Asus Xonar Essence STX - PCI-E Audiophile Soundcard

Introduction and Specification

Introduction

card
The PC Soundcard is a market that has been dominated by Creative up until fairly recently. Creative is a monolith seemingly wrapped up in it's own success and any innovation seems to come at the cost of quality.

This is where Asus steps in with their Asus Xonar Essence STX. Despite its long and convulted title, this card may be just be what the PC sound-card market has been waiting for - a proper SOUND card. You may be wondering what I am saying by that. Let's see what Asus say about it:

"Story behind the Masterpiece
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors crystallized their knowledge of the materials and music into the Chime of Tiger, one of the first audio masterpiece in human history. Gold-plated on the EMI shield, the Chime of Tiger totem not only represents Xonar teams new footnote in audio innovation, but also mankind's endless pursuit of the Essence of Sound."

Now what I really want to draw your attention towards is the last bit. Asus are after the "Essence of Sound" in this card. This is a card aimed at those who want excellent quality sound for music. It's not aimed at gamers and not at cinema buffs. It's aimed at those wanting to get the most out of their PC music collection. This is a good thing in my eyes. Sure you can grab an X-Fi and see how it does with music. I'm sure it would be perfectly adequate, but there's no mainstream cards that really do the trick with music.


Specification

Taken from Asus's website.

Audio Performance
Output Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):
124dB for Front-out,117dB for Headphone-out (600ohms) dB
Input Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):
118 dB
Output THD+N at 1kHz:
0.0003% (-110dB) for Front-out, 0.001% (-100dB) for Headphone-out
Input THD+N at 1kHz:
0.0002% (-113dB) for Line-in
Frequency Response (-3dB, 24-bit/192kHz input):
<10Hz to 90KHz
Output/Input Full-Scale Voltage
2 Vrms (5.65 Vp-p)
Bus Compatibility
PCI Express:
-PCI Express Rev. specification compatible
-Compatible with X1, X4, X8, X16 PCI Express slots
Main Chipset
Audio Processor:
ASUS AV100 High-Definition Sound Processor (Max. 192KHz/24bit)
24-bit D-A Converter of Digital Sources:
Texas Instruments PCM1792A*1 for Front-Out (127dB SNR, Max. 192kHz/24bit)
24-bit A-D Converter for Analog Inputs:
Cirrus-Logic CS5381* 1 (120dB SNR, Max. 192kHz/24bit)
High Fidelity Headphone Amplifier:
Texas Instruments 6120A2*1 (120dB SNR, 100dB THD+N @ Vcc±12V, RL=600, f=1kHz)
Sample Rate and Resolution
Analog Playback Sample Rate and Resolution:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit
Analog Recording Sample Rate and Resolution:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit
S/PDIF Digital Output:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit, Dolby Digital
ASIO 2.0 Driver Support:
Supports 44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @16/24bit with very low latency
I/O Ports
Front-Panel Header
Shared by Headphone out / 2 channels out /
Microphone in S/PDIF Header: Connects to compatiable graphic cards for HDMI output Analog Output Jack:
RCA jack *2 (Front R / Front L), 6.30mm jack*1 (Headphone out)
Analog Input Jack:
6.30mm jack *1 (Shared by Line-In/Mic-In)
Other line-level analog input (for CD-IN/TV Tuner):
Aux-In (4-pin header on the card)
Digital S/PDIF Output:
High-bandwidth Coaxial/TOS-Link combo port supports 192KHz/24bit
Driver Features
Operation System:
Windows Vista/XP(32/64bit)/MCE2005
Dolby® Technologies:
Dolby® Digital Live
Dolby Digital Live encodes any audio signal on PC in real-time to Dolby Digital (AC3) 5.1 surround sounds to your home theater environment through one single S/PDIF connection

Dolby® Headphone
Dolby Headphone technology allows users to listen to music, watch movies, or play games with the dramatic 5.1-channel surround or realistic 3D spacious effects through any set of stereo headphones.

Dolby® Virtual Speaker
Dolby Virtual Speaker technology simulates a highly realistic 5.1-speaker surround sound listening environment from as few as two speakers.

Dolby® Pro-Logic II
Dolby Pro-Logic II is the well-known technology to process any native stereo or 5.1-channel audio into up to 6.1 channel output, creating a seamless, natural surround soundfield.
Smart Volume Normalizer:
Smart Volume Normalizer
Normalizes the volume of all audio sources into a constant level and also enhances your 3D sound listening range and advantages in gaming
Xear 3D Virtual Speaker Shifter:
Virtual 7.1 speaker positioning
Karaoke Functions:
Music Key-Shifting and Microphone Echo effects like professional Karaoke machine
FlexBass:
Professional Bass Management/Enhancement system
3D Sound Engines/APIs:
Vista: DirectSound3D® GX 2.5, DirectSound® HW, DirectSound SW, A3D®1.0, OpenAL generic modes, 128 3D sounds processing capability

XP: DirectSound2.5 SW, A3D®1.0, OpenAL generic modes, 128 3D sounds processing capability
Accessories
1 x 3.5mm-to-RCA adaptor cable (8ch)
1 x S/PDIF optical adaptors

A pretty beefy set of specs there with the most obvious omission being DTS decoding which is a little suprising. Note that the Dolby processing should convert the signal to 5.1 in this case, but I will be testing this.


«Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Next»

Most Recent Comments

09-03-2009, 06:28:46

FarFarAway
Asus give us a musically orientated soundcard to play with.

We play music LOUD and see how it does.

http://www.overclock3d.net/gfx/artic...154159941s.png

Read more inside....

09-03-2009, 08:28:07

Diablo
Nice review, but linky is to quad sli forum not this 'un.

Given the price, it looks like it would go great with my shure se530s, but if I'm sitting at my desk I prefer speakers.

Definitely a niche audiophile product (like high end headphones) but still a nice review guys.

09-03-2009, 08:59:04

FarFarAway
I prefer speakers too, which is why I hooked it up to my AV receiver

Great card and personally I don't see it as a niche product per se, it's got all the connections you'd need to use with a decent speaker system (inc digital out)

09-03-2009, 09:26:47

Diablo
I suppose I prefer a normal 7.1 wired on 3.5mm jacks rather than needing a separate amp etc.

I guess if you have higher end audio its great, but for 120 I would go for the D2X. I suppose its aimed at music listeners rather than gamers so its better in that respect. Considering my only really high quality headphones are the shures (~250) its not worth it just for those.

Its all a matter of what you want from the card and if you want really nice sounding music and have a good av kit, this is definitely the card to go for.

09-03-2009, 10:18:00

JN
Nice review mate and yes that card does indeed rock. Had one in my system for a month or so now and I just could never go back to an X-Fi or whatever now.

09-03-2009, 12:17:36

Luigi
How does it compare to the normal asus cards, does anyone know?

And kempez, the forum link at the end links to quad sli review...

09-03-2009, 12:26:49

FarFarAway
I have changed that now, should work

09-03-2009, 15:50:52

Rastalovich
I can see people buying this card thinking, the money & ASUS, I play games, watch high def movies - so hey it's gotta be good - and being disappointed.

U can almost see the threads now.

Tbh, to be inclined to buy something like this, at this expense, has to be for those who would like to dedicate a pc to music only, and handling movies.

I'd not promote it for the price. I'd almost certainly point some1 at an X-fi with more variation in what it can do.

There is certainly a market for the card. Personally I'd put it at just under the level of Fatal1ty badged stuff. (market share I mean, not the quality).

Having experienced studio performance outputs from various sources, justifying 160 or so for this is going to be very hard.

The emi shielding I was interested in looking at. It would be nice to test it. Just from the look, I can't see it doing an effective job that might be necessary if required. High end graphics cards can influence ur soundcards alot with emi. I would have expected a whole shrouding of the card if deemed necessary. Thinking about it, I tend to imagine they've used it similarly to how Creative and others have (so u can't see underneath it).

From the indepth review, I'd leave it to the purchase of some1 who want's to buy excessive kit for their 96khz sampled music to play through their various output systems with increasing degradation.

Hey, just like with graphics, if u buy it, it sounds great to u - the manufacturer has done their job and u will be happy.

Great stuff.

09-03-2009, 16:28:29

Sihastru
Very good review.

I know they aren't in the same class but a comparison between this one and the DX2/DX series would have been nice. They don't have the same quality OPAMPs and AMP circuitry but they do share the same platform. So I wonder how much of the quality is provided by the basic hardware and how much more is the STX compared to them.

I say this because most of the pro-sumer headphones out there today can be powered even by the DX2/DX. High impedance phones are getting rarer and rarer. These days you hear more and more about "high-efficiency" cans.

And I like being able to unplug my cans from the PC and plug them into my Cowon D2 and go for a little walk around.

09-03-2009, 17:20:57

FarFarAway
@ Rast

Several points I want to address here.

Firstly I see the market niche as actually a pretty large one. For those who want an HTPC to play music and movies well: this is the sound card to get in the price bracket. The price point is frankly not a lot more than the other high end cards, all of which are aimed at gamers not muso's.

I also do not see where you got the high def movies from. People who watch high def movies and want high def sound will have to buy something that handles TrueHD and DTS MA HD, neither of which this card claims to have. I also do not think people will be disappointed with it's gaming performance necessarily: it performs very well in almost every game tested.

The sound card makes music sound better. That's what I was getting at in the review and that's the point of it. Even if you don't have FLAC then your ripped music will still sound better than it does at the moment due to the quality of the sound the card produces. Perhaps you're not into music and in which case fine, but anyone who wants convenience of PC music with some of the excellent quality sound of a decent stereo, this again is the card to get.

The shielding I tend to agree with but it must be doing something there, it's certainly sat over the core DACs and OPAMPs reducing interference but how much it's doing is a matter for debate.

I came at this review (as always), from a totally neutral stand-point, other than being someone who listens to a lot of music I suppose. As has been splashed around in the news: people nowadays are used to the tinny-ness of compressed iPod/MP3 sound. This card just brings something a little different and a little less tinny to the forum....and that is certainly worth praise. Sure an X-Fi will do the job...but does it sound tinny as hell?

