• ASUS Xonar Essence One Review

    Today is Cyber Monday. The day when everyone purchases gifts online for the upcoming holiday season. Readers still on the fence about which DAC to purchase may find this review of the ASUS Xonar Essence One helpful. It's impossible for me to know what every reader listens for in a DAC. As such it's difficult for me to sway readers one way or the other unless a product is absolutely terrible. For example if I say a product is bass heavy that statement may rule a DAC in or out for some readers. I also have zero interest in persuading readers to purchase any product whether it's Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or some other marketing creation of a day. I simply tell it like I hear it. If my reviews help a reader make a purchasing decision that's great. If my reviews only prolong a reader's analysis paralysis with an endless list of DACs to audition there's nothing I can do to help bring remedy those atrophied ears.











    ASUS Xonar Essence One

    The ASUS Xonar Essence One is a jack of all trades with endless competition albeit at much higher prices. Asynchronous USB input? Check. High power headphone output? Check. Hardware volume control? Check. The point should be clear. The features found on the Essence One are now ubiquitous in high end audio but totally new for the majority of mainstream products. ASUS is one of the biggest manufacturers of computer components in the world and supplies millions of people across the globe with mainstream products. I can only imagine how large ASUS' chip orders are, think C-Media not Cheetos, and how far this huge volume drives down the price compared to traditional high end manufacturers. Whether the high end has had an impact on mainstream products like the Essence One or ASUS views the high end market as another opportunity or both is anyone's guess. Either way the fact that ASUS has produced a featured filled mainstream yet high end product is a great thing for everyone.

    Overall the Essence One is a good product with good features and good sound quality. Under certain circumstances the usefulness of the features and the sound quality ebb and flow. Using the Essence One as a headphone amp with Sennheiser HD600s is a really nice combination. On the other hand running the Essence One's balanced outputs into a Spectral Audio DMA260 amplifier delivers less than good results.

    The Essence One features an asynchronous USB input using the C-Media CMI6631 USB audio processor. This is completely different from the common XMOS, M2Tech, and Tenor chips. Nearly all DACs using the common audiophile USB chips receive power over the USB bus from a computer or music server. The Essence One's C-Media chip is powered from the main power supply. This enables the USB interface to function with or without power from a computer. In addition the Essence One works with Generation 1-3 iPads and a camera kit because the USB chip doesn't require more power than the iPad can deliver.



    A dedicated internal power supply consumes a fair amount of space inside the Essence One. Using the DAC on a desktop I much prefer this PSU configuration as I can simply plug a regular power cord into the unit. I'm not a fan of external wall wart supplies or external supplies that look like an anaconda with a rat in its stomach (think thick cable with brick in the middle). This internal supply made it easy for me to use my favorite power cords the ALO Audio AC6. These cords are very light and flexible making them perfect for desktop use. Unfortunately ALO Audio no longer offers the AC6.

    Other features of the Essence One include balanced analog outputs (4 Vrms), easy op-amp switching, powerful headphone output, bit perfect indicator, sample rate display, 8x symmetrical upsampling, separate volume controls for line and headphone output, and for the most part great build quality. Under the right conditions these features shine but under the wrong conditions these features are an Achilles heel. The powerful headphone output works great with Sennheiser HD600 headphone but I'd never recommend using the Essence One with Ultimate Ears ue11 Pro in ear monitors. The 8x symmetrical upsampling sounds like a great idea and maybe the best thing since async USB but to my ears it produced an artificial sound similar to DSP attempting to make surround sound from two channel recordings. 8x symmetrical upsampling upsamples 44.1/88.2 /176.4kHz input to 352.8kHz and 48/96/192kHz input to 384kHz in a symmetrical manner. I'm a big fan of using multiples of 44.1 and 48 when doing anything to the sample rate, but it doesn't equate to better sound compared to playing music at its native rate in my experience.

