Who’d have thunk it? Long considered a dead zone, soundcards are making a resurgence. Driven by an outcry for audio that doesn’t sound like a box of snap, crackle, pop every time you access your USB ports, manufacturers are releasing new soundcards that surpass the free audio that comes with your motherboard. This month, we test an Auzentech card that uses a Creative Labs chip and Asus’s new entry into PC audio.
Asus tries to hide the origins of the Xonar D2, but it’s the same CMedia Oxygen HD 8788 audio processor (or a slightly tailored one) that’s featured in several other vendors’ soundcards; still, the Xonar D2 features the best implementation of this proc. The Xonar also uses very good Brown Burr DACs to achieve a 118dB signal-to-noise ratio, which is slightly lower than the Prelude’s 123dB rating. Most people probably won’t hear the difference, but we still give the Prelude the edge over the Xonar card. One editor also felt that the Xonar D2 was a bit too bright with some jazz tracks. Despite this, both listeners gave the card high marks.
We love the card’s color-coded LEDs, which let you easily identify the green or red plug. It’s definitely easier than squinting to find tiny colored stickers. We were also impressed by the Xonar’s high frame rates in our gaming tests, despite its lack of a DSP.
Keep in mind, this card supports only EAX 2, while Creative has reached EAX 5. Of course, everything above EAX 2 is proprietary, so Asus couldn’t support EAX 5 without a lot of reverse engineering or a license. As you’d expect, game-audio rendering is quite good on the Xonar, but not as good as the Prelude with its full EAX support.
While the Xonar has an edge in home-theater use due to its real-time Dolby Digital encoding, the Prelude excels at gaming and general PC use.
Cool LED color-coded ports.
Only EAX 2.0 support.
X-Fi Prelude 7.1 Analog Mode
Xonar D2 Analog Mode
Xonar D2 Dolby Digital Live
Fear Software Mixing (FPS)
Fear Software Mixing with Advanced EAX on (FPS)
Fear Software Mixing with Advanced EAX off (FPS)
3DMark03 0Sound (FPS)
3DMark03 24 Sound (FPS)
3DMark03 60 Sound (FPS)
Best scores are bolded. Our test bed is a Windows XP Pro machine using a Core 2 Quad CPU, 2GB of DDR2/800 Corsair RAM, an EVGA 680i SLI motherboard, an EVGA GeForce 8800GTX, and a Western Digital 150GB Raptor.