Print 14 comment(s) - last by drakanious.. on Oct 10 at 3:00 PM

ASUS Xonar U1  (Source: LaptopLogic)
ASUS Xonar U1 improves sound for notebooks and PCs

It’s almost a universal given with a notebook that the sound quality isn’t that great. Some gaming and high-end notebooks have decent sound quality, but for the most part bass is anemic and notebook speakers almost seem like an afterthought.

Earlier this year, ASUS debuted its external video card system for notebook computers and now it has a new external notebook audio processor called the Xonar U1. The Xonar U1 isn’t only for notebooks, however. If you have a desktop PC and don’t want to open the machine up to install a sound card or are running dual graphics cards and just don’t have the room inside your chassis for a sound card, the Xonar U1 is a viable option.

Laptop Logic claims the Xonar U1 uses high-quality digital to analog convertors for crisp and clear music, games and movies. Gamers will like the fact that it supports EAX and DirectSound HW acceleration for gaming in Windows Vista and XP.

A headphone amplifier is built-in and other system specs include 96dB SNR and a frequency response of 20~20KHz at 32 ohms. ASUS claims the device can convert stereo audio to 5.1 virtual surround sound to give gamers positional audio cues. This sort of thing has been claimed before, but is rarely pulled off well.

An array microphone is bundled with the Xonar U1 and those wanting real surround sound will appreciate the SPDIF output with Dolby Digital Encoding. ASUS declined to comment on pricing or availability details. DailyTech has covered internal PCI Express x1 versions of the Xonar sound card before. At Computex ASUS also revealed the internal Xonar version would have a custom sound processor.

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By h0kiez on 10/9/2007 4:11:08 PM , Rating: 3
I'm guessing if you bought one of their external video cards, and then you buy this external audio processor, you probably shoud've just bought a damn desktop.

RE: .
By Parhel on 10/9/2007 4:55:38 PM , Rating: 2
Maybe if these are successful, they will introduce something containing both video and audio in a single package.

That would be a neat, but expensive, product.

RE: .
By Polynikes on 10/9/2007 6:09:44 PM , Rating: 3
I concur. Trying to get a laptop up to desktop performance standards means a lot more stuff must be connected to it; an external audio processor, video card, docking station... And you still have a small screen. Rather pointless, IMO.

Don't like the sound quality of your laptop speakers? Get a decent pair of headphones.

RE: .
By Omega215D on 10/10/2007 2:06:47 AM , Rating: 3
Then again you could have those external hookups for home and then when you take your notebook out, say for work, then you probably don't need to worry about battery life and such.

RE: .
By Wolfpup on 10/10/2007 10:56:36 AM , Rating: 2
First, many people need a laptop for various reasons rather than a desktop, but still want good gaming performance.

Second, you don't need an external video card to get good gaming performance, and to date, no one actually makes an external video card. Asus' product is still vaperware AFAIK. (And I'm not really clear on why it would be THAT expensive, given that it's basically just an adapter to convert an Expresscard slot (PCIe 1x I think) to a regular x16 slot plus a power supply and case. Seems like $200-300 ought to cover that (if not less).

Third, a pair of headphones may do nothing to fix audio quality on some notebooks if the analog portion of the audio system is junk (as it is on the Dell notebooks I've heard). This product, and Creative's Express Card X-Fi both solve that by REPLACING the whole audio system, including the analog stuff.

I'd assume Creative's product would be the better buy just because it's connected through basically a PCIe connection rather than USB, but it's really great products like this are available. Makes you not have to worry about junky notebook audio (I wouldn't want to listen to a DVD on the Dell system's I've heard, so it's not just a game issue).

By CRimer76 on 10/9/2007 4:13:57 PM , Rating: 4
It looks like an air freshener. I might check out the English garden version.

RE: Neat
By onelittleindian on 10/9/2007 4:17:25 PM , Rating: 2
Changing the scent package is too much trouble though.

"Uses high-quality digital to analog convertors"
By ViRGE on 10/9/2007 5:06:24 PM , Rating: 2
While I'm sure the DACs they're using are better than what's in most laptops, I wouldn't call a 96dB SNR to be high quality. The Creative hasn't shipped a sound card with that level of a SNR since the Live series; it's customary for a PC audio part to have at least a 100dB SNR these days.

