by Rory Buszka on September 3, 2007 in Sound Cards
At Computex 2007, ASUS wowed us with their new Xonar range of audio products, aiming to take a chunk of Creative’s market share in the high end PC audio category. Now we’ve got our hands on the ASUS Xonar D2, and we’re putting it to the test. Does the newcomer Xonar D2 have what it takes to challenge the X-Fi?
Despite the obvious value of measurements and synthetic benchmarks in determining the merits of a piece of audio hardware, eventually it all comes down to the way in which the upgraded audio solution can benefit your listening experience. With that in mind, youâ€™ll be glad to know that we fully tested the ASUS Xonar D2 with a variety of listening materialâ€¦for hours on end.
Switchfoot Nothing Is Sound DVD-Audio
The Xonar D2 card surprised me with the amount of depth and detail that it was able to retrieve from this high-energy rock recording. Listening through a fairly ordinary $150 set of 2.1 speakers from Cambridge Soundworks, I heard details I had never heard before â€“ even with headphones â€“ when played on my PC.
The Xonar card wowed me with its spectacular transparency and panoramic imaging. The digital effects came through clearer and cleaner than ever before. Even formerly ear-fatiguing distortion guitar sounds sounded clear and smooth, and percussion instruments were rendered dynamically, with a tight, gut-punching kick drum and clear, crisp cymbals. Every instrument seems to inhabit its own acoustic space, thanks to the vanishingly low distortion of the Xonar.
Bela Fleck and The Flecktones UFO Tofu Audio CD
On UFO Tofu, the superb sound quality of the Xonar D2 allowed me to enjoy this record in a way I never have before on my PC. Track 2, “Sex in a Pan,” showcases the funk bass stylings of Victor Wooten front and center, and once again the fantastic dynamic range of the Xonar D2 card shined through, rendering every slap and pluck with percussive impact and full-bodied tone. Track 3, “Nemoâ€™s Dream,” the clarity was astonishing â€“ every instrument again seemed to fill its own acoustic space within the recording, instead of seeming to blend together. Imaging was also superb, with stereo pickups on the electric bass and banjo creating a sonic experience that must be heard to be believed. Even during loud passages, Bela Fleckâ€™s plucking of the individual banjo strings could still be heard.
Compared to the other two audio solutions we tested for this review, the ASUS Xonar D2 sound card is a revelation â€“ its high quality analog signal chain and vanishingly low distortion results in an eminently musical piece of hardware. It just sounds soâ€¦right. Overall clarity is superb, and youâ€™ll hear details you never noticed before, especially if you own an expensive, good-sounding set of speakers or high-quality headphones.
However, perhaps the greatest compliment to the Xonarâ€™s stellar sonic fidelity is its ability to make even my humble $150 Cambridge Soundworks 2.1-channel set sound fantastic â€“ I felt no need to switch to headphones. When I did, however, what I heard there simply confirmed what I had been hearing through my speakers â€“ incredible definition and detail that I didnâ€™t even hear from my previous reference sound card, the Razer Barracuda AC-1.