Asus Xonar DG review
The Xonar DG is the cheapest PCI sound card Asus has ever released, but it still has 5.1 analogue surround sound, a mic/line in port, a dedicated S/PDIF output and variable impedance settings so you can optimise the card's analogue stereo output for different types of headphone. The card comes on a full-sized backplate, but an alternative low-profile backplate is provided - handy if you want to use it in a compact media centre PC.
Asus has cut costs in a few places, though. The Xonar DG uses a C-Media Oxygen HD CMI8786 High-Definition audio processor, a close relation of the CMI8788 processor that appears, rebadged, on Asus's more expensive sound cards. However, the CMI8786 has a lower specification, with a maximum sample rate of 96KHz/24-bit for playback and 48KHz/24-bit recording, compared to the 192KHz/24-bit playback and 96KHz/24-bit recording we've seen from Xonar cards using the CMI8788.
The card currently lacks a low-latency ASIO driver, usually used for audio production. One is in development, but even when it's done, the DG won’t be a musician's top choice. The maximum sample rate of 96KHz/24-bit makes it unsuitable if you're into audio production, and such users shouldn’t consider buying this card.
For most, however, it makes little practical difference. None of the things you'll generally listen to - MP3s, CDs, film and game soundtracks - are likely to use anything other than the standard sample rates of 44.1KHz or 48KHz. Blu-ray audio has a native sample rate of up to 192KHz, but only sound devices that support Protected Audio Path can take advantage of it - the DG isn't such a device
Although the DG lacks the high-end op-amps and DACs used by more expensive cards; its audio quality is still impressive. It’s good enough to ensure that your choice of headphones and speakers will still be the essential one in ensuring your enjoyment of music.
We were perfectly happy with quality of the card's output on all kinds of audio tracks, from dance music and death metal to orchestral symphonies and spoken word. It's also an excellent gaming card, with a solid enough bass to give explosions the kind of reverberating oomph we like to hear. Even if improving your audio quality is of no consequence to you, it's worth noting that several recent games have had issues with the drivers for several popular on-board audio devices, a problem which has not affected the reassuringly stable Xonar drivers.
The driver also provides features such as Dolby Headphone virtual surround-sound, environmental audio for games (including emulated support for Creative's depreciated EAX 5.0 standard) and vocal effects that you can apply to voice chat.
However, although the Xonar DG is a good sound card, Asus's own superior Xonar DS costs only £34 from www.ilgs.co.uk. It too is a PCI card, but has 7.1 analogue surround sound, a replaceable op-amp and a more powerful audio processor, providing a sample rate of 192KHz. Making it better value for money.