Asus Xonar Essence One Review (w/ Raysonic CD228 & Audeze LCD2)

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Today we are looking at the latest ‘audiophile’ grade Asus Xonar Essence One external soundcard and digital to analogue converter. The Essence series of products have targeted the enthusiast and audiophile user now for some time, using high grade components such as BurrBrown DAC chips. Today we analyse the latest Xonar Essence One from ASUS in a very challenging environment, paired up with a flagship, limited edition Valve/Tube CD player and award winning Audeze LCD2 headphones.

I will be honest, when I read audio reviews on many tech oriented publications I get slightly frustrated when the reviewer tests the equipment with only compressed MP3 files, or with a Lady GAGA CD crammed inside a £15 external DVD burner. Any weaknesses in the chain, including poor cabling will lead to audio degradation, which really has nothing to do with the product on test.

asus xonar Asus Xonar Essence One Review (w/ Raysonic CD228 & Audeze LCD2)

With this in mind, I will be testing the Essence One with my custom modified Little Dot Mk VI+ tube amplifier, Raysonic CD 228 player (with power amplifier) and Audeze LCD2 Planar headphones. I have been tube rolling now for many years and have amassed a huge collection costing more than I would probably like to admit.

Why?

I really haven’t warmed to digital audio …it can be harsh and cold. My system has been configured from the ground up for analogue style warmth, while maintaining as much detail as possible. Can the Asus Xonar Essence One really slot into an audiophile grade headphone based system? Today I aim to find out.

Specifications

Audio Performance Output Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted) (Front-out) :
120 dB
Output THD+N at 1kHz (Front-out) :
0.000316 %(-110 dB)
Frequency Response (-3dB, 24bit/192KHz input) :
10 Hz to 48 KHz
Output/Input Full-Scale Voltage :
Balanced Output : 4 Vrms ( Vp-p)
Unbalanced Output : 2 Vrms ( Vp-p)
Headphone : 7 Vrms ( Vp-p)
Bus Compatibility USB
Chipset Audio Processor :C-Media CM6631 High-Definition Sound Processor
Sample Rate and Resolution Analog Playback Sample Rate and Resolution :
44.1K/48K/88.2K/96K/176.4K/192KHz @ 16bit/24bit
S/PDIF Digital Input :
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16bit/24bit
ASIO 2.2 Driver Support :
Hz @ with very low latency
Upsampling capability :
I/O Ports Analog Output Jack :
2 x 3.5mm RCA jack
1 x 6.3mm RCA jack
2 x Balanced Output (XLR)
2 x Digital S/PDIF Input : 1 x Coaxial, 1 x Toslink
1 x USB Input
Accessories Driver CD x 1
6.3mm to 3.5mm stereo adapter x 1
Audio Precision (AP) test report x 1
User manual x 1
USB cable x 1
Power cord x 1
Dimensions 261.33 x 230 x 60.65 mm ( L x W x H )
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Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
Asus Xonar Essence One Review (w/ Raysonic CD228 & Audeze LCD2), 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating
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  • Leonard

    beautiful looking design. They always made good sound cards and products, b ut their drivers for PC are normally really weak.

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  • Orion Force 1

    very nice, but I agree with above., their audio drivers have always been dire. its surprising really considering their motherboard software is normally prettty good.

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  • Dave

    very specialised design, but im interested. need a new amplifier and this seems to be ideal for both my PC and other things.

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  • Lenny OR

    Thank you ! been waiting on a quality review of this for a long time. Great design, im buying one now. I want something that is more versatile than that tube amp you use, but wow, nice setup man.

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  • 8rtrj

    hardcore. asus have such a big range of products. very high quality. I have never had problems with their drivers dont know what people mean……

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  • MPE

    2 questions…
    1. What cable where AND are you using to make such difference. I am an audio/video professional and never heard of such.
    2. USB affected what exactly? USB is a digital connection.

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  • http://www.kitguru.net Zardon

    If you are referring to the headphones, I tend to use cables from Double Helix in America – they make a huge variety of high grade cables for a variety of products. I am surprised as an ‘audio/video professional’ that you have never heard of such a thing. There is a whole industry devoted to various kinds of cable and some people swear by RS OCC Silver and others are even using cryo-treated Ohno continuous cast (OCC) silver. Whether you can hear the difference would be down to a: your ears b: the partnering equipment.

    USB is a digital connection? Sure, it is, but it was designed mainly for computer peripherals. When you factor in transmitting audio through it, there are other dependencies, such as drivers for the operating system (which can be problematic) and interference and crosstalk with other digital circuitry inside the computer. Audio quality can be improved not only by cabling but with the purity of the signal. Some manufacturers use balanced four section DACT attenuators to precisely control the input signal of the input/gain amps. Therefore a USB feed from a computer is never going to be as pure or free from signal pollution as a high grade amplifer with dedicated audio output, built from the ground up for a single task of delivering the purist signal possible. I will say that downloading some of the studio master, uncompressed files from linnrecords in the UK was a very impressive experience via the computer, even over USB.

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  • MPE

    Apologies but I think I may not be clear.
    I understand there is an industry of so called high quality cables using exotic techniques and elements to make extremely expensive cables. But having an industry does not necessarily mean scientific justified. I mean there are a whole industry based on “anti-aging” creams, diet pills, and palm readers.

    I would love to see a independent lab testing results (with clear methodology) that illustrate the differences and not just subjective reviews with catch phrases like “clear mids” “powerful lows” and “soaring highs”.

