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Lifewire / Emily Ramirez
Well-designed and durable
Ergonomic, useful controls for in-game tweaks
Native 7.1 surround sound support
Sound could have been even better
Lots of cables
No 6.3mm headphone support
The ASUS Strix Raid PRO audio card is a gamer-focused product that delivers on every front. For about $160, ASUS brings stellar audio, native 7.1 surround support, and a control knob that lets gamers edit their sound at a moment’s notice.
The ASUS Strix Raid PRO audio card sounds as good as it looks. ASUS delivered a quality product with a focus on useability. However, that convenience comes at a cost for those demanding flawless audio, as the card does exhibit some issues on audio equipment above the $300 mark. It struggles with deep bass and lacks a commanding sound stage, but its bass boost and virtual surround effects sound great on good consumer headphones, such as the Sennheiser GSP300 or the Sony MDR-7506. Furthermore, it has the sound and features necessary for top gaming performance: excellent treble to hear audio cues, a separate control box that lets you change the sound signature and volume with the push of a button, and a comprehensive software solution to tweak everything to your liking.
The Strix Raid PRO is a gorgeous card, with a rugged, aggressive design that sits beautifully in a tower PC. The black, rigid outer case acts as a shield against EM interference from the rest of the PC. On the side is a glowing orange eye that recalls a strix, the mythological bird after which the card is named, and the motif is an attractive way to break up the matte black of the case. On the inside, the audio chipset supports a max range of 192kHz and 24 bit audio, with 116dB SNR, 10 Hz to 48 kHz frequency playback, an 8 channel DAC, and a 500 milliwatt amplifier. It has connections for 3.5mm line-in, five 3.5mm line-out, and one S/PDIF out, and natively supports 7.1 surround.
(Why do you need an amplifier? Check out this guide.)
The Strix also comes with a control box, an external interface where you can plug in your mic and headphones, and you can manually control the card’s outputs. It has a 3.5mm line-in and line-out, and it interfaces to the sound card with an HDMI to RCA cable that ASUS provides in the box. The control box is a black and orange hexagonal station with a huge knob on its face. The knob controls volume digitally, speaker/headphone output, and a button for Raid Mode which allows you to toggle on a custom EQ preset. It’s a smart, ergonomic design that lets users quickly alter settings without the need to open up software.
Unfortunately, the Strix is finicky to install. The quick start guide provided in the box is too vague to be useful. To install the Strix, you will need a vacant PCIe slot on your motherboard and a free 6-pin connector from your main power supply unit. Then you will need to install the Strix drivers from the included CD or ASUS’s support page. This will also install the ASUS Sonic Studio, which provides basic EQ settings and a few interesting presets.
When we set it up, we had to restart the PC a few times before the card would start working. There was also a bug where it would stop working whenever we switched the output from headphones to speakers and back again. Diagnosing this bug was a pain: reinstalling the card didn’t fix it, and it happened whenever we used Tidal music player. When we looked through Tidal’s settings, it turns out that it had a locked input (it would only output 44.1 kHz 24 bit audio), but this lock bug did not happen with any other audio device we tested. For comparison, we tested the OPPO HA-1 amplifier, the EVGA Nu audio card, several Sound Blaster cards, and well as our MSI Carbon Z370 motherboard’s onboard audio.
The Strix Raid PRO audio card has a very good sound signature with the Sennheiser HD800s. (What’s a sound signature? Find out here.) The audio is incredibly clear, and its virtual surround effects are believable. It purports to cover a profile of 10-48,000 Hz, but we had trouble hearing the lower frequencies. The bass was struggling to come out, leaving the lows sounding flat. Without virtual surround enabled, it has a mediocre sound stage and a lack of richness overall.
The Strix Raid PRO audio card has a very good sound profile. The audio is incredibly clear, and its virtual surround effects are believable.
We don’t feel comfortable calling this card suitable for music or theater, but it is a solid card for gaming. The clear trebles and mids let us capture all the informational details of the audio in games like Overwatch, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, and the Resident Evil 2 remake. For film-watching, the treble emphasis was good for distinguishing dialogue, but the limited mids and bass left the film’s soundtrack feeling lackluster. Still, we do think that what the card is missing in audio performance, it makes up in its software performance.
The Strix Raid PRO audio card comes with the ASUS Sonic Studio software. In Sonic Studio, you can control the master volume, speaker volume, headphone volume, panning, output, and enable a virtual surround effect that emulates front speakers, back speakers, and/or full sound. The virtual surround simulator is particularly impressive, as it really did trick our ears into thinking the sound was coming from all around us! There are other presets, including one attached to the Raid Mode button on the control box, and options for treble boost, bass boost, and voice clarity. In particular, its compressor effect is particularly powerful, giving new life to bad recordings (although we strongly recommend you avoid low-quality audio formats and use hi-res files).
Its control box makes changing audio blazingly fast, letting you focus on your game and not your EQ software.
We tested Raid Mode on “Balanced” in several games, and it boosted the treble, but it didn’t give us a significant tactical advantage. We gained a much bigger advantage from the surround sound capabilities of the card. That said, Raid Mode is a good option, as the manufacturer suggests, for switching between in-game and chat audio.
For a market value of about $160, the ASUS Strix Raid PRO is a decent audio card. We don’t think it offers the best audio possible at this price point, but it’s a strong choice for gaming and provides a host of useful functionality through its incredible surround software and versatile control box.
The ASUS Strix Raid Pro may not deliver the most sterling hardware sound quality on the market, but it’s a good choice for gaming and is priced very competitively. Its real strong point is the versatile and powerful software that comes packaged with it, which goes a long way towards mitigating (and concealing) its faults.
The ASUS Strix Raid PRO sounds a hair better than the Sound Blaster ZxR, but what really puts the Strix ahead of the ZxR is its control box: the ability to enable Raid Mode with the push of a button is immensely useful in fast-paced gaming. To enable/disable useful sound changes with the ZxR, you have to delve into software and pause gameplay or risk groping around for a hotkey. Read our review here.
The EVGA Nu shines against the Strix on the basis of sound quality, but has a very simple software interface, making it suitable for those who don’t want to mess with EQ settings but not anyone looking to completely customize their experience. While it may not be as versatile as the Strix for gaming, the Nu is the card to get for those who prize sound quality above all else. This card may cost about $250, but it performs on par with dedicated $1,000+ audio setups thanks to the brilliant partnership EVGA made with Audio Note.
Then there’s the Schiit Magni and Schiit Modi, an external DAC and amp. They have no software and are perfectly neutral, so all sound will come out exactly as it was recorded in the studio. Their audio quality is impeccable for its $200 price point, and it will be easier to upgrade an external component than an internal one (especially given some of the software issues we encountered with the Strix).
One of the best sound cards for gaming.
If you’re a gamer and like to customize your sound, the ASUS Strix Raid PRO is an excellent choice. Its sound is not the absolute best for its price, but it’s very good and has all the performance you’d need to pair with sub-$300 headphones or speakers. Its control box makes changing audio blazingly fast, letting you focus on your game and not your EQ software.