ASUS Xonar U7 7.1 USB Sound Card Review
ASUS’ Xonar U7 has been created in order to capitalize upon the lack of quality audio solutions in many of today’s, small form factor PCs, notebooks, convertible tablets and other mobile devices. With the standard desktop and high end gaming notebook segments already saturated with excellent sound solutions, it was time to once again look at an “outside the box” approach by offering something for those who want better sound quality from the devices they use every day. The Xonar U7 fits that bill by foregoing the add-in card format and using a USB interface to provide a high-end external soundcard.
Most consumers have a love/hate relationship with USB-based external soundcards and DACs. On the one hand there is absolutely no faster, easier way to upgrade the sound playback abilities than to simply plug in an external USB device. On the other side of the coin, by using USB for both data and power the abilities, these devices usually leave a lot to be desired on the audio fidelity front. Mix in a host of problems ranging from poor shielding causing interference to poor drivers leading to compatibility headaches with various applications and the end result has been USB being the black sheep of any soundcard lineup. This is why the $90 Xonar U7 is so interesting; it promises to sidestep most of these issues.
ASUS and their Xonar line of soundcards is certainly no stranger to enthusiasts and over the years these mostly gaming orientated soundcards have garnered numerous accolades from critics and enthusiasts alike. The same however cannot exactly be said about the Xonar 'U' series which have languished in the background, providing portability and iconoclastic looks but less than optimal sound abilities.
So how did ASUS change the tune with their Xonar U7? For starters, it goes far beyond the basic bargain-basement USB DACs that have permeated the portable market. While still relatively portable, the U7 has been built to higher standards with high end internal components and a litany of features. Those components grant a very impressive 114dB SNR with a THD of .0006%, as well as a dedicated headphone amp capable of powering 150ohm headphones. For those keeping track at home, those numbers are actually better than most motherboards’ built-in abilities. The Xonar U7 also has the ability to output a 7.1 signal via either analog or optical connections.
Equally important as the soundcard's hardware features is the software it comes with. In this case, ASUS has provided a lightweight Dolby Home Theatre V4 certified application that’s extremely easy to use and is compatible with Windows / OSX environments. Add in all the usual benefits of USB such as portability, ease of installation, and ease of use and the Xonar U7 has the potential really grab some attention.
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