Asus Xonar Essence STX - PCI-E Audiophile Soundcard

Introduction and Specification


The PC Soundcard is a market that has been dominated by Creative up until fairly recently. Creative is a monolith seemingly wrapped up in it's own success and any innovation seems to come at the cost of quality.

This is where Asus steps in with their Asus Xonar Essence STX. Despite its long and convulted title, this card may be just be what the PC sound-card market has been waiting for - a proper SOUND card. You may be wondering what I am saying by that. Let's see what Asus say about it:

"Story behind the Masterpiece
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors crystallized their knowledge of the materials and music into the Chime of Tiger, one of the first audio masterpiece in human history. Gold-plated on the EMI shield, the Chime of Tiger totem not only represents Xonar teams new footnote in audio innovation, but also mankind's endless pursuit of the Essence of Sound."

Now what I really want to draw your attention towards is the last bit. Asus are after the "Essence of Sound" in this card. This is a card aimed at those who want excellent quality sound for music. It's not aimed at gamers and not at cinema buffs. It's aimed at those wanting to get the most out of their PC music collection. This is a good thing in my eyes. Sure you can grab an X-Fi and see how it does with music. I'm sure it would be perfectly adequate, but there's no mainstream cards that really do the trick with music.


Taken from Asus's website.

Audio Performance
Output Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):
124dB for Front-out,117dB for Headphone-out (600ohms) dB
Input Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted):
118 dB
Output THD+N at 1kHz:
0.0003% (-110dB) for Front-out, 0.001% (-100dB) for Headphone-out
Input THD+N at 1kHz:
0.0002% (-113dB) for Line-in
Frequency Response (-3dB, 24-bit/192kHz input):
<10Hz to 90KHz
Output/Input Full-Scale Voltage
2 Vrms (5.65 Vp-p)
Bus Compatibility
PCI Express:
-PCI Express Rev. specification compatible
-Compatible with X1, X4, X8, X16 PCI Express slots
Main Chipset
Audio Processor:
ASUS AV100 High-Definition Sound Processor (Max. 192KHz/24bit)
24-bit D-A Converter of Digital Sources:
Texas Instruments PCM1792A*1 for Front-Out (127dB SNR, Max. 192kHz/24bit)
24-bit A-D Converter for Analog Inputs:
Cirrus-Logic CS5381* 1 (120dB SNR, Max. 192kHz/24bit)
High Fidelity Headphone Amplifier:
Texas Instruments 6120A2*1 (120dB SNR, 100dB THD+N @ Vcc±12V, RL=600, f=1kHz)
Sample Rate and Resolution
Analog Playback Sample Rate and Resolution:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit
Analog Recording Sample Rate and Resolution:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit
S/PDIF Digital Output:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit, Dolby Digital
ASIO 2.0 Driver Support:
Supports 44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @16/24bit with very low latency
I/O Ports
Front-Panel Header
Shared by Headphone out / 2 channels out /
Microphone in S/PDIF Header: Connects to compatiable graphic cards for HDMI output Analog Output Jack:
RCA jack *2 (Front R / Front L), 6.30mm jack*1 (Headphone out)
Analog Input Jack:
6.30mm jack *1 (Shared by Line-In/Mic-In)
Other line-level analog input (for CD-IN/TV Tuner):
Aux-In (4-pin header on the card)
Digital S/PDIF Output:
High-bandwidth Coaxial/TOS-Link combo port supports 192KHz/24bit
Driver Features
Operation System:
Windows Vista/XP(32/64bit)/MCE2005
Dolby® Technologies:
Dolby® Digital Live
Dolby Digital Live encodes any audio signal on PC in real-time to Dolby Digital (AC3) 5.1 surround sounds to your home theater environment through one single S/PDIF connection

Dolby® Headphone
Dolby Headphone technology allows users to listen to music, watch movies, or play games with the dramatic 5.1-channel surround or realistic 3D spacious effects through any set of stereo headphones.

Dolby® Virtual Speaker
Dolby Virtual Speaker technology simulates a highly realistic 5.1-speaker surround sound listening environment from as few as two speakers.

Dolby® Pro-Logic II
Dolby Pro-Logic II is the well-known technology to process any native stereo or 5.1-channel audio into up to 6.1 channel output, creating a seamless, natural surround soundfield.
Smart Volume Normalizer:
Smart Volume Normalizer
Normalizes the volume of all audio sources into a constant level and also enhances your 3D sound listening range and advantages in gaming
Xear 3D Virtual Speaker Shifter:
Virtual 7.1 speaker positioning
Karaoke Functions:
Music Key-Shifting and Microphone Echo effects like professional Karaoke machine
Professional Bass Management/Enhancement system
3D Sound Engines/APIs:
Vista: DirectSound3D® GX 2.5, DirectSound® HW, DirectSound SW, A3D®1.0, OpenAL generic modes, 128 3D sounds processing capability

XP: DirectSound2.5 SW, A3D®1.0, OpenAL generic modes, 128 3D sounds processing capability
1 x 3.5mm-to-RCA adaptor cable (8ch)
1 x S/PDIF optical adaptors

A pretty beefy set of specs there with the most obvious omission being DTS decoding which is a little suprising. Note that the Dolby processing should convert the signal to 5.1 in this case, but I will be testing this.

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Most Recent Comments

09-03-2009, 08:28:07

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.Quote

09-03-2009, 08:59:04

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)Quote

09-03-2009, 09:26:47

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.Quote

09-03-2009, 10:18:00

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.Quote

09-03-2009, 12:17:36

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...Quote

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