Asus Xonar Essence STX - PCI-E Audiophile Soundcard
At first I was a little worried that the Xonar Essence would come with the 'bloatware' that you see on X-Fi based cards. This type of driver and software really does turn you off getting a card if you just want it to produce good sound.
Luckily, I need not have worried. Asus have given you a slightly flashy user interface, but it doesn't feel clunky and everything is available right there in front of you, no switching of modes or anything like that.
Setting SPDIF to Dolby Digital Live immediately greys out the analogue outputs. Settings the analogue output to speakers means that the sound goes out through the analogue RCA out. Setting to headphone means the onboard headphone AMP is activated.
There is such a large combination of outputs you can have I don't have time to list them all here. Suffice to say there is a great range of outputs and it's great to have them all in one place.
Obviously here you can adjust your EQ settings if you so desire and it does have an effect on the music. The presets are there for the EQ but frankly there are always terrible and not worth using.
The Karaoke screen is a bit of fun. You can fiddle with this and have your own Karaoke sesh if you feel so inclined. It does work fairly well, but I'm afraid it just isn't my thing. I think I had better learn to sing before I even attempt it!
Flexbass is an interesting part of the package. It allows you to set the LFE Crossover to whatever you want, down to 50HZ. This is a good idea for those who want to ensure that their speakers are either getting the most bass possible, or ensuring that your speakers are only fed the higher frequencies.
VocalFX is another feature I didn't get a huge amount of time to play with. Perhaps best described in the manual:
It's a decent idea and could possibly be useful in some scenarios, but mostly it's a bit fun really. Might be good for winding up mates!