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Xonar U7 - 7.1 USB-Soundkarte

  1. pietcux
    Phantastic external PC solution with 192/24 capability for music and Dolby Home Theater V4 for movies and gaming
    Written by pietcux
    Published Jun 17, 2013
    Pros - Very affordable Jack of all trades for PC and Laptop with no compromises regarding sound quality ; needs no additional power only USB
    Cons - see non
    A few years ago I was a big fan of the Shuttle Barebone SFF PCs for LAN party gaming. I also was a big fan of surround audio for gaming. I had a soundblaster that days. But the graphics cards grew bigger and bigger and suddenly there was no space left for an internal soundcard and the onboard sound that Shuttle provided was kinda meh.... it was then when Asus decided to enter the game of PC sound with its Xonar line. Luckily for me they came with an external solution in form of the Xonar USB or later called U1. This small device was my little sound magician for some years. But someday the grafic cards like the Radeon HD 5700 just needed too much power from the little Shuttle barebone and also the heat inside the box increased so much that I needed a big PC box again. Inside this one the Xonar STX found its place. It was a better solution for music and a slightly better solution for gaming and movies over the Xonar USB. But the Big PC was sold with the STX and I went for a gaming laptop with my Xonar USB again. As I said good for gaming and video, but definitely not audiophile regarding music reproduction. But it is a very small device. I loved Dolby headphone on both the STX and the U1/USB but never for music.
    Now ASUS comes with a feture and hardware packed device that has all I need (external and audiophile) but with Dolby Home Theater v4 instead my beloved Dolby headphone. The DHT v4 has been said to be not on par with DH for positional cues in FPS gaming. Oh oh, that is not good for me ... Wrote a mail to Dolby customer service and got a good response:

    Here is my request:

    As a long time user of Dolby Headphone technology from Asus Xonar soundcards, I am concerned that the new Dolby® Home Theater v4 headphone implementation found on the Xonar U7 might be inferior to the classical Dolby Headphone. Please clarify that for me.

    Here is the answer I got fro Dolby:

    Hi Peter-

    I apologize for the delay in responding to your email, the team was attending E3 last week. The algorithms between Dolby Headphone and Dolby Home Theater v4 for headphone virtualization are the same, so there shouldn’t be any difference. You may be hearing a difference because DHT v4 features things like volume leveling, dialogue enhancement, etc.

    I hope this helps.

    The Dolby Game Team

    I had the Asus Xonar U7 on hand some days before I got this response, so I knew already that this was true. The device is a pretty good DAC, a decent headphone amp and a powerfull virtual surround device for headphones. Beside that it can run your 7.1 home theater system with ease and also simulate 7.1 on two speakers. But I am only using the headphone part of this.

    •]Disclaimer: All of the statements I make are only for headphone use.Headphones used: Ultrasone Signature PRO / DJ AKG K 702. OS : Windows 7 64 bit
    •I had the Xonar STX before still have the Xonar U1/ USB.
    •for me the external USB card is better because I have two PCs to use the card for gaming. A classic PC and a good gaming laptop.
    •It is the best sounding sound card I had so far. For me even better than the STX.
    •it has no audible hiss and seems to be absolute neutral to me.
    •it has a very dark background
    •Very good controlled bass.
    •Very good and big sound stage.
    •I use them without the Dolby Theater V4 for my ITunes collection. AAC 320 VBR most. Dolby sounds also well, but it alters the sound signature as expected and I do not prefer that for stereo recordings.
    •For gaming the Dolby standard gaming setting produces a very good surround sound for me, good directional cues in Crysis 3 /COD Black Ops so far.
    •Movies: LOTR DVD version. same as for gaming, very well implemented Dolby Theater V4.

    Had some hassle on driver installation. The driver on the CD that came with the U7 did not install the Dolby feature at all. Downloaded the only available beta driver from ASUS and all was fine Dolby was available.