    The Bit perfect / sample rate indicator according to the user manual offers the following, (1) The relevant LED will light up to indicate the sample rate of your audio source (44.1kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, and 192 kHz), and (2) Bit perfect: light on under ASIO model. Unfortunately the bit perfect feature is misleading and capable of supplying the user with incorrect information. In fact I think the feature does more harm than good. The bit perfect indicator illuminates whenever the playback application uses ASIO output mode. That's it. Audio can be run through an EQ, one or two software volume controls, or even resampled yet the bit perfect indicator will still illuminate as long as ASIO output mode is in use. During the review period I sent equalized and attenuated audio to the Essence One but still lit the bit perfect light when using ASIO. In addition the bit perfect indicator will not illuminate when using any other output mode such as WASAPI or WASAPI - Event Style even though the audio output is bit perfect. I recommend ASUS either remove this "feature" or rename it to an ASIO indicator.




    For the most part the Essence One's build quality is much better than most mass produced products and equal to many high end audio products. The case is very solid second only to products milled from a solid block of metal. My one issue with the build quality is the volume dials on the front panel. These dials are made from cheap feeling plastic that can make a user question the quality of the entire product. Essence One users have the most contact with the unit through its volume dials. Thus, better quality dials would give users a much better everyday experience. A minor item that bugs me with the Essence One's case is the convex top cover. I'm sure this rounded top is by design to prevent me from doing exactly what I want to do, place items on top of the DAC. I like desktop audio component that I can integrate with my messy desk-style. I like to place my phone, remote, or other items on top of the components when I run out of room on my desk. Again, the Essence One's design is perfect for eliminating heat through the top and eliminating the chance that a user will place items on top blocking the escaping heat.

    One feature that ASUS doesn't advertise is the Essence One works just fine on Mac OS X Mountain Lion. There are no drivers to install. I connected the DAC via USB to my MacBook Pro Retina. The Essence One appeared as "Speaker" in Audio Midi Setup and was identified as the Essence One in OS X USB Prober. All sample rate from 44.1 through 192 kHz with 2 channel 16/24 bit audio are supported. Using Audirvana Plus version 1.3.9.10 I was able to use Exclusive Access Mode, Direct Mode, and Integer Mode with the Essence One on OS X.


    Listening Through The ASUS Xonar Essence One

    Listening through the ASUS Xonar Essence One on both OS X and Windows can be pleasurable or pathetic depending on one's configuration. First and foremost when using Windows the ASIO driver must be manually set to 24/32 bits if the user has content over 16 bits. All high resolution 24 bit content will be truncated to 16 bits if this ASIO setting isn't changed from the default. Strangely enough to change this setting the user must go into the JRiver audio settings to bring up the ASUS ASIO configuration. I would much prefer this setting default to 24 bits or even better let the playback application completely control the bit depth.

    I'll start with the pathetic. OK maybe pathetic is a bit strong and an overreaction. The sound quality in this configuration was unenjoyable to say the least. I connected the Essence One directly to my Spectral Audio DMA260 amplifier via balanced cables. I used only the Essence One's main volume control. Playing Passacaglia from the Kansas City Symphony was very revealing of this configuration's shortcomings. As the track progresses the energy grows with more instruments and more dynamic range. With this progression I could hear the sound stage getting squashed more and more on both left/right and top/bottom. The final straw was about five minutes into the track when the sound figuratively fell apart and the music sounded like a single synthetic symphony.

    Moving to the don't try this at home category, I used the problematic Ultimate Ears ue11 Pro in ear monitors connected to the headphone output of the Essence One. I don't really blame ASUS for what I heard as the ue11 monitors are ridiculous to drive and not the everyday headphone for which this DAC was designed. I expected loud, but didn't expect this loud. With the volume dial on step three I heard enough sound in the left channel but little to no sound in the right. Stepping up another notch provided enough volume for comfortable but near the maximum comfortable listening level. Setting the dial to step 5 was closer to the mythical 11 as the level jumped more than I could comfortably listen for any length of time. Readers should understand this volume dial has 40 steps and I was stuck at step 3 as the only comfortable listening level.

