Unlike video cards, it’s much harder to demonstrate the benefits of sounds cards in a written and visual review. Words only convey so much and unfortunately there’s no reliable objective test for sound cards. Blind and unbiased subjective listening tests are in my opinion, the best way to gauge audio quality.
The first set of listening tests revolves around music. In general, the DSX sounded better because of its more neutral sounding characteristic and stronger bass. The DGX was occasionally indistinguishable from motherboard audio due to its weaker bass, though it did surprise me when playing hard rock.
Top 40, Pop, Hip Hop, and Rap
The DSX’s stronger bass without a doubt gives it the edge over the DGX when playing pop songs. The punchier bass really brings out the backbeat and is immediately the most noticeable improvement over hollow sounding motherboard audio. Even poorly encoded songs with lots of bass still benefit from the DSX.
Generally, this genre of music doesn’t really make the DGX’s emphasized treble distinguishable from motherboard audio. There’s simply more interest in the bass department, something the DGX isn’t very good at doing. There were times even the DGX and DSX both sounded muddled, likely due to poor encoding or recording of the song. For example, careful listening with P!nk’s Just Give Me a Reason was inconclusive.
Rock, Hard Rock & Heavy Metal
It’s unfortunate that a number of hard rock and heavy metal tracks are poorly encoded. For one, I had a particularly hard time discerning differences across the sound cards with Avenged Sevenfold tracks. When it did matter, the results were rather surprising.
The DGX’s strong emphasis on mid-tones and treble allows it to shine particularly well for songs that make use of the guitar. Remastered Led Zeppelin songs were crisp and lively – vocals sprung to life, guitars were upfront, and the snare drums were distinct.
I can actually pass time just watching foobar2000’s spectrum visualization in real time. Here’s a shot taken from Metallica’s “Master of Puppets.”
While the DSX’s stronger bass was still fun to hear, it did at times muddle the mid tones. Some of you may think that rock percussion would benefit from stronger bass, but the reality is that rock percussions also have presence in the mid-range. Without equalization, the DSX can make the bass frequencies too sloppy.
Otherwise, it’s a matter of preference between the DGX and bassier DSX.
Alternative & Modern Rock
While I disagree with the direction rock is taking these days, I still listen to the latest releases on the radio of which a number I still add to my music collection. What I’ve at least observed is that there is a greater demand for bass-heavy backbeats, something the DSX handles better than the DGX.
Despite the seemingly smaller involvement of the guitar these days, there are some songs I like because they are catchy such as The Black Key’s Black Submarines and Youngblood Hawke’s We Come Running. On a semi-related note, I completely abhor and feel is an insult to rock is AWOLNATION’s Sail, a song that without a doubt sounds better on the DSX only because the instruments are seemingly a drum machine and synthesizer.
The DGX does at least pair well with those rock released that make stick closer to older rock styles. Songs that make more use of vocals and guitar than the backbeat do well with the DGX, though listeners wanting stronger bass out of preference will be fine with the DSX. Bands such as Silversun Pickups, Muse and Linkin Park are some examples that I feel that personal preferences will drive the decision between either the livelier DGX or more basshead DSX.
There is no question that electronic dance music and house benefit from the more bass heavy card. I don’t have to explain this further than by noting that the DSX does drop the bass harder.
Floors shaking. Walls rattling. An audio visualization of “One” by Swedish House Mafia shows just how much bass is pumping.
Classical music & soundtracks
Results were somewhat mixed, though mostly favor of the DSX. The DGX is a real loser here because it almost always sounded the same as motherboard audio.
It really depends on the song. For example, the entire Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons was inconclusive because it’s lots of violin and lots of strings. Scale up the variety of instruments and it’s the DSX that sounds better.