Asus Xonar Xense Premium Gaming Audio Set Reviewhardnrg - November 3, 2010
» Discuss this article (11)
The Xonar Xense sound card seems very similar to the Xonar Essence STX, so naturally I'll be making some comparisons of the two. The Xense has a highly polished EMI shield that has a fine grid pattern overlay on the upper and lower sections. There's not much to see around the back, aside from the handy labelling of each of the audio connectors.
So, you get the same 1/4" jack sockets for the headphone output and microphone/line input as the Essence STX. The S/PDIF output can be used as-is with digital coaxial cables, or with optical cables by using the included TOSLINK adaptor. The major difference is the 7.1 channel analogue audio output instead of the stereo output of the Essence STX. I really do cringe when I look at the connector though, because I know that at some point, someone is going to walk into a shop and ask for a DVI cable for a sound card, be adamant that they are right, and then get really angry... Someone will probably think that the Xonar Xense is a graphics and sound card, and it would be a pretty forgiveable mistaken guess. I'm still shaking my head at Asus for choosing a DVI connector for audio. Why, Asus, why? In any case, this time you have the option of having multi-channel sound via analogue as well as digital.
You can connect the Xense to other add-in cards: S/PDIF out to graphics cards, TV tuners and video capture cards to the Aux-In, and Front Panel to the computer case's audio connectors. The 4-pin "Molex" power connector is required for the headphone amplification. As with the Essence STX, the J14 header is undocumented, and there is only some speculation that it could be a S/PDIF input.
At this point I took off the EMI shield to take a look at the various chips on the sound card. You can see the difference between the polished and grid/checkerboard overlay sections a bit better in this close-up.
Asus chose to use the same AV100 APU (C-Media OxygenHD CMI8788) as the rest of the Xonar line. So, this card will process the 3D and multi-channel sound in the same way as the other Xonar sound cards. When I reviewed the Essence STX, I pointed out that it was only available in PCIe form. Since then, Asus released the Essence ST, which is a PCI version of the Essence STX. This addition to the Xonar line was facilitated by the PLX Technologies PEX 8112 PCIe-to-PCI bridge chip. So, while there isn't currently a PCI counterpart to the Xonar Xense, you could well see one in the future. I think it would be a smart move for Asus to release a PCI version, since many motherboards have more spare and accessible PCI slots than PCIe slots.
The Asus DJ100 is a C-Media CMI9780 AC'97 chip, which is used as a preamp for the microphone input, while the Cirrus Logic CS5381 is the Analogue-to-Digital Converter (ADC) used for the analogue inputs. So, the input side of things is the same as the Essence STX.
On the output side, the Xense uses the Burr-Brown PCM1796 DAC for the headphone and front left/right analogue outputs. This is around 4-5 dB lesser in performance to the PCM1792 DAC used on the Essence STX, which is still very much at the top end of audio quality. For the remaining 6 channels, the Cirrus Logic CS4362A handles the DAC duties. This is rather more pedestrian compared to the Burr-Brown, but the only person I've seen with really high-end surround speakers is my cousin who works for an audiophile manufacturer, so it's really not going to be audibly different to all-out high-end DACs since most of the sound is going to be coming from the front left and right speakers anyway.
The Xense makes use of Texas Instruments R4850 and New Japan Radio NJM5532 op-amps for the analogue inputs and the surround outputs.
The headphone output is treated to the New Japan Radio NJM2114 op-amps. A separate op-amp is used for the left and right channels of the headphone signal, for maximum audio performance. You can easily swap out these op-amps to different ones to cater the sound to your personal listening preference and/or the headphones being used.
The headphone output gets amplified by the Texas Instruments 6120A2 headphone amp chip. This is a very capable solid-state amplifier that can be found in standalone headphone amps, as well as the Essence STX.
Rather than use a socketed, interchangeable MDIP package op-amp for the main line-out, Asus have decided to use a soldered SOIC package of the National Semiconductor LM4562 op-amp. Having spent countless hours listening to my modded X-Fi XtremeMusic that has LM4562 op-amps, I find this change perfectly acceptable, as the LM4562 is an incredible op-amp for a line-level signal.
The Xense uses the same capacitors as the Essence STX. Sanyo OS-CON capacitors smooth the power delivered to the card from the "Molex" connector, and help supply the voltage levels of the electrical S/PDIF signal. Nichicon FG "Fine Gold" electrolytic capacitors, and metal film capacitors are used in high-end audio equipment and contribute to a refined sound.
So, after having scrutinised the components of the Xense, it's pretty clear that it really is very similar to the Essence STX. But, while the changes made are very close in terms of technical specifications, you can probably guess that this does not always mean they will sound the same. At this point, I still don't know how it will sound, but I'm feeling reassured and hopeful.