Yes.

@Sihastru: yes I agree with you in part, most headphones can be driven by a normal sound card. The Essence STX does go a step further and will drive any headphones you throw at it with ease, along with a sublime sound quality. I've compared it to the sound cards tested for over two weeks of fairly solid listening and without doubt it does a nicer job with your music.

Unfortunately we couldn't get a DX2/DX in time for the review to be completed, so I cannot comment on that aspect of your question, soz.

10-03-2009, 12:05:19

Rastalovich
Quote:
Originally Posted by name='Kempez'
@ Rast

I came at this review (as always), from a totally neutral stand-point, other than being someone who listens to a lot of music I suppose. As has been splashed around in the news: people nowadays are used to the tinny-ness of compressed iPod/MP3 sound. This card just brings something a little different and a little less tinny to the forum....and that is certainly worth praise. Sure an X-Fi will do the job...but does it sound tinny as hell?

Yes.
Some excellent points.

The matter of all soundcard options, be they pc or dedicated boxes, is almost always how it molests the sounds (beit data driven or analogue media) b4 the amps molest them, b4 ur monitors molest them. It's very hard to give a review that isn't too based on personal opinion - i.e. who hears it.

Almost like vetting a picture or a tv screen, and all u can do is show people jpegs of it.

It is a niche market. I do think those not-knowing will buy them for their general pcs tho - and from that point they will be slated out of ignorance perhaps, than anything else.

It would be interesting to send an oscilloscope wave into the digital-in and overlay the same wave on the output - I'm surprized some audiophile site doesn't do that.

Hearing is objective tbh. It's what makes the review so difficult in the first place.

10-03-2009, 16:22:34

FarFarAway
Yes it is definitely subjective, as I stated on the page title

There's no doubting though, that the sound from an X-Fi is tinny and has a metallic quality to it, somewhat artificial. I've had a few friends over comparing the sound with me and all agree that the card helps give that sound that almost let's you forget there are speakers there. That's what we ultimately try to reproduce isn't it? The music being played there in front of you.

It's not perfect, far from it, but I've not heard a better mainstream PC sound card and that deserves praise in my eyes.

10-03-2009, 18:32:01

Rastalovich
I dunno. I became pretty complacent over the whole issue hearing what at first hand is a multi-thousand set of studio equipment, playing studio quality recordings, replaced by what could be described as a glorified iPod. U molest the sound to the way u want it to be heard, then broadcast it. Unmolested, u could solder together some bench equipment to play the original recording and it'll sound tinny and flat.

Effects are good and powerful through some trademarked techniques, but again that's more processing of premade recordings.

16-06-2010, 05:47:05

nylonic48
Few interesting points here.I have one of these in my pc at the moment. I previously had a creative xfi xtreme audio. I wasn't disapointed with the creative, it was basically all I knew and working on that criteria I was impressed with it for most of the time. When I installed the xonar I expected a massive leap in sound quality, which didn't happen, I have to say I was initally somewhat disapointed, but ultimately the disapointment disolved, I found myself listening to the music, and not listening to the soundcard after a while, the matter was forgotten by and large. Some months later I had reason to install the creative into another pc and decided to 'hook' it up to one of the inputs on my amp, the same amp the asus uses, just a different input, the idea being to have a listen and comparison to the asus. This was the biggest of revelations, the sound quality really is awful compared to the asus, and I arent knocking the creative, it was half the price of the asus. The object lesson here being, that sometimes its not when you 'add' something to a system that you get the real benefits, over time the gradual improvements are almost just accepted and subtle as they are, they arent noticed. It's when you take that step 'backwards' that you really notice what the differences are. Creative cards are great value,but thats all they are,they have absolutely nothing to offer to serious music listeners.In the world of quality audio equipment 'Sound' is subjective, we all know that, I have heard systems costing ridiculous amounts of money and I havent been at all impressed, conversely I have heard budget equipment which has really quite surprised me, the price of audio equipment doesnt always reflect just what you get for your money and certainly a 500 amplifier never sounds twice as good as a 250 amp, its that law of diminishing returns that comes into play for some of the time. Soundcards break this rule to an extent, you tend to get what you pay for , by and large, not always, but I think anybody who knows about decent sound will know what I mean.

20-01-2011, 07:44:31

marxviper
How does it compare to xonar xense in games? I am interested to hear about this matter. I am planning to get denon ah-d2000 and checking my options with this to asus xonar xense.
Reply
x

Register for the OC3D Newsletter

Subscribing to the OC3D newsletter will keep you up-to-date on the latest technology reviews, competitions and goings-on at Overclock3D. We won't share your email address with ANYONE, and we will only email you with updates on site news, reviews, and competitions and you can unsubscribe easily at any time.

Simply enter your name and email address into the box below and be sure to click on the links in the confirmation emails that will arrive in your e-mail shortly after to complete the registration.

If you run into any problems, just drop us a message on the forums.