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Back to the Future: Asustek Wants Audio Cards to Return

Back in the mid-1990s an audio card was as desired as a high-performance graphics card today, as it enhanced computer experience very significantly. Nowadays the absolute majority of the market uses built-in audio solutions, which are of pretty high quality nowadays, whereas the market of discrete sound cards has been declining for several years now.

Asus Xonar D2 audio card for PCI bus. Click to enlarge

But Asustek Computer, the world’s No.1 producer of mainboards that all have integrated audio capabilities, thinks there is still a market for high-quality sound cards for gamers. At CeBIT the company introduced two new 7.1-channel audio cards: the Xonar D2 (for PCI) and the Xonar D2X (for PCI Express x1), which are based on the chip labelled as “Asus HD audio processing unit AV200”.

Asus Xonar D2X audio card for PCI Express x1 bus. Click to enlarge

Asus promises to support a number of advanced technologies, with its Xonar, including such as Dolby Pro Logic IIx, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby Digital Live, DTS Connect, DTS Interactive, DTS Neo: PC and so on. According to Asustek, the Xonar D2-series will feature impressive 118dB playback and 115dB recording sound to noise ratio, which indicates that the company uses pretty high-quality components with the new audio boards.

Asus Xonar D2 audio card for PCI bus without metal enclosure. Click to enlarge

Since Asustek does not design audio processors, it is pretty logical to assume that the company purchases its 192KHz/24-bit audio chips from third-party developer, such as Analog Devices, C-Media, Via Technologies and so on. The chip on the Xonar D2 is marked as ML86G.06 0651-GS, while the one used by Razer’s Barracuda AC-1 audio card is marked as ML86G.02, which means that the actual chips (based on the specs, it may be C-Media Oxygen HD CMI8788 or something from Analog Devices/SoundMax [which is doubtful, as SoundMax supports Sensaura3D a technology not declared by Asus]) used on both audio card come from the same developer.

Asus wants to compete against Creative Technology’s X-Fi offerings with its Xonar D2-series. However, given that Creative X-Fi will soon be available as an integrated audio chip on mainboards (see our next section for details), while the market of discrete sound cards is continuing to shrink, market prospects of new standalone boards from Asus, Razer and others are uncertain. Clearly, some customers will get them, but reaching the mainstream market may be tricky.

It should be kept in mind that to experience a modern high-end audio card, end-users need to have advanced speaker systems as well, which are not really affordable. Given that a proper audio card costs $200 and a quality speaker system is priced at $300+, a more or less sophisticated PC sound system ends up at over $500+, a price-point for a high-end graphics card that increases experience much better than audio.

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