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 recorded 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 scenarios to best illustrate the overall performance of each audio solution and offer up our objective, yet subjective, opinion.
Music: With music playback we focused mainly on MP3 playback over a broad range of music. Each MP3 we used was encoded at 320kbps, ensuring maximum quality. First, we sampled several songs from Radiohead's latest album In Rainbows as this band offers a broad range of unique sounds in many of their songs. Next, we loaded up the latest from the Foo Fighters titled Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace, followed by a terrific latin jazz collection titled The Colors of Latin Jazz:Cubop! Lastly, we played Paul Okenfold's Bunka which is more of a techno pop themed album with lots of heavy bass. The goal was to cover a broad range of music to see if we can detect differences in music quality among the three audio solutions. In the end, we found all three audio solutions performed rather well, offering crisp, clear highs and deep bass. The audio sounded a bit cleaner with the Xonar cards over the Realtek ALC888 integrated solution, especially at higher volume, with very crisp highs and stonger, less muddled bass. In the end, all three models performed very well with the Xonar DX and D2 offering nearly identical experiences. We suspect that one might be able to detect more variations with listening through higher-end speakers.
DVD Movie: For DVD playback, we sampled several intense battle scenes from Band of Brothers followed by Spiderman 3 and Transformers. Again, both Xonar cards offered performance that was indistinguishable from each other. With each film we focused on intense scenes with a lot of action and with both Xonar models the sound quality was excellent, with relational effects sounding true and accurate to the listener. The Realtek ALC888 didn't perform too badly either, although, like with the MP3 segment, the audio didn't sound quite as clear and the bass had less impact in our opinion.
Game Play: For gameplay testing, we focused our attention on BioShock, Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and the addictive Portal. In each case we played the same section in each game with all three audio solutions. Overall, the Realtek ALC888 offered a good experience, with all games delivering an enjoyable audio experience. Once we shifted to the Xonar DX, the games felt fuller, with a more engrossing audio environment. In each game, whether battling Big Daddies or Splicers in BioShock or trying to take out the Stryders in the final scene of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, the sound quality was superb. Lastly, we connected a pair of quality earbuds and set each driver for headphone playback and repeated the process. Here the Xonar DX seemed to handle positioning better over the Realtek ALC888, offering a more realistic 3D audio environment. With Portal, the sounds are simpler, but there is a lot of sounds of bouncing energy balls, automated machine gun turrets and the shooting of portals, and in each case, the environment appeared a bit more realistic with the Xonar DX over the Realtek ALC888.