    * Shortly after publishing the review I heard the following from ASUS, "The sound presentation can be changed quite drastically by changing out the op-amps. And also, the just to be released MUSES Edition features an internal jumper that will lower the gain of the headphone output, making it possible to use some of the sensitive IEMs that some audiophiles use. The MUSES Edition has an SRP of $899, and has six MUSES op-amps installed by default in I/V and LPF locations. Of all the op-amps we tried in the Essence One, they have the best texture and immediacy."

    Enough negativity let's talk about the good stuff. The Essence One paired with the Sennheiser HD600 headphones was the best combination I used during the review. The sound quality was good with very controlled bass being the best quality. The bass heavy baritone of Leonard Cohen was controlled very well similar to listening through an amplifier with endless power. This tight control of the low frequencies made listening to my favorite bass busting tracks a blast. Suzanne Vega's Headshots, my favorite track of late, provides perfect baselines for the Essence One to really show its stuff and it certainly did just that. The HD600 / Essence One combination has a little trouble reproducing vocal texture like some of the high end integrateds. Keb Mo's guitar on Every Morning sounded good but the vocal was missing texture as was the case with Ray LaMontagne's Are We Really Through. Good guitar but lack of vocal texture. It's this texture that can really draw me into the music and forget about the equipment reproducing it in my listening room. This level of performance just wasn't there with the Essence One. Wrapping up my listening experience on a good note was Issac Hayes' extended version of Walk On By at 24/96 and Where Will I Be from Emmylou Harris's Wrecking Ball album. Issac's deep vocal sounded good as did Emmylou's rich but much higher pitched vocal. The trippy electric guitar throughout Walk On By was really fun to hear as was the powerful drum opening on Where Will I Be. This drum opening was tight and Emmylou's vocal was right up front when listening through the HD600 headphones. This forward presentation is rare when using the HD600s. I liked what I heard with the up front vocal.


    Conclusion

    The ASUS Xonar Essence One, ranging in price from $530-$742 depending on the store, is a good all-in-one unit that covers many bases. Most users will find the Essence One covers all the bases and then some. The picky audiophiles may take issue with some features or the sound quality under certain conditions, but that's to be expected with every product. Readers with the Essence One still on their holiday lists of must audition components should heed their own advice as well as mine and audition this DAC. Sound quality with every headphone and every component is different. Some of us like upsampling while others run from it as fast as they can. On this Cyber Monday make a point trying the ASUS Xonar Essence One with your own headphones or own system. It's a good quality component that will fit nicely under a tree or on a desktop.





















    Product Information:



    • Product - ASUS Xonar Essence One USB DAC / Headphone Amplifier
    • Price - $530-$742 depending on the store
    • Product Page - Link
    • Product Manual - Link (1.5MB PDF)






















    Associated Equipment:



























































    Comments 20 Comments
    1. input username here's Avatar
      input username here -
      Dear Mr. Connaker, a review of a mid-fi, $600 DAC seems an odd place to bring up things Spectral, but I have a issue that has been nagging at me for some time (& pertains to all of your reviews, which I read eagerly and often much enjoy).

      Your job as an audio reviewer demands that you be able to freely and often swap gear from any number of companies/technologies in and out of your system and would thus seem to require that you have the most system-NEUTRAL audio components possible. However, it is well known that Spectral takes a "systems" approach to their gear--even down to favoring Spectral-specific MIT cable. I thus find your choice of Spectral pre- and power-amps a curious one, given that it thus seems highly unlikely that you are getting (or hearing) the best of the components under review, so long as these are not from the Spectral/MIT stable; I wonder if it has an influence on your reviews (indeed, that the DAC 2X impressed you so vs., say, a SDR-4000 speaks volumes about its ability to transcend even potentially problematic system synergies).

      When you thus say that the SQ from the Asus was "pathetic" straight into your Spectral amp my first thought (after, of course, that a $600 DAC-pre ought fall short against ANY reference, audiophile pre!) was that the deck might be very, very severely stacked against the Asus, given the DMA-260's preference for Spectral gear up-stream. Would the sound have been quite as pathetic if it were run into, say, ARC amps, which may be less system-dependent?