    In other words:

    Highly Recommended.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. EnemyAce
      Since your review, have you used your Xonar U1 at all with Windows 8.1 by chance?
      EnemyAce, Jan 26, 2015
    3. ShaqRay
      What are the differences between Movie and Music mode?
      ShaqRay, Feb 21, 2015
    4. AtrafCreez
      I am so sorry that I bought the ASUS Xonar.  The dolby worked until I had to re-install Windows 7 one time. Not only did I spend about 100 hours online (if not more) trying to find a way to fix that, but it messed up my whole sound system.
      AtrafCreez, Sep 29, 2015
  2. pcharouz
    Best external sound card for the masses?
    Written by pcharouz
    Published Jun 24, 2013
    Pros - Audio quality, build quality, software, versatility, price
    Cons - not as powerfull as the xonar essense soundcards, more mainstream target
    the worksmanship is great, feels much less plasticky than i would have thought. 
    I pluging it straight into the usb on my win 8 64bit desktop, the card lit up and started working within seconds, hovewer when i tried to manually install all the software/drivers, it said it did not recognize my asus xonar u7?!? after 15mins, i have discovered that the USB switch was set to 1.1. Set it to 2.0 and everything was fine! Installed, restarted and started listening...
    Bear in mind that i never had a dedicaded headphone amp, i plugged in my v-moda m80, and started listening to some Infected Mushroom- Im The Supervisor, Kanye West -Yeezus, and some oldies; all in Flac. The first thing that i noticed was that that i could set the volume to max without getting unconfortable, Isnt the "Headphone Amp" supposed to make em louder? So i checked the setting and under headphone settings (u have to right click on the headphones, took me quite a while :D) the are 3 Gain settings
    Low Gain (-12db for <32 ohms)
    Medium Gain (-6db for 32-64ohms)
    High Gain (0db for >64ohms)
    Hovewer this was already set at max gain, i set it to medium for the v-modas, and for me 90% volume was ok (75% on low gain on my shure e500). This leads me to conclude that the headphone amp is not all that powerfull, since both these should be easily drivable... howerver it is much better with either mp3's or volume equilizer on in the dolby center, 50% volume now on low gain
    from asus.com, "Headphone : 1.3 Vrms (3.677 Vp-p)"  Does this number sound about right? (I have no idea)
    A pleasant suprise was that there is ABSOLUTELLY no noise at any volume/gain on my shure e500.
    Bear in mind that i am not an audiophile, i just enjoy listening to music, i have found that i can hear more of the low-low frequencies, and very high as well than from my onboard sound, I have no problem with the sound this card makes, but i would rather leave this on someone with more experience, and better equipment... I quite like the software, and the surround features, and inteligent equilizer(on-the-fly equalizing, leveling volume) work quite nice, without overly changing the music. For example there is a Eq present to open up soundstage/frequency response.
    1. deanorthk
      is there anyway that you could check if if you output the dolby headphone features through the analog output in front of the car (to send the signal to an headphone amp for example, and retain the dolby surround headphone feature)?
      deanorthk, Jul 4, 2013
  3. Kitmellow
    Almost! But Maybe Not Quite
    Written by Kitmellow
    Published Mar 5, 2016
    Pros - Good size, laptop-portable, thick lush/sweet mids, warmer overall tone, fully fleshed-out bass range (no roll-off), good measurements in general
    Cons - Will not work plug 'n' play, overly smooth sound, lacks quickness texture and bite in treble and bass regions, minor front headphone jack annoyances
    Edit: It has come to my attention that this review was tested with a poorly performing newer official Asus Driver and therefore, the performance of the U7 here is not representative. I am confirming improved performance using a legacy WHQL certified driver. For any future readers, please consider this review invalid until further revision.
    Kit Impressions: Asus Xonar U7 7.1 USB Soundcard - March 4, 2016  [​IMG]
