knew had good EAX effects, and again, ones that I am familiar with from many hours of gameplay. These games are Unreal Tournament 2004, FarCry, and Call of Duty. The ALchemy pages on the Creative website actually use Call of Duty to demonstrate the difference between the sound experienced with and without EAX actually working in Vista. The GX mode of the Xonar D1 is similar to ALchemy in that it provides EAX enhancement for games played in Vista.
- Audio Channel: 8 Channels
- Analog Out: Headphone or 2 Speakers
Game Mode: Enables Dolby Headphone (DH-2: Livelier Room) or Dolby Virtual Speaker (Reference Mode)
This surprised me in that the sounds were definitely a lot more three-dimensional when the Head-Related Transfer Function (HTFR) algorithms of Dolby Headphone or Dolby Virtual Speaker are enabled. It works very well, and I like the resulting sound much more than Creative's CMSS 3D virtualisation DSP.
Game Mode + GX: This enables the EAX support
WHOA! This is so good, the GX makes the games so immersive that I found myself wanting to play them all over again! The GX isn't quite as polished as true hardware EAX, but it is very close, and combined with the Dolby Headphone DSP, this is now my favourite audio setup for games!
- Audio Channel: 8 Channels
- Analog Out: 5.1 Speakers
- LFE Crossover Frequency: 64Hz
- all speakers: Small
- Turtle Beach EarForce X-52 5.1 Headphones:
- Front: 3
- Rear: 4.5
- Centre: 4.2
- Sub: 10
GX Only: (Game Mode disables FlexBass)
It took a while to find the settings that worked the best, but it ended up pretty good! The "baseball bat hitting foil" grenade effect is not nearly as severe as with the X-Fi, but unfortunately it's still there due to the limitations of the speakers inside the headphones. Overall, the sound is pretty immersive, and its very atmospheric, but I didn't really know where some sounds were coming from. I still am very dubious about 5.1 headphones though, and much prefer the gaming experience of using stereo headphones with Dolby Headphone DSP to using 5.1 headphones, or even stereo speakers.
After the addictive gaming session, I was eager to find out what pre-recorded multi-channel audio sounded like!
I watched Silent Hill, Matrix Revolutions, and the THX Demo Disc II.
- Audio Channel: 6 Channels
- Analog Out: Headphone or 2 Speakers
- Movie Mode: Enables Dolby Headphone (DH-2: Livelier Room) or Dolby Virtual Speaker (Wide Mode)
Dolby Headphone just sounds amazing. My Eee PC has Dolby Headphone, but it doesn't sound as good as the Xonar D1. In DH-2 mode, it works extremely well in taking the sound away from between the headphones, or directly from each speaker, and creating virtual surround sound around the room. DH-3 mode takes it further for an even wider surround, but it starts to sound a bit metallic, as if you have big metal pipes on your ears. DH-1 goes the other way and makes the virtualised surround more subtle. But, for me, the effect is too subtle and ends up too similar to plain stereo. So, the suggested DH-2 mode when clicking Movie Mode does indeed work the best.
Dolby Virtual Speaker is equally as impressive, creating sounds to the sides and even slightly behind your listening position. But, you need to be fairly central between the speakers for the effect to work, so this virtualisation mode is best suited to a few people in a room where it's possible to sit as near dead-centre as possible. People off to the side won't benefit from Dolby Virtual Speaker and it actually ends up sounding a bit worse.
To be quite honest, when I received this low-profile soundcard, I wasn't expecting much from it, but the claims of being so much better than onboard audio made me curious.
The first surprise was just how damn good it sounds compared to what Realtek calls "High Definition Audio". There is obviously a stark difference between being able to play high-definition audio, and being able to play it well. The Xonar D1 came close to the quality of my modded X-Fi XtremeMusic, but ultimately the result is I'm listening to music on the X-Fi card as it does have the edge.
Where the Xonar D1 takes off into orbit is with multi-channel audio! The implementation of Dolby Headphone and Dolby Virtual Speaker work a lot better than Creative's CMSS-3D. This means that games and movies sound incredible from headphones, something that is important if you like to play games or watch movies late at night. I do, that's why I bought reference headphones and made my own headphone amplifier, so that I can enjoy high quality audio at any time of the day. With the Xonar D1, I can now enjoy high quality surround sound at unsociable hours. The EAX implementation, in the form of DS3D GX, is not exactly as good as Creative's hardware EAX, but it comes close, and I prefer the Xonar's Dolby Headphone + DS3D GX to the X-Fi's CMSS-3D + EAX. You would laugh if you saw me during this review, regularly trying to turn my speaker amplifier down in fear of waking the neighbours, when I was actually listening to headphones!
So all-in-all, a very formidable soundcard. With my X-Fi card, I've had troubles getting EAX to work in all games, and even if I get it working it won't sound as good as the Xonar, so I think I'll be changing my gaming machine to use the Xonar D1, and move the X-Fi XtremeMusic to a near-silent machine for music playback.
- Distinctly superior sound quality compared to modern onboard audio (Realtek ALC889)
- The best implementation of speaker virtualisation I have heard
- Excellent bass redirection controls
- Optical digital output
- Low profile compatible
- Not quite able to match up to an audiophile-modded soundcard for music playback