There is no doubt that the Asus Essence STX II 7.1 could be classed as a bit of bargain. In the world of audiophile components the Essence STX II asking price of £218 is less than the cost of a high grade interconnect cable.
Asus have not skimped on the design of the STX II. They are using high grade components throughout and the adoption of the Burr Brown PCM1792A digital to Analog converter will prove very popular with the enthusiast audience.
Asus have incorporated swappable OP AMP’s on both the main Essence STX II PCB , and the supplementary daughter card. Additionally, they include a pair of LME49720 OP AMPs and a single MUSES8820 for those who wish to tweak the sound characteristics to suit.
The headphone amplifier is very capable and was able to power most of the high end headphones at our disposal, including the 300 ohm Sennheiser HD800 which we used primarily for this review. The Grado PS1000 also sounded great with the amplifier and with the gain setting set to ‘Extra High’ in the software, even the 600 ohm Beyerdynamic T1 sounded focused with plenty of bass clout.
Not many people will be pairing the Essence STX II up with a £15,000 tube amplifier setup, however we thought this configuration would expose any weaknesses. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the Essence STX II has a very capable dynamic range, and can cope with a range of 24 bit audio tracks at a similar level to source equipment costing many thousands of pounds. There is a certain loss of ‘scale’ compared to our Cary 303T Professional SACD player or Naim HDX player (with specialised power section), however we can’t imagine many people will complain.
We found that it took a seriously high end system to expose any weaknesses with the STX II, and we doubt that many people spending just over £200 on a dedicated sound card will be disappointed.
If I was buying a sound card for my own rig, I would definitely have an Essence STX II powering my headphones.
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- Bargain pricing for the audio quality.
- 24 bit/192khz support.
- software is a step up for ASUS.
- OP AMPS can be swapped out.
- Only Windows XP, 7 and 8 Support.
- Need to route an ugly Molex cable to power it.