      Let me say, for the record, that this is not a knock or attack on YOU (I value your reviews and opinions very much and think CA is an invaluable resource), nor is it a knock or attack against Spectral (I have heard their equipment on many occasions and have been very impressed--and if they chose to design for a closed-system, who am I to gainsay them?). But I wonder how much an effect your gear choice might color your appreciation of other manufacturers' equipment, which might not play well with Spectral. (Likewise, if I had unlimited $$$, I would buy myself a pair of mbl 101E MK IIs for my listening *pleasure* because they are, to my ears, the finest speakers ever built, but I do not think I could give a fair review of the equipment driving them, so "particular" is their sonic character.)
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hello - Thanks for the honest feedback and for raising some issues you'd like addressed. I don't consider anything you said to be an attack on me rather constructive criticism and the like.

      I purchased Spectral Audio components because I believe they are the best and the most neutral on the market. I wanted a reference with which to compare all other components. Purchasing the gear as opposed to borrowing it and keeping the system stable without swapping components in and out frequently allows me to establish this reference.

      There are many beliefs out there about Spectral components, how they work, what they work with, etc... The components are not designed to exclude other brands or work less well with other brands. If you look at some of the top manufacturers demonstrating at CES you will see the Spectral DMA-30SS Series 2 preamp in use with components from other manufactures. Many in the industry think this preamp is as good as it gets with or without a Spectral amplifier. Based on my experience I agree with them. In addition many manufacturers who recommend connecting DACs straight into an amp will privately say their components actually sound better run through a Spectral Preamp versus a direct connection. They don't say that about other preamps however. When I review a DAC like the DAC2X I don't think there is a better more neutral set of components I could connect it to than the Spectral system I currently have. The preamp doesn't care or even know if it's connected to a Spectral component.

      With respect to the Spectral amp and direct connecting a DAC. Spectral publicly states this is not ideal and has even gone so far as to suggest the warranty may be void if damage is done to the amp while using another brand of component. There are several reason Spectral says this. I won't go into them or speak for Spectral here. Based on my experience and talking to people with extraordinary knowledge of Spectral products this "requirement" to use only Spectral with Spectral is way overstated and unnecessary. Some day soon we may even see a non-Spectral approved devices list with sanctioned components.

      System synergy is critical to achieving the best sound. To that end I'm OK with saying a component sounded pathetic under certain conditions as long as readers understand all the system components I used. Readers can extrapolate from there if the review can help them given their current or future components. At times I use other equipment such as the Bel Canto mono blocks I used when reviewing the Wadia 121 after I didn't like the sound I heard when it was directly connected to my amp. I don't expect readers to read all my reviews but those who've read both the Wadia 121 and this review may be able to draw some type of conclusion or at least a hypothesis that the ASUS might work well with the Bel Canto ref1000m amps because the Wadia worked well. As much as I'd like to try every configuration possible with all components it's just not possible. In this case I believe the Essence One is much more a desktop component than a main system component as it doesn't have a remote volume control. Getting up to change the volume on a $600 component isn't a trade off most people are willing to make as opposed to manually changing the volume on a high end component designed to eliminate issues caused by a remote control. I really wish I had some active monitor speakers on hand for this review. I think the balanced outputs into some actives could be a great combo. But, it wasn't in the cards for this review.

      Anyway, I hope I addressed your concerns. Please let me know if I missed something or only clouded the waters.
    1. input username here's Avatar
      input username here -
      Thanks for your response--far from clouding the waters, I appreciate your forthright and honest reply to my concern(s). I do not doubt the quality of Spectral Audio, as I said, I have heard Spectral components many times and in many systems (though, importantly, not in my own) and have always been amazed by their speed and resolution... if not their "beauty" (though "truth" vs. "euphonics" is too deep an issue to wade into here).

      That said, I have owned several Linn rigs in the past and almost without fail found their synergy improved the more Linn was in the system--given what Spectral says about their own components, I assumed that the the same might be said in your case but, again and *critically*, this is not based on my own experience of mixing and matching Spectral in my system. Although I am still curious as to the synergy concerns I raised before, I appreciate very much the fact that you have considered the issue yourself, have spoken with industry "insiders," etc.; my concerns are, at least, greatly lessened.

