A while back I purchased a “renewed” i.e., refurbished Dell OptiPlex. It’s a small footprint computer that originally came with Windows 7 which was replaced with Windows 10 during its refurb. To make a long story short, since this computer was chronicled in a previous article, this has been an excellent buy and a computer I used daily to cruise the net without fear of losing anything important. You can read more about this $195 net cruiser in this article.
The only complaint I have with the OptiPlex is the Realtek audio, which generally is decent, but this one is underpowered to say the least. Couldn’t get a lot of volume out of the thing with middle-of-the-road speakers attached. The computer it replaced was an aging but high-end HP Elite that was retired from work due to mounting problems. It finally got too bad to continue hence the dive into the cheap refurb market for a simple net cruiser.
There are browser extensions, free, for boosting volume well past 100 percent of the native application. I saw references to some as going up to 1000 percent, but we all know that there has to be a decent underlying tone for volume boosters to work. Also boosting to 1000 percent can introduce horrible distortion during playback.
A soundcard was the answer but how much to spend? The pc only cost $195 so I was hoping to keep it as cheap as possible. Around the $40 US to $50 US range. Room for the card was not a problem but something I hadn’t counted on reared its head during installation, we’ll get back to that later.
After a little internet research, aka Googling, the ASUS Xonar SE dominated the results, and the price was right at $39.99 US at most places (it can be as high as $49.99). While this represented a 25% additional cost to the OptiPlex it would be welcomed as we mostly watch videos and news on it. We also listened to a lot of music with it, so the sound was important to us.
Courtesy of ASUS
I then ran into a problem that many of us face now, it was out of stock, no supply available from the places I trust. I had to wait several weeks. Ten years ago, the wait would be expected but today… today I want what I want when I decide I want it. Something about buying almost everything online can spoil a person… till the pandemic mucked up the supply chain for some items.
Finally, it was in stock. I got the thing ordered and within a few days the card was sitting on my front porch… just waiting to be installed which, considering a screwless case was involved, should be quick enough.
As mentioned earlier there was a glitch during installation. The form factor of the case was something I did not take into consideration as all my PCs have been towers. Thankfully ASUS had this covered as they included a backplate for small form pcs. I located a jeweler-type screwdriver and changed out the plate which only involved two, very tiny, Phillips head screws.
It took longer to unplug all the cords from the OptiPlex than it did to install the soundcard. Within minutes I had the thing up and running. Windows 10 recognized the card and provided the needed drivers. This is great but there was still one problem. It sounded better, had more volume, but not enough and the sound was flat.
I couldn’t find any equalizer or decent controls. I was more than a bit let down until I decided to see if ASUS provided a download for better controls. After finding and installing the software I was immediately greeted with a new Xonar desktop shortcut which I wasted no time in clicking on.
The soundcard interface popped up and I found the equalizer along with the 5.1 environment controls. As suspected the sliders were all in the middle and once I had fiddled around with them long enough I found the combination I liked and saved it as a custom setting.
Combined with a free, volume-boosting Brave browser extension, Volume Master, I can boost the volume over the native range and the Xonar soundcard gives it the good underlying sound to cut down on distortion. Unless you crank Volume Master up too high which, as mentioned earlier, will add some bad distortion but that is too be expected of this type of volume boost.
The ASUS Xonar SE soundcard has proven to be the answer I needed and to this point has provided no problems working with Windows 10.
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M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.