Asus Xonar Phoebus
The Asus Xonar Phoebus is a Gaming optimized soundcard, set up for proper 7.1 Surround, 5.1 Surround, 2.1 Stereo, as well as 9.1 Virtual, 7.1 Virtual, 5.1 Virtual, and Stereo configurations for headphones, and has an included microphone input. All the connectors here are gold plated, Asus certainly didn't skimp on anything. The card itself has a nice looking black PCB, and a very sleek EMI shield on it. The card is internally split between the Headphone/Breakout Box (More on that in a bit) section, and the rest of the card. This allows for a cleaner signal and less interference if you have both a Hi-Fi Headphone setup and a Desktop Speaker setup. The SNR is 118 dB, so as it isn't as good as a few of Asus' soundcards, it's still hundreds of times better than the Motherboard Audio solution that most systems have, unless you spent close to $300 on a Motherboard. The soundcard comes with an included Breakout Box, which is a module that sits on your desktop and has plenty long enough cables to reach the back of your PC and plug into the Phoebus. The Breakout Box and the back of the card itself have a Green LED for the headphone audio out jack, and a Red LED for the microphone in jack. The Breakout module has a very nice volume wheel that is hardware reliant, instead of software, so that in some of those pesky programs where you cannot adjust volume while in use with your keyboard's volume controls (Looking at you, Skyrim). The Breakout also features a "ROG Command" microphone, that effectively reduces up to 70% of background noise. It works to sample all constant noise in an enviroment, and basically mixes the signal to cut those frequencies and make them much quieter. On paper, this is an extremely nice feature, but the microphone has a limited cone of pickup, so if not positioned correctly it can have little to no difference. It can also be used as a microphone itself, but the quality is not terribly exceptional, so I wouldn't reccomend it. The Phoebus is capable of pushing headphones that are Stereo only in a virtual surround configuration, that after around 100 hours of use with my Beyerdynamic, still sounds very convincing as a 9.1 virtual setup. The software includes tons of awesome features, such as Dolby Home Theater V4 and full GX 3.0 and SoundRadar support, DTS Ultra PC II, Enviroment effects, Xear Sing FX, Xear Surround Headphone, Xear Surround Max, and a few more. This card is capable of driving anywhere from 8 ohm Headphones and speaker systems all the way up to a massive 600 ohms. Available sample rates are 44.1 KHz, 48 KHz, 88.2 KHz, 96 KHz, 176.4 KHz, and 192 KHz, all capable of running at 16 or 24 bits. The microphone effects also include the same bitrate settings, and Xear Magic Voice modultaion software, as well as an auto volume adjust (Note, for the auto adjust microphone sensitivity, when used in conjunction with software that already does this, such as Skype, it will occasionally send audio to the person on the other end that is akin to "Taking off". It is extremely loud and obnoxious, so make sure to diable this feature in Skype and/or the Phoebus control panel). It has a PCM1796 DAC, a TPA6120A2 Headphone Amplifier, and all Japanese Black/Gold caps for capacitors.
In the real world, this card is highly impressive in most areas. The sound clarity is Audiophile grade, the surround both virtual and actual is extremely high quality. The EQ of the card, the dynamic range, volume modulation and normalization, bass enhancement, center stage expansion, and voice clarity are all fully tunable, and work very well. The UI is quite simple and easy to use, even for the Dolby Home Theater V4. In gaming application, this card is optimized to give voices crisp clarity, explosions and roars of cars and dragons alike a deep rumble. It is an undeniably large step towards total immersion, and is an experience that cannot have justice done to it by word of mouth. if you have $200 to spend and you've already got a decent pair of headphones, I highly reccomend this card. It runs off of a PCI-E 1X interface, and requires another 6-Pin PCI Power connector to run, which for a sound card is a massive expenditure of power.
But no review can truly have nohing bad to say about this card. This one has a few issues, but none of them are truly all it's fault. When positioned so that there is a graphics card pillung air by it, such as mounted on a slot below a GPU, it creates a bit of static in the microphone audio. This card has a bit of issues with certain games. When in use, some games will be completely unplayable, as in not even able to be launched. The card and sound engine for the game conflict, and create fatal errors that can crash the game, card drivers, or even your entire PC. Fallout: New Vegas is one such game. It can be played again with some tweaking, even if full surround, but that requires nearly 3 hours on the part of the user, reconfiguring the innards of Bethesda's engine to create enough audio threads to work with this card. Far Cry 2 and Oblivion also have this issue, but I have not found anything else that does. I have no other complaints with this card, even after hundreds of hours of use with it under all setting and conditions. You got money to spare? Buy this card
This was my first review, and I'll probably be posting them for every piece of hardware I get to spend lots of time with. I'll keep 'em coming slow and steady to keep content flowing, you'll be getting one a day for a while.
Thanks to anyone who stuck around for this mess! If anybody has anything they want me to review, or wants to know any specifics about any of the hardware I do review, let me know, and I'll do my best to m ake it happen. Thanks again!
EDIT: This card is totally incompatible with any program running PunkBuster with the exception of Battlefield 4. On launch of any such program, your entire PC will crash, making this a HORRID choice for any gamers. Go get a different card for games, this is truly better for surround sound for Home Cinema setups, not gaming, despite the ROG branding.