      With respect to your ability to try out gear in MANY systems and configurations, while this would be great for the reader, it clearly would be impractical for you and I certainly would not hold that against you! There is something too to be said for your argument about limiting the number of variables that change from review to review... as long as the "reference" gear is, again, not too idiosyncratic. Thanks again for the response & keep up the great work!
    1. DigiPete's Avatar
      DigiPete -
      I'll just bring attention to the Xonar Essence One MUSES Edition.
      An improved version with better op-amps.

      6moons seems to be over the moon about it.
      6moons audio reviews: ASUS Xonar Essence One Muses Edition

      Price approx. USD 899


      More CA comments at ASUS Xonar Essence One - Anyone have one?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi DigiPete - That's similar to what ASUS told me. I added the following to the review after publication.

      * Shortly after publishing the review I heard the following from ASUS, "The sound presentation can be changed quite drastically by changing out the op-amps. And also, the just to be released MUSES Edition features an internal jumper that will lower the gain of the headphone output, making it possible to use some of the sensitive IEMs that some audiophiles use. The MUSES Edition has an SRP of $899, and has six MUSES op-amps installed by default in I/V and LPF locations. Of all the op-amps we tried in the Essence One, they have the best texture and immediacy."
    1. thrand1's Avatar
      thrand1 -
      In another review it has been reported to have an output impedance of ~4 ohm on the headphone output (link) so it probably is not suitable for sensitive IEMs such as the ones Chris used in his review.

      Anything below about 32 ohms (if you hold to the "output impedance should be less than 1/8th the headphone's impedance rule) could have an altered frequency response and poor power delivery as witnessed by Chris. On the other hand, headphones like the HD600s with their 300 ohm impedance rating would not be bothered by this elevated output impedance at all...
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Chris... I think I'm agreeing with other comments here but if you want your reviews to be taken seriously you should have a secondary system which is perhaps more price comparable to the components being tested. For >$1000 DAC then it's much more realistic to want to know how it sounds through $1000-1500 amplifiers and speakers (IMO).

      Hopefully I don't sound disrespectful: but saying a $600 DAC sounds pathetic through your Spectral / TAD system sounds very elitist and like you have your head stuck somewhere. Your review does sound a little like "well I suppose I better review some real world kit sometime".

      You say it's aimed as a desktop system - so test it as such. How does it sound compare with a set of Focal CMS40s or in a small room system of a Roksan Pre (where needed) and Power combo and B&W CM5 (for examples)? Then we can read your reviews of this and (for examples) Wadia and Peachtree DACiT and come to some conclusions...

      Eloise
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by Audio_ELF View Post
      Hopefully I don't sound disrespectful: but saying a $600 DAC sounds pathetic through your Spectral / TAD system sounds very elitist and like you have your head stuck somewhere. Your review does sound a little like "well I suppose I better review some real world kit sometime".
      Hi Eloise - I don't take your comments as disrespectful at all. No worries there.

      I disagree with you about my conclusions and reasons for connecting inexpensive components through a reference system. I much prefer to connect components like the Essence One to my reference system because this system is very neutral and will give me a great chance to hear the sonic signature of the component. If I run an inexpensive component through other components in its class I have much less of a chance to single out the character of only the component I am reviewing. In this case there wasn't a synergy between the ASUS and the Spectral. So be it. Connecting the AudioQuest DragonFly to my Spectral system proved to be a terrific synergy. I don't think I could have heard the DragonFly as well as I did in a lesser system. I don't believe this is elitist at all. I'm so far from an elitist I don't consider anything I say even remotely close to such drivel.

      I also disagree with your characterization, "well I suppose I better review some real world kit sometime". Read my last several reviews and you'll find evidence this is unfounded.

