Subjective Experience - Audio, DVD, Gaming Quality
For our subjective listening tests, we utilized a set of Logitech X-530 5.1 speakers connected to each sound solution via an analog connection. We ran the system through a variety of different playback scenarios and collected our subjective opinions for each. This is the hardest part of an audio product evaluation It's very much like food, where each person can eat the same dish yet have their own unique feedback on the experience. Regardless, we tried in several usage environments below to best illustrate the overall performance of each audio solution and offer up our objective yet subjective opinion.
To assess audio playback we sampled a broad range of music covering the audio spectrum. We spent several days listening to the likes of John Coltrane and several Latin Jazz collections with lots of distinct highs for sampling. We then shifted focus on Pearl Jam, Radiohead and Audioslave for rock/alternative while ATB and Tiesto allowed us to sample performance with Trance/Dance tracks. In each area we covered, the music with the Xonar D2 was full and crisp with no detectable noise or hiss whatsoever. Whether grooving to Coltrane's Resolution or tripping with Radiohead's Backdrifts, the audio quality didn't disappoint. ATB's Killer pumped out ample, clean bass while highs remained sharp and clean. We have to give credit to the Realtek HD Audio which also sounded quite good as well. Surely those audiophiles with an acute sense for audio quality may pick up on certain nuances better than others, but overall, both the Xonar D2 and Realtek HD Audio playback devices performed well with the Xonar D2 having a mildly noticeable advantage. The older Prodigy 7.1 was decent as well, but simply did not have the same punch in bass or crisp highs as the newer solutions. However, we did like its Four Way Clone option that forces the music through all four satellite speakers.
For DVD playback, we opted to load several intense battle scenes from Steven Speilberg's Band of Brothers. The goal was to play scenes with complete chaos to challenge the positioning of the surround sound system. Whether it was bombs exploding, machine guns firing, gun casings clinking on the ground or armored tanks rolling by, the sound was full, accurate and completely immersive with the Xonar D2. Once again, the Realtek HD Audio did a decent job as well, but the Xonar D2 certainly offered a more full experience. The Prodigy 7.1 solution performed OK for a card of its age, however, we did pick up some minor distortion at higher volume levels and the overall experienced seemed a bit flat in comparison to the other two sound solutions.
With gaming performance, we opted to focus our time on BioShock, an incredible game with rich storyline, awesome effects and soundtrack. After spending a few hours playing with the Realtek HD Audio solution, we switched over to the Xonar D2 and immediately felt that the experience was more full and complete. Positioning of audio was accurate with both solutions, but the experience simply felt more real with the Xonar D2. We then shifted from 5.1 speakers to headphone gaming using common earbud style headphones and the good vibrations continued. With the drivers configured for headphones, the Xonar did a superb job of simulating a 3D environment, ensuring the positioning of the audio was accurate for headphone playback. The Realtek HD Audio seemed more stereo than 5.1 surround, but did a decent job overall. The Prodigy 7.1 was outclassed altogether here, failing to impress in spatial orientation with both speakers and headphones.