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ASUS Xonar Essence STX PCI-E Sound Card E-mail
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Written by Vito Cassisi - Edited by Olin Coles   
Thursday, 16 December 2010
Table of Contents: Page Index
ASUS Xonar Essence STX PCI-E Sound Card
Closer Look: ASUS Xonar Essence STX
ASUS Xonar Essence STX Detailed Features
ASUS Xonar Audio Center Software
Features and Specifications
Listening Test Results
RightMark Audio Analyser Results
Final Thoughts and Conclusion

Testing Methodology

To test the ASUS Xonar Essence STX we have used RightMark Audio Analyser 6.2.3. This produces graphs which display the following aspects of an audio card:

  • Frequency response
    The optimal frequency response of an audio card is a flat line at 0dB. That is, for a given input signal, the response should be consistently 0dB across all frequencies. If the line deviates from 0dB, then there is undesired attenuation or emphasis in the resultant signal.
  • Noise level
    Noise is unwanted sound. The noise floor is the sum of all noise sources. The lower the noise floor is the better, since any signals below this become difficult (if not impossible) to distinguish. Noise is measured in dB (decibels).
  • Dynamic range
    Dynamic range in terms of an audio source differs slightly to that of a piece of music or instrument. It represents the ratio between the highest undistorted sine wave amplitude and the root mean square of the noise floor amplitude. It is measured in dB, and the larger the value the better.
  • Total harmonic distortion (THD)
    Put simply, THD is the measurement of harmonic distortion introduced by components of an audio system, represented as a percentage. The lower this value the better. According to Wikipedia, a value of under 1% is inaudible, however without citation we'll take this with a grain of salt.
  • Intermodulation distortion
    Another measure of distortion, this time caused by non-linear signal processing which causes the unwanted amplitude modulation (AM) of two or more signals. Measured as a percentage, this value is best when very small.
  • Stereo crosstalk
    Stereo crosstalk is the is leakage of sound from one channel into another. This is measured in dB. Lower values are desired.
Each of these tests will be run four times to ensure consistency, using an external loopback cable. If the results are consistent, the best result of the four will be used to offset error introduced by noise produced by the lengthy loopback cable.
In addition to these analytical tests, we will be listening to some music to gauge whether there's an audible difference, and whether the difference is an improvement. The tracks we will use for testing include The Wall pt. 1-3 and Shine on You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd, assorted tracks by Sarah Blasko including Bird on a Wire, and selected tracks from David Russell. These tests will be done with 'Hi-FI' mode enabled (which turns off all enhancements) within Xonar Audio Center.
The headphones used to run these tests include:
  • Alessandro Music Series One (2009 version, a.k.a MS1i)
  • Sennheiser PC350 gaming headphones (as bundled with the Xonar Xense)
  • Sennheiser CX500 canalphones

Test System

  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-K8N Pro-SLI
  • System Memory: 2GB DDR400
  • Processor: AMD Athlon X2 4400+
  • Audio: ASUS Xonar Essence STX, ASUS Xonar Xense, AC'97 Realtek ALC850
  • Video: AMD HD4670
  • PSU: CoolerMaster eXtreme 380W
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium 64bit

Listening Test Results

The first thing you notice when using the Essence STX over the onboard solution is how clear and defined instruments sound within a track. You can hear the softest of notes with utmost clarity. Tracks with a large dynamic range such as Pink Floyd's offerings come across spectacularly, with natural punchy bass and guitar strums which send shivers down your spine. These traits, however, are difficult to appreciate without a quiet room and high fidelity audio gear. The Alessandro MS1i were the best option here, but in all honesty, it's very difficult to hear the difference between onboard and the Essence STX in majority of cases. The Essence STX requires very good source audio, and equally grand equipment to be truly appreciated. Perhaps the most notable track during testing was David Russell's 'Tu Imagen'. The detailed strums of the guitar are simply unmatched by the onboard solution. It's this fine attention to detail which separates a good sound solution from an excellent one.

Movies are amazing on the Essence STX. When set to 6 channels and with Dolby Headphone enabled, even stereo headphones sound convincingly surround. The Alessandro MS1i headphones aren't known for a large soundstage, yet the effect is still surprisingly good. The onboard solution struggled with claustrophobia-inducing lifeless sound. The movie iRobot was used for this evaluation.

Gaming proved interesting. Just as movies sound great with Dolby Headphone, games come across as vivid and realistic. Enabling 'game' and 'GX' modes proved to be effective in games such as Unreal Tournament 3 and DiRT2. 'GX' mode enables EAX emulation for games which implement its API. Although the Essence STX doesn't have native hardware EAX support, it emulates it well. Again, the onboard Realtek audio processor struggled, with similarly constrained sound to the movie tests.



 

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