Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Computer Audio › Asus Xonar U1 – My thoughts
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Asus Xonar U1 – My thoughts

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
I recently bought the Asus Xonar U1, an external USB soundcard and thought I'd post my opinions here. The Xonar U1 is a headphone amp and external soundcard rolled into one neat package – ideal for both desktop and laptop use.

Many people seem to ignore the sound part when buying or building a new PC. Up until now I have too, although not due to ignorance but due to two issues I had to overcome.

1) I was looking for a soundcard which had a front panel that gave me access to an external volume control. Most of them don’t and the main one that does is the X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty Champion Series which costs £110, quite pricey.

2) Having a young son has meant that most of my PC usage is done with the use of headphones nowadays (so to not wake him in the late hours!) I use a pair of Sennheiser HD 595’s with my PC which offers a great open sound and is equally comfy for long gaming sessions! However, I felt that they really needed a headphone amp to get the best out of them but was put off by price again, with many of the decent brands costing over £100.

I then came across a device that looked to solve both dilemmas. The Asus Xonar U1. On paper it seemed to solve all of my problems, combining an external soundcard with a decent headphone amplifier, all for just over £60 delivered. When looking to buy mine though, a fortnight ago, I could hardly find any retailers stocking this (I was surprised that some of the bigger technology sites like eBuyer, Scan and OCUK didn’t even have it listed!) Komplett saved the day though, delivering it in a timely fashion and in good condition – kudos to them! :smashin:

Hardware

The unit itself comes in quite small packaging which houses the unit itself, a microphone, a SPDIF adaptor to allow it to be connected to a surround sound system, a Dolby demo CD, a drivers/software CD and a manual.



The first thing you notice is how sleek the unit is. Whilst the U1 comes in various colours, I was after the black version and luckily for me it was the only colour Komplett stocked! It has a nice solid fell to it with the top turning to adjust the volume. The volume control has no catch so it will keep turning in one direction continuously if you want. Some reviews have pointed to this as a negative but it didn’t bother me in the slightest.



The second thing you notice is how small the USB cable is. Now I know this is more marketed towards laptop use than desktop use however, even for laptop use I think it’s not long enough (depending on where you place the laptop). I’ve currently got mine placed on top of the PC, although I’ll be buying an USB extender so I can get the unit onto my desk.



When trying to connect this up I came across another problem, the recess for where the headphone socket is restricts some 3.5mm headphone jacks fitting in. I had this problem with my HD 595 which uses a native 6.3mm plug but comes with a 3.5mm adaptor. As it wouldn’t fit I attached a 3.5mm extension lead to get it to work. Not a problem for me as I had an extension lead lying around but worth considering if you have a decent pair of headphones that you want to connect up.

Once the unit is connected, there is a small led light on the top that will flash blue (quite slowly so it doesn’t get annoying) when using the DSP modes. If you switch to the HiFi mode (which turns off all sound processing) the light will stay on continuously. You can also mute the sound by pressing down on the unit which will turn the light red. It’s all quite intuitive, although I can understand that the flashing light may annoy some people if it is placed next to them.

Software

Once it was all set up I installed the drivers from the Asus’ website and I understand that this provides a similar front end that exists for its internal soundcard solutions. I have to say that I didn’t find the front end very intuitive and had to use the manual to understand all of its virtues (normally a last resort for me). After 15 minutes though it all seemed reasonable and I was able to tweak away without the manual’s aid.

There are a variety of options in terms of different DSP modes (along with HiFi mode which turns off all sound processing), sound equaliser plus different listening environment stages too. I like things quite natural so I didn’t dabble too much. The U1 supports most of the latest processing systems including EAX, Dolby Headphone, Pro Logic II etc. Asus also included its PiMP software but I didn’t bother installing it I couldn’t see its worth for my use.

Sound quality

I messed around with its four main DSP modes (HiFi, Gaming, Music, Movies). Starting with music I used the ‘Music’ mode and immediately noticed how hiss free my music had become from using onboard audio. The sound is very clean but it was processed a bit too much for my liking (I’m sure it will suit others). Selecting the HiFi mode made a world of difference with a much more stable and rich soundstage than before. I had a real feel for the amplifier at work here with a lot more ‘depth’ coming out of the HD595’s than before.

Whilst I didn’t like the use of the processing for music, it really does make a difference with games enabling an almost 5.1 soundstage through stereo headphones. Dolby Headphone in particular made a world of difference for the games I tested (Crysis, COD4 and Bioshock). I can’t see my going back to onboard audio!

Overall

I can understand that for many internal soundcards will always be preferred. Personally for me though, Asus has delivered something that I’ve been after for a long time!

