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Exclusive: ASUS Xonar Essence STX Sneak Peak

by Robscix     |     November 12, 2008




Xonar Essence STX Engineering Sample Sneak Peak



Featuring




The PC audio industry has been kicked into high gear even though there have been some minor speed bumps along the way. This is great for the audio fans since it provides a plethora of new products offering features never before seen on any sound card. Throughout the last few months, the Hardware Canucks Audio Lab has been testing many exciting soundcards and audio products and today we get to present you with a sneak peak of another.

Within the last few days, we have received an exclusive engineering sample of the highly anticipated Xonar Essence STX. While in this sneak peak we will be taking a bit closer look at this card, please keep in mind the final production version may vary from the sample we have received. This is exactly why we will forgo the usual benchmarks....for the time being of course. This preview may be a bit short since we are currently waiting for fully functional beta drivers before auditioning it, but this should be enough to show you some of what the Essence has to offer.

This new high end card can be considered the "Concept Car" of the Xonar lineup since the Audio designers aimed it squarley at the audiophiles and headphone nuts among us. Let’s take a quick look at the features the Essence has to offer the audio community
  • Burr Brown 1792A DAC chips offering -124db Real world performance.
  • Independent power sources for line and headphone outputs keeping the signal clean and clear and eliminating any interference between output sections.
  • Swappable opamps – You can fine tune your sound quality on the Essence using higher quality opamps or tune to your liking using your favorite units. The card is outfitted with LM4562 and JRC 2114D’s stock build.
  • EMI shielding - the sensitive analog electronics are sealed and protected from harmful EMI/RFI behind a carefully designed shield.
  • New hyper grounding circuitry design allows sensitive analog paths to be isolated on the circuit board keeping them free from noise and interference.
  • Nichicon “Fine Gold” Professional audio capacitors offer rich bass and crystal clear high frequencies.
  • Built in high quality, high impedance TI TPA6120A2 with software settable gain ranges allowing for high quality headphones to be used without external amplification units.

Without a doubt, ASUS seems to be pushing this card to the more discerning audiophiles out there while slanting it towards higher-end headphone users. Since you are probably familiar with the specifications by now, let's take a closer look at what arrived to our doorstep a few days ago.


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The Xonar Essence STX audio card arrived in a slick black flip-top box outlining all the audio goodness and specifications needed to have every audiophile and Can Head out there drooling and reaching for their wallets.


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Overall, the Essence carries forward a few of the design elements from the Xonar line while adding a bit of a higher-end look to the card itself. There is a black EMI shield covering the more sensitive components and we can see that the card is designed to be used in a (thank God) PCI-E 1x slot.

Now, lets see what this card has hiding under the EMI shielding. First of all, the EMI/RFI sheilding is held in place by four screws and we can see loc-tite compound on there which is a nice touch. We have to remove the shield to see what we have, after all would you consider any car without looking under the hood?


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There are many high end audio components on this card and the sections have been designed and positioned on the PCB with maximum sound/signal quality in mind. There are quite a few noteworthy sections and additions to the Essence that haven't been seen on a sound card meant for the mainstream up until this point. To begin scratching the surface, we have an output section using an unusual design for a consumer level soundcard and such desings are usually only seen on high quality External Digitial to Analog Converters(DAC). We also have a "faraday" shielding element that protects the output amplifier section from the power input and filtering section. These and other designs elements will be discussed further in the review itself.


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To wet your audio appetites we have included a close up shot of the power input and filtering section. The Essence does require a seperate Molex power connector from the PSU but with the power being tapped right from the PSU, it would be much cleaner than if the power had to run through the Motherboard before reaching the card.

The large purple capacitors are known as Os-Cons and are used for a variety of tasks within the audio world since they are considered high quality filters. The are used in quite a few locations on the Essence as well which bodes well for its overall performance.

So far we have cleaner power tapped right from the PSU heading into high quality OS-Cons audio capacitors to further clean up and filter any noise that may be on the power lines. Without a doubt, this is looking impressive.


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Another interesting design consideration which is quickly noticed and shows which market this card is targeting is the 1/4 TRS phone jacks. These larger TRS (Tip and Ring, Sleeve) jacks are usually not seen on consumer level soundcards but added for conveniences' sake as most high end heapdhones will use the larger 1/4" TRS jacks instead of the 1/8" minis seen on most soundcards.

There is also an S/PDIF digital output featuring optical and coaxial output of Dolby Digital Live for those who want or need full surround sound. Make no mistake though, this card is designed to be an analog powerhouse above all else.


Well, that just about rounds up our sneak peak of the Xonar Essence STX. Remember, the HWC audio Lab will be putting this card through our usual battery of tests and showing you guys everything it has to offer the audio community. Once we get the final drivers, you can expect to see exactly how this flagship card does and if it lives up to our already-high expectations.

Will this card be the Second Coming for headphone enthusiasts? It sure looks like it but as they say: the proof is in the pudding. Stay tuned since we will be getting all the nitty gritty performance details to you as soon as we can.

In the meantime, head over to our COMMENT THREAD to join the discussion about this card.
 
 

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