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REVIEW: Burson DA-160 vs Asus Essence One vs Creative X-Fi Titanium HD

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
My review will certanly raise a few eyebrows (how can I compare a 900 Euros DAC with a 150 Euros sound card? :) ), but I'm hoping it could also provide the necessary info for the Head-fiers that are looking at at least 1 of these products. My audition Set-Up is: Foobar 2k -> FLAC -> ASIO or WASAPI -> Creative X-FI Titanium HD / Burson Audio DA-160 -> Nordost Blue Heaven 1m RCA cables -> Little DOT MK III with Mullard 8100 tubes -> Sennheiser HD800 with Stock Cable Right off the bat, I want to state that my below mentioned oppinons are biased and my sound signature prefferences lean toward the very warm side of neutral and I want the sound to be very syropy and as tubey as possible, this is probably influenced by my aversion to sibilance and piercing & grainy highs, and I would gladly X-Fi Titanium HD In my current home set-up and for the last 3 years I have used the sound card - Creative X-Fi Titanium HD. This Sound card only has 1 optical, 2 RCA/SPDIF and 1 Headphone outputs. I've mainly used the 2 RCA outputs through my Little Dot MK III tube amp which I have for the last 2 and a half years. No matter what Creative says about this product, it's main focus is GAMING, while MOVIES and MUSIC come second and third. I'm using the latest modiffied PAX Drivers which are excellent and increase quite a bit the sound quality over the default Creative Drivers. My set-up with it is always: Audio Creation Mode/44.1/Bit-Perfect ON - and nothing else activated. While using ASIO in Foobar, the Frequency automatically changes from 44.1 to 96 depending on the FLAC and how it was prepared. Overall, the X-Fi Titanium HD is excellent, providing a big soundstage with a clear separation of each instrument, the voices are incredibly clear and in your face. It lacks the deep bass that higher priced dedicated DAC's could provide, but with a few tweeks from the Equaliser, the bass comes in nicely but it's still a bit bloated and uncontrolled even with my HD800's. In GAMES, nothing can come even close to it, providing a top notch and imersive experience especially felt in FPS's and Survival Horror Games. I have tried the Titanium HD with Sennheiser HD555 & HD600, Audio Technica AD900, Beyerdynamic DT990 and this sound card makes every headphone you throw at it a "Gaming" headphone. In MOVIES - the experience is equally as detailed and the SoundStage very immersive, however every time you pause a movie you can hear a stutter and also when there's a scene increased and crowded sound like a jump scene from a scary movie, the Titanium HD becomes overburdened and disorts the sound a bit. In MUSIC - the sound is extremely detailed, the SoundStage makes you feel like you are in a live Concert Hall by yourself, every whisper, breath and movement is highlighted and showed to you in an incredibly holographic image. The negative aspects are: - the Titanium HD is on the cold side of neutral and while it takes a Tube Amp + some very warm sounding Tubes to tame the highs, sibilance is still felt but just at the "s" pronounciation of singers, and the sound remains sterile and clinical but all my best efforts to tame it. This is bearable, but after the 2 hour mark of intensive listening, the cold sound will cause migranes. So if you're interested in the Best Gaming Sound Card you'll ever find in the market today at 150 Euros you cannot find anything better. Also if you have a Darker or Mellower pair of headphones like the HD650 or even the HD600 and a decent sounding Tube Amp, I can definetly suggest it. Asus Essence One (first edition) I'll keep my feedback shorter for this Headphone Amp/DAC, because I only used it for a few days and it's really similar with the Titanium HD. I have used the Essence One through an USB cable from my PC and used both the DAC side with my Little DOT MK III and also I've directly used the integrated Headphone amp, and my impression is that the Sound did not change too much between the 2 outputs. I have also used an optical cable between my Xbox 360 + PS3 and the Essence Once. I should do a separate review between the sound of the Xbox 360 and the PS3 :) but the gist of it is - the Xbox 360 is screechingly cold and sibilant for music while the PS3 is an incredible warm and detailed sound source. Honestly, if you want to have a compromise for a perfect sound, just buy a PS3 + a Tube Amp and just use the RCA outputs inserted in the Tube Amp and you'll be set for life. Anyway, back to the Essence One - it is definetly more powerfull than the Titanium HD with a even bigger soundstage, the instrument separation is better defined. I have used it in ASIO Bit Perfect Mode, while I found this setting the only bearable setting. Now the sound signature is similar to the Titanium HD, while being at the same time more darker and more sibilant. I'm thinking that I might of used the wrong output or settings, but I was listening to "Tea for Two - by Pink Martini" and when the singer sais "They'll start to bake, a sugar cake" the highs and the "s" are unbearably piercing, like painfully unpleasant. The bass is strong and deep, but I do not know if this is the real sound intendend by the Musicians or if the Essence Once exagerates it. Also while the dynamic is increased in both the bass department and the highs, I found the Essence One not as detailed as the Titanium HD, and actually after 2 hours of listening, while I returned to the TItanium HD, it was like a breath of fresh air and my ears thanked me for the change. This is also a "Gaming" sound source, it provides a light speed sound with a very short decay, I can describe it as an agressive "in your face" sound. I can imagine someone with a penchant for Electronica, House or Hip-Hop, who can appreciate the Essence One for what it provides. Burson Audio DA-160 I only had the opportunity to listen to this DAC, just yesterday for a few hours, but WOWWW what an impression it left me. This DAC matches 100% my sound signature tastes, while making no compromises to what I would automatically assume would come with a warm sound. The very deep details the music keeps hidden are there, the emotions and realism are present. The DA-160 goes beyond a simple sound provider (I'm aware it's a D/A converter) and really offers the truth about music that I've been searching for for the last 5 years. This combined with the tubey sound of the Little Dot MK III makes listening to music a delight, and I've listened yesterday for 7 hours non-stop just to hear what the next song actually sounds like. Overall absolutely no harshness, no sibilance, the highs just kiss you on your eardrum :), extended dark and deep bass, live recordings are fenomenal. I haven't tried it with games yet, but I will and provide you with an another update right after I do. Also I have watched the new Evil Dead movie in full 720p glory and it was better than when you are at the cinema. My quest for the perfect personal sound has ended.......at least for now. At the end it all just comes down to personal prefference, and while the Titanium HD provides a perfect solution for the very best sound for gaming and has succesfully entartained me for the last 3 years, the Burson DA-160 has a incredible synergy with the very capricious Sennheiser HD800 and it provides an incredible value for its price.
post #2 of 4

Paragraphs are your friend.

post #3 of 4
Thanks for the article
Edited by Dave Zember - 10/24/14 at 1:35pm
post #4 of 4
Thread Starter 
Just an update on my review: I've returned the Essence One and kept both the X-Fi Titanium HD and actually bought the DA-160. For games there is no replacement for the Titanium HD - it really is the pinnacle of surround sound in games. The best set-up is using the Titanium HD with the headphone output and connecting it to my Audio Technica AD900 - which are just made for 3D sound. It's been a while since my review, and in this time the DA-160 had a chance to be properly burned-in (although I'm expecting the sound to mature even more in the next 80 hours or so). It really is a great match for the HD800. What I'm feeling is that the DA-160 truly provides a unique listening experience with the biggest quality of it being the realism of the voices - the music convinces you it's real and right there in front of you and all around you. Also the DA-160 shines in movies - I cannot get enough of horror movies with it :) I've watched the "Night of the Living Dead" by George Romero - truly a spectacle when the ghouls started beating on the walls of the house. I will provide a part 3 of my impressions of the DA-160 when I'll pass the 150 hours mark on it.
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