Asus Xonar Essence STX Reviewhardnrg - May 14, 2009
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Vista has a slightly different driver model to Windows XP, so it's important to test a range of games to cover the different game audio engines, and the soundcard hardware support available. The GX mode of the Xonar Essence STX is similar to ALchemy in that it provides EAX enhancement for games played in Vista.
- Audio Channel: 8 Channels
- Analog Out: Headphone or 2 Speakers
- Unreal Tournament 3: EAX, EAX HD, OpenAL (Engine = OpenAL)
- Crysis: (Engine = FMOD)
- Call of Duty 4: (Engine = DirectSound)
- Call of Juarez: EAX, EAX HD, OpenAL, ALchemy (Engine = OpenAL or DirectSound)
Game Mode: Enables Dolby Headphone (DH-2: Livelier Room) or Dolby Virtual Speaker (Reference Mode)
At my main workstation desk, I have bookshelf speakers on stands to either side of the primary monitor. When in 2 Speaker output mode, enabling Game Mode activates the Reference Mode preset of the Dolby Virtual Speaker. This is a virtualization effect that makes the sound appear to be coming from beyond, behind, and further to each side of each speaker. For a game outputting multi-channel audio, I prefer this surround enhancement over pure stereo, as it gives you a greater aural spacial awareness.
Switching over to Headphone output, the Game Mode enables the DH-2 surround virtualisation preset. As with the Xonar D1, this sounds the best as the DH-1 preset is too subtle, and the DH-3 preset over-processes the sound and begins to sound metallic. It's quite a different experience when playing games with headphones as opposed to speakers, and often I had to lift the earcups off my head to check the sound wasn't coming from the speakers, even though I knew that the line out is muted when in headphone mode!
Game Mode + GX: This enables the EAX support
All of the games worked very well with the GX mode enabled. Crysis and Call of Duty 4 do not use EAX, but I tested them anyway to make sure the GX feature didn't negatively affect the sound. I couldn't discern any difference, and would say the sound of non-EAX games is completely unaffected, as it should be.
Unreal Tournament 3 and Call of Juarez use EAX. Overall it works very well, and I actually tried all my games for EAX compatibility. The support is there for EAX versions 2 and 5. Why versions 3 and 4 aren't supported is a bit of a mystery, it's really down to the C-Media implementation, but most games are version 2 or 5 anyway. I only had one game that had EAX 4, and the option was grayed out and not selectable in the game options. The GX mode isn't flawless and not an exact copy of EAX, some of the reverb sounds appear to be programmed as a multi-tap delay that sounds a tiny bit odd for one or two areas on some levels in UT3. There is some room for improvement, but you would only notice the difference if you have literally played hundreds of hours of Unreal Tournament!