Other included features are EAX 2, which is the bare minimum for a gaming sound card but all that can be offered since later versions of EAX are exclusive to Creative. The card also supports Open AL and what ASUS call ALT DRM backup, which lets you record what you are hearing, circumnavigating DRM restrictions.
Before getting to what the thing actually sounds like, you need to know about the most important design element of the whole card. Every output on the back shines with a different colour. For totally superficial people like myself, it’s almost worth the squids just for this. So…. pretty…
There’s also a practical purpose to the illuminations as it provides a reference to the function of each of the mini-jack connections when you’re scrambling around the back of your computer in the dark (although, dear Asus, it would have been sensible to have actually included a description of the colours in the paper manual, there’s no point being only half user-friendly).
It’s always good to know what converters a card uses, it’s easy to make all kinds of claims about audio quality but without decent chips to record the sound coming in and convert it back out from digital to analogue, any claim about quality should be treated suspiciously. The card uses the Cirrus Logic CS5381 analogue to digital converter, a genuinely a high-end audio chip that can be found in pro-audio gear costing thousands of pounds. The digital to analogue chip is also well regarded. It’s not just about converters though, clocks are just as important and much more expensive, which is why budget gear such as this card will never compete with high-end audio equipment, but on paper the spec is more than sufficient for most people.
The mixer software does a reasonable job of presenting the myriad of surround options, although as is often the case, the eye candy gets in the way of legibility with small text and colours that stand out poorly against the background. There really should also be a way of linking the master left and right level sliders and I found the large master volume knob rather sticky and temperamental but these aren’t serious niggles. At least there isn’t any Creative-style bloatware with a reasonable 60mb specified install space requirement.