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The Xonar Essence STX Q/A, tweaking, impressions thread

Discussion in 'Computer Audio' started by telix, Apr 28, 2009.
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  1. Jonathan Crouch
    Alright if you need a all around knock it out of the park configuration look no further than the Burson V6 classic and Vivid. The Vivids spatial sound and clarity will blow you away. The Classic deviate from the Vivid they are more warm. I’ve been told that 2 Vivids with one Classic is best for the STX. I’ve since sold my STX and just upgraded to a Burson Play W/ a Vivid Classic combo. Kills the STX in every range.

    Edit if you go this route I recommend using Zip ties to hold the amps to the card. As they have a tendency to fit loosely in the slot. It is worth the effort though.
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2019
  2. PurpleAngel Contributor
    It might help to know what headphones you now have or planning on buying in the future?
    The STX also comes with some very nice DAC chips :)
    I think the Asus Xonar Essence STX comes with a decent headphone amplifier (fine for headphones in the 40-Ohm to 300-Ohm range), but the Schiit Magni or JDS Atom is more desirable.
    Such as the Magni/Atom coming with a very low (>1-Ohm) output impedance, which is better (better detail in audio) for driving headphones in the 8-Ohm to 60-Ohm range, over the STX's headphone jack having a 10-Ohm output impedance.
    I would also assume(?) the Magni/Atom offer more over all power, then the STX's head amp.
    Hooking a head amp to the STX's RCA (line-output) takes advantage of all three of the STX's op-amps (operational amplifiers)
    The STX's head amp only uses two of STX's the op-amps.
    For $60 ($20 each), you could easy get 3 better op-amps.
    The only down side to connecting an external head amp to the RCA jacks is it bypasses the STX's Dolby Headphone (surround sound) feature.
    I swapped out my STX (with AD797BR op-amps) for a $350 Audio-GD external DAC/amp, really only minor improvement, but to me it was worth it.
    Reyer likes this.
  3. Reyer
    Thank you for your quick answers.
    As of now I have swapped the stock opamps for 2x LME49990 and OPA1612 on buffer. I'm a total newbie if it comes to electronics so I might have committed some faux pas there (are these ok?)... I've personally chosen them after a dozen hours or more of research and believe that they vastly improved audio clarity and the sound stage. STX out of the box felt a little lifeless and as if the audio was tightly covered by some cloth... and quite surprisingly these new opamps changed a lot.
    My total goal was to get the most neutral and crystal audio with best sound stage as possible (like probably everyone that have not tasted the lamp amps yet or isn't mortally bored of neutral sounding).
    I've got an AKG K550 (MKIII, 32ohm) which sounds really good but a little bit disappointing as I have expected them to give me a bigger WOW effect - later I've discovered that they sound a little bit better on RCA output (might be a placebo tho) and that they're not suited to the headphone output because of the rule of 1/8 regarding the output and headphones impedance relation. There is a new pair of AKG K7xx flying to me right now that I should receive in about of week and I plan to get DT990 (PRO 250ohm or Edition 600ohm) later, when I already decide if my xonar is capable of driving them properly or if I actually need some desktop amp to do it.

    JDS Atom looks really promising, despite of its shipping+tax price of $171.40. I'll check it out.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2019
  4. PurpleAngel Contributor
    The LME 49990 are op-amps I would have considered buying for my STX
    The AKG K550 is a little bit boring in the sound, but otherwise I like them myself (but have not used them in years).
    Driving the 32-Ohm K550 off the STX's RCA jacks I would assume is giving the K550 a bloated (louder, less detailed) bass, so you might just be liking the louder bass.
    I would say to skip on the DT990, I own both the 250-Ohm and 600-Ohm versions, there are better headphones.
    Like the Soundmagic HP200, which I would consider an improved DT990.
    The STX's headphone amplifier will have no problem driving the 62-Ohm Massdrop/AKG K7XX headphones.
    Where do you live that makes the Atom cost so much?
    Reyer likes this.
  5. Reyer
    As I have seen on the JDS website whole world, beside the US, have shipping cost of $35 (which also means that even Mexico pays the same while being on the same continent) and because of that I live in the EU, from the price of $99+$35 I have yet to pay 21% VAT (Poland) and then guaranteed additional custom fees for anything imported from outside of EU.
    I've read that JDS is planning to send their Atoms to the EU shops in early 2019 but the exact price and date was not mentioned anywhere.

