August 2011 Anthony Garland
In a move sure to make Asus fans alike sit up and take notice, the motherboard manufacturer is releasing their first ever USB DAC. In its typical fashion, the all new Asus Xonar Essence One is not just merely a USB DAC as it is a true audiophile-class device. As any audiophiles will tell you, op-amps are what gives a DAC its unique tonal qualities; yet very few USB DACs have this feature. The Xonar Essence One does have this feature and boasts an eleven (replaceable) op-amp design making it easy to tweak the sound signature to your hearts content.
This coupled with a signal to noise ratio of 120dB will make the Xonar Essence One a must buy for many. However, Asus was not just happy enough to create a USB DAC and rather has created a three-in-one device. This unit can not only act as a USB DAC, but as a standalone DAC thanks to its S/PDIF input option. This too makes this a very, very tempting upgrade. What really seals the deal is that much like its PCI Express-based Asus Xonar brethren, the Xonar Essence One has a built in a separate headphone amplifier circuit which can power even heavy duty 600ohm resistance headphones. Expect the USB DAC to be in the mid-$500 range. There’s also now a Plus Edition with op-amp swap kit, giving users five more tonal customization options.