    I am sorry but your USB explanation is not standing on technical grounds. I work all day with broadcast film, TV and music projects with well known producers and artists.
    USB signal is a digital signal. It is possible to transfer errors through transmission but it is not possible to reduce dynamic range and such. Cross talk, in the way being used here, is an analog phenomena. You might mean digital interference but that is a different thing and cannot affect the signal the way you describe it.
    Having a bad HDTV reception does not make the color less saturated. You get digital errors (blocks, and such) but anything regarding range is an analog terminology. At best you are using analog explanations for a digital phenomena.

    If I get a cheap USB cable with my scanner do I get less digital information???? And that less digital information means my dynamic range is smaller???

    Yes drivers can affect the signal but that assumes there is a process involved. If it is a pass-through then no (assuming errors and error correction is proper levels).
    Many studios record and use devices that uses digital connection like USB, firewire, AES, SDI, etc.

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  • http://www.kitguru.net Zardon

    Interesting views. Is listening to music meant to be an entirely ‘scientific’ process? Exotic cabling is a matter for debate, sometimes i can tell the difference between a cheap cable and one costing many hundreds of pounds. Sometimes i can’t. There are debates ranging everywhere on the topic. To create an analogy of comparing human ears listening to music to that of a scanner receiving digital data is the most unusual I have ever heard. People aren’t cyborgs. ‘errors through transmission’ is one of the greatest areas that audiophile hardware tries to negate in a manner of ways.

    One of the finest real world tests, is to get a hold of sennheiser hd800 headphones. Use the stock cabling for a while then try an exotic cable based on silver, or a silver and copper hybrid. The sound, especially the bass will be improved noticeably. Obviously depending on your source. Dynamic range alone does not translate to ‘perfect’ sound incidentally. This is why people still use valve/tube technology with tubes sourced from the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s. Does that ‘scientifically’ make sense when compared to the latest high grade solid state technology ? probably not, but the sound quality to many ears is significantly better.

    This probably cant be scientifically measured either, but its plainly audible. Same as listening to a well recorded piece of classical music via good interconnects and a high end cd player. Then swapping the audio disc to a cheap sata computer optical drive, and listening via a usb sound card with windows drivers in the mix.

    Its like chalk and cheese. But if you want a graph showing how it sounds better via my ears, i cant do that. If you dont believe the comments then thats fine, its not like a video card and acquiring xxx frames per second at xxx resolution with xxx imge quality settings.

    I envy the fact you can enjoy all this without spending any money at all on source, cabling and output. Some people can. In your specific case I dont know why the Asus Xonar is even remotely interesting, you will be more than happy with standard onboard audio, stock cabling and headphones/speakers.

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  • Everett Mcdonnell

    Why do people need to form an argument by saying they work ‘professionally’ in an industry? Its almost like saying ‘I can taste the burger better because I work in McDonalds all day’.

    Digital crosstalk is a very big subject incidentally – with A/D and D/A CONVERSION/SAMPLING CIRCUITS. for an ‘expert’ to say ‘it doesnt exist digitally because I work with well known producers’ is ridiculous.

    Quite a lot of information about it online…… scientific enough? :)

    http://pdfserv.maxim-ic.com/en/an/AN1842.pdf

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  • Ron

    The capacitors are Nichicon Blue and not unbranded as mentioned. The volume pots are APLHA Taiwan and not ALPS Japan.

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  • http://www.kitguru.net Zardon

    Hi ron,

    Thanks for the info, appreciate your time.

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  • Rahul

    I am planning on getting this DAC/Amp and would like to thank you for the wonderful review. It helped me make up my mind about getting this product.

    Coming to the whole issue of USB related quality deterioration you have mentioned in the review, I have to kindly disagree with you on that. As an electrical engineer, I can agree with you on the merits of using specific materials and manufacturing processes to improve the conduction of analog signals between audio components. But, when it comes to digital data transport between digital devices (controllers), electromagnetic or other interference with the digital transmission has ZERO effect on the audio information being transported.

    Yes! There might be some errors in the packets being transmitted from the system to the USB controller on the DAC, but these packets are packaged under specific protocols that ensure a high degree of error correction. So, when the packets are decoded and decompressed within the DAC, the audio information is 100% replica of that on the source file.

    The only issue with USB transfer of digital data is the clock jitter due to the internal clocks of the source and destination not being in sync. This is taken care of by this DAC through the implementation of Asynchronous transfer protocols.

    Also, any degradation/latency as a result of decoding and resampling of audio data within the computer is of no issue, since digital data is directly routed to the USB bus from the source file (bypassing the OS and onboard audio hardware), thanks to the bit-perfect data transfer protocols. Hence, data from your CD or lossless digital audio files, is exactly replicated at the other end (I2C output on this DAC) of the digital transport bus (USB in this case).

    Hence, if anything, USB gives you the best option to transfer digital data to the DAC with ZERO loss of actual audio information. The only use scenario where this setup would have issues is when the computer develops hardware issues related to either the USB bus or the port-connectors.

    You probably saw a degradation is quality due to the USB controller on the DAC being 24bit/192Khz and the DAC itself using 32bit/384Khz upscaling, while your source encoding was something else. Such combinations do tend to cause issues with audio quality, at times.

    Anyway, thanks again for the great review!

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  • http://www.sterlingpainting.ca Elias

    Thanks for clearing that up Rahul, I also wondered about the USB cable issue and you seem to know what you’re talking about. digital is digital and only when things get to an analog signal distortion comes into play. This is of course as long as there is no filtering of the digital signal in between from something like codecs or otherwise, but a cable in and of itself shouldn’t affect sound quality from point A to point B.

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