    As for the AKG K550 and RCA, I think I have heard more space/air between the instruments, slightly better positioning and less noise/blur on mids and highs. To be honest I have not noticed anything regarding the bass but I wasn't actively "probing" it while listening to my samples.
    I'm not sure if that's the case tho because the volume between the outputs differ a bit and the time to swap them is long enough to lose track of all of these subtle details.

    Right now I've ordered some parts to make my own A/B switch for 4 pairs of headphones and 2 outputs with the output selector switch that will allow me to swap one source with another with a single flip of 6P3T switch. All parts should be much less than 1 ohm so if I don't screw something up I should be able to compare sources and headphones with no quality lost just with a single flip of a switch (and XonarSwitch profiles in windows to match the gain and volume; manually at first but later with the use of Arduino board to make things automatic).

    Thank you for your suggestion about HP200. I've been considering DT990 as an offset to my neutral and "boring" AKG K550. Wanted something fun, that I would just switch on to rest a bit from analytical sounding. To use them with music where its "soul" is worth more than a deep "admiration of a subtle timbre of a cello".
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2019
  6. PurpleAngel Contributor
    Check out the website AVforum, it's located in the United Kingdom (Europe) so people on that forum might be able to point you to places in Europe that sell headphone amplifiers.
    My current thought is maybe you really do not need to rush at buying an external headphone amplifier, it might not be worth it for all the taxes and shipping charges.
    And may not make that noticeable of an improvement, with the headphones your using (or close to buying).
  7. Reyer
    Newbie questions part 2:
    I've read that, as PurpleAngel mentioned, RCA output is measured at about 99ohm and since Headphone amp output impedance is 10ohm, my AKG K550 (32ohm) isn't performing as good as it should.
    Is it possible to achieve their real potential by adding an amp (let's assume JDS Atom) to the RCA output and then connecting K550 to it, or I'll never be able to get them to work with xonar?
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
  8. PurpleAngel Contributor
    I would say getting a headphone amplifier with a very low (>1-Ohm) output impedance (like the Atom), for driving low Ohm headphones is a good idea.
    I use have an O2 (Objective 2) head amp connected to the RCA jacks on my STX.
    The STX's Dolby Headphone will not work with the line-output (RCA), which never was a big deal to me.
  9. bcschmerker4
    @PurpleAngel @Reyer I consider the National Semiconductor®/Texas Instruments® LME49990NA a fallback in case I'm unable to land a pair of MUSES® 01 monolithic or Burson® V5i hybrid dual amplifiers; the V5i's are the largest I-V candidates I can shoehorn under the RFI shield on my XONAR® STX™. (I had to rule out the full-size Burson® V5 and V6 discretes, as my hybrid LinUX box's GIGABYTE® GA-MA78GM-S2HP has the video-card slot, to which I'm transferring the ASUS® EAH6850DC/2DIS/1GD5 from the CM1630 when I land a Win 10-supported RX-series card, immediately adjacent the XONAR - a difficult-to-circumvent motherboard design issue which has RFI written all over it.) I'm preparing to audition, of all currently-available computer headsets, the HEIL SOUND™ ProSet™ MediaPro™, a development of Bob Heil's radio-headset experience with tuned closed-back 200Ω ear speakers, an electret mini-boom microphone, and a phase switch on the right earcup; the STX' internal TI head-amp should have no problem driving the ProSet.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2019
  10. Reyer
    Little update for those who are wondering which op-amps should they put into their STX.

    Until recently I've been using LME49990 which I absolutely love but I have decided to give a try to the MUSES 8820... and honestly I cannot describe how disappointed I am right now.
    I'm using only the Headphone output which means that my OPA1612 on buffer shouldn't affect the overall sound coming from the card. Headphones I'm using are AKG K550 and DT990 PRO (I've had AKG K7xx ordered but they've arrived DOA and there was no replacement for them...).
    BEWARE: I'm not an audio expert and my definitions may be vague and unprofessional. This comparison is only between the op-amps and it doesn't take into the account the quality of the STX itself.

