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Asus Xonar Essence STX review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £157
inc VAT

Asus’s latest high-fidelity sound card is expensive compared to most home PC audio processors, but the Xonar Essence STX has a few unique features to justify its high price.

Asus is so proud of the card that it includes an audio precision report in the box. The reported results are impressive, as are the amplifier and decoder chips used on the card. Like Auzentech’s Auzen X-Fi Prelude 7.1 (What’s New, Shopper 239), it has replaceable op-amp chips so you can customise and upgrade your audio output.

Even without upgrades, the card sounds superb. It’s loud, too, in terms of output and recording volume. We were particularly impressed by the clarity of treble tones and could hear subtle high-end harmonics that most sound cards fail to reproduce. Bass tones were powerful and precise.

Thanks to a maximum impedance of 600 ohms, it can drive higher impedance headphones than any card we’ve seen, including those designed for small-scale audio production. Admittedly, 600 ohms headphones are more commonly found in a radio station’s broadcast equipment than in the home of even the most rabid hi-fi or audio production enthusiast, but it’s nice to have the option.

The ?in headphone socket means that you can plug in studio headphones without an adaptor. A stereo adaptor lets you use normal headphones, too. The main line/mic in port is also ?in, but you may want more ports if you’re serious about audio production. There’s a pair of phono outputs for standard stereo speakers, although we’d have liked ?in outputs here, too, for use with studio monitors. If you want surround sound, there’s a combined optical and coaxial S/PDIF. A front-panel header makes the card easy to integrate with your PC’s case.

Audio production fans will appreciate the low-latency ASIO 2.0 driver and 24-bit/192KHz sampling rates on all inputs and outputs. We were also pleased with the card’s MIDI sound banks and GM2 filters that can be used in audio editing and live DJ software. For gaming, Asus’s sound cards rely on a software implementation of Creative’s EAX 5.0 standard, which makes for an immersive gaming experience. Dolby Digital Live and Dolby Headphone support caters for movie enthusiasts.

According to its publicity material, the Essence is designed to play “heavenly music”. It sounds stunning, but its high-end features are overkill for most users, who’ll simply want good-quality audio from games, movies and music. If your PC is the centrepiece of your hi-fi system, this could be the card for you. However, most users would be better off with a more affordable sound card, such as Asus’s Xonar DX (What’s New, Shopper 248), despite its lack of specialist hi-fi features.

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