This is a great little soundcard, small, solid, looks good, works well, and most of all sounds good too.
- Can do 5.1 surround via an optical cable, if your speakers support this or you have a decoder, my Z-5500s support this so no need for a decoder
- Small solidly built device, looks good and comes in various colors
- Drivers play well with vista x64, no problems yet, the software is easy enough to use.
- Surround sound in games works with EAX 1.0 and 2.0. Also i *think* it can do 3.0-5.0 with a driver update, DS3D GX 2.0 is the thing that enabled software emulation of EAX's 3.0-5.0 with xonar cards and this card says it has that with the latest driver update from the ASUS website, so i assume it can do all EAX's in software now.
- Its a bit on the expensive side. Theres a cheaper creative external (the replacement for the audigy 2 nx) called the x-fi surround 5.1 but like i said ive had enough with creative drivers and im not exactly sure what the x-fi's capabilties are, theres no really in depth reviews on it and creative has a tendancy to market things deceptively (x-fi xtreme audio isnt a real x-fi but actually more like an 8 year old audigy 1). So anyway there are externals with more ports etc for less but i cant vouch for their quality, the xonar is high quality stuff.
I was looking for a simple but attractive solution to my audio qualms. The onboard DAC from my Asus motherboard produced large amounts of hiss and has very poor audio playback performance in general. I had chosen a mini-itx platform for a gaming pc and hence use the Express 3.0 Port for my graphics card, so I could not use an internal sound card. Without good quality audio, my media and gaming collection felt rather let down. After a lot of research I stumbled across this little gem hiding in Curry's for just £29.99.
Immediately you recognise that this is a very elegant little piece of kit - The construction is solid and it has a nice weight to it. I tested my SoundMagic E10 and a pair of Klipsch Status headphones and found that they were driven easily needing no more than 40% at max to be uncomfortable, with the former needing much less! I have no doubt that the headphone amp could power some of the most hungry headphones.
The big one; the sound. After 20 minutes or so of tweaking I was able to tie down the settings to my personal taste. I am not a big fan of the virtual surround settings as I feel they introduce artefacts into the tracks so I leave them out. What I can also say is that it does sound very good to my ears, a very large improvement over my onboard DAC! The bass is tight and powerful, the midrange is pleasant and distinct. The treble isn't harsh but definitely crisp. And most importantly there is no hissing now either! The volume dial has a nice smooth spin to it, which makes cranking the volume up and down fun :)
But now for the bad. The technical specs aren't exactly anything to shout about, quoted at 48kHz and 16bit, this product will not give other DACs a run for their money when it comes to numbers. Although under Windows 8.1 there is an option to set the sampling higher but I don't know if that is overridden by the Asus program itself... I am also aware that numbers aren't everything but nevertheless, we like higher! :)
Also, the USB cable length is very short (giving the impression that this product is primarily geared towards laptop users) Luckily I had a spare USB extension lying around, however, if you need more than 20cm I would recommend one! Finally, the volume control has an infinite spin, thus there is no minimum or maximum catch like you see on other products!
Despite the apparently low technical specs, the sound produced is very clean and very tight. There are enough sound processing feature to please most people and it sounds far better than my onboard solution! I am very impressed with this product and would recommend it if you are on a budget for high quality audio.
If you require true Dolby Digital sound for your home theatre via a laptop, then this is the soundcard for you. This USB soundcard has absolutely no issues with the Vista O.S. (if you keep the settings during installation as the default ones) and works extremely well for movies in Dolby Digital mode(using Optical wire) and music using normal PCM mode. The software bundle for converting Mp3s to a desired bitrate however fails to work but you wont need this 99% of the time. All in all, the effects created by this soundcard are very noticeable! Three Cheers!
I have been playing my pc through my pretty good Home-Cinema setup and was pretty disappointed with the sound, particularly the bass. So I got one of these little beauties and I love it, the bass is...well...bassy and the whole soundstage is almost as good as a cd now. It's so good even my wife noticed the difference and she normally just cares about cushions and curtains. I haven't even put the optical cable in yet so it will probably get even better.