Asus Xonar Essence STX - PCI-E Audiophile Soundcard

Software

Software

At first I was a little worried that the Xonar Essence would come with the 'bloatware' that you see on X-Fi based cards. This type of driver and software really does turn you off getting a card if you just want it to produce good sound.

Luckily, I need not have worried. Asus have given you a slightly flashy user interface, but it doesn't feel clunky and everything is available right there in front of you, no switching of modes or anything like that.

UI main
 
Pictures is the main part of the UI where all of the input switching takes place. Here you can determine how many speakers you are using, what type of analogue output you would like and how you want the SPDIF to work.

Setting SPDIF to Dolby Digital Live immediately greys out the analogue outputs. Settings the analogue output to speakers means that the sound goes out through the analogue RCA out. Setting to headphone means the onboard headphone AMP is activated.

There is such a large combination of outputs you can have I don't have time to list them all here. Suffice to say there is a great range of outputs and it's great to have them all in one place.
 
mixer

The Mixer allows you to adjust left and right levels for output and adjust any input levels.
 
effect

The Effect panel allows you to add a huge range of environmental presets (surprisingly) and EQ presets to your music. Those with any modern soundcard or half decent onboard sound will be familiar with this and familiar with the fact they don't improve sound much. The only one I found useful was "Padded Cell", which negates echo if you hear any.

Obviously here you can adjust your EQ settings if you so desire and it does have an effect on the music. The presets are there for the EQ but frankly there are always terrible and not worth using.
 
Karaoke

The Karaoke screen is a bit of fun. You can fiddle with this and have your own Karaoke sesh if you feel so inclined. It does work fairly well, but I'm afraid it just isn't my thing. I think I had better learn to sing before I even attempt it!
 
flexbass

Flexbass is an interesting part of the package. It allows you to set the LFE Crossover to whatever you want, down to 50HZ. This is a good idea for those who want to ensure that their speakers are either getting the most bass possible, or ensuring that your speakers are only fed the higher frequencies.
 
vocalfx

VocalFX is another feature I didn't get a huge amount of time to play with. Perhaps best described in the manual:
 
VocalFX is an innovative voice processing technology to let your voice get into the realistic game landscape (VoiceEX) or to emulate the background scenes in online chat (ChatEX). It also allows you to change your voice pitch to disguise who you are (Magic Voice). These features dramatically increase the fun for voice communication on PC.

It's a decent idea and could possibly be useful in some scenarios, but mostly it's a bit fun really. Might be good for winding up mates!
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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.
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