|ASUS Xonar Essence STX PCI-E Sound Card|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Audio|
|Written by Vito Cassisi - Edited by Olin Coles|
|Thursday, 16 December 2010|
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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:
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:
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.