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View Full Version : Xonar HDAV1.3 slim (HDMI sound card) mini review


Rakeesh
10-25-09, 02:32 PM
Just picked up one of these last night and finished setting it all up. So far, it works beautifully. I replaced an old audigy card I was given a few months ago, and here is my analysis so far from the perspective of both a gamer and an HTPC user:

Setup:

The initial setup went pretty easy with just the card itself. Just deleted the old creative drivers using driver sweeper, removed it, put the xonar in, went to asus and downloaded the windows 7 64-bit drivers. Although they are labeled as beta drivers (windows 7 being pretty new) they installed entirely without issue and there really wasn't much in the way of configuration.

I did initially have a problem with getting the HDMI output to work, but it turns out that you have to have an HDMI video input going to the card or it will refuse to send HDMI audio out. Fortunately they include a DVI to HDMI adapter, and you can go from the second DVI port on your video card to the HDMI input port, then set windows to clone mode. Bit of an inconvenience (especially if you don't have a dual monitor card) but it works. If you send both your audio and video path to your monitor though (which I don't,) you shouldn't have a problem here. I had a few problems with HDMI handshaking, but this was a minor issue with my receiver that I fixed pretty easily. They also include a straight HDMI cable to make it easy to connect the card to your audio receiver, which was a nice convenience.

My setup for those interested:

Intel Q6700, 4GB ram, Gigabyte P35-DS3L
Nvidia 8800GTS 768MB.
Onkyo TX-SR605 receiver (HDMI 1.3a compatible.)

Music:

The card sounds great, but to be honest, with an HDMI connection it is really impossible to get better sound without upgrading your external sound system (receiver, speakers, whole 9 yards.) Although this is highly subjective, I definitely notice a sound quality improvement over using DTS connect and analog when I listen to Johnny Cash and Bob Marley.

Gaming:

On the gaming end, MASSIVE improvement. Most notably, the holy grail (IMO of gaming) Truly lossless digital 5.1 audio. And in my opinion, I can hear a difference over DDL. Not quite night and day, but it is there. Something that is more "cool" than useful, is I can even send a 5.1 channel 24-bit/192khz signal direct to my receiver.

Also as a really nice bonus, all games that support EAX 5 will work with it without the need to go mucking around with alchemy, turning on compatibility modes, etc. No need to patch the games at all either. You just run them, and it works. Tested this with Half Life (original) Bioshock, WOW, and Fallout 3.

Not only that, but some games like Fallout 3 would occasionally crash on me, and sounds in certain places would skip or stutter sometimes. Those issues are all completely gone with this card. I could pretty much always cause fallout 3 to crash if I would alt-tab too much for example. Using this card, that never happens. I used to think that fallout 3 was just buggy, but once I upgraded my card I quickly found out that isn't the case.

I pretty much blame this on the fact that creative still insists on using HAL for EAX. Microsoft removed DS3D HAL for stability reasons, and I have seen first hand exactly why that was a good move. That and now that we have multi-core CPU's, DS3D HAL is obsolete. I personally don't notice any FPS loss at all by using the Xonar which does all DS3D functions (including EAX) in software.

Since these eax reverb functions run as separate threads, and therefore on separate cores, they can't really have an impact on gaming anyways. With a multi-core CPU, you essentially have the same effect as if you ran the game on a single core CPU and had a hardware accelerated DS3D card.

Movies:

As far as movies go, it is pretty much as you'd expect (HDMI, sounds great, etc,) with one big exception: When I want DD and DTS passthrough, I no longer need to go into Creative Audio Console to turn off DDL first just to watch my movies, and then have to turn it back on for everything else. This was a huge pain in the ass, but thanks to the way Asus drivers work, I don't need to do any of that. It just works exactly how I want it to. VLC for example always shows the "A/52 passthrough S/PDIF" option regardless of what audio mode I am in, and selecting that option always makes my receiver show that it is in fact receiving and decoding a DD signal. I haven't tried DTS-MA or Dolby TrueHD yet, but I don't have any blu-ray titles that do these right now.