    DSC05734.jpg asus_xonar_u7_matsau_zps42ef73c8.jpg
    Soundcards have always been an intriguing thing. Many people argue that DAC/AMPs are better value in terms of pure sound quality. But it's generally all the bells and whistles and plethora of features and software features, that attract people to buy these soundcards. Whether this means 7.1 surround, virtual surround for gaming or something as simple as desiring a 10-band equalizer or even something like karaoke pitch changing for flexibility of sound.
    If being able to "customize" your listening experience beyond being limited only to the signature of your headphones/earphones, DAC and AMP are the main features, these USB powered portable ones shine even more with their ability to be operated outside of PC internal noise and flexibility to be carried around some what like a laptop-portable DAC/AMP. This makes it easy for someone to get consistent sound quality using their PC at home and bringing it around with their laptop to work, especially if you are a musician or producer switching between machines but want consistent sound quality.
    1. Audio Interface USB 2.0 high-speed/ USB 1.0 for playback
    2. Audio Performance Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):
      114 dB
      Input Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted) :
      110 dB
      Output THD+N at 1kHz (Front-out) :
      >0.0006 %(104 dB)
      Frequency Response (-3dB, 24bit/96KHz input) :
      10 Hz to 46 KHz
      Output/Input Full-Scale Voltage :
      Line output (RCA, 3.5) : 1 Vrms (2.828 Vp-p)
      Headphone output : 1.3 Vrms (3.677 Vp-p)
    3. Chipset Audio Processor :C-Media 6632A High-Performance Sound Processor (Max. 192KHz/24bit)
    4. Digital-to-analog Converter(DAC) Cirrus Logic CS4398 (Front Headphones)
      Cirrus Logic CS4362 (Rear Speakers)
    5. Sample Rate and Resolution Analog Playback Sample Rate and Resolution :
      44.1K/48K/88.2K/96K/176.4K/192KHz @ 16bit/24bit
      Analog Recording Sample Rate and Resolution :
      44.1K/48K/88.2K/96K/176.4K/192KHz @ 16bit/24bit
      S/PDIF Digital Output :
      44.1K/48K/88.2K/96K/176.4K/192KHz @ 16bit/24bit
      ASIO Driver Support :
      44.1K/48K/88.2K/96K/176.4K/192KHz @ 16bit/24bit
    6. Connectivity Analog Output 
      4 x 3.5 mm jack (1/8") (Headphone out /Side out/Center-Subwoofer out/Rear out)
      2 x RCA (Un-Balanced) 
      Analog Input 
      1 x 3.5 mm jack (1/8") (Line-in/ Mic-in combo)
      1 x S/PDIF out (1 x Coaxial)
    7. Special Features Dolby® Technologies : Dolby® Home Theater v4
    8. Operating System Windows® 8 , 32bit/64bit
      Windows® 7 , 32bit/64bit
      Windows® XP , 32bit/64bit
      Mac OS X *
    9. Accessories S/PDIF adapter x 1
      USB cable x 1
      Driver CD x 1
      User manual x 1
    10. Dimensions 130 x 80 x 25 mm ( L x W x H )
    Build Quality:
    The unit appears to be mostly well built and solid with a fairly stylish gold accent "trim". On the inside there are no obvious signs of sloppy or poor soldering and such, according to many other sources.
    The U7 does not look to have any kind of EMI shielding or barrier in between the enclosure to minimize electromagnetic interference, which is still fair considering this is an external card to begin with. The separated board on the Headphone and Microphone/Line is an interesting decision that should help with EMI from the main board itself to some degree.
    11.jpg 12.jpg
    Methodology & Setup:
    Firstly, I don't have much experience in DAC/AMP combos, however as some might already know, this U7 is not plug and play at all and will not work without downloading and installing the drivers from Asus support. On the bright side, once installed it will work immediately with full functionality even without a reboot... although I would still recommend doing so to prevent weird driver issues.
    And to note, since the physical volume controls of the mic gain, and massive gain knob are tied to Windows, you will also need to have the HID service enabled within Windows for the physical volume functionality to work, otherwise it wont do anything no matter how many RPMs you spin the knob around. [​IMG] 

