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ASUS Xonar Essence STX PCI-E Sound Card E-mail
Reviews - Featured Reviews: Audio
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

ASUS Xonar Essence STX PCI-Express Sound Card Review

Humans have five main senses; touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing. Modern computing strives to advance the integration of these senses to produce stimulation during interaction, whether it be for games, movies or writing lengthy documents like this one! Naturally, some senses are more difficult to implement in an appealing manner, such as taste - silicon doesn't taste too good!

Stimulating some senses may cause concern. The only time you're going to get a smell out of your PC is when you fry something, releasing the soul of the device in the form of a cloud of white smoke. Not to mention touch, which is wonderful on phones, and painful when you press your fingers against an overclocked northbridge.

But the sense we're here to discuss isn't either of these. It's hearing. People spend hundreds on their CPUs, GPUs, motherboards, storage and memory, but dedicated sound is oft considered an unnecessary expense. Why pay for a card when your motherboard has a Realtek chipset?

ASUS refuse to believe that onboard sound is enough. In our possession is their flagship audiophile audio card, the Essence STX, prepped for rigorous testing here at Benchmark Reviews. They claim "ultra-high fidelity" sound, and a remarkable 124dB signal-to-noise ratio on the front output. Will the onboard solution take a thrashing by this menacing card, or are enthusiasts correct in sticking with whatever their motherboard supplies?

Audio cards are often used by audiophiles, and those who work with music at a professional level. Factors such as noise, amplification, circuit quality, API extensions (such as EAX) and DSP effects (such as Dolby Headphone) are all valid considerations which deciding between audio solutions.


A short reflection on the state of modern mainstream music

Sound has come a long way since the days of using the internal speaker of a PC for nothing more than beeps and boops. CD quality audio is commonplace, yet convenience is frequently prioritised ahead of quality. MP3 files are popular because of their size, and their suitability for storage limited devices. The downside to MP3 is that it's a lossy compression format, meaning that the audio is stripped of data to save space. In theory the data which is trashed is inaudible to humans, but in practise even the best compression methods cause some level of quality degradation.

An alternative to MP3 is FLAC. FLAC, or Free Lossless Audio Codec, is exactly that - a lossless compression codec. Vaguely similar to how zip files work, FLAC compresses audio without permanently removing data. This requires decompression during playback. Unfortunately, despite a significant growth in storage and Internet speeds, MP3 remains the dominant format for digital music.

Formats aren't the only indicator of quality. Apart from the obvious (being the quality of the recording gear/setup and instruments) there's the matter of dynamic range, or perhaps more importantly, dynamic range compression. To put it simply, the dynamic range of an instrument or piece of music is the ratio of the loudest sound to the softest. For example, the softest sound may be the subtle whisper of a backup singer, and the loudest the beat produced by drums.

Dynamic range compression is when you reduce the difference between these soft and loud notes to make everything louder. This is often used in modern mastering to make music sound louder than it should be, to compete on mediums such as radio or television. The end result is a lifeless track, stripped of its musical integrity. So why is it done? It's part of the so-called Loudness War. You can read more about this phenomenon here (including some audio examples), or at Wikipedia here.

Why does all this matter? When reviewing or leisurely listening to a sound device, subjective judgement is based on listening to music. A perfect audio card (if one should ever exist) would reproduce sound exactly as the audio file dictates. However, just like any system, if you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out. This is important, because a good audio device can make bad music sound worse, since it becomes easier to distinguish imperfections which are part of the audio files 'instructions'. For this reason, music will be carefully chosen during the subjective analysis of this card, in addition to a range of headphones.

Manufacturer: ASUSTeK Computer Inc.
Product Name: Xonar Essence STX
Price As Tested: $199.99

Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by ASUS.



# RE: ASUS Xonar Essence STX PCI-E Sound CardMack 2010-12-15 22:45
Good Review.
I am curious about the THD peak at 1Khz.
Is this something commonly seen?
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# RE: ASUS Xonar Essence STX PCI-E Sound CardVito Cassisi 2010-12-18 05:26
Yes, that peak is normal.
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# RE: ASUS Xonar Essence STX PCI-E Sound CardJoe 2010-12-22 03:09
If the purpose is just for headphone listening, how this would compare to a similarly priced external DAC/Headphone Amp like a Fubar III or Fire-eye?
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# For MusicDouglas 2012-09-25 18:24
My self i dont game much but i love my music i do have to admit this card will test your sound system and if you set yourself up right you'll listen to sound with the highest quality..My sound system is average the Logitech 5500 but i set up my system the right way them i go as far as converting to Flac music which is 24 bit/96khz 6 channel with the kbps in the 8640 range so thats extreme HD sound also true surround its what you call.. ear candy...
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# Very clean and impressive SoundAmit Karmakar 2012-11-29 10:26
Before this sound card I am using Creative audigy 2 Zs card after change my old creative card and installed Asus card my denon AVR & spk like live sound output it is amazing. Many more different sound quality bit win creative and Asus. Ma is Asus are making STX card for special for Indian music. Grate sound card of nominal price. Then I love Asus product. I all so love creative sound cards but listen Asus card it was a very bad for creative sound card (just launch 3d recon. Finally Asus was grate sound quality Music?s or DVD movies
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# For best quality MusicDouglas 2012-11-29 10:58
If you really would like to hear what this card can really put out try listening to some music that was ripped from a dvd Audio disc..Now your listening to the best of quality 24bit 96khz 6ch 8000kbps if your wondering how find this type of quality drop me a line
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