The inclusion of integrated audio solutions on every motherboard pushed discrete audio solutions into the luxury purchase market. So why do people still purchase them? Today, we are going to look at the Asus Xonar DG 5.1 PCI Audio Card which is a very affordable entry level discrete audio solution. The Xonar DG is priced well below many competitive solutions that we are used to seeing from the likes of Creative Labs and even their own Xonar line. In this review we'll see if this audio card is better than the built in audio solutions on motherboards today, and most importantly, whether spending the extra few dollars is worth it.
Features and Specifications
Unique to the Xonar DG among Asus audio cards is the C-Media CMI8786 HD Sound Processor (Max. 96KHz/24-bit) instead of the Asus AV series of audio processors. C-Media's audio chips are found in many HT branded sound devices as well as ASUS' entire line up of Xonar products. Other devices that also use C-Media solutions are various 5.1 headsets that have built in USB audio. Clearly this is a name that isn't new to PC audio.
Also unique to the Xonar DG is a built-in headphone amplifier which supports up to 150 Ohms of impedance. This is important if you are using high end gaming headsets like the Sennheiser PC350 which require 150 Ohms of impedance to drive them and who falter on motherboard solutions that are unable to supply enough juice to drive them. You can manually control the headphone output with three different gain modes built into the software (16-32 ohms, 32-64 ohms and 64-150 ohms), allowing you to select the right impedance for the headphones or headset that you are using. There is also Dolby headphone support which gives you a simulated 3D audio experience. This is similar to the functionality offered in their high end ASUS Essence STX but at a much more affordable price. More specifications can be found at the manufactures website here.
The Asus Xonar DG 5.1 PCI card can be found for $22.99 to $34.99 (with a $10 Mail-in Rebate) depending on where you buy. I easily found the Xonar DG available at several sites including the usual suspects. If you shop around and include the $10 rebate, you could get this audio card for only $12 making it almost an impulse buy.
What's in the Box?
The Xonar DG arrived in a very well constructed box, much more durable than I expected. The first thing you find when you open the box is the audio card itself in an anti-static bag. The Quick Start Guide, low-profile bracket, and Driver CD are underneath the audio card's tray. The low-profile bracket is in a small ziplock back with the very small screws needed to attach it to the card's main board. I consider these a bonus as the screws on the standard bracket can be reused.
While the CD is useful for a quick setup, it is a good idea to check the manufacturer's website for the latest drivers. In fact, one of the updates to the boxed CD corrects an issue with Skype crashing the instant the audio device is accessed plus other improvements. If you do not have access to the Internet, the drivers on the CD worked great for everything I tested but Skype.
The Low-profile bracket is a welcome addition with any audio card. It allows the end user to replace the standard brace with this one so the audio device can be used with SFF (Small Form Factor) cases or low profile HTPC cases. This is great for systems that power a 5.1 home theater system or portable systems used at LAN parties with quality headsets.