We’ve harped on it many times in our motherboard reviews. If your speakers or headphones are any better than ‘decent’ you are really doing yourself a disservice using the typical integrated audio setup. Most motherboard manufacturers have improved things with features like software bundles that enhance audio, improved onboard components, opamps, headphone amps, etc. But the vast majority of even relatively high end hardware is just not that great. No offense to THE CRAB~!, but Realtek audio serves as a commodity audio component, without offering too much to PC gamers.
Therefore it’s up to companies like Asus and and Creative Labs to come up with audio products that serve our needs directly. That’s why today, we’re looking at the Asus Xonar Phoebus Solo, a 7.1 channel gaming soundcard.
- Quality headphone output is a must
- Overall audio output and input should be top of the line for the price
- Should have positional audio software with a lot of room for customization
- Durable components that can withstand a lot of use, and heat
- Stable, fast drivers with a good UI
- Should have on-the-fly digital DTS or Dolby for surround sound gaming with digital output
- It should not affect PC performance significantly
- Sound delivery needs to be low latency
That last point is especially important for living room PCs, something we’re going to see a lot more of moving forward. As we look at the Xonar Phoebus Solo, we’ll find out how many of these needs it meets.
- Mic in (this lights up red)
- Headphone Out (this lights up green)
- Control box link
- Front Out
- Line In
- Rear Out
- Center/Subwoofer Out
- Side Out/SPDIF Out
To accommodate for size, some cuts had to be made. The SPDIF out is shared with the side analog channels. You most likely won’t be needing digital out if you have a full 7.1 channel analog setup, of course. Also while the SPDIF is a 2.5mm type, a TOSLINK adapter is included.
Aside from that, the light up ports are quite handy! However if you are looking for any of the other ports, you are going to be doing a lot of counting with the manual next to you, or have a flashlight with you behind the PC. The odd arrangement of analog output / input / output threw me off a few times.
If you are wondering what that whacky shield if for, it actually serves a purpose. It acts as an EMI shield to protect the audio components that are sensitive to interference. This might come in handy for a product that is likely to spend its life sitting next to a video card or two, with high speed fans creating a lot of noise.
You might think that it is just there for looks, but in my opinion the card looks even better with it off:
You will also notice that there is some shielding in place in the middle of the card; this shields the headphone output from the other analog outputs. As you can guess, Asus spared no expense when assembling the Xonar Phoebus Solo, especially with all the Nichion Finegold capacitors. We’ll go through all the other components on the next page.
And yes, that is a PCI-E 6-pin adapter on the top corner there, just like a video card. The Xonar Phoebus Solo requires the extra 12v power. And as you’ll see later in the review, it does make use of that power.
Before inspecting the card further, here’s a quick look at the specs.
|Audio Controller||C-Media CM8888HT|
|Analog to digital converter||Cirrus Logic CS5381|
|Digital to analog converter||Cirrus Logic CS4362|
|Headphone amp||TI TA6120A2|
|Maximum recording / playback quality||24 bit/192 KHz|
|Output signal-to-noise ratio||118 dB (Front)
110 dB (Headphone)
|Input signal-to-noise ratio||118 dB|
|Multi-channel digital encoding||Dolby Digital Live|
|Sound Imaging / Speaker virtualization Software||Xear Surround Headphone
DTS Ultra PC II
Dolby Home Theater v4
|Price (October 2, 2013)||$129.00|
That’s right, we’re not into ‘tricking’ our readers to get a ‘free’ pageview by posting the specs on an otherwise empty page ;). For full details, you can check Asus’ official product page for the Phoebus Solo.