It offers a substantial improvement over onboard audio and the ability to adjust headphone volume without clicking into the desktop was a godsend. Now I can have a seamless experience when watching movies, playing games or listening music on my PC.

The fact that the unit also packs in quite a decent headphone amplifier for the price is another major brownie point. Whilst the U1 is marketed towards laptop users I'm sure it will also attract those who were in a similar predicament to me. In terms of sound quality, it won't worry the higher end cards from Creative or Auzentech, but for the price it's not trying to. As long as you realise its limitations its difficult not to fall in love with this great piece of hardware. A big thumbs up from me. :thumbsup:


Positives

-Good value for money considering you get a decent headphone amplifier and soundcard in one package
-Good quality sound for the price and substantial improvement over onboard audio
-The headphone amplifier transformed my enjoyment of the Sennheiser HD 595s
-The external volume control is a godsend for headphone use
-Nice weighty feel to unit
-Very portable if using with laptop


Negatives

-Software could have more customisation settings i.e. for the four different DSP settings
-Short USB cable
-Headphone socket recess is not large enough for some headphones

Reviews

In this mini-review, I haven’t touched on many of its other features like using the mic for VOIP, or its PiMP software or the SPDIF adaptor which effectively converts the 3.5mm headphone socket into an optical socket. I’ve only talked about what I’ve personally used it for, however there are quite a few more thorough reviews on net. Here’s some of the best that I’ve come across so far:

EverythingUSB

Virtual Hideout

Hardware Canucks

Trusted Reviews

aph. networks

Gear mentioned in this thread:

post #2 of 13
Good review. I was interested in this sound card , but since I'm mostly interested in music I wondered if there are better choices for the same money like Sound Blaster Live 24 bit USB given that this Asus sound card is limited to 16 bit and 44KHz.
post #3 of 13
Nice review! Thanks
post #4 of 13
Great review!
I am wondering if you have tried using an additional amp with the Xonar U1 output before feeding it into your headphones. I know 595 only has 60 ohms but just wondering if you have tried another amp+headphones. I am thinking of using the U1 with another amp.
Thanks
post #5 of 13
For $55 I don't know...PROVANTAGE: Asus XONAR_U1/UDM/B/A Xonar 1 USB External Black Audio Card

Do they make reasonably priced usb volume controllers with the same form factor? I remember an expensive griffen one but looking for a cheaper solution.
post #6 of 13
my U1 came in today, definitely a step-up from my crappy little logitech DAC. it is powering my porta-pros quite beautifully, definitely worth considering since Asus is giving the $30 rebate this April (yes, rebate works in Canada too)
post #7 of 13
You won't need an amp for the U1. It has more than enough power to drive most headphones. I only major problem i find with the U1 is the sound port is slightly inside the case so many plugs won't fit in it. I just used a extension cable to fix this problem.
post #8 of 13
well, I have my K702's coming within a few days, I don't think the U1 is going to be enough by itself
post #9 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by malldian View Post
For $55 I don't know...PROVANTAGE: Asus XONAR_U1/UDM/B/A Xonar 1 USB External Black Audio Card

Do they make reasonably priced usb volume controllers with the same form factor? I remember an expensive griffen one but looking for a cheaper solution.
Why would you need one, given that you can control the volume with the knob right on the U1?
post #10 of 13

WOW! This could solve my problems. Been looking for better audio than my X-Fi Music but I don't feel like coughing up the money for a Essence STX right now. One is a "student" after all. biggrin.gif wink.gif

post #11 of 13

Creative missed their mark years ago. I mean they had many years to fix their buggy drivers which never worked right since Vista came around and they gave their customers the step child treatment by letting them hang. I made the mistake of upgrading from a Creative XtreamMusic to a Fality Pro and it was a slap in the face as it was even worse than the previous card. Even my friends would not take the Fatality off my hands for free after trying it out. Then I invested in a Xonar D1 and was pleasantly surprised as it works, specially with the Unified Drivers. After a dose of Xonar on my desktop I could not bear onboard sound on my laptop and invested in the Xonar U1 and I have to say the headphone amp really kicks it up a notch when used with my Sennheiser HD 380pro. I am begging to hear fine detail never previously noticed. It definetly hits its marks in HiFi mode but that's my personal preference.

post #12 of 13

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by maxpain12 View Post

Creative missed their mark years ago. I mean they had many years to fix their buggy drivers which never worked right since Vista came around and they gave their customers the step child treatment by letting them hang. I made the mistake of upgrading from a Creative XtreamMusic to a Fality Pro and it was a slap in the face as it was even worse than the previous card. Even my friends would not take the Fatality off my hands for free after trying it out. Then I invested in a Xonar D1 and was pleasantly surprised as it works, specially with the Unified Drivers. After a dose of Xonar on my desktop I could not bear onboard sound on my laptop and invested in the Xonar U1 and I have to say the headphone amp really kicks it up a notch when used with my Sennheiser HD 380pro. I am begging to hear fine detail never previously noticed. It definetly hits its marks in HiFi mode but that's my personal preference.

