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Best sound card in its class.

A Review On: Asus Xonar U3

Asus Xonar U3

Rated # 44 in Portable Amps
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Audio Quality
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Quality
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Price paid: $54.48
mharidas
Posted · 5180 Views · 1 Comment

Pros: Feature rich in Dolby technologies like Dolby Headphone, Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Digital Live, 7.1 Virtual speaker shifter and GX2.5 EAX emulation

Cons: None really, for the size its awesome

Superb sound quality across the range, especially for something this small and a USB device at that.
Dolby Headphone - done right with all 3 modes for choice.
Dolby Pro-Logic IIx for stereo/5.1 to 7.1 upmixing.
USB like size, very easy on the table - no clutter.
Dolby Digital Live real-time encoding over TOSlink Optical out
Outstanding surround sound with Dolby headphone in 7.1 playing games/movies (more on this below)

The flat non-DSP effects sound of this card is warm to neutral depending on your headset. And with equalizer tweaks it sounds great on highs and perfect in the lows. Bass is not over powering yet just at the right level. Even bass freaks will be happy with it's bass, granted the equalizer can give out more bass if needed  but then over doing it can muffle the bass more, also dependent on your headphone/headset. The mids are also great. I trust my ears, not the RMAA analyzer.

Great Stereo sound, thats all fine. What about surround sound? This is where this little gizzmo truly shines. The surround is not muffled or hollow sounding, its just perfect and the best part is that equalizer settings can tweak the feel even more. Positional audio is impressively immersive and accurate.

 

I tested the THX Tru Surround on the X-Fi 5.1 pro, Sharkoon's own SCU hardware solution and the Xonar U3 in game and movies.


In games they all sound great, but Xonar U3 sounds more natural with positional accuracy so good that you can really tell the various angles from where the sound is coming from with your eyes closed. Proper audio cues. Sharkoon's SCU is good in positional audio but there is something about the over all sound that makes it more like a small sound stage, only slight though. THX was accurate as Xonar U3 in positional cues but the sound quality is no better than the Sharkoon SCU.

In movies the THX Tru Surround is terrible because its using only two channels, switching it to 5.1 in windows panel make sounds just getting lost over non-existent channels. Sharkoon is digital input so no such troubles. Xonar works fine as 7.1 set in windows or from the Xonar Control panel. You can select 2,4,6 or 8 channel mode from the click of a drop down menu.

Other Thoughts: 

A little background into why I needed a USB sound card anyway. I got this Sharkoon X-tatic SR surround sound headset and then recalled my M18X alienware will not output a 5.1 dolby digital signal over SPDIF. Its just Stereo PCM. TBH I should have given it more thought before buying the headset. But believe me the headset was very good and worth the investment. So I got the Creative X-Fi 5.1 Pro USB

The X-Fi 5.1 Pro USB is good on stereo sound quality and does what I want which is optical out with Dolby Digital live encoding over TOSlink optical. Works fine with the Sharkoon's SCU sound box with optical input feed, Dolby headphone surround sound through the Sharkoon's SCU sounds great.

But getting the Xonar U3 made the X-Fi and the sharkoon's SCU totally redundant, it simply has a more robust  Dolby Headphone implementation with ability to select the 3 modes of Dolby Headphone DH1, DH2 and DH3. You cant do that with the SCU of the Sharkoon or any other product for the most part that uses a dedicated Sound box, with the exception of the JVC SU-DH1 Dolby adaptor.

1 Comment:

I agree - this is a great little DAC/amp. I use it on my controlled PC at work, strictly as a plug-n-play sound card, without any of the Dolby or other features, since I am not able to install or modify any programs. I primarily listen to classical music, and am very happy with the results: very quiet and linear.
For tech specs, NWAvGuy has run this through its paces, and the results are quite interesting. It is linear out to 15 khz, then drops off quickly, so younger ears might be able to tell the difference (nowhere near an issue for me). The 92 dB SNR (Asus advertised 100) is pretty good, about equal to the 96 a Redbook CD is capable of anyway, and very low distortion regardless of the type.
To be honest, the headphone amp section is not that great: power is not that high, and the 25-ish ohm output impedance means that low-impedance headphones might have problems with under-damped bass and/or frequency variations. Used with my more power-hungry cans, these issues do indeed come into play. However, since I use it with either a Fiio E5 or PA2V2 headphone amp, these issues are now moot.
So, with a separate headphone amp, one can have what approaches something of an audiophile set-up on the cheap, maybe $50 total. Yes, I prefer my more expensive DAC and amp at home, but this gets me remarkably close.
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