ASUS Essence STX II Sound Card Review – As far as most people are concerned, the era of standalone sound cards is pretty much over. With motherboards opting to provide users with the best audio quality, and users opting for desktop-based USB digital-to-analogue converters (DAC) instead, it’s not hard to see why.
ASUS however is looking to cater to a niche market that still does want to use a dedicated soundcard with the ASUS Essence STX II 7.1 sound card. If you’ve never seen a dedicated sound card before, fret not. It pretty much looks like a graphics card, and slots into any one of the PCIe slots that are available on your motherboard. At the back of the card, instead of video output ports, you get audio output ports instead, including Front Right, Front Left, Headphone, Line-in and SPDIF ports.
The card itself houses a number of interesting components familiar to audiophiles, no doubt. The STX II uses a Burr Brown PCM1792 as its DAC, a component that is used in many other audio solutions, that converts digital signals to analogue with as little degradation as possible. The biggest pull for this card is the fact that it has nine swappable op-amps on the daughterboard, using a combination of MUSES 8920 and 8820 ones. ASUS has also been nice enough to include three extra op-amps, which include two Texas Instruments LME49720 amplifiers and one extra MUSES 8820 amplifier, to get you started with experimentations.
The STX II also comes with an option which allows you to use a daughterboard that has a 7.1 sound system output that allows you to hook up your surround sound system to the sound card. Using a second PCI slot, this daughterboard is connected to the main card via a cable. We tested the STX II with two pairs of headphones, namely the Sennheiser HD700 and a Grado SR60. In both cases, when connected to the STX II, the headphones gained a significance improvement in terms of detail, with both the mid and low notes.
With the HD700 in particular, listening to live albums is great as the STX II does a great job in replicating the sound signature of live performances, which is no easy feat. On the SR60, listening to studio-recorded album feels almost like a dream, especially if you’re a fan of the rock and/or ballad genre. If you’re looking for a dedicated sound card that’s not a desktop USB DAC, the Essence STX II is definitely a great choice if you have the PCIe slot to spare. You could opt to buy it with or without the 7.1 daughterboard.
- Improves sound quality over on-board audio options
- Swappable op-amps
- Only for desktop PC users
ASUS Essence STX II Sound Card Specifications
- Output SnR: 124dB
- Frequency Response: 10Hz – 90KHz
- Connectivity: Headphone out, line out, front left, front right, SPDIF out
- Accessories: Op-amp swap kit, SPDIF adapter, 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter