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HT Omega Claro Halo or ASUS XONAR Essence ST

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 
Hi,

I'm trying to decide on a soundcard, and would appreciate some advice. Before I get bashed for this post, I'd like to say that I realize that there are lengthy threads coveing each of these soundcards. I'm tried to read through them, but have been unsuccessful at finding a good comparison. Also, as PCI soundcards, with headphone amps, and geared towards music (vs. games) these cards are clearly direct competitors.

In terms of feature and specs, it would seem that the ASUS wins. From what I can tell, it has better RMAA results. Also, it offers software controllable headphone gain, an EMI shield (which may or may not help), a direct Molex connector to the power supply.

While this all sounds nice, what I'm really after is the best sound possible at this pricepoint. I've read posts that the ASUS is fatiguing, and rolled off in the high end.

In terms of musical preference, I'm looking for detail, resolution, and neutrality. Also, I'd be using both the headphone output as well as the RCA's. Finally, I'd really like to see a comparison both with stock opamps as well as with upgraded opamps. I'm not really interested in any other mods, as rolling the opamps is the most I would do (and even then, not right away).

I hope that others will find this post helpful, and so perhaps that will encourage some activity on this thread. Thank to all those who reply. Cheers.
post #2 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by New2TheScene View Post
Hi,

I'm trying to decide on a soundcard, and would appreciate some advice. Before I get bashed for this post, I'd like to say that I realize that there are lengthy threads coveing each of these soundcards. I'm tried to read through them, but have been unsuccessful at finding a good comparison. Also, as PCI soundcards, with headphone amps, and geared towards music (vs. games) these cards are clearly direct competitors.

In terms of feature and specs, it would seem that the ASUS wins. From what I can tell, it has better RMAA results. Also, it offers software controllable headphone gain, an EMI shield (which may or may not help), a direct Molex connector to the power supply.

While this all sounds nice, what I'm really after is the best sound possible at this pricepoint. I've read posts that the ASUS is fatiguing, and rolled off in the high end.

In terms of musical preference, I'm looking for detail, resolution, and neutrality. Also, I'd be using both the headphone output as well as the RCA's. Finally, I'd really like to see a comparison both with stock opamps as well as with upgraded opamps. I'm not really interested in any other mods, as rolling the opamps is the most I would do (and even then, not right away).

I hope that others will find this post helpful, and so perhaps that will encourage some activity on this thread. Thank to all those who reply. Cheers.

From my own experience and comparing it against an X-FI Elite Pro, the ST sounded more detailed and less bright (without changing any other equipment besides that). Of course you have to consider I dont use the integrated amp. Also you may have to take your headphones in to consideration.

Hope this helps a bit
post #3 of 27
I was in the same position as you six months ago. I decided against the HT because I would have had to get one on Ebay and I didn't like some of their component choices (if I remember correctly...) but it's definitely still on my "I want to try" list. I got the STX and then changed that for the ST. Out of the box, neither are 'wonderful' and I see you aren't interested in improving them to make them so. If you don't want to do any changes to the card I think the best out-of-the-box sound is from the Onkyo SE-200 but you'll need a separate amp for this card. If your budget allows, I'd definitely consider this.
post #4 of 27
Thread Starter 
Thought I'd try one more time. I'm appealing to anyone out there who has listened to both the Claro Halo and Essence ST, or better yet, been able to A/B them.

Does one offer better overall sound quality? Is any one more detailed, more analytical, has a smoother top end? If it's a matter of subtle differences, I'd really appreciate knowing what they are.

Also, this will be running in a low performance PC. Do the ASUS drivers tax the CPU a lot?
post #5 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by New2TheScene View Post
Thought I'd try one more time. I'm appealing to anyone out there who has listened to both the Claro Halo and Essence ST, or better yet, been able to A/B them.

Does one offer better overall sound quality? Is any one more detailed, more analytical, has a smoother top end? If it's a matter of subtle differences, I'd really appreciate knowing what they are.

Also, this will be running in a low performance PC. Do the ASUS drivers tax the CPU a lot?
What`s the rest of your gear?
post #6 of 27
While both use the same C-Media chipset, the Asus has a TI DAC with better specs and the Claro Halo uses a time-tested AK DAC. Asus dresses up their driver settings with a custom GUI, but both are basically the same underneath and have the same software features. The Claro Halo has optical digital input, which might be useful, and a pair of hefty, tightening RCA plugs. On the other hand it is easier to adjust hp amp gain on the asus and it filters its power supply directly from a PSU via molex instead of using the mobo. There is no unquestionably correct choice. Both are good cards and your preference for connections/features is the most sensible deciding factor.
post #7 of 27
Thread Starter 
Sonci,

What I'm trying to do is put together a high quality digital source. I want it to be more than a transport. It's going into a low power passively cooled Atom ITX system. I've made sure to get a decent power supply.

