Originally Posted by RallyMaster;13105624 A Little History
As many of you know, Creative has been in the sound card market for decades. They had their humble SoundBlasters, started the Audigy line and eventually started the X-Fi line of cards. Now, even though the X-Fi was technically the most advanced sound DSP (digital signal processor) to ever grace the computer world, it had its issues. The earlier DSPs had overheating issues and many of died a premature death. Then came the Vista debacle when the drivers were clearly horrible.
Sometime around when Creative was having issues with Vista drivers was when Asus decided, "Hey, let's enter the sound card market!" And enter they did. By utilizing the C-Media OxygenHD DSP, Asus took one of the most potent multimedia DSPs and threw it on a PCB packed with features. Not only have they eaten away at the market share by offering very good quality sound cards, but they also appealed to the Hi-Fi/audiophile market with the Xonar D2X and later, the Essence STX and ST. The Asus front garnered support on the back of Creative's Vista driver issues even though they had issues with drivers themselves when Windows 7 came out.
As some of you already know, I recently bought a Xonar Essence STX. Even though I already own the Titanium HD and a Xonar D1, there have been a lot of discussion on which of the two (Essence STX or Titanium HD) was actually better. Considering that the two are close to or are each respective company's flagship card, a comparison was unavoidable. There has been much back and forth discussion from Asus owners and Creative owners on which is actually the better card. No one had enough evidence to draw a conclusion until now.Setup
256kbps or above MP3/FLAC => X-Fi Titanium HD/Xonar Essence STX => Ultrasone PRO 550 Headphone
Little Dot MKII with gain set to 5 may also be used.
All testing will be conducted in stereo. The Titanium HD will be using Audio Creation Mode. The Xonar Essence STX will be using Hi-Fi mode. No equalizers or DSP effects of any kind will be applied.PicsX-Fi Titanium HDXonar Essence STXXonar D1
(not included for direct comparison but may be used for reference from time to time)DriversMusic Impressions
The Essence STX is often touted as the "best music sound card." The Titanium HD was essentially Creative's answer to Asus' current stranglehold on that title. Several key factors contribute to overall sound quality: the DAC chip responsible for converting a digital signal to an analog waveform, the operational amplifiers (opamps), the DSP which handles and sometimes modifies the digital signal, as well as the power and filtering circuitry (capacitors, resistors, etc.). For this comparison, several tracks from different genres are included. Clarity, instrument separation, bass/mid/treble emphasis and sound stage will be considered.Deadmau5 - Right This Second from the album 4x4=12 (FLAC)
Deadmau5's Right This Second is a great song that works very well with the Ultrasone PRO 550. It builds up from the start, dips into silence and then it hits you with visceral bass energy. It has a great tempo with several different notes playing at the same time.
I listened to both sound cards twice on this song. I came from the TiHD to the STX and was immediately impressed by an echo of the primary note of the track on the left channel. The channel shifting of the "beeping" details at about 4:15 was more noticeable on the STX. Wow. That same echo blended in more with the rest of the song on the TiHD. Same applied to the beeping. It was less of its own entity, but part of a whole. Although you could separate out each note easily on both cards, I'll have to hand the Essence STX the win on this one.STX.Eminem - B____ Please II from the album The Marshall Mathers LP (320 kbps MP3)
This song has several audio cues that hit you when you aren't looking for them, such as car horns at 39 seconds on the left channel. The bass in this song isn't particularly deep. Voices (particularly Snoop Dogg's) have a tendency to shift around on the sound stage. Gunshots also make an appearance every now and then and typically are found in the left channel about 45º from the horizontal (x-axis).
It's readily apparent in this song that the X-Fi makes the sound stage wider than the STX. Snoop Dogg's voice shifts from left and right are much more noticeable with the X-Fi as well as the car horns I previously mentioned. I did feel like the STX gives a much more "upfront" presentation of the music and brings vocals closer. It does seem like the STX gives an ever-so-slight bass bump over the TiHD in this case.Tie.Eagles - Hotel California from the live album Hell Freezes Over (FLAC)
The live version of the song starts out much slower than the studio version and as a result you can pick out many more details and there's a lot of emphasis on the drum prior to the multitude of guitars picking up. A variety of vocals were present with the lead being Don Henley.
The cheering of the crowd is much more noticeable on the STX than on the X-Fi. However, separation between the vocals as well as the instruments isn't as strong. You could tell there were three guitars playing in the background, but it was harder to tell them apart. This was also the same with vocals. Don Henley's voice clearly stood out with the X-Fi but was blended in with the secondary vocals. It was almost as if the X-Fi and the STX did a role reversal compared to the Deadmau5 case. The STX definitely included everything more as a whole picture instead everything as a separate entity.X-FiNatasha Bedingfield - Strip Me from the album Strip Me (256kbps MP3)
Bedingfield's style blends pop and elements of electronica. This song has piano, drums & cymbals, multiple vocal cues, and synthesizer. It has busy and quiet portions that makes this song extremely dynamic.Carrie Underwood - Don't Forget to Remember Me30 Seconds to Mars - Night of the Hunter from the album This Is War (V0 MP3)Tchaikovsky - 1812 OvertureHolst's The Seven Planets: Mars (Requested)Gaming Performance
While these are all considered "audiophile-grade" sound cards, I'm sure plenty of us will be playing games with them. I will play about half an hour of each game on each sound card one after the other. Unless there is absolute need to test the FPS of each game, the effects on FPS are considered negligible. I will make a note if the sound card crashes the game.Battlefield Bad Company 2
This is one game that not only takes into account how well you can spot and aim, but also get the relative position of where the enemy is. Knowing where the guy is and hearing either his screams or footsteps can help you substantially.