We have looked at the high-end Strix Raid Pro previously and today we are looking at the most affordable of the Strix sound cards, the Soar. The non-Raid version has much the same hardware and features as its bigger brothers, but it comes without the fancy volume control and its Raid mode features. Is the Strix Soar still worth your every penny?
Same as Strix Raid Pro, Asus uses high grade Nichicon capacitors in Strix Soar. They are also using the TI TPA6120A2 headphone amplifier chip which is a very accessible broad partnering design to accommodate a wide range of headphones from 16 to 600 ohms which seems like the most viable option considering the price range of this sound card.
Another component of Strix Soar on the PCB is the ESS Sabre9006A Premier 8 Channel Audio DAC converter chip which delivers up to 116dB of resolution. Asus have also paired up C-Media USB 2.0 6632AX High-definition Sound Processor with full 192kHz/24 bit support and CS5361 A/D converter which has a 114dBa dynamic range.
Like its bigger brother, Strix Soar is a good-looking sound card with its pretty shroud. While it is not there to funnel airflow like a graphics card would, it instead offers some EMI protection and also gives physical cover to some of the more sensitive internal components like the capacitors.
As mentioned on the packaging, a four layer PCB is used on the Strix Soar, with two layers of ground incorporated to separate digital and analog digital interference. The PCB has the same layout as the Raid version of the card. Power is claimed to be independently supplied and regulated to reduce noise and if you have a chunky graphics card cooler taking up extra slots, Asus has done a good job of keeping Strix Soar streamlined.
For testing, we used the same listening hardware as the Strix Raid Pro which are Audio Technica ATH-M50X headphones, Razer Kraken 7.1 gaming headset and Klipsch R110SW. There is no doubt that the sound quality delivered was good, like the Strix Raid Pro and the headphone amp had no problems driving them.
All the tested headphones sounded extremely punchy and focused, and virtual surround effect was still noteworthy. Another improvement is that quiet clicks and background sounds which come from the headphone amplifier chip are much more apparent now with the Strix Soar in place. For the Klipsch R110SW, the jump in quality of the first few notes sounded out from the speakers was very apparent.
The first few tracks I played using the Klipsch R110SW provides much fuller sound and the sound was clearer, crispier and more nuanced, with a much more well represented frequency range.
NO EXTERNAL BOX
As mentioned just now, the only difference between the Strix Soar and Strix Raid Pro is that the bigger brother came with a bundled volume control that could also tweak some of the back-end software options for the sound card. Although it is an added convenience if it is on your desktop, it is not something I felt the loss of that keenly. The options can still be easily adjusted outside of a game if needed and even with that bundled volume control I still have to minimize it to tweak the options mid-game.
Another option worth mentioning is the Sonic Radar Pro. It acts as a visual-audio overlay when playing certain games which let you ‘see’ where sounds are coming from. This could probably result in a gameplay advantage in the case of a FPS or in tense horror titles.
In summary, Asus Strix Soar 7.1 has high grade components, good build quality, an attractive EMI shroud, full support for up to 7.1 surround sound with 192KHz/24bit audio, a huge number of tweakable options, is simple to use and is very affordable.
All in all, Asus has done a great job with its line of Strix sound cards. While there is some argument to be made for spending more on its expensive bigger brothers, for those on a budget, the Soar is a fantastically affordable one and it offers much better bang for buck as it offers big improvements in audio over integrated solutions.