Initially, I want a 1 box solution. So I plan to use the headphone amp to drive my phones: Sony SA-5000, Grado SR-225, AudioTechnica AD700 and a few others.

In the near term, I plan to add a small amp and speakers to add a nearfield listening setup. Looking at the new Icon Amp and haven't made a call about bookshelves.

Longer term, I plan to pull out my single ended amp and get some quality single driver speakers for nearfield, and a dedicated headphone amp.

Because of my longer term plans, I'm more concerned with any sound quality differences in the RCA's than the headphone amp.

Anetode,

I agree that these are similar card. Yet time and again, I read reviews of similar components. It's often in the details where components differentiate themselves. And as for connectors, I'm mainly going to be using the RCA's and the headphone out.

For example, I like the quality of the DIP sockets and RCA connectors on the Halo. Also, the extra opamp in the analog output section should only help to reduce crosstalk. HT Omega's customer support is excellent, and it seems like a good card.

However, I like that the Essence is externally powered, and has a Faraday cage. (I know there are some who believe it's nothing more than marketing, but the physics can't be denied, and all surface routes and surface mounted components are susceptible to noise.) Also the higher specs seem to be a good indicator.

I really want sound quality to be the determining factor. That's really why I'm soliciting the advice of those who have more insight and experience than I.
post #8 of 27
This is what I said on another thread awhile back--


I've had these two sound cards earlier this year, and I was able to test them (Halo with opa627au/AD8620 & STX with opa627au):

-Quality: In term of quality, they are very similar (as in both are very good). I can't really discern any meaningful difference between them.

-HP out: STX wins here. The STX produced a more fuller sound and less harsh trebles (it may have something to do with STX's ability to get power from your PC's PSU). In addition, the ability to switch between Hi/Lo Impedance is a big plus.


EDIT: I know the OPAMPs that I used are not the most optimal configurations, but it should still offer some sort of meaningful comparison between these two cards.
post #9 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by New2TheScene View Post
I really want sound quality to be the determining factor. That's really why I'm soliciting the advice of those who have more insight and experience than I.
You appear to be very well informed about both soundcards. I wouldn't trust a definitive answer about sound quality as it is close enough to come down to an idiosyncratic preference. Think about it a bit and I'm sure you'll be happy with whichever card you decide on
post #10 of 27
Thread Starter 
Jenneth,

Thanks for the info. I has in fact read the post you reference. I have to admit that I'm a little fuzzy on what you're referring to when you talk about quality. I made the assumtion that you're referring to overall sound quality on the RCAs. Since the concensus seem to be that these cards are too close to call a clear winner, I was wondering if there was anything you could add about differences between the cards. After all, a general subjective measure such as sound quality is, by definition, a matter of taste.

As so, perhaps a better way to look at it is in terms of differences. Is either card warmer, more analytical, etc.?

Also, does anyone know if there's any noticible difference between the ST and STX? I know that the clocks are difference (or rather the jitter reduction in the clocks) but does that translate into a noticible difference in the sound?
post #11 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by New2TheScene View Post
I was wondering if there was anything you could add about differences between the cards. After all, a general subjective measure such as sound quality is, by definition, a matter of taste.
As far as I can remember, SQ-wise, there was really no noticeable difference between the two cards. There is, however, one thing about the Halo that I didn't like, and that's the dual-OPAMP dual polarity design. I asked the HT Omega support about this, but they didn't gave me any technical reasons other than the fact that it is a superior design.

Quote:
Originally Posted by New2TheScene View Post
As so, perhaps a better way to look at it is in terms of differences. Is either card warmer, more analytical, etc.?
I thought both card were somewhat warm, but I think that has more to do with the opa627 than anything else.

I tested both cards for about ten days with my W5000 and RS1.
post #12 of 27
Thread Starter 
If I might ask... what didn't you like about the dual opamp, dual polarity opamp design?
post #13 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by New2TheScene View Post
If I might ask... what didn't you like about the dual opamp, dual polarity opamp design?
As far as I could tell, I don't think the dual polarity design helped much, if any, with the SQ. But then, I didn't went through as many configurations as some people here have, so perhaps they could chime in on that.
post #14 of 27
Thread Starter 
So, does anyone know whether the Essence ST sound different than the STX? If so, can you describe the differences.

It sounds like the ST doesn't measure as well as the STX.
post #15 of 27
Thread Starter 

front panel amp'd?

Here's another question, and a potential deal-breaker for me: Is the front panel headphone out (header) amplified by the same TI headphone amp and opamp gain stages as the rear jack?

I ask this about the Halo and Essence ST? While I plan to use the read jack, I have some space limitations and want to be able to get the same signal out of the front panel too.

Does anyone know?
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