    Everything was tested on a Windows 7 64-bit desktop PC through the U7's Headphone output exclusively, which is driven by the Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC and the rear speakers I have not tested, by the Cirrus Logic CS4362.
    So far, I have not experienced major problems with the drivers or anything. There are some annoying bits here and there regarding plugging in and removing headphones on the front jack.
    For example, every time something is detected to be plugged in the front headphone jack, the U7 switches from the default speaker output to the headphone output and it immediately defaults back to speaker when unplugged even when no speakers are plugged into the rear RCA, SPDIF or 5.1/7.1 outputs.
    This would normally not be a problem, however when you are playing any kind of audio when this happens, the drivers tend to temporarily "reset" or "forget" your impedance gain settings you defined by clicking the downward orange arrow in the driver panel headphone tab and will require you to pause or stop the audio playing to fix itself otherwise the audio might sound too quiet. Even worse, if you are watching a YouTube video and you unplug your headphones, YouTube's player will stop working and require a page refresh.
    All of these are not deal breakers, but can make certain tasks like A-B testing (swapping out headphones) difficult and somewhat tedious. [​IMG]
    As with being a soundcard, we also get some nice flexible features like the 10-band equalizer and other arguably less useful effects. You can generally expect that the features all in all don't feel like it's missing anything with the small exception of Karaoke Key/Pitch Shifting, which was present in my older Xonar DSX.
    What was quite amusing in moderate doses was playing around with the Dolby surround feature plugin at the bottom of the driver panel, as it was in my opinion a more effective and engaging surround emulation than the default surround. The intelligent Equalizer on the Dolby panel was quite interesting too and offers somewhat more of a dynamic listening experience that's different than using a static equalizer setting. Sadly, you cannot customize the sound signature of the dynamic equalizer and can only pick from one of the 6 presets.
    Even though the effects are often overkill [​IMG] they are still great to experiment with even if you generally like leaving everything turned off for a more pure listening experience like me.
    DAC & AMP Sound:
    Overall I can confidently say that this is one of Asus's more warmer/fuller/smoother sounding Xonar products, packing a fairly balanced sound at the same time. While the Xonar line is generally known for their value and neutrality in terms of sound, the U7 strikes me as sounding almost completely different than the Xonar DSX PCIE soundcard that I currently own.
    For my personal tastes, I found that across the general frequency band that there was a certain lack of detail that seemed to be slightly veiled by the smoother signature. Where the smoother sound of the U7 sounds great to make the mid frequencies lush and sweet, the treble lacks the bite and convincing ring of live plucked string instruments and the bass seemed to lack speed and texture, although it is arguably one of the most extensive bass I have ever heard, capable of all the way down to 10hz and below! [​IMG]
    This may be great for some people but, for others like me might prefer bass quality over quantity and even extension.
    The amplifier, although not listed by Asus in the specifications, appears to use the Texas Instruments LME49726 dual channel operational amplifier. The U7 overall musters quite respectable a performance considering the USB driven power, driving my 60 ohm 105db SPL/mW earphones rather loudly even at 30% volume in Windows. Theoretically, the amp should have enough power to drive headphones up to 150 ohms. Unfortunately I do not have any proper high impedance headphones to test that theory at the moment.
    One thing that is very important to note however, is that if your plugged in headphones sound too quiet, you should check the aforementioned gain limit setting by clicking the little downward-facing orange arrow in the driver panel headphone tab, a drop-down menu should allow you to select between a high, medium, or low impedance setting. There is no reason to put it on anything other than high impedance for maximum potential from the amplifier and forget about it, unless you are concerned that you might push 100% volume by accident and blow your ears out! [​IMG]
    I've tried plugging in the U7 to different USB ports on my motherboard and tried the U7 with multiple IEMs and even a pair of 8 ohms speakers plugged into the same 3.5mm headphone jack and the overall consensus of the sound seemed fairly consistent. At first I was suspecting the output impedance of the headphone out was too high and caused looser bass performance through less damping giving a warmer overall signature, but I was not very sure until I ran a full volume RightMark Audio Analyzer for some simple loopback testing. Here are the results of the U7 (the first 4 slots) compared next to my Asus Xonar DSX:
