Conclusion: As the performance graphs show, the ASUS Xonar Essence STX is a high achiever. It blitzed all tests, bar one, where the Xonar Xense got a slight upper hand in frequency response. The Essence STX absolutely obliterated the onboard solution in all tests, which is a good sign considering the asking price. Despite the lack of native EAX support, the Essence STX does surprisingly well in games.
Pros: Crisp audio output, Near flat frequency response, Respectable headphone amp, Very low noise levels on both line-in and line-out, Top-tier components, such as the capacitors, DAC and op-amps, Op-amps are user replaceable, Drivers work flawlessly on Vista and 7, Dolby Headphone works well for movies and games
Cons: Need pricey equipment to appreciate the added quality of sound, EAX emulation isn't quite as good as a native hardware solution, No hotkeys to quickly alter settings in Xonar Audio Center
Excerpt: There are a few dirty secrets in the tech industry, and one of the best-guarded among them regards multichannel audio—everybody wants multichannel audio but almost no one actually runs the speakers to use it. Sure, we all cheered when PC audio went from 4.1 to 5.1, and then from 6.1 to 7.1, but who actually runs that many satellites around his or her PC? That’s why Asus’s Xonar Essence STX is a soundcard that’s long overdue.
Pros: Clean and pure sound output and control over headphone impedance.
Conclusion: The Asus Essence STX is a bit of a strange creature when you think about it. While it’s obviously not being aimed towards the gamer crowd, the inclusion of Dolby Digital Live!, EAX 2.0, OpenAL and DirectSound3D 2.5 actually makes it pretty competitive in the gamer market. If you are one of the growing numbers of gamers who are running through a receiver and big screen LCD or plasma, then the Essence is an option you should seriously consider.