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ASUS Xonar Essence One Muse Edition 24-bit 192KHz USB Interface USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier
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  • Owned For: 1 day to 1 week

4 out of 5 eggs great sound, but build quality isn't quite there yet 02/24/2013

This review is from: ASUS Xonar Essence One Muse Edition 24-bit 192KHz USB Interface USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier

Pros: The sound that I've gotten from this device is very, very good. I've been using a ~$450 DAC/Amp combo from a well-known manufacturer (in the audiophile community at least) for a couple of years now and have been quite pleased with it for the price. But I definitely notice an improvement to the sound, particularly in the size and depth of the sound stage, when using the Asus Xonar Muses Edition. The sound also just feels a little punchier and more up-front when compared to my old DAC/Amp. (apparently I can't mention the brand or model due to Newegg's review guidelines).

I'd talk about the pros of the sound quality some more, but there are already a few professional reviews out there for the Muses edition that do a much better job than I ever could, so just search for those.

If sound quality alone is all you care about, then I don't think you're going to do much better than this DAC. What it suffers from though is build quality, which I'll detail in the cons below.

Cons: The unit itself feels very solid and hefty, so in that regard it doesn't feel cheap at all. Unfortunately the plastic volume knobs on the front of the unit just do seem like a strange choice for a DAC of this price (I know the standard Xonar Essence One is considerably cheaper and in a price range where maybe plastic knobs aren't such a big deal, and I know the increased cost of the Muses edition is due almost entirely to the Muse op-amps used in it, but when you're approaching the thousand dollar mark... I just expect high-grade volume control and construction).

The other thing that bothers me is the dual volume control knobs: one for the DAC's outputs, and one dedicated to the headphone out alone (I want to say I've seen others before say that the main volume knob also affected the headphone volume, but I've not experienced this. Maybe Asus changed this behavior, or maybe I'm just not remembering correctly, but I've not experienced this). I totally understand and agree with Asus's reasoning that it'd be nice to not have to adjust volume when switching between headphones and speakers. But unfortunately, Asus only went half as far as they needed to go. What ends up happening is that I still have to manually turn the volume down on one and turn the volume up on the other so that they're not both playing at the same time (why would I want my headphones playing music, going through senseless wear and tear, when I'm listening to my speakers? And my headphones are open-back (Sennheiser HD650), so the speakers absolutely must get muted too or their sound would leak in like crazy). What the Xonar Essence One is missing is a pair of mute buttons, one for the DAC's outputs and one for the headphone amp, if they want to leave the ability to have both playing at the same time (I'm not sure why you'd ever need to do this though). Or, and preferably, keep both volume knobs, but just have a way to switch between them.

And yes, I'm aware that I could always just unplug my headphones when they're not in use, but this is still an inconvenience and still leaves me having to turn down the main volume control knob when they're plugged in.

I've attached a video to my review that demonstrates the issue.

The up-sampling feature is a bit of a toss-up. On my system (Swan T200b speakers), any perceived benefit you get from the up-sampling is also marred by a rather dramatic decrease in the higher frequencies, making this DAC sound more laid-back. I say it's a toss-up because I could see this being a non-issue if your speakers/headphones already have a somewhat bright character to them, but otherwise I think you'll find that you're suddenly missing some clarity to the sound that you knew was there before without the up-sampling. I'm not 100% sure why their up-sampling feature would be having such an effect on the sound to begin with, but it's just not a good match for either my specific headphones or speakers.

Other Thoughts: Despite my hefty description of the cons above, I'm giving the Xonar Essence One Muses Edition 4 eggs because if you're using it JUST for headphones or JUST for speakers, then that nullifies my gripes about the dual-volume control and really only leaves the complaint about the plastic knobs; not THAT big of an issue, just strange for a DAC of this price.

I've decided that I'll be returning my unit though. I switch between headphones and speakers often, and having to readjust two volume control knobs each time I want to do that instead of just pressing a button is just too inconvenient of a change from what I'm used to. I can't imagine it would be too difficult or costly for Asus to introduce this feature in a revision later down the road, but I'll be the first to say that I don't know what would truly be involved in accomplishing such a task.

So if you listen to your audio over just one output device, then I think you'll end up being very pleased with the Xonar Essence One Muses Edition; otherwise, if you're switching between speakers and headphones often, I'd carefully consider if the dual-volume control knobs would bother you, particularly if you're already used to just pressing a single button to switch between one or the other.

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Charles W.'s Profile

Display Name: Charles W.

Date Joined: 05/15/05

  • Reviews: 1
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  • First Review: 02/24/13
  • Last Review: 02/24/13
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