Admittedly I'm arguing over a few dBs, but it does make a difference. A high end part especially (like this article is claiming it is) should be even higher than 100dB; 106dB or so would be the floor for that class of product.

By drakanious on 10/10/2007 3:00:39 PM , Rating: 2
Well, sound intensity is logarithmic, so the difference between 96dB and 106dB is double sound intensity (96dB SNR would be twice as much noise as 106).

I agree, 100+ is preferable.

By josebl on 10/9/2007 5:56:22 PM , Rating: 2
The SNR of the X-Fi card I own...well, I don't know because it's sitting in the closet. It's the only component that continually BSOD'd Vista. Searched for a solution...well, misery loves company...except the company that can't/won't write drivers to support their hardware.

I mention this, because it's nice to see Asus and Auzentech making moves in the sound card market. A little shake up will hopefully increase manufacturer responsiveness overall.

Until then I'm stuck with the crab for PC audio processing :(

RE: DAC...ugh
By Blight AC on 10/10/2007 9:27:12 AM , Rating: 2
X-Fi BSOD's on you in Vista? I'm a bit surpised, Creative, IMO, has been doing a better then expected job of driver support for Vista (but consider expectations are pretty low). They had a pretty stable driver available in March, and somewhat recently released a better driver. Audio issues that I had in Vista are pretty much gone, that is to say, it's working at least as well as it did in WinXP.

The only audio issues I've had with X-Fi and Vista are crackles when playing iTunes or music (mainly when CPU usage was high and it seems fixed with the latest drivers) and complete, random system lockup when playing Tabula Rasa beta (again fixed with the latest drivers). That and EAX not working properly, but, that seems to be standard fare regardless of OS. However, with the ALchemy, at least EAX is supported and running at least as well as it did in XP.

Either way though.. I'd still like to see a good competitor to Creative. I was happy with the SoundStorm offered on nVidia's nForce 2 platform, I was really hoping that nVidia would develop that. They could do the same thing they do with video, design and support the chipset and let others sell the end product.

Course.. I think the main issue is EAX is well supported in games for 3D audio and audio effects. For a competitor to enter the market, they'd have to pay Creative for the rights to use EAX (which I think is a bad route) or design their own 3D audio and get the game developers to support it, which would be an uphill battle.

However, nVidia has the clout among game developers, I think they have as good a chance as any to get it done.

What the...
By Inkjammer on 10/9/2007 6:42:31 PM , Rating: 3
It looks like a Glade air freshener and a Roomba got together for a steamy night on the town and this is the resulting illegitimate byproduct.

Plug it in, plug it in!

The Xonar D2 was a bad idea...
By HaZaRd2K6 on 10/9/2007 11:20:25 PM , Rating: 3
And this isn't any better. It looks like a Roomba designer went mad and shrunk them all. If they can price it under $60CDN then it might work (SB Live! external kits will run you about the same and they have a much lengthier lineage and a better reputation). The Xonar D2 will run you almost $200CDN, which for that price will buy you an Auzentech X-Fi Prelude. And yeah, it's got some cool features (the LED-lit audio jacks could be helpful when trying to plug stuff in in the dark--although I don't usually plug in my speakers with my PC on) but I mean, an EMI shield really is quite useless.

I think ASUS has some good products, but they really need to think about where they're targeting them. Targeting a first- or second-generation audio card at the high end of the market is a bad idea from the get-go.

As an aside, we've had two Xonar D2s sitting on the shelf at work for about 6 weeks now and not one has budged. People pick it up, open the package, see the EMI shield and think it's a video card. The fact that it costs almost $195 can't help much either...

By tayhimself on 10/9/2007 4:38:28 PM , Rating: 2
I recently bought the total bithead (linked below) along with a set of headphones for my desktop for clear sound. I understand that the U1 is marketed towards this sort of product. I would like a comparison of the two, the nicer DACs and lower noise floor outside the case are two reasons that I bought it.

To me the Asus product looks nicer and is cheaper, wonder if it sounds better.

"Game reviewers fought each other to write the most glowing coverage possible for the powerhouse Sony, MS systems. Reviewers flipped coins to see who would review the Nintendo Wii. The losers got stuck with the job." -- Andy Marken
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