|ASUS Xonar Xense PCI-E Sound Card Kit|
|Written by Vito Cassisi - Edited by Olin Coles|
|Monday, 20 December 2010|
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From the boom of an artillery shell to the stealthy footsteps of a lone gunman, a gamer listens with ears perked and attention focused. Bullets whirring all around and the hum of a mistreated headset prod at players attention, all the while a subtle drop of a nade pin occurs nearby. No one notices. ASUS recognise the importance of a good audio solution and have provided Benchmark Reviews their very latest in gaming audio cards - the ASUS Xonar Xense. Not to be outdone, the Xense comes in kit form that includes a Senhiesser PC-350 headset.
ASUS Xonar Xense Sound Card Kit Review
From the boom of an artillery shell to the stealthy footsteps of a lone gunman, a gamer listens with ears perked and attention focused. Bullets whirring all around and the hum of a mistreated headset prod at players attention, all the while a subtle drop of a nade pin occurs nearby. No one notices. It's unfortunate when inadequate audio gear gets in the way of a good game. Environmental effects such as EAX give gamers the illusion of being within the game world, producing an upper hand during the heat of a match. ASUS recognise the importance of a good audio solution and have provided Benchmark Reviews their very latest in gaming audio cards - the ASUS Xonar Xense. Not to be outdone, the Xense comes in kit form that includes a Sennheiser PC-350 headset.
A short reflection on the state of modern mainstream music
Sound has come a long way since the days of using the internal speaker of a PC for nothing more than beeps and boops. CD quality audio is commonplace, yet convenience is frequently prioritised ahead of quality. MP3 files are popular because of their size, and their suitability for storage limited devices. The downside to MP3 is that it's a lossy compression format, meaning that the audio is stripped of data to save space. In theory the data which is trashed is inaudible to humans, but in practise even the best compression methods cause some level of quality degradation.
An alternative to MP3 is FLAC. FLAC, or Free Lossless Audio Codec, is exactly that - a lossless compression codec. Vaguely similar to how zip files work, FLAC compresses audio without permanently removing data. This requires decompression during playback. Unfortunately, despite a significant growth in storage and Internet speeds, MP3 remains the dominant format for digital music.
Formats aren't the only indicator of quality. Apart from the obvious (being the quality of the recording gear/setup and instruments) there's the matter of dynamic range, or perhaps more importantly, dynamic range compression. To put it simply, the dynamic range of an instrument of piece of music is the ratio of the loudest sound to the softest. For example, the softest sound may be the subtle whisper of a backup singer, and the loudest the beat produced by drums.
Dynamic range compression is when you reduce the difference between these soft and loud notes to make everything louder. This is often used in modern mastering to make music sound louder than it should be, to compete on mediums such as radio or television. The end result is a lifeless track, stripped of its musical integrity. So why is it done? It's part of the so-called Loudness War. You can read more about this phenomenon here (including some audio examples), or at Wikipedia here.
Why does this all matter? When reviewing or leisurely listening to a sound device, subjective judgement is based on listening to music. A perfect audio card (if one should ever exist) would reproduce sound exactly as the audio file dictates. However, just like any system, if you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out. This is important, because a good audio device can make bad music sound worse, since it becomes easier to distinguish imperfections which are part of the audio files 'instructions'. For this reason, music will be carefully chosen during the subjective analysis of this card, in addition to a range of headphones.
Manufacturer: ASUSTek, Inc.
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by ASUS.