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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
58
4.4 out of 5 stars
ASUS XONAR Essence STX Channel PCI Express Audio Card
Price:£151.16+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime


on 14 March 2014
Well, my Xonar SXT was installed on Monday - some trepidation, as I had belatedly begun to read about issues with 64-bit drivers.

Thankfully, no problems of any kind - the card installed first try, using the 'Uni Drivers' (latest, 1.72), although I took the precaution of disabling the on-board HD audio codec (in the BIOS) and the nVidia GFX card's onboard HD audio (in windows).

I also installed the the 'Xonar Switch' program, available from the same group, and it's is a very handy addition.

The sound is probably about as good as can be achieved using an internal card. I doubt even pro devices such RME's and Lynx's, costing several times what the Xonar does, would be an improvement.

A little history;

I had recently replaced my ageing M-audio Delta 410 with an ESI MAYA44 (both PCI cards).

The MAYA44 was a massive leap in sound quality (I think at least equal to the Xonar), but after nearly 2 months of wrestling with a random bug, possibly a compatibility issue with my Asus P8Z77-V motherboard, I gave up and bought the Xonar.

Which brings me to a major bonus with the Xonar;

both the Delta 410 and MAYA44 were apparently outputting ultrasonic or RF hash on their line-outs which, although inaudible though various linear amps (Rotel stereo integrated, Creek and Cmoy headphone), modulated my two Tripath TA2020 switching amps so that they produced noise in the audio band.

Heavy loading of the GFX card in particular caused enough buzzing and humming to spoil games.

The Xonar is completely silent, and I think this must be down to it's not using the PCIe bus for it's power, but straight off the PSU instead.

Damned good idea - why isn't it de-facto?

And another welcome feature - the other two cards produced a loud crack/thump at boot/shutdown, the Xonar just makes a quiet 'pop' when the relays on the card switch on/off as windows starts up/shuts down.

Anyway - I have bit-perfect playback of music via ASIO with Foobar when needed, and very clean up-sampling to 24/96 in Windows Media Center for everything else.

To sum up ;

The Xonar STX installed on a well-used, 18-month old build of Win7 Pro 64 on an Asus P8Z77-V system, after installation/uninstallation of two other sound cards, and it works *perfectly*.

l in all - PC audio-nirvana.
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on 20 August 2013
You will fall in love with this card. Music sounds crystal clear, with a quick and punchy bass and perfect pitch control in the treble; the sound-stage is impressive (makes you feel like you're in a concert hall). Unless you have a very high spec sound system (i.e. over several thousand pounds) you won't have heard music sound this good. Look up reviews on Youtube + online - you'll be convinced in no time.
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on 8 September 2017
Line in its not the proper one.
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on 11 August 2017
Hard install but worth it in the end!
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on 26 March 2010
I'm very pleased with the sound from this device. Running through my stereo speakers with Dolby signal processing enabled, my music sounds amazing. Since installing this card I have been giving much of my music collection a fresh listen and enjoying some of it it more than I ever did on my old equipment (an Audigy 2).

With headphones, I prefer to have the signal processing off, as the Dolby Headphone modes can distort some sounds too much for my liking. The dedicated headphone amp goes up to 11 and is a fantastic change from the weedy signal that I made do with from my previous sound card. It's great for getting decent volume on tracks that were mastered at quieter levels.

My only gripe is with the bundled software. Switching between the stereo component outputs and the headphone amp requires opening the software, clicking a button to reveal some menus, and then choosing the output option from a drop-down menu. This quickly becomes tedious, and it's ridiculous that there isn't an easier way to to this, such as via the pop-up menu on the system tray icon.
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on 27 September 2012
Anyone considering this card and baulking at the price...don't worry..it's worth it!
I bought the PCI-E version 6 months ago for the price it is currently (£135)
..and I'd do the same tomorrow.
I cannot stress how great the sound quality is here.
Any guilt you might have about shelling out so much for a soundcard is quickly smothered in a velvet sheet of audio loveliness as soon as you start playing..anything!
24-bit / 16-bit sound is sublime. It's crisp, sharp, crystal clear...warm
mp3 /etc playback is greatly enhanced by a high signal/noise
I cannot recommend this card any higher!
Software issues can be avoided if latest drivers installed from the off.

Do it!
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on 25 January 2011
First impressions are excellent: the card is very attractively packaged with a 'high-end' feel to it. The card itself is on a very high quality PCB substrate and clearly uses very high quality components.

Fitting into my case (a Silverstone HTPC case), the card could not be screwed down fully as the back panel is slightly too long at the bottom, and this would have caused misalignment of the PCI-E connector. Note that the card requires an additional IDE-style power connection, and won't work without it. The card is reasonably slim, but too high to fit a low profile case.