 

Yes, that's why they still manage to make the only soundcards with an actually complete gaming audio feature set, unlike all other (PC) brands like Asus, Realtek, IDT, etc, which have next to no gaming features at all, and the little ones they have are entirely emulated in software, therefore yielding results of far lower quality. And the fact that their flagship device doesn't have any real competition in terms of SQ with the exception of the polar opposite signature Essence STX, I don't really see where you're going with that line of thought. Now, customer support is an entirely different matter, something that Creative should indeed improve significantly. 3rd party cards that licensed the X-Fi DSP chip are also a viable option if the user can't stretch his budget up to flagship models, and if people do proper driver installation according to Creative's procedures, along with the mandatory mode switching for adequate uses, there are next to no issues on the software side.

 

Regardless, both popular consumer products (namely, Asus Xonar U1 and Creative X-Fi Go!) on that price segment do their job quite well, with the main differences going from SQ, headphone driving capabilities and features.

post #13 of 13
Quote:

Yes, that's why they still manage to make the only soundcards with an actually complete gaming audio feature set, unlike all other (PC) brands like Asus, Realtek, IDT, etc, which have next to no gaming features at all, and the little ones they have are entirely emulated in software, therefore yielding results of far lower quality. And the fact that their flagship device doesn't have any real competition in terms of SQ with the exception of the polar opposite signature Essence STX, I don't really see where you're going with that line of thought. Now, customer support is an entirely different matter, something that Creative should indeed improve significantly. 3rd party cards that licensed the X-Fi DSP chip are also a viable option if the user can't stretch his budget up to flagship models, and if people do proper driver installation according to Creative's procedures, along with the mandatory mode switching for adequate uses, there are next to no issues on the software side.

 

Regardless, both popular consumer products (namely, Asus Xonar U1 and Creative X-Fi Go!) on that price segment do their job quite well, with the main differences going from SQ, headphone driving capabilities and features.

 

 

Yes the hardware on the creative cards are built for gaming and it does have the best performance for it as well. But in case you did not notice, after Windows Vista came how bad the drivers have been. What good does all the gaming potential have when the drivers constantly uninstall themselves and break? Maybe you are one of the lucky ones to not have issues under Vista and Windows seven but if you look around the web you will find a lot of flame about this. Windows XP is Creative cards strong point; so unless you want to stick to XP it does not work as advertised (Advertised to work with Vista and Win7 in the case of the Fatality Pro). Secondly most computers over the last seven years have great processing power and you don't need hardware acceleration as the load on the CPU is negligible. I have had the Creative XtreamMusic and Titanium Fetality Pro which both ended up being paper weights as the drivers under Windows 7 just refused to work properly. Over 3 years I waited so as many people did and Creative did nothing to fix the issue. Oh they released a module that would stop the driver un-installation but it did little to solve the issue. Either their hardware can't be made to work with the new windows audio architecture or simply they did not care. I don't know what you are talking about proper driver installation; there is no proper driver installation other than running it as administer and making sure the security software does not interfere. A installed driver is supposed to stay that way not unload itself; no way can this be attributed to user error. Just look it up on the web as so many have this issue. Asus Xonar D1 audio effects while not as good as Creative works with the unified driver. You should seriously do some research before you claim Creative is in the right. They may have got it right with their new line of cards but after wasting my money all those years I will not be buying them just for the sake of an additional frame I may gain from hardware acceleration. Volumes can be written on Creative pioneering efforts to create better audio when you consider a historical stand point. But in the current context their are several points to take in to consideration.

 

1. The majority of games released over the last three years do not use Creatives proprietary technologies. Thus most of these titles off load processing to the CPU regardless. 

2. The sound quality of the sound card is attributed to the quality of the DAC's and OPamp. The cards audio processor does not affect the quality unless you have a machine that is over ten years old then you will notice hardware acceleration helping out.

3. Creative capitalized on the lack of quality audio effects in early days; however now development has advanced to a point that publishers no longer need to rely on creative proprietary tech. Many of the same effects can be reliably emulated using the current windows audio architecture in software with minimal load on cpu.

 

Taking the above points into consideration. Creatives merits must be scrutinized.


Edited by maxpain12 - 5/26/12 at 8:35pm
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Computer Audio

Gear mentioned in this thread:

Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Computer Audio › Asus Xonar U1 – My thoughts