High fidelity: ASUS Xonar DG soundcard review

The road to high-quality audio can take one of two paths: the first being a set of expensive speakers paired to a power-guzzling amplifier costing upwards of $1500. This path is littered with the remains of sleep-deprived relationships and angry neighbours. The other path is much more affordable and less relationship-destroying: high-quality headphones. Using a set of decent headphones is a cheap and easy way to get the best sound quality possible but today’s onboard audio chips will pollute a good set of cans with static and poor audio reproduction. Enter the ASUS Xonar DG soundcard designed specifically for the headphone-equipped PC user.

Powering this audio card is C-media’s Oxygen HD CM18786 sound processor which is mounted on a PCI card – unfortunately ASUS has removed the PCI Express connectivity found on other Xonar soundcards which may be an issue in today’s PCI-lacking motherboards. Maximum recording and playback quality is also limited to 24-bit/96kHz half that of other Xonar cards.

Headphone gamers will appreciate the inclusion of Dolby Headphone which emulates 5.1 surround sound over stereo headphones. However one of the key features of the Xonar series has been given the chop; the DG can’t do multichannel digital encoding in the form of Dolby Digital Live. This means that the card can’t output 5.1 sound in-game over optical falling back to stereo instead. It’s only an issue if you want to game with speakers hooked up via an optical cable.

Blind listening tests of the DG testing game movie and music performance showed that this card is leagues ahead of the Realtek onboard audio solutions most users endure. However it’s not without problems – we found the Xonar drivers have an issue when using the optical output. This connection turns itself off when not in use leading to a large popping sound whenever it wakes up. This is an old Xonar problem that still hasn’t been resolved and it’s disappointing to see that it’s still an issue.

It’s not a deal breaker though and the ridiculously low price of this card makes it an absolute no-brainer for PC gamers who need an affordable yet high quality headphone solution.

Available from ASUS retailing for $40.
APC rating: 8/10 (Highly Recommended)