ASUS has been putting a lot of effort into making some decent sound cards over the past years, but it still came as a surprise to many that they have gone into the DAC & headphone amplifier business. ASUS's bid to conquer the DAC & amplifier market is dubbed the Xonar Essence One which features 192 kHz playback capability, asynchronous USB, and a headphone amplifier section with swappable op-amps. It also has an upsampling feature which we will discuss further on in this review.
It is clear that ASUS aimed for the higher end market with this solution and as it stands now the retail price for the Essence One will be a somewhat high €420/$550. Compared to their line of quality integrated sound cards this is a rather high price premium, however, they are two completely different breeds.
The Essence One's design is quite nice and the implementation of both USB transport and DAC section seems top-notch. The headphone amplifier section is likewise of a quality that is in a different league compared to that featured on internal ASUS sound cards. This is of course due to the very different design envelope, being an external unit both the power source and size are pretty much unlimited which allows for a more ideal construction, mechanically as well as electronically.
Feature wise the Essence One is a beast, its main competitor on the market looking besides the semi-stationary HiFiMAN HM-801 is the Cambridge DACMagic II.
- 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)
- Audio Processor: C-Media CM6631 High-Definition Sound Processor
- 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
- Analog Output Jack: 2 x 3.5mm RCA, 6.3mm, 2 x Balanced Output (XLR),
- Input: 2 x Digital S/PDIF Input (1 x Coaxial, 1 x Toslink), 1 x USB
- Dimensions: 261.33 x 230 x 60.65 mm ( L x W x H )