      ASUS Xonar Essence One
      AudioQuest DragonFly
      JRemote
      PS Audio PWD
      Wadia 121
      Musical Fidelity V-Link 192
      EMM Labs DAC2X
      Apple AirPort Express (measurements)
      Chord Electronics QBD76HD / QBD76HDSD
      IO Safe SoloPro HDD
      Audioengine D2
      SOtM sMS-1000
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      Hi Eloise - I don't take your comments as disrespectful at all. No worries there.

      I disagree with you about my conclusions and reasons for connecting inexpensive components through a reference system. I much prefer to connect components like the Essence One to my reference system because this system is very neutral and will give me a great chance to hear the sonic signature of the component. If I run an inexpensive component through other components in its class I have much less of a chance to single out the character of only the component I am reviewing. In this case there wasn't a synergy between the ASUS and the Spectral. So be it. Connecting the AudioQuest DragonFly to my Spectral system proved to be a terrific synergy. I don't think I could have heard the DragonFly as well as I did in a lesser system. I don't believe this is elitist at all. I'm so far from an elitist I don't consider anything I say even remotely close to such drivel.
      I'm not entirely disagreeing with you Chris; but synergy between the Dragonfire or Asus and spectral is pretty irrelevant. What if the Asus matches a lot better with price comparable kit than the Dragonfire - your reviews could have put people off even trying as they have read how much better the Dragonfly sounds in your review? I guess that is the example where I'm coming from... Both how something sounds with reference equipment AND with the equipment its likely to be used with are relevant - you miss half the equation IMO.

      Read my last several reviews and you'll find evidence this is unfounded.

      *ASUS Xonar Essence One
      *AudioQuest DragonFly
      JRemote
      #PS Audio PWD
      *Wadia 121
      *Musical Fidelity V-Link 192
      #EMM Labs DAC2X
      Apple AirPort Express (measurements)
      #Chord Electronics QBD76HD / QBD76HDSD
      IO Safe SoloPro HDD
      *Audioengine D2
      SOtM sMS-1000
      If you ignore the computer equipment, I would characterise # as high end and * as "real world" equipment... So lets count... So 4 "real world" (3 DACs) and 3 high end equipment.

      Eloise
    1. mav52's Avatar
      mav52 -
      I think it's great that your testing inexpensive components. Not everyone can afford $2000 - $50,000 equipment choices. So some feel the amp/speakers/preamp etc used in this and other reviews could be having an impact on the results whether their good ,marginal or poor,. So what, we expect Chris to go out and purchase another test bed of amp's, pre-amps, cables, comparison DAC's, OS, servers and speakers in an attempt to find a negative with a product. Where does these purchases stop during testing... Chris states his equipment is neutral. That's could enough for me.
      Thanks for the reviews regardless of the device cost $100.00 or $50,000 as they provide a starting point towards equipment selection. At least your honest unlike some other sites that are driven by sponsor and advertisement initiatives and sugar coat towards the positive.
    1. input username here's Avatar
      input username here -
      I didn't want to start an argument or steer us away from the Asus Xonar (which should really be the focus of this thread!). I think Eloise misses the point of my original post: it was less about "elitest" vs. "real world" and more about system synergy. I'd guess, for example, that the mbl 101 MK IIs, my favorite speakers, would sound pathetic even when driven by an equally excellent (and expensive) SET amp--the synergy simply will not be there no matter how "elite" the components.

      Although Eloise's point about a *second* budget system does make a good deal of sense, I also agree with Mr. Connaker that there is no reason that one should not lay bare a budget component's character (warts or lack thereof and all) by running it through a reference system. Pace, his very positive review of the DragonFly DAC. I think his point is also well-taken that he reviews a good mix of hi-end and budget-minded gear--I don't get any elitest "vibe" from this site (even if some of the gear reviewed here is very, very expensive).

