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Asus Xonar Xense Premium Gaming Audio Set Review

hardnrg    -   November 3, 2010
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Closer Look:

When you run the driver CD-ROM, you are greeted with a window where you can launch the installation of the audio driver, which includes the sound card mixer software. Also from this screen, you can launch Explorer to browse the contents of the disc, contact Asus (launches Asus in your default web browser), view the PDF User Guide (manual), and the Read me (release notes).
























 

 

So, apart from the audio driver installation, the only option of real interest is the User Guide, as there is no hardcopy of the manual. Here in chapter 1, you can see an explanation of the sound card connectors, and the controls and connectors of the headset.

 

 

Chapters 2 and 3 cover connections to internal and external hardware, including the use of the 7.1 breakout cable, and how to connect the PC 350 headset and line-in audio sources.

 

 

The last chapter goes over the controls and settings available in the Xonar Xense Audio Center, which is an advanced sound card mixer application.

 

So, going back to the driver CD's launcher window, when you click on the text "Audio Driver", a dialog box pops up to remind you that the 4-pin "Molex" power needs to be connected in order for the headphone amplifier to function. After that, you get the usual license agreement that I'm sure everyone reads thoroughly.

 

 

The installation process continues without further prompts, and finishes by telling you that you need to reboot your computer.

 

 

Programs:

You don't get a software suite as such, but the Xonar Xense Audio Center is an advanced application that provides many controls that provide audio customisations to suit your connected headphones/speakers, what you are listening to, and your personal listening preferences. At the bottom right of the main window is a down arrow button which, when clicked upon, reveals further configurable settings.

 

In Windows Vista and 7, you need to select the number of channels that is being produced by whichever application you are listening to. So, for music you would choose 2 channels (stereo), 6 channels for Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 movies, and 8 channels for games and the advanced versions of Dolby Digital and DTS. This is somewhat annoying, and I wish there was some sort of customisable application list in the Audio Center that would switch the channel mode for you, in the same way that the Nvidia control panel selects an SLI mode for each game.

 

 

Below this, you have a control for the Sample Rate. All sounds played will be converted to the sample rate here, so you would choose either the exact value (e.g. 44.1kHz for MP3/CD) or set it higher for DVD, Bluray, etc. Sample rate conversion does reduce the sound quality, but it's very hard to actually hear the difference, so you can leave it set to any value if you want. The Audio Out selector chooses the analogue output you want to use: Headphone is the amplified 1/4" port; 2, 4, 5.1 and 7.1 Speakers would be connected using the breakout cable; and, FP Headphone and FP 2 Speakers would connect to your computer's front panel audio.

 

 

The digital (optical/co-axial) S/PDIF Out can be enabled/disabled, and you can choose whether to send a PCM (stereo) signal, or a multi-channel surround signal by enabling Dolby Digital Live.

 

Many people will only have a stereo set of speakers connected, but you have the option of enabling Dolby Virtual Speaker to create a pseudo-surround effect from just two speakers. There are Reference and Wide modes, and both work best if you are sitting fairly central in respect to the speakers. I really like using Dolby Virtual Speaker for games and movies, as it works very well, sounding better than down-mixing to plain stereo.

 

 

If you have surround sound speakers connected, you can enable Dolby Pro Logic IIx to upmix stereo sources (e.g. music) to all of the speakers. The slider control varies the stereo image from narrow to wide.

 

 

It's not very often that you can actually position all of your speakers in the ideal locations around the room, due to doors, furniture, etc. The 7.1 Virtual Speaker Shifter allows you to compensate for this, sort of like a balance control, but you can click and drag each speaker in this top-down visual map.

 

 

With Headphone selected as the analogue audio out, you can click the hammer button to reach the HP Advance Setting. This allows you to set the gain of the amplifier to suit the headphones or headset that you are using. It defaults to Normal Gain (0dB), but you also have choices for +12dB and 18dB for higher impedance headphones. Asus have collaborated with Sennheiser to create a custom gain value for the PC 350 headset, which you should choose for the optimum sound performance with the bundled headset. As you are probably aware, it is possible to damage headphones by excessive amplification (this is possible if you select the wrong gain value), and a warning dialog pops up when changing the amplification level.

 

 

 

Along the bottom of the Audio Center, there are buttons to move to different sections. In the Mixer section, you can set levels for the audio being played out or played/recorded into the soundcard.

 

 

You can hear each audio input by clicking the corresponding eye symbol button, which enables the Monitoring mode for that channel. To select a channel for recording (in other applications), you click the corresponding red record button directly below the slider. You can monitor multiple audio inputs simultaneously, but you can only make a single recording selection. To record multiple sources at the same time, you can use the Mix channel, which will record all the sounds currently playing.

 

 

There is an Advance Setting for the Front Mic that allows you to enable/disable the Microphone Boost feature, which increases the mic pre-amp gain. You don't get this option for the 1/4" mic input, as the PC 350 headset does not require it.

 

 

In the Effect section, you can select an Environment reverb effect and tweak the sound with a 10-band graphic EQ.

 

If you've ever owned a Creative card, you'll probably be familiar with EAX reverb effects. The Environment effects here are pretty much the same, and can create the auditory illusion of being in a certain type of room, building, etc. I found it pretty funny how Asus chose Bath Room and Under Water for two of the four quick presets, but I suppose they do showcase the more extreme effects of this, er... effect.

 

 

 

There is a list of further presets available, and you can vary the amount of effect applied to the sound by changing the Environment Size.

 

 

The EQ section is pretty straightforward and has a number of preset EQ settings, to which you can add your own User Defined EQ setting. The presets range from fairly traditional, e.g. the loudness curve of Rock, to pure craziness of Jazz. I actually ended up at a jazz club recently, and it sucked, so we left after one drink even though we'd paid door entry. The Jazz EQ preset also sucks, haha. Anyway, I like how you can keep saving EQ settings, and I ended tuning in the PC 350 headset as you can see in the UserDef preset, Test 7.

 

 

Okay, so the last tab section is FlexBass. This feature can re-route the low frequencies from speakers to the subwoofer channel. This is beneficial for systems with small satellite speakers, both to protect the speakers, and to be able to hear the sounds reproduced more faithfully. You can choose the point at which to re-route the bass (LFE Crossover Frequency) to suit your speakers. However, if you designate speakers as Large, then the crossover is ignored, and the full frequency range is sent to those speakers.

 

 

The last two controls I will point out here are Smart Volume Normalisation (SVN), and Mute. SVN aims to keep the apparent loudness roughly the same: loud sounds get tamed while quiet sounds get boosted. This can be handy if you switch from a TV Tuner, to a movie, to a game, to VoIP, or have a mixture of sounds playing at the same time. The Mute control silences all output from the sound card, and syncs with the Windows mute, so it works with all applications and input devices that use the Windows mute.

 




  1. Introduction & Closer Look
  2. Closer Look: Sound Card
  3. Closer Look: Headset
  4. Closer Look: Drivers & Programs
  5. Specifications & Features
  6. Testing: Setup & Listening Gear
  7. Testing: Rightmark (RMAA)
  8. Testing: Subjective Listening (Music)
  9. Testing: Subjective Listening (Movies)
  10. Testing: Subjective Listening (Gaming)
  11. Conclusion
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