Overall:

So far this card is a godsend. I do have a few gripes though: The requirement to send HDMI video before it will send any audio is annoying, especially if you use a setup like mine where I have video going to one path (straight to my TV/Monitor) and audio going to another path (receiver/amp.) Also getting the microphone to work is annoying because it is made under the assumption that you have a HDAUDIO or AC97 compatible front audio port, which I don't right now, so for now I use my motherboards microphone port and disable every other part of it.

The price kind of sucks ($150 for a sound card) but to be honest you'll pay more for worse cards out there.

UPDATE: I've run into an annoying issue with this card. When programs crash as they were playing some kind of sound (games and media players especially) the last .5 seconds of the sound loops over and over again until you either reboot your computer, or go into device manager (NOT the control panel sound applet) and disable then re-enable the sound card.

Apparently xonar cards had this bug in windows XP and some driver patch fixed it. Given that the Windows 7 driver is still labeled as beta I am not sure what kind of conclusion to draw yet.

Redeemed
10-25-09, 02:52 PM
WOW. :bugeyes:

If I had the money, I'd get one of these right now. But sadly, I don't. I will keep an eye on it though, as this sounds like *exactly* what I'm after. :)

Great review, Hoss! ;)

Rakeesh
10-25-09, 03:18 PM
If I had the money, I'd get one of these right now. But sadly, I don't. I will keep an eye on it though, as this sounds like *exactly* what I'm after. :)

Yeah I am still trying it out, but so far I really like it. This is only day 2 of me having it. I'll edit that post if anything else shows up. I got it locally at fry's electronics so I still have the 30 day return policy. I've heard bad stuff about Asus otherwise I would have gotten it from amazon for $130 ish (free shipping too.)

With that said, I do have some long term concerns though. HDMI cards are not at all standardized. Each of them has their own little means of switching between analog output, and HDMI LPCM output. So when a new version of windows comes out (which won't be for some time now) it's entirely likely that I'll need a new driver to support it, but Asus probably won't make one. Creative on the other hand is usually pretty good about that, even for how sh*tty their drivers are, so keep that in mind.

There is also the issue that most blu-ray playback software are picky about which HDMI card they will work with. From what I understand, right now PowerDVD doesn't work with this card for TrueHD passthrough for example (it can decode truehd and pass it along as regular 6 channel audio though.)

It will probably be a few years until HDMI cards become mainstream and they become more standardized so that you can just load up your favorite software and go. But, you know how it goes as far as always waiting for new tech to come out. For now though, in the windows vista/7 era, we have this card which works fine.

Rakeesh
10-25-09, 03:32 PM
I have the Deluxe but have not installed it yet. My setup is going into my Onkyo 805 receiver (HDMI). Right now I have to run optical plus HDMI. I spoke with a buddy at Asus who gave an honest list of comparison notes between it and the other product I was considering. I will try to find time to install mine today. If Alpha is okay with it, maybe I can just add to his nice thread.

Go for it. Let me know how things go for you. I am using an Onkyo TX-SR605 with mine (I'll edit that into my original post.)

I would have liked the Deluxe since it has the mic port on the daughter card, but I didn't want to spend the extra $100 just for that. I use the mic for gaming so it is somewhat important for me, but I think I can solve that problem by buying a relatively cheap front audio port to fit in one of the floppy bays (I think they sell these at fry's electronics.)

Rakeesh
10-25-09, 03:47 PM
BTW I think in addition to what I've already done, I am probably going to reconfigure all of my codecs and players to just decode DD and DTS on their end and just send them out as 6 channel audio. I really can't think of any reason not to at this point as the decoding they do will be as good as what my receiver can do (if not better since their decoding engines are newer and possibly more refined,) and I'll have the added benefit of being able to hear my email notifications while watching movies and whatnot (this is impossible with digital passthrough.)

The only possible benefit of letting my receiver do it is that it supports DD night mode (aka dynamic range compression) but the Asus driver has this feature built in, so no need to go through my receiver menu to enable/disable this when I can just click a single button in the driver. Not only that but the driver version works regardless of the source material, doesn't have to be DD.