    No clipping occurred according to RMAA and for reference, the top 4 graphs represent the U7's frequency response performance at 44.1k, 48k, 96k and 192k. The side and bottom graphs are taken from the 48k results which were the card's best overall configuration/results.
    Where the numbers may seem fine and even great for the most part aside from the rather below average IMD + noise %, the graphs can really tell a tale of what's going on sonically.
    Although I cannot expect the output impedance of the U7 to be much lower than 10-20 ohms which is often the typical amount for these USB powered DAC/AMP/Soundcards, I doubt that's been causing the warmer signature by itself. You can evidently tell the slight dip in the low frequencies is where cheaper DACs or AMPs often tend to cut corners and roll off the bass, the U7 seems to overcompensate for this on the other end (which is still a lot better than rolling it off completely) by boosting the 50hz area and below significantly.
    From the THD and IMD charts you can also tell that the lower frequencies also share the same boost and higher distortion further contributing to the signature tilting of the sound.
    The bottom right corner shows alarmingly massive THD levels of distortion at the 192k testing, which is rather an unusable band if RMAA is telling the truth! However this distortion is also suspiciously present in my Xonar DSX results which could even mean a common issue with both of the card's line in. [​IMG]
    By comparison these are the DSX's graphs:
    Know that however, all of this RMAA testing is subject to and limited to the quality of the line input for the recording and also, since this was tested as a loop without a proper load, the results are not completely representative and are only a glimpse or better understanding of "why something might sound like it does." [​IMG]
    Conclusion & Value:
    I feel like the Xonar U7 is a fair proposition of size, decent portability (if you want to bring it around with your laptop), and it is very liberating to be able to get away from using a soundcard inside the noisy environment of your PC. And especially if your soundcard is slotted above a noisy buzzing and/or power hungry graphics card under load. The results of the Xonar U7 measured about a 10db improvement across the noise levels, dynamic range, and stereo crosstalk to my Xonar DSX too.
    I will say one thing: sound is subjective and "in the eye of the beholder". The Xonar U7 is superior in the numbers overall but sound characteristic-wise the increased overall distortion in the bass region may be one of the many factors that made the signature to be a little too warm and thick for my personal tastes and a little lacking in treble quality. In comparison my DSX, even though measured overall worse sounded more clear, thin, transparent and analytical... especially in the highs. Or perhaps I am just used to that sound now.
    Any way you put it, there's not many of these types of products, and the U7 could represent good value for those who are looking for a flexible/multipurpose DAC with integrated amp, specific features to use on their PC and as well, elsewhere like their own laptops. More and more products are starting to saturate this USB soundcard/DAC/AMP area in the times of still not-so-good onboard audio of laptops and even in those classified as "Ultrabooks". Only time will tell if the Xonar U7 is truly good value in the face of competition.
    But that's just my thoughts. Happy listening! [​IMG] 
      raoultrifan and HiFiChris like this.
    1. Xtreme512
      You are using very bad driver/software suite for this card. Please check the forums.
      Xtreme512, Mar 5, 2016
    2. Kitmellow
      :) Thanks, I have posted an update in the Xonar U7 impressions thread just now using the older certified WHQL driver. Need to revise this review...
      But it's not like it's untrue haha
      I expect many people who get this card or don't know about this issue might install or update to the latest drivers regardless, causing crummy sound that's perceived to be the best performance for this card.
      And it's not like the driver was a beta one either. The Sonic Studio Pro interface is more attractive than this older driver after all. :p
      Kitmellow, Mar 6, 2016
    3. Xtreme512
      Yes thats why we have to spread it and warn people and hope that they will see this.
      Besides having the best possible sound quality for this device, "old" whql non-echelon version driver suite has more features than the newest drivers with Sonic Studio Pro UI.
      So this is one thing and liking the usability and attractiveness of the UI is another thing. Which to me, I like the old UI better. Its much more convenient to me.
      Xtreme512, Mar 6, 2016