There is both a rear headphone output and a front panel headphone output as part of the HD-Audio interface (also line in and out on the rear). More on these later.

Getting the drivers to install was a pain: my brand new, clean Windows 7 64 bit installation wouldn't detect the hardware, and I needed to install the drivers myself. This turned out to require searching for the drivers on the supplied DVD-ROM as the auto-run file didn't work properly.

Once installed, my impressions of the software are not great. I have only managed to get ASIO sound operation working so far, and adjusting the volume is tricky for headphones. The software is 'skinned' to look like a cheap 1980s HiFi compo with lots of flashing lights and buttons, rather than making it easy to configure the things you need and otherwise staying out of the way. The Dolby virtual surround for headphones is fine if you have ever wondered what it would be like listening to music in a fishbowl, but otherwise it's total garbage. My card defaulted to Dolby Headphone enabled, which is definitely not what you want, so make sure you switch it off before doing any serious listening.

So far, so below average, to be honest. However...

Plug headphones into (HD 595s) the rear socket and play a couple of high quality (lossless) CD rips. All annoyance melts away. The sound is very good indeed, with excellent detail, separation and body. While it's too early to make detailed comparisons (and the headphones need a bit more 'running in'), the sound is certainly in the same ball park as my main system (Meridian CD 506, Cyrus Audio amp, ProAc speakers) and possibly better. Certainly like nothing I have ever heard coming out of a computer.

As a more concrete comparison, the same rip, via the same headphones on my iPod sounded far thinner and more constrained, so it is definitely a major step up from what is a pretty decent portable player headphone output. I am very impressed, and the proof is that I ended up listening to tracks for several hours before realising that it was 1:30am.

The front HD Audio headphone socket isn't in the same league, by the way - it was a little better than the iPod, but I won't be using it again, despite the convenience.

Very highly recommended if you have the time and technical expertise to configure it, and care about the sound enough to forgive the fiddling.
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on 28 February 2014
After having problems with my on board realtek audio device I did a bit of research and wanted something with great quality and lastability. So this was among one of a number of cards I was looking at and I was mulling over it for a week or two, reading various reviews and what not, some of which made me hesitate. But I decided to bite the bullet yesterday and ordered it. I have had none of the problems others are complaining about.

I simply made sure that I did the following:

1. Download latest driver from Asus
2. Disable onboard sound through your bios.
3. Turn off PC, flick the PSU switch off.
4. Connect FP HD audio plug and 4 pin power
5. Connect 4 pin power pluf from PSU (make sure this is properly connected)
6. Slot the Card into the socket.
7. Start up PC
8. Run downloaded driver software from ASUS and BOOOOM! Prepare to be blown away.

To the sound itself... it has exceeded my expectations by a million miles. I am using Audio-Technica ATH-AD700X Open backed Hi-Fi headphones and the difference with the onboard sound and a previous low-end xonar I had bears no comparison. Listening to various types of rock, metal, country, electronic and other genres feels so authentic and exhilirating like you're listening live. Someone else described the sensation of listening through these as an eargasm, well I will take it a few steps further to say it's giving me multiple eargasms. lol.

My hackles rise at the prospect of gaming with it!
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on 19 December 2015
As long as you can a good enough amp that is transparent, a HD 650 will sound as good as it gets. Unless of course you're talking of coloring the sound, tubes, placebo, volume changes, clipping etc.

An Asus STX headphone jack is way more than enough to drive HD 650 to its full potential. An O2/ODAC should audibly be similar as well. And so will other expensive systems like Benchmark 1 and Violectric amps. Everything else is either color/distortion, clipping or plain placebo!

As far as the HD 650/600/800 are concerned, all the below amps should sound more or less the same, if not absolutely identical:

STX
O2
Benchmark 1
Vioelectric neutral amps

Although there is more to this than merely output impedance, but a good rule of thumb is that for a dynamic headphone, if your amp's impedance is less than 1/8th that of your phone, you'll be fine.

The STX has an impedance of 10.7 ohm. So phones that are 80-100 ohm or more will be just fine.

HD 598 is 50 ohm I think. So technically there will be a sound signature change with slightly more bass and slightly less treble, and audibly so. But thankfully I have tried a HD 598 with it and it is fabulous indeed. Not as much as the HD 650 of course. :D

O2 and a Benchmark 1 have impedances below 1 ohm. So they can pretty much run any phone out there.

And this rule doesn't apply to planar phones like LCD2.

And then of course there are some exceptions that require too much voltage/current like HE6, K1000 etc.

The STX and O2 are fine for HE6 as far as measurements are concerned. From what I've read by other science people, that is. For K1000 - No!

