Audio Playback Performance - Headphones
A higher SNR allows for more gain without distortion, so you hear all of the subtle nuances complete with end taper or cut from notes that are usually edited in post production for better separation and crisp transitions.
With the Xonar Essence STX, one of the first things you'll note as an audiphile, is that the "muddiness" is gone in high quality tracks. Listening to your music collection using this card through a high quality set of headphones makes for an addictive experience. You will want to go back and listen to all of your tracks that have been mastered or encoded to higher specs over and over. Listen to a 192 Kbit/s vs 320 Kbit/s track and you will notice the difference in seconds. The only let down comes when you listen to the same music through another means as this aural experience will be hard to duplicate beyond the cozy cups of your favorite headphones.
The true surround features via the card's optical outoput require a Dolby decoder but as it says right on the box, this is an Audiophile Headphone card. Although we were using a low impedance (24 ohms) headset (Sony MDR V700DJ) we still needed to kick the headphone gain setting up to +12DB (High Gain for 64~300 ohms) for our bass heavy listening style. By the way, our high end reference AKG K702's headphones at 62 ohms worked on the same settings as well. As we are sure most of you know, bass frequencies have a contradicting effect on highs so balance is the key, but not very hard to achieve at 112+ SNR.
A nice feature of the XONAR EQ section is it actually uses values that can be perceived by humans - 30hz to 16khz. 30Hz can be felt slightly depending on your choice of headphones and 16khz can be heard depending on your age. The Xonar EQ also doesn't have that canned, slewed, sound you experience when adjusting the EQ in certain media players. It behaves as if you are turning the pots on an actual mixer console. TIP: Don't even try the stock presets of the card. Make your own user defined presets (UserDef) and save them. We tried the user defined presets on multiple types of media and it just confused our hearing temporarily while adjusting back to our preferred sound.
Creed - One - Direct from CD
Very nice track and the Xonar made the bass and guitar very punchy.
Queen - Under Pressure - Direct from Gold Remastered series CD
The great sound of analog mastered music could be heard without sounding flat.
Joop - The Future (Markus Schulz Remix - 320k/Bits MP3
Great trance track and the Xonar had the steady bass beat pounding in the cups.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift - Movie - DVD
Tons of sounds and great music here that highlighted the Xonar's performance.
Tiesto - Elements of Life World Tour - Live DJ Concert - DVD
This in-concert trance DJ DVD peppered with live acts featured great vocals and intricate arpeggios great for testing the Xonar.