Asus Xonar Essence STX Reviewhardnrg - May 14, 2009
Category: Sound Cards
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Asus really doesn't need any introduction, but in case you didn't know, the company makes pretty much everything computer-related, from complete desktops, laptops and server systems, to individual parts such as graphics cards, soundcards, and cases. Once again, I am writing this review on my Asus EeePC 1000H laptop (netbook), one of the more recent additions to Asus' product line that garnered more public attention to the company. High performance computer enthusiasts have known Asus for its motherboards for many years now, and the specialized designs have put Asus up amongst the top two or three companies to consider for the best overclocking motherboards for current and cutting-edge processor platforms.
As manufacturers add more and more features to their motherboards, such as HDMI, optical and coaxial digital audio, 8 channel analog audio, it does prompt questions over what are the reasons for getting a separate soundcard since you can get most or all of the connectivity and features with onboard audio, and therefore might not necessarily require a soundcard to hook up to your sound system. High-end soundcards address the needs of audiophiles with ultra-clean and precise sound, devoid of noise and interference, and with endless reserves of dynamic sound throughout the audio spectrum for powerful and yet detailed sound. The Xonar Essence STX promises all this and more! This soundcard has a headphone amplifier on the card that claims to have the ability to drive any pair of headphones. Standard soundcards can drive regular or entry-level headphones and headsets, but when you hook up some higher-end full-size headphones, the lack of signal power means that the resulting sound is lifeless or distorted. The Essence STX should be able to supply extremely high end audio to either headphones or amplified speaker systems, so this is what I will be investigating throughout the review.
This design is reminiscent of ancient Chinese artwork and legends, and grabs your attention immediately when you look at the front of the box, evoking questions and curiosity. Questions like "what the hell is a tiger doing on the soundcard box?" and "what does this have to do with the sound?" Asus has decided to use a "Chime of Tiger" design for this soundcard, to represent its advances in audio technology. Fair enough, an endless pursuit of sonic perfection since the dawn of time then? Well, 4000 years apparently. Either way, I like it. I like the sound of that. Will I like the sound of the soundcard though?
One side of the box lists the contents of the retail box and the system requirements in order to use it. The other side gives some key details on the soundcard specifications, the connector types, and the feature set of the soundcard drivers.
You might be thinking, "is that it?" Well, no, it isn't. The front of the box lifts up to reveal the soundcard itself, with a labeled picture of the card above, explaining the benefits of the major components on the card. The available connectors are also listed clearly with explanations, and finally a few major reasons for why this soundcard is unique and superior to the plethora of other soundcards out there.
Inside the box, unlisted in the contents, are two posters. These were an unexpected surprise, and it's a bit of a shame they are folded as they could look quite nice up on the wall. Maybe Asus could include some high-resolution images on the driver CD to print out on a photo printer. I dunno, I just hate creases in posters. Anyway, to the more important contents of the box, you get an Audio Precision Test Report, a Quick Start Guide, a driver/application/manual CD, a 2x RCA/phono (male) to 3.5mm stereo (female) adaptor lead, a 1/4" stereo jack plug to 3.5mm stereo jack socket adapter, and an optical jack adapter to give you a TOSLINK digital optical output.
The Audio Precision Test Report deserves some explanation. It is a detailed technical report including data and graphs produced during the analysis carried out by Asus on state of the art testing equipment. Without relative comparitive data, it could be difficult to decipher what some of the graphs really mean, so if you haven't looked at audio signal performance graphs before, the whole report can be summed up as "excellent."
I like high performance and technical precision, but also like creative design and presentation, so I appreciate the textured heavyweight paper Asus chose to use for the report cover. It's embossed with the Chime of Tiger design, "gilded" lettering, and a golden elasticated cord to bind the report. Simple, minimalistic design: something I love.