    LME49990 vs MUSES 8820 - there are no direct comparison of these two on the internet. Literally none, and this is why I want to write something about them myself:

    Stock op-amps - while they offered an improvement in terms of quality over the integrated MOBO sound card and were great for a while I've always felt that the music I'm listening to is a little bit sluggish and flat, as if my head was covered around with some cloth. Stage wasn't really impressing and separation was like it didn't exist at all. Although STX was my first "real" piece of audio hardware I've felt that its nowhere close to what it could have sound like. Few months later, after one whole month of research I've decided that I'll either get MUSES8820 or LME49990. I was hoping to maintain my card as neutral as possible while improving the stage as much as it was possible and opinions about LME49990 were describing exactly what I wanted.

    LME49990 - I was welcomed by an unexpected amount of space and audio clarity. At last I could perfectly separate all sounds in the music and the sound stage stopped feeling claustrophobic and become "limitless".
    Lows- A little bit on the lean side, without much of the sub-bass however they were perfectly controlled and still better than the Stock op-amps. They were not flowing into the mids and were quick and crisp. If needed they could go very low and were not overwhelming at all.
    Mids - Clear and bright. I cannot tell much about them but they felt like I would expect them to be.
    Highs - Went higher than ever before. They were clear and bright with a delicate round-off at the top-highs keeping them away from sybilization.
    Overall - Perfectly neutral with a huge sound stage. You could feel the separation between instruments and the dark background behind them. If some instruments went silent, you could feel its disappearance and the empty space they left. Guitars had their actual "acoustics" and believable sounds of strings. Nothing was faked or artificially "improved".

    MUSES 8820 - At first there was an impression of higher musicality in my music - it was less clinical and the sound was a little bit darker and warmer than before. Next thing I've discovered was that the whole audio spectrum was "flattened and moved down a bit". Anything that was considered as Mids in LME49990 now felt here like lower-mids, bass felt like sub-bass and highs were severely lacking. It felt like if the singer was trying to go higher but simply couldn't. Hats and trumpets were slower and insignificant, like if they were just a background... no matter if that was their own solo.
    Lows - Quite a lot of sub-bass. It felt like it was overflowing into the all of the audio spectrum. Coloring it with warm colors and hiding individual instruments from the in-depth analyze. Bass was very boomy but not to the point of being annoying. It was still well controlled but you could tell that it started lagging behind a bit. Bass was fun and I liked the texture it was creating for each kind of instrument.
    Mids - Not only noticeably quieter but also heavily shaded by the bass. It felt that they were just at 3/4 of their real volume. They've moved much closer to the listener that you could almost smell singers breath from this position.You could barely hear separation between different instruments and their lack of clarity made you feel like you're listening to some soup. All mids felt like someone blended them together.
    Highs - Flat and recessed. They were much lower than when they were on LME49990. If I were to compare them to colors then on LME49990 they would be sparky-yellow/gold or white and in MUSES they would be a dark, brownish-orange.
    Overall - Boomy and certainly not boring bass but with ruined and compressed highs and mids. No longer as bright, airy and spacious as LME, with much warmer and lazy sound. Because of the recessed mids and highs, lows were over-represented making the sound overly bloated with bass.

    In the end I can compare these both op-amps to the headphones I own. LME49990 would be my AKG K550, neutral with insanely big and accurate stage. MUSES 8820 would be my DT990 with their emphasis on bass but without their highs, adding a little bit of excitement to the songs I've listened to.
    Funniest thing was that the MUSES made my "boring" AKG sound just as bassy or even more as the DT990.

    In about few months I'll probably revisit MUSES and try them once again but this time with a little help of my friend to see if we all agree about the sound they contributes to.
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2019
  11. raoultrifan
    Based on http://nihtila.com/2017/01/08/pcm1794a-output-stage-opamp-measurements-lm4562-ne5532-and-opa2134/ I would use 5532 chips in I/V or the original JRC2114D; as per LPF, LM4562 is just fine.

    Without measurements, just based on listening tests, I can't recommend you any upgrades, sorry. Reasons would be:
    - lack to identify if oscillations or post-ringing occurs
    - THD could increase if incompatible opmaps are used

    It's all in the PCB layout and power supply rails quality, so sometimes very good and expensive opamps might work worse in some situations.