Rakeesh
10-25-09, 07:37 PM
are you using Boxee?

Never heard of it.

Rakeesh
10-25-09, 11:43 PM
bud you should try it!!!!!
The price is right (free).
http://www.boxee.tv/homepage/

Hmm speak of remote, are there any cheap (say around $20) solutions for allowing any universal remote to work with your PC? I am hoping for something elegant that would say for example show itself to the OS as a USB keyboard (hence it would be driverless) and any IR commands it receives get interpreted as keystrokes. Or if not that simple, something just cheap I guess, but I don't want to have to use some cheesy remote, I'd like to use one of my existing universal remotes.

Rakeesh
10-25-09, 11:52 PM
Those are waaaay too expensive for me. I need something el cheapo.

LordJuanlo
10-26-09, 05:33 AM
For gaming this card is a bless, it wipes the floor with my old X-Fi Fatal1ty. I use 5.1 speakers, but sometimes (late at night) I use my earphones, then enable Dolby Headphone mode on Xonar control panel and 3D positioning is incredible

qube
10-26-09, 10:22 PM
Hmm speak of remote, are there any cheap (say around $20) solutions for allowing any universal remote to work with your PC? I am hoping for something elegant that would say for example show itself to the OS as a USB keyboard (hence it would be driverless) and any IR commands it receives get interpreted as keystrokes. Or if not that simple, something just cheap I guess, but I don't want to have to use some cheesy remote, I'd like to use one of my existing universal remotes.

http://www.logitech.com/repository/1732/png/14495.1.0.png
http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/keyboards/keyboard/devices/3848&cl=us,en
try it i use it fore my htpc and its great

Rakeesh
10-27-09, 12:41 AM
It's really expensive though :D

crainger
10-27-09, 02:48 AM
Not really. I got mine for 120AUD.

Best HTPC purchase I've made.

Rakeesh
10-29-09, 02:48 PM
I've run into an annoying issue with this card. When programs crash as they were playing some kind of sound (games and media players especially) the last .5 seconds of the sound loops over and over again until you either reboot your computer, or go into device manager (NOT the control panel sound applet) and disable then re-enable the sound card.

Apparently xonar cards had this bug in windows XP and some driver patch fixed it. Given that the Windows 7 driver is still labeled as beta I am not sure what kind of conclusion to draw yet.

(adding this post to the OP)

Rakeesh
11-14-09, 08:13 AM
I just found a major problem with this card. Apparently the dual monitor trick I have to use in order to get audio output has a bad side effect. There seems to be this problem where when you have a dual monitor setup and the monitors are configured to clone mode, you are liable to experience video tearing.

I was noticing this a little bit a while ago, but wasn't really paying attention until recently when I was trying to configure XBMC and noticed tearing even during sound visualizations. So I tried dragging a window around to see if it happened on the regular desktop too, and sure enough, it does.

Setting the monitor setup to clone mode fixes the tearing problem, but it creates another one - now if I accidentally drag my mouse too far to the right, I can lose windows and other objects (or even lose track of the mouse cursor itself.)

This could turn out to be a potentially huge annoyance. Trying to find out if there is a workaround right now, but it doesn't seem likely. Still got a week or so left on my 30 day return.

Grr...why is it that every sound solution I ever get my hands on has some terrible drawback? The PC sound card market sucks ass.

mullet
11-14-09, 11:37 AM
HTPC's are doomed due to the software & drivers people are just gonna get a Blu-Ray player and call it done. Personally I am tired of PowerDVD.

Rakeesh
11-14-09, 04:58 PM
HTPC's are doomed due to the software & drivers people are just gonna get a Blu-Ray player and call it done. Personally I am tired of PowerDVD.

For the most part I've been trouble free with XBMC. I may have yet another workaround for this latest issue, although it is annoying. I'm considering just going with the approach that asus wants you to use to begin with (video card > sound card > receiver > monitor.) After a little experimentation it appears that the receiver doesn't tamper with the video signal at all, so it may not be a bad idea.

