Sound is an integral part to any entertainment experience. And ASUS’ recent efforts in products as such as the Vulcan ANC headphones and technologies such as ASUS SonicMaster, show that they fully appreciate the importance of personal audio.
ASUS is clearly taking sound very seriously and have recently launched a slew of premium audio products targeted at audiophiles. To commemorate the launch, we were invited to a special event held at KBOX Cineleisure where we were given the chance to sample the products for ourselves.
There were three key products at the event - The Xonar Essence One MUSES, Xonar Essence One Plus, and Xonar U7 - and they reaffirm ASUS’ commitment to high standards of audio fidelity. In addition, ASUS’ audio product manager Ives Chiu was also present to share the company’s direction for their audio products, recent success and also explain what makes ASUS’ offerings so special.
According to Ives, standard Xonar products are designed to accept a wider range of tolerances than what their suppliers would normally provide. This allows it to perform optimally despite the varying standard of components that it might receive from its suppliers. The Essence series, on the other hand, has very strict component requirements, and ASUS is able to fulfill that only because of their bargaining power which comes with being Taiwan's largest IT manufacturer. As for the flagship Xonar Essence One MUSES Edition, ASUS handpicks components to ensure that it gets only the best of the best components.
The Xonar Essence One MUSES Edition is ASUS’ flagship USB DAC and headphone amplifier. What makes this USB DAC and headphone amplifier so special is the use of six MUSES 01 op-amps. These op-amps, made by the New Japan Radio Company, are highly regarded by audiophiles. Unique to these op-amps are its high purity oxygen free copper interconnects. On top of this, the MUSES Edition also benefits from having a specialized PCB layout and is assembled using special techniques to ensure low cross-talk and a balanced sound. The end result of all this is an ultra-spacious sound stage.
Another product from the Essence family is the Xonar Essence One Plus. This USB DAC and headphone amplifer is slightly smaller than the flagship Essence One MUSES Edition and makes do without the premium MUSES op-amps. Instead, the Essence One Plus comes with an op-amp swap kit and six op-amps for users to customize the sound signature to their liking.
As for comparisons between the two, it is impossible to draw meaningful conclusions since the products at the event were all paired with different headphones from Sennheiser. However, in our short sampling session with both USB DACs, we did find the MUSES Edition to offer an appreciably wider sound stage and a more neutral-sounding tone.
Last but not least, there’s the Xonar U7 USB sound card and headphone amplifier. Unlike the Xonar Essence One MUSES and Essence One Plus, the Xonar U7 is much more compact and can be powered directly via USB, making it a portable piece of kit. This is ideal for users who want a USB DAC and headphone amplifier that they can use both at home and in the office.