ASUS Xonar U3 USB Sound Card ReviewnVidia_Freak - July 10, 2011
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Installing the Xonar U3 is very simple. After plugging the U3 into an available USB port and installing the drivers, everything is ready to go. The U3 features a couple LED indicators, one red LED to indicate the line-out/SPDIF port, and two blue LEDs on the front of the unit to indicate whether or not the volume is muted. Curiously, these two LEDs are under what appear to be circular buttons that I would imagine to be very useful for controlling volume. Unfortunately, these are not buttons at all, but are simply indicators that are lit if the Xonar U3 is not muted, and off if it is. Lacking a media geared keyboard, the only way to adjust the volume of the U3 is within the driver menu. This is a minor inconvenience that really ought not to have been. Particularly if one uses a long extension cable, they would be in easy reach for quick volume adjustments.
If one is familiar with other products that use the Xear3D driver platform, such as Corsair's HS1 USB gaming headset, then one is greeted by a familiar sight when opening the Xonar U3's driver menu. Various indicators, buttons, and settings are placed for the various settings and features. Up top is a very narrow range visual equalizer if that sort of thing entertains you. Selecting the amount of audio channels determines whether Dolby Headphone is enabled automatically when headphones are in use. This makes sense, as there's no need to simulate surround sound for something that only has stereo imaging. There is a sample rate drop down menu, however, 48kHz is the only option. Mode buttons are off to the right side along with volume control buttons, one of which is labeled SVN, which stands for Smart Volume Normalization. Essentially what this does is bring every bit of audio information to the same level. Though this makes hearing quiet parts a lot easier without having to blast the volume, it does take diminish the dynamic range. For music this should definitely be kept off, however, for movies it might be somewhat beneficial if the dynamic range is significantly large.
Clicking the italicized 'i' on the menu bar brings up the technical information about the Xonar U3. Of special interest is that it looks like the U3 has hardware EAX support, granted only EAX 2.0. I will say, however, in my experiences, EAX options were not available or do not work when enabled in games. Clicking the '?' next to 'Audi Channels' brings up a screen that suggests how many channels should be selected for different types of applications. Finally, clicking the hammer icon next to 'Analog Out' displays a drop down menu to select the resistance load of the particular set of headphones and microphone being used. These are available so that no matter what you use with the Xonar U3, volume can remain consistent across the board. What these settings do is change the amount of supplied voltage to the output stage, with 32 ohm headphones receiving the least, and 64+ ohms receiving the most. This makes sense, because the more resistance is present, the more is needed to achieve the same amplitude.
The 'Mixer' tab gives access to individual input and output volume controls for the left and right channels, and also includes monitoring of input levels. The 'Effect' tab contains an equalizer and some reverberation sound effects. 'Karaoke' provides settings that act as specific EQ adjustments to facilitate the act of performing karaoke. Finally, 'VocalFX' contains various tweaks and gimmicks for the input stage.