Transparent = Transparent wrt the audible domain

If two amps are audibly transparent, they will sound the same minus placebo, irrespective of one being better or vice Verma.

If one is colored/warm/bright etc, of course there will be a difference. But a very slight one. These differences get exaggerated out of promotion. Even a colored one may often be difficult to tell apart in a Double A/B Blind Test.

Audiophile DAC Myth Busted!

Transparent = Transparent = iPhone/ ODAC / STX / AEX / MacBook = Same

Colored = Distortion = Slight Difference = Muses/ Android phones (I jus got heard Moto G 2014 though)

Colored DACs may sound slightly different. But that is distortion. Not hi fidelity. That is not how a DAC is supposed to be.

A DAC isn't supposed to have a sound. If it is audibly transparent, it sounds the same. End of story!

An STX or O2/ODAC or Superlux HA3D/iPhone is as good as it gets.

Everything else is either placebo or color, and it is mostly placebo.

I have been a victim of this placebo thing for years as well. No more!

If you have enough volume without color/clipping (this is hard to say without measurements) you're doing great!

I've even tried a Beta22/Lehmann BCL, just to shut people up. :P

Comparing the below setups:

Asus STX amp and DAC
Uncolored and transparent

Asus Essence One Muses Amp and DAC
Thinner, warmer, slightly looser bass but colored. Slight difference, so some people might prefer this DAC, especially with something like a HD 800

Asus Essence One Muses DAC -> Project Ember
Closer to a STX. Slightly more SS. Perhaps a slight difference. The mids may be a bit lusher and wet. But very close and I didn't do a AB test so I may be talking BS. Very close.

Asus STX DAC -> Project Ember
Again, not sure if there is a difference or not. But definitely not a huge difference.

They are all bloody close!

I wouldn't say they are exactly the same. There are differences. But they are close. And it is definitely not an easy task to rule out one better than the other based on listening, because it is a matter of taste/preference.

But according to measurements and science, STX is flat and transparent. The other setups are not.

So if you want Benchmark level fidelity, go with STX. And I can assure you the difference between those systems, even if very slightly audible, isn't huge. And often/mostly placebo. Just like I was a victim of placebo for years.

Honestly, anything over an O2/ODAC seems non sense to me.

And an STX is just as good for most people I guess, unless you're into low impedance non planar phones or IEMs.

Other Asus products like U3, U7, Muses etc are colored and technically worse.

You're fine with a ST or STX though. Not sure about STX II. Not sure whether the difference is placebo or color. But not heard it. Just read about it.

And I hope you realize non sense about cables, power leads etc is just that, non sense.
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on 7 October 2010
For the last few years (mostly due to financial restrictions), I've made do with onboard sound for my computers. It's free, it's usually adequate (especially now that most onboard solutions ship with optical outs), and for the budget conscious, we're happy to make do...

...HOWEVER: After using this sound card for just a couple of weeks, I have completely changed my tune (so to speak)! The quality of sound produced by this card isn't just good for computer sound, it's good, full stop! I felt guilty for about 2 days after shelling out about £135 on this, and that guilt alleviated the moment I heard it in operation. It's truly that good.

I should qualify my hyperbole by explaining a few things. First of all, I consider myself a bit of an audiophile. I'm not entirely a nutcase when it comes to sound, but I would certainly consider myself someone with a more discerning ear than the average user. Secondly, I was looking for a sound card that would give me two things in particular: excellent stereo sound, and excellent headphone usage. This sound card has dedicated hardware designed for headphones, and one can tell. It is simply the best headphone sound I've ever come across. Admittedly, if you purchased a top-end amplifier, some sound engineer somewhere will probably claim it is better, but for the money and its intended use you aren't going to beat this sound card for headphone usage. This sound card destroys the 'competition'.

When not using headphones, my sound card is plugged into a dedicated amplifier with good quality separate speakers. Again, in the domain of sound card solutions, this is the best sound I've ever heard produced from a computer, however I do wonder how noticeable the quality improvement would be if you aren't using at least decent speakers. From this point of view, I'd hesitate to suggest recommending this card to anyone who uses standard computer speakers (unless they were a heavy headphone user, of course).

One of the reasons why this sound card rinses the rest of the field for quality is the hardware employed. I won't go into the technical nitty gritty (google the card to find numerous reviews on this), but I think it suffices to say that any sound card that requires a dedicated power supply shows you that it's not your average card!

My only minor quibble is the same as the previous reviewer: the software isn't the best. It's a *bit* clunky, and changing between speakers and headphones is a little annoying, but even so, overall I forgive Asus.

This card does have an optical out, so will pass through surround sound streams, but I'm unable to comment on this as I prefer a stereo set up.

Overall, one of the best purchases I've ever made.
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