      At the end of the day though, I was talking about a concern I had for "systems" manufacturers, like Spectral/MIT, Linn and Naim, to name a few, and the idiosyncratic impact they would have on reviews of components from other manufacturers.
    1. 4est's Avatar
      4est -
      I basically agree with mav52 in support of Chris using his reference. A neutral system is just that, and if Chris knows his (and I assume he does), then any component will show it's own character. The example of using mbl and SET is off. Those items are generally incompatible, whereas the use of a high quality pre amp serves to ameliorate that sort of thing. FWIW, I applaud Chris' willingness to inform us that some manufacturers do in fact prefer the sound of their devices using a pre amp even if the product is supposed to be capable of driving an amp directly.

      Kudos Chris!
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Okay... I'll just shut up then :-)
    1. Snowmonkey's Avatar
      Snowmonkey -
      So what do you reckon Chris? Asus Xonar, Audioquest Dragonfly, Micromega Mydac. Which one would be going under your Christmas tree?
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      If you were going for the Dragnfly could use several as Christmas tree decorations!
    1. Archimago's Avatar
      Archimago -
      Chris, thanks for this review and bringing the product to our attention! I've read most of your reviews and this has been by far the most interesting as a product for me... the one feature I really need is the dual volume control for speakers and headphones which I listen to interchangeably when doing stuff on the computer like SACD conversions or monitoring recordings. To be able to just pick up an always-plugged-in headphone with an amp enough to drive the full sized phones is essential. Up to now, the old E-Mu 0404USB has been doing this function but the drivers suck bad.

      Wondering if you or anyone know whether this baby will do a good job with AKG 701's? If so, I'm gonna ask Santa about a Muses edition under the tree :-)
    1. chg's Avatar
      chg -
      I agree with Eloise. As a reader I wouldn't mind seeing a second smaller reference system used for comparisons. Actually, when I first read about Chris' system I was a bit surprised to see that the king computer audiophile didn't have a nice little secondary desktop system. Most computer audiophiles today have at least a main and desktop system. Next project Chris?
    1. wushuliu's Avatar
      wushuliu -
      I would not be surprised if the Asus sounded like crap. The whole point of the thing is to appeal to head-fi opamp swapping junkies. There are 11 opamps. 11. That means infinite permutations to get it to sound like how you want. And I believe that was deliberately because the Asus audio demographic go nuts about swapping opamps but refuse actually buy or believe in 'audiophile' cards or DACs. The Asus is like crack cocaine to that crowd. I would bet money the Dragonfly is preferable to the Asus.

      11 opamps. Pure marketing.
    1. Archimago's Avatar
      Archimago -
      Quote Originally Posted by wushuliu View Post
      I would not be surprised if the Asus sounded like crap. The whole point of the thing is to appeal to head-fi opamp swapping junkies. There are 11 opamps. 11. That means infinite permutations to get it to sound like how you want. And I believe that was deliberately because the Asus audio demographic go nuts about swapping opamps but refuse actually buy or believe in 'audiophile' cards or DACs. The Asus is like crack cocaine to that crowd. I would bet money the Dragonfly is preferable to the Asus.

      11 opamps. Pure marketing.
      What's the problem with 11 opamps? You've got I/V stage, buffer stage, headphone/balanced/unbalanced stages and what looks like well isolated paths with dual DAC chips for each channel. If the AP measurements are accurate, then you've got a real 120dB noise floor (true 20-bit dynamic range) which puts this up there with high flyers like the Bricasti M1, Bel Canto e.One DAC3.5 at a fraction of the price. In fact, have a good look at the $7500 Bricasti in the Stereophile review and you'll see 12 DIP opamps.

      The design looked so good that I went ahead and pulled the trigger on one since I needed to replace my old EMU0404 USB for computer workstation use. I couldn't find any good info on these MUSES opamps and what I saw looked like nonsense for the MUSES Edition.

      Anyhow, it sounds very good. I borrowed a friend's Benchmark DAC1 to compare for a couple hours and I thought the ASUS sounded at least as good. Though I have not heard the Firefly, I can't imagine the power rails to be as clean off USB nor headphone amp as powerful - would love to hear how the AKG 701 sound off a Firefly :-) . But then again, this is nowhere as portable and a different class of audio product altogether...
    1. Archimago's Avatar
      Archimago -
      Oops - meant Dragonfly...