    L.E.: Wrong thread, although it might apply to STX as well, not sure yet. Thanks for understanding.
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2019
    ev13wt likes this.
  12. Varmintbaby
    I just got two Burson V5 op amps to put in the I/V slot on my STX II. The sound is better, especially on music. If it makes sense, it sounds like it takes less "effort" for the music to play. It's very smooth and buttery sounding. I really like it a lot. If I ever decide to start using speakers, I''ll get a 3rd one to put in the Buffer slot and rock with that. I'd like to try the V6 as well, but I worry it won't be that huge of a difference from the V5.

    Edit: Upon listening to more music, I'm hearing more parts of songs that I didn't hear before. Michael Jackson's Wanna Be Startin Somethin' has some background stuff going on that I just didn't catch before. It's not my imagination either. I listen to music very discerningly and it's like certain effects and bits are more pronounced since switching to the V5. I need to get a 3rd one as I have some Samson monitors on my desk that are connected to the sound card. I want to see if they sound better and if I hear those same bits I was not catching before. Highly recommend upgrading to the V5 for sure!
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2019
  13. Varmintbaby
  14. bcschmerker4
    @Varmintbaby After reviewing the STX-modification infosheet from Burson®, the triple-V5i package will fit heavily-populated tower systems. Ideally, Burson Audio will offer similar packages for the original ST (PCI 2.2) for systems with "video card" space available at a legacy PCI slot.
    Hi there guys. i would really love you advice. let me talk about my setup first.

    Right now i play my flac files that are stored in my pc, through an asus xonar ds. signal goes to my console ( Behringer xenyx x2222) and from there to my sansui au 717 intergrated amp. speakers are diy floorstanders and are amazing and really hi end.
    Obviously you will laugh at my sound card. It is high time i got it upgraded. i would have done that ages ago, but the real upgrade to my system (the speakers) are less than a month old, so...).

    I have set my mind and will buy a xonar essence stx or stx ii. used. from what i read in this forum, stx ii should be better (better clock etc). But what about upgraded stx and upgraded stx ii. which would be better? hence my post

    firstly let me say that is almost no way that i will use the headphone out of the card. my headphones are stuck in the console where i control all my other equipment. drums laptop etc etc. and i dont care about listening to music through phones.
    My pc will just be hooked through the rca outpout of the card, to my console.

    Secondly and most importantly, what id like to achieve with the card id choose and its mods (mainly upgrading the op amps), is to achieve a neutral signal going out of the sound card. i dont want any freq band exagerated Like a u or v smile, no roll off etc. i want a neutral signature. soundcard should feed my console (which then connects to the amp) without coloring the sound. i want to hear to music and not my equipments. (as much as it possibly can happen because nothoing is 100% neutral).

    i said these things because id like to ask you guys what op amps id be better of using. after reading many threads and pages here, i think i do not want to go with the bursons. high price and i read some problems especially with the 5i. also i am not convinced that they are neutral. to the contrary. that is not a bad thing for many people. id like to steer to a different direction.

    apart for a suggestion of which of the 2 sound cards i should choose and which op amps i should get, id also like to ask this.
    should i change all 3 of them? or just the buffer one since i wont use headphone out? in this forum i run into 2 posts one claiming i should change just the buffer op amp, and the other i should change all three, since rca use all 3 of them.
    Also i read the byffer op amp could be different to the other 2.

    any other easy upgrade? clock needs soldering etc which i cant to so i am steering out of this. unless it is THAT crucial so pehaps id send it to an electrician to upgrade it. any advice on what i am getting for a clock instead?
    what about I/V conversion op amps. is it easy to change these? should i do it?

    in conclusion what would be the most value for money upgrade? changing just the 3 op amps (or less since i only care about rca) and be done with it? and which should these be for a neutral sound signature? and should i go for stc or stx ii? would the "better" clock in stx ii be worth the around 50 euros difference in price in ebay? and finally, is there any issue with uni drivers? should i prefer stx over stxii (or vice versa) due to driver support?
    thank you
    Last edited: May 26, 2019
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