ASUS Xonar U3 review - Let the beats rock

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Movie buffs, hardcore gamers and music lovers all have one thing in common – to get the best audio quality that their system can provide while they sit back and do what they enjoy most. This is usually a difficult feat to achieve with regular laptop speakers or a 2.1 system connected to your PC. The ASUS Xonar U3 has been designed to solve this dilemma. The USB-style device works as an amp for the headphones you use on your PC or laptop and delivers Dolby Digital Surround Sound through it.

The Xonar U3, designed like a USB plug-in device, serves as an audio card once you install it with the CD that comes in the box. The device itself has 3.5 mm jacks for your microphone and headphones. Once you are through with the setup, plug in your headphones in to the Xonar U3 and you are ready to rock. We buffered a couple of songs on YouTube across genres to test the amplifier as well as software used to make the most of the sound card, the Xonar U3 Audio Center.

We started out with the hip-hop track ‘Hey Ya!' by Outkast with the headphones plugged into the Xonar U3. We played around with a couple of settings in the Audio Center. Under the volume dial, you have some quick presets – Music, Movie, Game, Hi-Fi and GX (mostly to be used while gaming). None of these seemed to be boosting up the audio just the way we'd like it so we decided to explore some more. The drop-down menu presents you with a lot of options that you can make use of according to the audio input you have or the kind of media you are listening to. The ‘Main' controls let you choose the output you want – Dolby Headphone, Dolby Pro Logic IIx and 7.1 Virtual Speaker Shifter. The Mixer allows you to set the volume levels for your headphones and your mic in case you want to make a voice/video call or just want to record a sound track. ‘Effect' is where you can tweak the equaliser or use a panel full of audio presets. Most of the presets – Rap, Opera and Jazz - worked quite well with the songs we played from those genres.

The sound of the gushing wind and raindrops were reproduced excellently in the prelude to ‘November Rain' but the bass and the vocals were underwhelming, thus denying the track its sheer ability to impress with the drums and the powerful vocals. We tweaked the user-definable equaliser settings and fixed on a deeper bass. For a taste of Jazz, we listened to ‘Let's Call The Whole Thing Off' by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong and the track sounded chirpy with the Xonar U3 as did the hauntingly beautiful violin-based soundtrack ‘Yumeji's theme' from ‘In The Mood For Love'.

The Xonar U3 definitely jazzes up the audio quality by more than a notch. This struck us when we reverted back to plugging in our headphone directly to the laptop. After an hour or so of having tried out the device, listening to music without it made us wonder how we had been doing it for so long! With the price tag it comes with, the Xonar U3 is definitely a good investment for all you audiophiles who want to make the most of their regular headphones.

Love: Overall enhanced sound effects, ease of use

Hate: Some unintuitive presets

Rs 1,800 (exclusive of taxes)

Published on May 11, 2011

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