ASUS Xonar DX sound card

I wanted to upgrade from my motherboard’s built-in sound, but most sound cards seem aimed at gamers or HTPC set ups.  I was looking for something a bit different: good sound from good DACs to my powered speakers.  Not surround sound or anything fancy, just stereo speakers and headphones at times.  I didn’t need audiophile-level equipment, but I wanted quality components.  The ASUS Xonar soundcard line gets good reviews, especially running under Linux.  There were a lot of negative comments about Creative Labs, some very passionate, especially about their support for Linux.

There are also sound cards from M-Audio, who make the powered speakers I use, and from Auzentech.  But the ASUS Xonars seemed like a good safe choice.

After some research I settled on a Xonar DX for about $75. It worked out great for me and I love the way it sounds.  It installed easily; the only catch is you need power from a floppy drive controller, but even that was simple.  Ubuntu 10.04 recognized it immediately, although the less said about PulseAudio the better.  The card would have been cheaper if I hadn’t screwed up the intentionally-complicated refund process.

There’s also a D1 which seems similar to the DX except that it is PCI instead of PCI-Express.   I have both slots available but went for the DX since it seems a bit newer.  The top of the line is the Xonar Essence STX, which is known to work under Ubuntu; it retails for around $185.  It has the same audio processor as my board, but better DACs and a dedicated headphone amp.  It has, I’m told, excellent specs.  I also like that it has ‘real’ RCA jacks, which my DX lacks.  I think if you’re really into sound the STX would be a worthwhile investment; my guess is that you’d get four-fifths the quality of a much more expensive stand-alone DAC for that $185.  But audiophiles are strange that way — the last fifth is apparently worth a lot of money.

There are a bunch of other Xonars, too:

  • DS, which is half the price and — by its specs — inferior to the DX.
  • D2 for $160 that’s known to work under Ubuntu
  • D2X, which I think is the PCI-E version of the D2
  • HDAV Deluxe for $380 (full name, if you’re still following along: ASUS Xonar HDAV Deluxe)
  • HDAV Slim for $140, which seems well suited for HTPCs

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