I am going to run it through a few video calibration tools to see if there is any color crush or anything like that.

nekrosoft13
11-14-09, 11:00 PM
Xonar uses GX engine in the background for that emulation, instead of alchemy, and it only emulates EAX 5

difference, is that when DX engine has flaws you need to wait for new driver, with alchemy you can make the changes yourself

had a Xonar for short while, couldn't get it to work correctly back to the store in went the same day

Rakeesh
11-15-09, 12:28 AM
Nice review, but I'm calling bull**** on EAX 5 working without alchemy without further explanation. Unless Xonar has bundled app support you will still need to use an OpenAL wrapper to get EAX5. You really think that the manufacturer of that tech would need some bs like Alchemy unless it really was needed? :p

You're either getting stereo expand, or at best 5.1 surround, but not EAX.

edit: it seems to be a software emulator; it does not use eax libraries

Worksforme.

I think you misunderstand how eax works, and why you don't have to have an OpenAL wrapper. EAX is literally what the name implies: Environmental Audio Extensions. These are audio extensions for the DirectSound3D API. That said, they have nothing to do with whether the game is going to render surround sound. Positional audio is handled entirely by the DS3D API itself independently of these extensions. What these extensions do is transform the sound itself so that it sounds as if it is coming from another "environment" which can be selected by the game among several presets (which in themselves are just different sinusoidal transform effects.)

All the asus driver does is respond to the API calls and render the audio as the software asks it to, and if an eax effect is called for, transform it according to that. That is it, that is all you need to do, and this is how most cards do it.

Now, for creative cards this isn't so simple. Creative cards cannot render DS3D audio in software, or at least, they don't have the driver capability of doing so (but they could if creative was motivated to do so.) Therefore, it must be done in hardware. But, in newer versions of windows (vista and later) DS3D no longer has a HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer.) So what has to happen? The driver has to respond to the API calls by translating them into another API that does have HAL support, in this case OpenAL. Thus for creative cards, you MUST use the OAL wrapper. Think about it, why else is it that you don't need an openal wrapper (aka alchemy) in windows XP to use EAX5?

However if creative didn't insist on hardware sound rendering, then they too could go without an OAL wrapper, just like asus does, and just as realtek does (with soundback.) I explained in my review why hardware sound rendering is no longer necessary, and is in fact counterproductive on today's hardware. The whole idea of hardware accelerated audio is nothing more than a marketing strategy these days.

And no, the asus approach is not an emulator anymore than WINE is an emulator (hint: it isn't.) If you don't understand what I mean by this, then I recommend doing some reading. If anything, the Creative approach (aka alchemy) is an emulator, because they have to emulate DS3D from the ground up in order to use their own HAL. The asus approach merely uses the DS3D API already built into windows vista/7.

Rakeesh
11-15-09, 12:37 AM
Xonar uses GX engine in the background for that emulation, instead of alchemy, and it only emulates EAX 5

difference, is that when DX engine has flaws you need to wait for new driver, with alchemy you can make the changes yourself

had a Xonar for short while, couldn't get it to work correctly back to the store in went the same day

It's not an emulator. What it does is render the DS3D+EAX calls as asked for by the software (see my previous post.) There is no need to emulate DS3D API functions when you aren't trying to use HAL (which if you do, it requires you to skip DS3D completely, and thus, you must emulate it.) This really is no different than what a creative card running under windows XP would do. As far as the OS and the game is concerned, it is exactly the same, therefore there is no need to patch the game or run any kind of wrapper like you have to do with creative cards. Although asus slaps the word "emulator" on there (as many people often call WINE an emulator) that term isn't correct (I'd attribute this to their marketing team not understanding the difference.)

Though what flaws are you referring to specifically? Since there isn't any kind of emulation layer (or wrapper layer, aka alchemy) it isn't prone to any flaws that I know of, because again, you don't need to re-implement DS3D from the ground up (like alchemy does) because you already have it to begin with. So far all of the games I've played that use EAX (and not many do btw) work fine.