The Essence STX is not only a great member of the Xonar family, it's the best sounding board I've ever heard in this price bracket. I'm sure it will leave a lasting impression in the minds of competitors and may even send a few back to the chalk boards, scratching their heads. But most of all, I think it's the age old cliche; 'attention to detail' that lifts the STX above the crowd with some really nice components chosen and a very high degree of build quality, as with all ASUS products.
The choice of high quality Nichicon "Fine Gold" professional audio capacitors as well as Sanyo Os-con filters alongside their custom EMI shield and chipset allow the STX to stand out well. The software is not bloat ware and handles the job easily, allowing for quick and decisive control of important features. I really struggle to fault this little control center because it just seems to work!
So, is this board worth a few hundred down? Well, yes; simply put, it is very much so. However, that doesn't mean it's for everyone, because it is definitely not. For the price of this alone you could be looking at a CPU/motherboard upgrade, so it becomes a question about which direction you want your money pointing at. How important is 'the best' sound when your CPU is still from the Pentium family or you're still using an AGP graphics port? For me it's easy, but for many out there the decision is not quite as easy and can be daunting if uninformed.
Sound cards can be tricky to choose, but remember that you don't have to rush your choice; be patient and buy something with the features you need personally and leave it at that. I do, however, urge those looking for the most exquisite stereo audio performance to consider the Essence STX in their new PCs or Home Theater PCs; maybe even a jukebox PC.
As promised for those interested, here are some snaps from ASUS' test report on the Essence STX, showing how well it performs in key areas.